Hiding behind technology, an effective route for landlords desiring anonymous (fair) treatment

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The world’s opinions remain uneven about many subjects. As this article delves into one of these sensitive subjects, caution is warned to readers of this blog who may take offense at the notion that discrimination based on race, gender, age or other category plays no part in the landlord business. It does. However, technology assists by partially shielding owners from its adverse consequences.

Collecting rent from a tenant who disrespects you for any reason creates difficulty. Similarly, showing property with an equally narrow-minded person may be counterproductive. Dealing with non-responsive or inefficient repair and renovation service becomes even more complicated when discrimination is ‘in the mix.’

In the past, landlords had (and still have) the option to outsource property management tasks to others. But, technology provides benefits to owners at minimal or no cost while hiding their identity them at the same time. One added benefit from employing technology instead of being more ‘personal’ is that many tenants prefer to deal with ‘faceless’ technology than with an actual person.

Examples of technology disrupting discrimination are as follows:

  • In New York City, many people of color experienced difficulty hailing cabs until Uber automated the process.
  • Basic haircuts and laundry services for men and women historically were disproportionately priced, until newer stores emerged allowing people to search for better options.
  • High-end jewelry or watch stores routinely hire employees whose physical attributes are often more similar to a narrow stereotype than representative of the population at large–until web retailers like Amazon arrived.
  • Telemarketers preferred to target older people, until call blocking, voice messaging and call screening became standard on most smartphones.

So how might landlords take advantage of technology? Here are a few ways:

  1. Use email and text messages instead of calling.  Texting has the added benefit of being responsive, allows photos and documents attachments, and is usually free with most cell phone service. Voice calling reveals age, gender and provides clues you may or may not wish to tell. Texting is the new email, so use this also to inform tenants of late notices, use it to provide the street address for repair people, have everyone send you photos of the building as attachments.
  2. Collect rent via Zelle, PayPal or another service. In addition to receiving the funds instantly in your bank account, owners also receive an email ‘confirmation’ which acts like a receipt–showing the date, the amount and the tenant’s name. Your email or phone number becomes your ‘checking account.’ Another added benefit is that both you and the tenant have some added privacy. – Tenants who do not have bank accounts may go to 7-11 and deposit funds via PayPal for a nominal fee.
  3. Do not share your social media sites with tenants. Also, if you have social media, do not include a personal photo or have other information about where you live.
  4. Someone other than you should serve tenants who you wish to evict.  It’s worth the 50 dollars to have another person perform this task (also, in the eyes of the tenant, it provides added credibility).
  5. Consider using services like Airbnb and ‘RadPad,’ which allows you to show the house to a tenant remotely. Once they view the house with a remote key, they are screened and accepted. (Many landlords opt to screen tenants before they allow them to see the house.)
  6. If you have an Instagram page for your house, avoid photos of yourself. Also, if you take a video of the land and home interior, be careful to omit any pictures of people.
  7. Forward all personal mail to another address. This advice may be common sense. That said,  stray correspondence often meets prying eyes of tenants. The info they gather from these letters provides them with clues about what type of a person you are.
  8. Finally, instead of inspecting the house, consider having the tenant take photos (or a video) and send it to you via email. (This is most useful after repairs to the property.) Most tenants are tech-savvy, and many would be willing to provide this info, instead of, an unannounced thorough inspection.  However, give it a try. You may be surprised how the tenant views your residence. True, this approach may not be a substitute for all landlords. However, a tenant-created photo bank keeps landlords from revealing identifiable information about themselves–and requires no effort.

Baron welcomes any comments about this post. What has been your experience with this subject?