Tenant Psychology: Making Positive Behavior

Public spaces are often left in a mess no matter whether it is a laundry room, pool, recreational area, or a bathroom….  Sometimes the same tenants that take super care of their own units don’t use those practices in the public space.  Why does this happen?  Why is it that despite having a late fee in place, tenants persistently pay their rent late?  All of this will be explained from a psychological perspective and remedies that provide a positive impact will be suggested.  While many landlords have used punishment as a means for changing a tenant’s behavior, there are other ways such as through positive reinforcement of good behaviors.

Public Space Mayhem

Having public spaces is highly idealized for bringing the community together.  Yet in practice it often can be with detrimental results as tenants do not keep the public space well kept.  Instead it is left up to management to ensure that they space is clean on a daily basis.  If the space becomes messy, the very same tenants that caused the mess will blame management.  Constantly cleaning up messes is also costly.

Why It Happens:

In psychology, we describe this phenomenon as the dissociation of responsibility.  When there is more than one party that is responsible for certain actions, such as keeping public spaces clean, their work is proportional to the perceived degree of responsibility that they have in relation to everyone else.  Since “everyone else” is the entire apartment community, very little is done to keep the public space in good condition.


One possible remedy is to not have public spaces.  Dissociation of responsibility is present in the work place, family life, and public.  While there are remedies, there are not cures.  It’s usually best to give tenants their own individual spaces and to keep public spaces to a minimum.

Not all public spaces are avoidable.  You can’t very well uninstall the pool or the public laundry area.  Another way to remedy this is to make these public areas part of the tenant’s rent.  This should be highly calculated as raising your property rental rates can decrease your competitiveness with other apartment communities.  That can mean getting less quality tenants and therefore increasing the problem!  Posting a notice at the space does have some effect as this reinforces the placement of responsibility back on the resident that is using the facility.  By placing a camera in the room and making it highly visible, you also are reinforcing the idea that tenants will be held responsible for their own actions.

Late Rent

Many tenants continually make late rent payments even when there is a late fee that is applied.  It is not that they don’t care about making rent payments.  There are other factors involved.

Why It Happens:

Human beings all learn their habits from past experience and behavior.  Paying late rent is a learned behavior through repetition.  You don’t control a tenant’s past, but understanding how a tenant developed these behaviors, you can come up with a system to teach them new ones.  Creating a late fee is essential to this, but there are other ways to encourage residents to pay on time.


As described in our previous article, we encouraged putting in place a text/email reminder that reminds tenants to pay rent before the due date.  This is a direct remedy to a tenant’s bad habit.  Another idea that probably hasn’t been tried yet, but could be of real benefit to apartment communities is having an incentive system for paying rent on time.  You can tell tenants that if they pay their rent on time for the full term of their lease, they’ll receive a gift card (amount that you have calculated) to reward them for paying rent on time for 12 full months.  Collections is a real cost, and if you can reduce late payments through a financial incentive, you will save your management company money.

Inappropriate Noise Level

To the dissatisfaction of others, some residents will listen to and watch media at a high volume during unreasonable hours of the night.  Even at a low volume, this can be disruptive to other’s sleep.

Why It Happens:

Believe it or not, the resident may not even realize that they are being disruptive to others.  And it’s not that they don’t want to treat other residents well, they simply haven’t thought about how their actions might be affecting others.  In psychology, there is a concept of theory of mind.  When an individual possesses theory of mind, they have the ability to see things from another’s perspective.  Although we increase in our ability to use theory of mind as we reach adulthood, there are measurable differences between people in the degree of theory of mind they have.  Some people are just better at seeing things from another’s perspective than others.


Unfortunately this is one of the most difficult to remedy because there isn’t a proven method of pumping more theory of mind into somebody.  However, you can provide cues around the property to increase the overall sensitivity of your residents to one another.  Posting messages around the property reminding people to be sensitive to others can be very beneficial.  You’ll still have incidents of course, but they will be dramatically reduced when this happens because it will continually remind people to think of others.  Most landlords use a charge as their remedy if a tenant is too noisy.  While this does eventually work and will be necessary to use on persistent tenants, it does not address the problem, which is the person’s inability to see things from another’s point of view.  Punishments also can also serve to negatively impact the relationship with the tenant and cause other undesired behaviors that lead to future conflict.