On the other side of the door: What it's like to be an apartment manager

May 8 2013 | Guest post by Chrislyn Barragan
By: Bob Dass - CC BY 2.0
By: Bob DassCC BY 2.0

I have been fortunate enough to work from home for the past two years. I currently work as an apartment manager for my apartment complex. Before that, I was a contractor through a nanny company, so I still (kind of) worked out of my house. While I love my job, and no matter how much insane shit I deal with every day, I would never trade it for the world.

That being said, there are times when it sucks to be an apartment manager…

1. You are ALWAYS working.

There is no such thing as a break, or free time, or anything that you get at a "normal" job. I have to be prepared to answer my work phone at all times. I can never relax in my pajamas, or spend any time naked with my husband, because at any point, I may have to open someone's apartment up because they locked their keys inside or I have to play mediator for a tenant and their neighbors/parking enforcement/whoever they are pissed off at that minute.

2. People like to harass you. A lot.

I have had people call me all hours of the day and night looking for a place. I had one guy call me at 2 a.m. to ask if we have low pile carpet. Since I am the first line of contact for the maintenance staff, I get the calls about broken stuff and I get harassed when I can't make maintenance magically appear (those of you renters who understand I am not a miracle worker, you are a godsend and I love you for it).

3. You have to be mean sometimes

And the people you are mean to usually know where you live. I have to serve evictions with my job. I go with the cops, let them in, and watch as someone's life gets turned upside down. It's the worst part of my job, hands down. And understandably, people get pissed. The scary part about that is that they know I live onsite. They can see me and my husband leave our apartment. They can easily find where I live, and if they are pissed enough, they can do some horrible things. While this is a really extreme scenario, it's still terrifying that it can happen.

4. You are not the only one who works at this job.

My husband is used to me cutting out mid conversation to answer a call or go meet someone. I have interrupted sex to deal with work stuff, which made us both really unhappy. I have hung up on family members, professors, friends, and countless other people to be a good manager to my tenants. When you sign the dotted line agreeing to a work-from-home job, your whole family signs up with you.

While there are some serious downsides to being an apartment manager who works from home, I have definitely found more positives than negatives. I can do laundry, clean my house, and do homework, all while on the clock. I set my own hours, which allows me the freedom to go to school full-time and not worry about missing work. I also get a free apartment and pay no utilities, which is epic for two newlywed college students.

But the most rewarding thing about working as an apartment manager is that you put all your heart and soul into your job and you often see instant rewards. I love my tenants, even the batshit insane ones, because they are what make this place great, and I get the opportunity to help make their lives a little easier. And that is what makes it all worthwhile.

  1. I'm a social worker by trade, and as such have had a lot of training around healthy boundaries when it comes to work and client relationships. And I just have to say if you're interrupting sex with your husband to deal with work, then you need to work on your boundaries for both your sake and his. Voicemail and "Be Right Back" signage were both created for a reason 🙂

    • Chrislyn, I don't know enough about your situation to say what's possible and what's not, but in general I agree with Alise (I work in social services, too). So many people are so driven to be excellent at our jobs (or whatever else) that they make personal sacrifices that just aren't necessary. Creating boundaries in a work-at-home job, especially one like yours, is tough. But you deserve some non-work time! Burnout and stress make us worse at our vocation, so we need to set healthy boundaries that enable us to stay happy at work for as long as possible. We may think that by making so many sacrifices we're being great at our jobs, but we're not, because we're setting ourselves up for trouble.

      Could you put up a message board outside your apartment so folks can write notes when you don't answer the door? Use Google Voice to screen/route calls? Or make your voicemail greeting something like, "Please leave a message. Except in the case of emergencies, all other calls will be returned during the hours of X and Y?" When you're available all of the time, that's the expectation you're setting for the future. People knock on your door at all hours for nonemergencies partially because that's the expectation you've set (and yes, some people have very different definitions of "emergency"). If you want to change that, you can! It just takes consistency and patience to work through the rough transition time.

      • I took it to mean that she has to be "on call" during certain hours where she can do whatever she wants, but she has to respond to work issues immediately. I'm assuming that she has time when she is off the clock. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

        • I do have time when I am off the clock. And you interpreted my meaning correctly, Marie. But there are times when I have to interrupt things I have during off hours to deal with emergencies (like flooding or getting locked out of your apartment).

      • I was definitely going to suggest the Google Voice and to put it forward as an official recommendation to the powers that be with the apartment complex.
        I think after hours it should always go to voicemail. This records the conversations in case they need to be referenced and allows you to make arrangements and just call them back with an answer–whether that's "Hey, I'll be there in five minutes with a key", calling back about carpet pile during business hours or "I talked to emergency maintenance and they'll be at your apartment sometime tonight."
        We're obviously over-helpers here on the Empire. If you're fine with your arrangement or have accepted it as the way it has to be, then no biggie. But we're just suggesting some alternatives that might buy you a little relaxation. 😛

  2. My (almost) 80 year old grandma is the manager of her apartment building and I genuinely think it is the best thing that has ever happened to her. She loves being helpful, and in her seniors only building she can do just that. She also gets to live rent free, which is nice for a lady who worked terrible jobs her whole life as a single mother. The sad part for her isn't evictions, it's the tennants that unfortunately often die at home, but she has a little family she can take care of

    • These sorts of facilities are awesome. One set of grandparents has lived in one for the last 15 years, and it works out really well for them.
      My parents also live apart together ( http://offbeathome.com/tag/living-apart-together ), and my mom has considered moving into a "seniors only" facility instead of keeping up a separate house on her own.

  3. I'd love to see an article about how to be a good tenant, especially when it comes to the condition/cleanliness of apartments. We get the renters' perspective on this at OBH, but not the other side.

  4. We dont have Apartment Managers in Ireland but I do a similar job- tenant liason for a lettings and management company. Thats means doing 90% of the same things (plus a few others) for about 300 properties scattered over the whole greater metro area. Im pretty glad i dont live with most of my tenants because demanding and bat-shit crazy pretty much covers it. I spend a huge chunk of my day explaining to people why their minor problem (dripping tap etc) doesnt take priority over the overflowing tank that just collapsed someone elses ceiling. People dont like to hear that. One of the good things about it is I have so much insight into all that can go wrong with properties- the equivalent of owning one house for about 250 years… and the job has certainly taught me to be patient, not a strong suit of mine before. I cant say I find being mean that hard (Im a bit of a bitch anyway) but people can get really abusive- both by phone and in person. Its nice to hear someone else talk about what its like from the other side because most people know what its like to be a tenant but put no thought into what its like for the people they deal with. To all the tenants out there I ask, please have some perspective and realise, we are doing our jobs to the best of our ability.

  5. I work as a Residence Director for a small college, but have worked at large universities as well, and this hit home with me. Like many mentioned, I would highly encourage you to look at your appropriate professional boundaries. You also don't want to risk burn out, which could potentially hinder your job performance in general.

    I find my job can be quite dramatic at times. Students are in one of the most tumultuous phases of their lives and I'm the one saying no to them, when they do something dumb. Definitely a challenge.

    I've considered going into building management/apartment management post residence as well. Great post, thank you.

  6. Colleen and Alise- We have set up boundaries since that incident, but if someone calls me saying their experiencing flooding or something like that, I still have to answer and help them out, regardless of what I am doing. I do appreciate the advice, and thankfully nothing like that has happened since then, but I still have to be prepared to drop what I am doing if an emergency comes up.

    Lanie- I completely agree with you. It really is a test of patience to do this job, but my patience only goes so far. I can only help so many at a time, and I am not a miracle worker.

    Elise- Students make up most of my tenants (we're ten minutes walking distance from a large university), so I know how hard it can be to tell someone already going through significant upheaval in life that they can't paint their walls neon green or have a raging party without getting the cops called.

    Thank you all for the comments and advice. I really appreciate the feedback and it sounds like people are enjoying the post.

  7. I've been an onsite apartment manager for the last four years. It has been a great thing that I can work from home with my kids, and it's been a constant struggle to set boundaries. My husband is constantly annoyed that I answer the phone all the time or schedule viewings at sporadic times. On the positive side, it's a continual lesson to me to set and maintain boundaries – something that I've always had a hard time with. Did someone lose their keys at 3am? Great. Call a locksmith. I didn't lose your keys. I will help you when I'm awake and not being sexy or in the shower or whatever my life involves. I'm not a concierge. Is your apartment flooding at 3am? Oh shit, I'm on my way!

    I used to feel like I was being mean on occasion, but as I've grown more comfortable with landlord/tenant laws, I realize I'm not mean, I'm just following the law, and the law does not always work the way tenants think it does or should work. The company I work for has been accused of doing illegal things, but we actually don't. I wish tenants would work to change the laws they disagree with rather than accuse properties of behaving badly.

    On the whole, I do love my job most days. I've always loved being a neighbor, and I have the opportunity to know nearly everyone in my building. And most of the time I can help people. I see a personal side of people because while it's a business to run an apartment building, it's always personal as it involves people's homes. I'm grateful for the chances I get to educate tenants and help them. And most grateful for the times I get to just be a regular neighbor.

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