Working with consumers

Helping Consumers solve THEIR rental housing problems and move to housing stability

Your role in a helping relationship
  • help consumers define the problem in a way that makes the problem solvable.  Sometimes this dialogue helps flesh out the "facts' from the feelings and clarifies the situation.
  • Help consumers identify and overcome barriers to solutions.  Use narrative (a story) instead of explanation.
  • Provide information that help consumer take action (info without an action step is merely entertainment or a "lecture")
    • what does the law say?
    • who can solve the problem (decision chain of command)
    • Is "Just giving information" enough to change behavior.  (the jury is out on this research comes from mandatory labeling)
  • Build a helping relationship
    •  avoid blind referrals (see below)
    • leave the door open for tenants to check back.
    • seek feedback in the form of a follow up call or mailing
Don't give legal advice-you are not a lawyer.  Safest way to help a tenant with info is:
  • quote & cite the law throughout your helping relationship.  give tenant copy of the law or a link to find it for her/himself.
  • repeatedly disclose that you are not giving legal advice.
  • encourage people seeking advice to contact an attorney and provide contact info for local bar associations or legal aid (if eligible)
  • don't respond to:  "what would you do if you were in my situation..."
You are not a "finder of fact"  That's the role for "the judge"...  You are attempting to enable to consumer to find  resolution of the problem with her/his facts.  Don't "own" their problem-instead:  help shape the process. 

Avoid making "blind referrals".  When you make a referral, make sure the receiving person or organization is able to help.  If unsure:
  • check with the receiving organization to make sure the referral is appropriate and that the person or organization has the capacity to respond.
  • ask if the consumer has had previous contact with the person/organization to assess if there are good or bad experiences in the past.
Don't be afraid to ask for help!
If you are not confident that you understand the situation, feel free to call in another professional to help with the process.  A case manager or other professional can provide insights or elicit information that you may not be able to get.  The question-are you working with another professional sometimes yields great results.

 Acting Step by step

1. Emphasize written communication.  Until a tenant gives a written notice or receives a written notice...nothing has happened.

  • Writing gives you some assurance that consumer is serious...not just "curious"
  • Writing reduces the "emotional" content of the dispute
  • Writing it down makes the consumer accountable for the story.
  • The Ohio Landlord Tenant Law says: "written notice" (ORC 5321.07)

2.  Communicate your role clearly and repeatedly-you are assisting THEM to solve THEIR problem!  Don't take ownership of the tenants' problem.

3.  Use the helping relationship as a learning opportunity.  Feel free to say "I don't know...but I can find out."  Sometimes that means getting a expert opinion; sometimes it means finding an appropriate referral. 

4. When the tenant is engaged in a problem solving process "NO means NEXT."  Tenants who talk to you often stall when the first gatekeeper says "no".  Encourage consumer to move up the ladder of responsibility. DOCUMENT EVERY STEP along the way.  Link to What kind of housing is it.

5. For anything that is an OBVIOUS failure on the part of the landlord (ie. in plain sight) having a health or housing code inspector will help document the problem. I never rely on an inspector to actually take enforcement action. it happens sometime, but usually inspectors are trained to seek voluntary compliance (which is another term for non compliance).  Tenants can use inspection reports to support their legal or administrative complaints.

6. Tenants should always consider the possibility of rent escrow even though the process is cumbersome. 

7.  Think systemic.  Is this problem in need of a systemic solution (changing a rule, policy or procedure) not just finding a solution for a single situation. 

8. Nourish your network. 

  • Ask your peers for ideas and suggestions. 
  • Share insights, strategies and tactics with your peers. 
  • Keep case records to document your practice
  • Publish (anonymized) case files and best practices

Learn more
conflict resolution

Model Intake form attached at the bottom of this web page

Nudge theory