Monday, December 27, 2010

Clients' Honesty and Mediation with Landlords and other Providers

I've met with two new clients over the past month who told me they were behind on rent by [# less than one month's rent]. After getting their permission to call their leasing companies I came back with (drumroll) fairly higher figures from their landlords. 

I suspected one client wasn't honest with me on how much she was behind, especially when we did her budget and she wasn't able to account for $150. It was this client though who was able to produce a few rent receipts that conflicted with what management said, and after looking at his bookkeeping the landlord admitted he made a mistake. Client was still behind but by a little over a month. 

Of clients I see, I'd say a little less than half of rental requests include figures by clients that aren't current. A lot are upfront about how far behind they are, some are perhaps hopeful they're not as behind as they actually are, and a few use deceit openly. Maybe clients who use deception think we'll write out a check before verifying the information and then they'll just have to take care of the rest of the backrent somewhere else (though I seriously doubt agencies pay without verification of at least a five day letter notice). Maybe it's a foot in the door technique (small request to be followed by a larger request)? Client thinks: If my case manager believes I'm behind by just $200 to then discover I'm behind by $500 he'll think "well, it's not that much more. We can pay that!" and skip over to write the check?

Other providers sometimes also contest what a client is saying. If I'm working with a new client I don't yet have rapport with or a client I suspect is trying to manipulate me I feel an initial draw to relate and maybe even believe the provider over my client. Why would the provider lie, this initial uncensored feeling would guide me, you're both on similar grounds. I'm very sensitive and guarded against this feeling and remind myself that I'm (along with the provider ideally) working to provide support and services to the client and am trying to figure out what's going on to help her. Provider and I may support each other, sure -- but it all goes back to the client.

Difficult situations develop when, say, I'm working with a client who's in the process of getting evicted and she shares her side of what happened, her provider disagrees, and I strongly believe my client. What happens in this case? The easy answer is that each case is unique and complicated in its own charming way. Some cases may need to be assessed more closely. Usually I get the impression each side is a bit biased in her take. Many times it comes down to working with the client and providers into figuring out the next step. What options does the client have? Sometimes it's easier to make sense of that than mediate a disagreement of what went down.

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