Taking care of maintenance requests promptly is a hallmark of a good property owner or manager. However, in some states, such as Texas, the manager of a rental property can technically wait until a maintenance request is presented in writing, often through certified mail, before taking action. If you are the owner of a rental property in a state with a similar law, you might have thought that this was a normal sequence of events -- that until you got a written notice of the problem, the request isn't urgent. Turn that thinking around. If you address complaints the day you get them, even if they're verbal, you're going to keep your building and your reputation in much better shape.
The Problem Could Be More Serious Than It Sounds
If a tenant doesn't know how to adequately describe a problem, or if the tenant has a natural tendency to downplay problems, you could be dealing with a problem that is worse than it sounds. For example, a tenant contacts you about a lot of termites crawling and flying around his home, including inside his home. Say you live in an area known for termites, so you figure this is a temporary swarm looking for a home; it will fly away soon, and a few termites simply crawled in under the door.
However, if the tenant can't describe the swarm adequately for you, you might have the wrong impression. That same swarm in and around the house could very well be a hatching, meaning your house is in way worse shape than you realized. The best course of action would have been to go out, or to sent someone else out, to see first-hand what was happening. You shouldn't wait for an angry tenant to send a letter through the mail describing a cloud of termites. Addressing a verbal complaint would solve the situation much more quickly.
Faster Response, Lower Costs, Less Damage
The faster you address a problem, the easier it will be to fix. If you wait, you could end up with more damage than was necessary. For example, a tenant calls you about scratching noises coming from the roof. If you ignore that and wait for something in writing, whatever is on the roof or in the crawlspace will only do more damage. You'll make things a lot easier on yourself if you address the verbal complaint instead of insisting on a written one.
Better Reputation Among Tenants
If you continually address verbal notices of potential maintenance problems, you're going to get a much better reputation among tenants. Take a look at online reviews and note how many times people have complained about this or that in an apartment complex, only to note that at least the maintenance was awesome. That makes your complex look a whole lot better than many others out there.
If you are absolutely swamped with requests, as can happen in a large complex, you may want to consider turning your management duties over to a rental property management company like Advanced Property Management with its own maintenance department. These companies have multiple people who can work through a backlog of requests quickly, ensuring the building stays in good shape.