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Q&A: Onyx’s Shelby Istrin On How Landlords Should Approach The Tenant Vacancy Process

Shelby Istrin

When landlords want to renovate an apartment building or take it off the market, they often need tenants to vacate the property for an extended period of time. But asking people to leave their home doesn’t always go over well. Putting a strategy in place can help landlords approach this process more seamlessly.

That is the goal of Onyx Relocation, a Los Angeles-based real estate services company dedicated to making this process as painless as possible for both landlords and tenants. Bisnow caught up with Onyx Multifamily Development Consultant Shelby Istrin on her strategy and technique. 

Bisnow: What is your role at Onyx?

Istrin: Onyx is the largest tenant-relocation firm in Los Angeles. Landlords who are looking to do extensive renovations to an apartment building or take their units off the market come to me to find out what kind of strategy they could use to get their apartments vacated and ready for construction or conversion. I develop the strategy and budget, provide all the necessary documents, meet with each tenant to make sure they understand what their rights are, and then we make each tenant an offer. The offers we make are based on city standards and regulations, and if they don’t work for the tenants, I work with them to try to come up with a modified version of the agreement with different terms that suit their needs and then present it to the landlord. I represent the landlord, but I have the interests of both parties in mind. The end goal is to come to a cooperative agreement on getting the apartment vacated.  

Bisnow: Who is the typical landlord that uses your service?

Istrin: I work with all different types of ownerships ranging from [a] single property to investment groups that own and manage over 1,000 units. I would say the majority of my clients own somewhere between two to 10 buildings.   

Bisnow: How did you become interested in this type of work? 

Istrin: From a young age, I’ve been somewhat of a conflict manager. I was a consumer litigation specialist, so I dealt a lot with contracts and settling accounts in small claims court before I decided to get into real estate. I was always pretty interested in negotiations. The transition into the work I do now was rather accidental. I was working at a development firm, and when I left, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I could have continued managing investment funds or started a property management company or a brokerage, but people in the industry started asking my advice about this specific issue because it’s pretty sticky. I quickly realized that there were few people devoting enough time and attention to specializing in it. An attorney would just send a letter to the tenant asking them to vacate, or a property manager would just put something on the door or make a phone call asking the tenant to move. So I really just implemented a Sales 101 strategy to it. I approached tenants by showing up at their doors, got to know them personally and tried to come up with a cooperative solution. 

Bisnow: In situations like these, the relationship between landlords and tenants can be tense. What are your recommendations for tenants and landlords to ease this tension and make this process more painless? 

Istrin: For landlords, I would say try to put yourself in the tenant’s position. Many landlords might not be aware of what kinds of things tenants might be considering when deciding whether or not to take a buyout. I think our method is effective because the idea is not for the landlord to win. The idea is for everyone to give up something in order to get what they want. For tenants, I would say try not to think of the landlord as the enemy. I think there is often a misconception that landlords make millions of dollars and don’t care about their tenants. And yes, sometimes that is the case. But a lot of my clients are family businesses who buy a building, and the building is in really bad condition and needs repair. In order to make repairs, they spend a lot of money to buy the property, and then they need to spend a bunch more money to buy out tenants, and then spend a bunch of money and resources doing the rehab. The idea is that they’ll make the money back eventually, but it is an investment. There is a happy medium between landlords making money as an investment and still deciding to put out a good product that provides housing for people who need it. A lot of it comes down to improving communication between the landlord and the tenant. 

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Onyx. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.