Should I allow vaping in my rental property?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in e-cigarettes, edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, smokers, smoking, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain, vaping

vapingYou might not allow smoking within your rental units, but what about vaping with e-cigarettes?

About 15 percent of adults under 40 vape, so you might want to allow vaping in your rental property to attract more tenants. But you should learn all you can about e-cigarettes before you do.

Like regular cigarettes and cigars, e-cigarette emissions leave behind a residue that could build up on the walls and floors over time. Even if you decide to allow vaping indoors, it’s worth considering the extra cleanup work that could result when that vaping tenant moves out. So even if your state permits vaping in many public areas, you might want to restrict their use within your rental units.

Cigarettes versus e-cigarettes: the vapors

E-cigarettes: The vapors emitted from an e-cigarette contain far less nicotine than the smoke blown from a regular cigarette.

Cigarettes: Cigarettes leave behind a nicotine-stained film that discolors everything from walls to furniture. And then there’s that stale cigarette stench that’s notoriously hard to remove from a chain-smoker’s home.

Related: How to Remove Cigarette Odor From Your Rental Property

E-cigarettes: The vapors emitted from an e-cigarette contain just a fraction of the amount of nicotine found in cigarette smoke.

Cigarettes: Cigarette smoke contains a laundry list of harmful chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and formaldehyde.

E-cigarettes: Vapors in e-cigarettes typically contain less harmful chemicals, although they’re still packed full of chemicals.

The main difference, when it comes to residue left behind from smoke or vapor, is that cigarette-smoke residue builds up faster and reeks. It’s also visibly noticeable, since nicotine discolors some surfaces.

Even though vaping doesn’t cause nicotine stains, the vapor still creates a messy buildup. One substance in the vapor is vegetable glycerin, which leaves behind an oily residue. Oils attract dust and small particles, so a home exposed to frequent vaping ends up with a dirty, greasy buildup.

Cleaning concerns

Cleaning up after a smoker typically involves steam-cleaning carpets and curtains, washing  non-porous surfaces thoroughly, and repainting the walls. Removing odors could be extremely difficult, depending upon the amount of smoking done indoors.

Cleaning up vaping residue means deep-cleaning carpets, fabrics, and upholstery; washing non-porous surfaces with equal parts water and vinegar; and potentially repainting walls after wiping them down with the vinegar solution. All surfaces could be harder to clean than similar surfaces in a nonsmoker’s unit, thanks to the oily vaping residue.

What about the law?

As is the case with traditional cigarettes, the laws regulating e-cigarettes vary greatly from one region to another.

San Francisco, for instance, bans use of e-cigs wherever traditional cigarettes are banned.

Minneapolis lawmakers, however, believe e-cigarettes do not violate clean-air laws. In Minnesota, landlords decide whether tenants can smoke cigarettes or e-cigs within their units and on-site outdoor spaces. State law prohibits smoking and vaping in common indoor areas of rental properties, however.

Read up on your state’s laws to determine if there’s already a law regulating e-cigarettes and whether that applies to rental housing. If you choose to ban  e-cigarettes and similar electronic vaping products, clearly state this in your rental agreement. Define what forms of smoking and vaping you prohibit. Note any areas where vaping is allowed, such as outdoor spaces far away from rental units. Also clarify any bans on vaping in common indoor and outdoor areas.

Fire hazard is real

Vaping doesn’t carry the same fire hazard as falling asleep with a lit cigarette, but it still has its risks. In an eight-year period ending with the close of 2016, 195 vaping-related fires or explosions were reported in the United States. Many of these incidents happened when the device or spare lithium-ion batteries were in the user’s pocket. Other incidents happened while charging the e-cigarette’s batteries. All of the reported problems related specifically to lithium-ion batteries.

The charging incidents in particular are worth noting, as fires could occur while the tenant is away or asleep. Even so, the number of reported incidents is relatively small, considering that more than 3 percent of all U.S. adults vape, according to 2016 statistics.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether allowing e-cigarettes is worth the extra cleanup effort or the potential fire hazards. If you decide to allow vaping, it may be worthwhile to note an extra cleaning charge in the rental agreement. Make sure your tenants are well aware of your vaping and smoking rules before renting to them. A questionnaire asking potential tenants about smoking and vaping habits could help protect your property from careless tenants. They’ll be responsible for any excessive repair or cleanup issues that result during or after their tenancy.

When is a tenant responsible for repairs?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, repairs, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain, unauthorized repairs

Who is responsible for repairsWhether you own a home or rent one, things eventually break, malfunction, or wear out.

Generally if you’re a renter and you break something, you pay to repair it. If something breaks not because of you, such as because of age, the landlord is typically responsible. But what about minor repairs that are inexpensive or simple enough to do yourself?

You might be better off just handling them yourself. Before calling the landlord for every minor maintenance or repair issue, consider who should really be handling those repairs.

Check your lease agreement for repairs

There’s no need to stress out the moment that bathroom sink faucet starts to drip. Before wondering if you’re in charge of such repairs, check your rental agreement. In most cases, the contract discusses which repairs are the landlord’s responsibility and which may be yours.

For instance, Landlordology writer and rental owner Laura Agadoni includes language in her rental agreements noting that tenants are responsible for repairs $50 or less. Anything costing more is her responsibility, as long as the tenant or tenant’s guests didn’t cause the repair issue.

Is it a big deal?

If your lease isn’t clear about who should handle your specific repair issue, consider whether the problem is a big deal or a minor annoyance. For instance, if your entry door won’t lock properly and never has, your landlord should fix it, as your safety is at stake. If your cat uses the window blinds as a ladder, destroying them in the process, this isn’t such a big deal. It’s also an issue that you are definitely responsible for, since your pet caused the problem.

If that leaky faucet keeps you awake at night, the landlord may be willing to fix it, especially if they pay the water bill. It doesn’t hurt to submit a written repair request for something like this if you aren’t sure whether it’s your responsibility. Even so, use those repair requests sparingly, as no landlord enjoys being pestered repeatedly by the same tenant for somewhat minor concerns.

Check your state’s laws

Tenants have a right to habitable living conditions in every state. For instance, a functional heat system is a requirement. If your heating unit breaks down, the landlord must repair it, no matter where in the United States you live.

Some states such as Washington take things farther, noting that a landlord cannot legally make the tenants responsible for any repairs except when the tenant or their guests caused the damage.

If your repair issue is potentially difficult or costly and isn’t an obvious landlord responsibility, check your state laws for more clarity.

Handle what you can

Minor things such as burnt-out light bulbs or mildew in the shower are typically the tenant’s responsibility. Even if this isn’t spelled out in your agreement, it’s usually easier to deal with the issue yourself than to contact the landlord over what amounts to a minor annoyance.

If a screw is missing from the deadbolt hardware, replace it yourself.

A stain on the carpet near the front door is also easier to deal with yourself; the landlord usually isn’t responsible for cleaning-related issues.

On the other hand, if there’s mold and a wet, sagging spot on the bathroom ceiling due to a leak in an upstairs unit, it’s not your responsibility. But you should report it immediately before things get worse.

Definitely your responsibility

Certain maintenance issues are always your responsibility, unless your contract states otherwise.

It’s up to you to replace light bulbs and batteries in smoke detectors.

You also must keep the appliances clean, even if they belong to the landlord.

Even though it’s a rental unit, treat it as if you own the space. Keep the floors, walls, kitchen, and bathroom clean and in the best condition possible. The landlord expects the unit to be in the same condition when you move out as when you moved in, other than normal wear.

What not to do

Even if you have the skills of a general contractor, don’t make major repairs yourself without the landlord’s consent. Patching a nail hole in a wall and repainting the spot to match the wall is okay; painting “ugly” walls an entirely new color is not. Likewise, replacing a window you broke may seem like the right thing to do. In the landlord’s eyes, it might be all wrong. The window may not match the rest of the building’s windows.

Do not make any such repairs without asking the landlord first. The landlord may prefer to use their own contractor or do the work themselves and send you the bill. This ensures the work done meets your landlord’s standards.

In a nutshell, handle simple things such as light bulbs and cleaning yourself. Consult your rental agreement for anything that seems like a gray area. Major issues such as heat and electricity are definitely up to the landlord.

9 tips for getting your property ready to rent

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in appliances, edited, For Landlords, heating and cooling, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, move-in, Move-in/Move-out, paid, painting, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Things to do when prepping a rentalA turnover gives you a little time to spruce up a rental in a way you can’t while it’s occupied.

You may not need to do a major cleanup or repair, but you can take care of some of the small but important details that make a rental attractive to quality tenants and ready to rent. You should always make repairs necessary to satisfy habitability requirements, but don’t stop there.

Here are 9 tips for getting your property ready to rent.

4 essential and inexpensive tasks

Once your rental is empty and disrupting tenants is not an issue, seize the opportunity by completing tasks that affect habitability, such as checking the smoke alarms and making sure all the electrical outlets and plumbing fixtures work and are safe. While you’re at it, pay attention to the following four tasks:

1. Test and service appliances

  • Turn on the oven to verify that the temperature on the dial and that recorded by a thermometer inside are the same.
  • Check the water heater pilot to make sure it’s steady and blue.
  • Wash a load in the washing machine and dry it in the dryer.
  • Clean out the dryer vents.
  • Perform any repairs that your tests indicate are needed.

Related: How to test appliances before a tenant moves in

2. Clean and deodorize

The entire unit needs cleaning after a lengthy tenancy, but especially the kitchen and bathrooms.

  • Grease buildup in the kitchen may call for a strong detergent, such as TSP, for removal.
  • Use liberal amounts of disinfecting cleaner in the bathroom.

Also clean the carpets. Unless the tenants who just moved out were particularly conscientious, they will probably need shampooing.

Related: How clean does my rental need to be when I move out?

3. Search for and eradicate mold

Look for mold in the following places:

  • Dark corners of the laundry room
  • Bathroom tiles and fixtures
  • Closets

Scrub mold with soap and water, but don’t try to scrub mold out of drywall. Unless the mold is clearly only growing on the surface paint, the only way to eradicate it is to replace the affected drywall.

Related: Is a Landlord Always Responsible for Mold Remediation?

4. Re-key or change the locks

It’s a good idea to change locks between tenants. If you can’t re-key the existing locks on the entry doors, replace them. This might be a good time to install keypunch locks that you can simply reprogram during the next turnover.

Related: 4 Considerations When Choosing Locks for Your Rental Properties

5 important jobs that may cost a bit

If you’re prepared to devote a modest sum—in the neighborhood of  $1,000—toward getting your unit ready to rent, the following items should be high on your to-do list so that you can attract quality tenants who’ll pay top dollar.

5. Paint the walls

Repainting a rental unit before occupancy is a good idea, but it isn’t something you always have to do to get a unit ready to rent. However, painting freshens up the space in a way that cleaning can’t. Professional painting costs from $400 to $700 per room, but you can reduce this cost by more than half by doing the work yourself.

Related: Save money by learning to paint

6. Spruce up the landscaping

If you’re renting a detached unit, pay some attention to the lawn, garden, and entryway.

  • Trim back foliage that covers windows or hangs over the roof
  • Edge the walkways
  • Plant a few decorative plants

You might even consider paying a contractor $100 to $150 to paint the front door, which Realtors advise is the easiest and most effective way to upgrade the exterior of a home.

Related: 5 hardscaping features that attract renters

7. Clean or replace curtains and window screens, and wash the windows

  • Take the curtains down, and put them in the washing machine or have them dry cleaned.
  • Remove the window screens, and wash them or replace them if they are torn or the frames are bent.
  • Consider having the windows professionally cleaned to bring light into the house.

8. Service the central air system

A vacancy provides a golden opportunity to bring in a technician to do a furnace and cooling system tune-up. It will include checking the seals in the compressor and blower, replacing the filters, and inspecting for small other small problems that could turn into big ones at some inopportune moment when an emergency repair is the last thing you need.

Related: Is My Landlord Required to Provide Heat and Air Conditioning?

9. Restore hardwood floors

A floor restoration, unlike a refinish, doesn’t involve sanding off the finish. Instead, you merely scuff up the finish with a floor buffer and apply a refresher coat. It costs a fraction of what refinishing costs and can make a floor in good shape—but dulled by years of traffic—look new again.

Don’t be afraid to spend money to make a unit ready to rent

The amount of time and money you have to invest in getting a unit ready to rent depends on the rental market and the condition of the unit. In a community with rental shortages, you may not have to invest much money or time at all. Things are different in a competitive market, but don’t worry if you need to make a small investment.

By working to attract renters, you’ll reduce downtime and future maintenance costs, thus recouping your investment and keeping your books in the black.

Rental property in a snowy area? 5 pieces of snow removal equipment you need

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, lease clause, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, rental maintenance, snow removal, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Owning snow removal equipment is practically a basic need in a snowy climate. And in many communities, snow removal is mandatory.

If you have a rental unit where snow accumulates, check the local bylaws. You’re likely to find that someone has to remove snow from public thoroughfares that cross your property, and there is often a time limit. For instance, cities like Ann Arbor, Michigan, give you 24 hours from the time it stops snowing to get rid of the white stuff.

Related: Snow removal—how to avoid being negligent

Whether you do the work yourself, pass the responsibility to tenants through the lease, or hire maintenance personnel, someone has to remove snow if you want to get around, and they’ll need equipment and supplies to do so. As the property owner, you’re responsible for non-compliance with snow removal ordinances, so it’s best if you make sure snow removal equipment is available. Here’s a list of what you should have:

1. Snow shovels

And not just one—you need two or three. You need them even if you have a snowblower. One of the shovels should have the capacity to move a lot of snow at once, but the others should be smaller. Snow is heavy when it’s slushy, and you don’t want anyone to pull a muscle, so the smaller shovels are an option if using the big one is impractical. They also come in handy should a snow shoveling party develop.

Snow shovels are lightweight, usually made of plastic, and they’re inexpensive, so there’s no reason not to have a collection. Keep them on the property so they are ready when the need arises.

2. Scraper

Where there’s snow, there’s usually ice, and clearing it off thoroughfares is part of the job of snow removal. You need a scraper to remove ice, and it should have a long handle so you don’t have to bend over. The scraper itself is usually nothing more elaborate than a flat piece of metal with a slight edge. A spade shovel will do the job in a pinch, but a scraper is lighter and easier to use. Save the spade for digging and spend $30 on a scraper.

3. Snow broom

When you get less than an inch of accumulation, it’s easier to sweep snow off walkways and driveways than to shovel it. While you can use any broom, a snow broom, which is a push broom with moderately hard bristles, works best. Some snow brooms come with a scraper installed on the other end of the long handle, and some come with LED work lights, which makes sweeping easier at night. These are great for sweeping snow off railings and steps.

4. Salt or sand spreader

The stuff that falls from the sky in winter isn’t always snow. If the temperature hovers just above the freezing point during the day, precipitation can take the form of sleet or rain. When the temperature drops at night, though, you’ve often got a frozen mess and a slipping hazard on your walkways.

Salt or sand is a must for these situations, so you should have some. You should also have a spreader to distribute it evenly. It’s akin to a fertilizer spreader for the lawn, and in a pinch, that’s what you can use. However, if you use a spreader for salt, don’t use it for fertilizer. Residual salt in your fertilizer spreader is bad for your lawn.

5. Snowblower …maybe

Sure, a snowblower makes fast work of a large driveway or a long sidewalk after a nice powdery dumping, but it doesn’t work nearly as well in slushy snow. Not only that—someone has to start it. A snowblower engine is like a lawnmower engine, and if you’ve ever tried to start one of those in the spring after a long, wet winter, you know how difficult that can be. How much harder is it to start it in the middle of a wet winter? Often very.

If you have a tenant or maintenance staffer who is savvy about small engines and a warm, dry storage place, a snowblower can be a good investment. Otherwise, consider joining a neighborhood snowblower pool, or stick to manual snow removal equipment.

Snow removal liability can be confusing

Communities in northern climates are usually specific about snow removal requirements, and the bylaws are easy to understand. Not so in communities in which snow is uncommon. For example, Jonesboro, Arkansas, has no law regarding snow removal, so when the town got a 2-inch accumulation in 2013, some landlords let the snow melt rather than clear it. The result was general pandemonium in the town for a week.

One way to avoid liability and keep the community safe is to pass the responsibility to tenants by including a snow removal clause in the lease. Tenants are often in a better position to assess the situation after a snowfall than landlords. In multi-family dwellings or large apartment complexes, it’s probably a better idea to contract snow removal with a third party. Either option is better than doing nothing.

Related: 7 Extraordinary Lease Clauses That I Can’t Live Without

6 easy ways to get more rent for your home

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in appliances, edited, For Landlords, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, painting, rental improvements, rental maintenance, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Make more money with your rentalsWhen renting out a single-family unit, one rule of thumb is the rental price should be a fixed percentage of the purchase price—something in the range of 1 percent for most parts of the country.

Realities of the real estate and rental markets don’t always make it possible to attain that figure, especially in coastal cities. However, if you want to get as close as you can, try making some improvements to your rental property.

Start by using Cozy’s online rent estimation tool to gauge where you currently stand, and you’ll know how far you need to go to get there. You may find you have some work to do to get top dollar, but the improvements you need to make might be easier and less expensive than you expected. The ideal improvements are those that make the most impact on rental value while costing the least to implement.

1. Tidy up the front

Realtors will tell you that giving your home curb appeal is one of the most effective ways to make it attractive for buyers. That’s also true for renters. Here’s what to do:

  1. Mow the lawn.
  2. Trim back the part of the lawn that overlaps the driveway and walkway.
  3. Clean the driveway and walkway with a pressure washer.
  4. Tidy up the garden and hardscape.
  5. Plant some trees and flowers.

You might consider painting the house, but if that isn’t in your budget, at least paint the front door. It’s the first thing people see, and it makes an instant impression.

Related: 5 hardscaping features that attract renters

2. Add light

Darkness makes a room feel like a dungeon, but light opens it up and makes it feel welcoming. Add light to dark rooms by replacing small, outdated sash windows with larger sliding or casement ones.

Home Advisor’s 2018 average cost estimate for window replacement is lower than you might expect, about $500.

If the rental property is a brick building, or if there is some other circumstance that drives the cost of modifying windows out of your budget, you might consider placing a few mirrors in strategic places to augment light. Renters can always remove them after they’ve signed the rental agreement and moved in.

3. Provide quality amenities

Most people don’t want to move into a rental unit with a stove from the 1960s or a washing machine that makes bumping sounds. If anyone does, they won’t pay top dollar, or they’ll end up complaining if they do.

Quality appliances add value in two ways. One, they are more efficient than older, out-of-date appliances, so they cost less to use. And two, most newer appliances are equipped with technology features and smart functions that consumers who pay top dollar for a rental have come to expect.

Pay special attention to the kitchen. According to Consumer Reports, improving the kitchen is the number one way to make a house attractive to buyers, and this can apply to renters as well. Stainless steel is king when it comes to appliance finish, and stone, quartz, and faux marble outrank plastic laminates by a long shot in the countertop category.

Related: 

4. Paint the interior and exterior

Painting is the easiest and most effective way to transform a property from shabby to scintillating, thus raising the rental price. Pay attention to both the interior and exterior of the property.

Outdoor colors that blend with the surroundings make a property feel more inviting and comfortable. Inside, it’s all about light. Don’t try to be an interior designer, because your tastes might not match those of your prospective renters. Keep the interior colors neutral and clean.

Related: Paint Walls a Neutral Color

5. Get the property professionally cleaned

A rental property should look and smell clean. The bathrooms, kitchens, walls, and floors should be spotless when you’re showing the property.

Odors left by your previous renters must also be gone.

  • A coat of paint covers most odors that have accumulated on the walls, but sometimes it takes more than that.
  • Check for mold and be ruthless about eradicating any that you find. Sometimes, that involves replacing drywall.
  • Open the windows and leave trays of baking soda in inconspicuous places to absorb any smells left by the previous tenant.
  • Do not spray fragrance to cover the odors. Many people find them offensive, and some people are even sensitive enough to get sick.

6. Raise the rent price incrementally

Unless the community in which your property is located has rent control, you can raise the rental price after a lease expires or, in most month-to-month rental situations, on 30 days’ notice.

It’s best to make a rent increase in intervals that make sense. Most people who sign a lease expect a rent increase before they sign the next one, and those on a month-to-month rental agreement also expect one periodically. Keep the increase small enough to encourage your renters to stay, and by the time they move out—if they ever do—the rent will have moved that much closer to your target for the property.

Related: Should I increase rental rates every year?

The bottom line

If you increase your rental price by a significant amount between occupancies, you should be ready for extra scrutiny. You’ll probably have to sink more of your resources into improvements, and the tradeoff in rent might not be worth it. Limiting your rent increases to keep your current renters not only avoids those extra expenses, but by encouraging them to stay, it creates a neighborhood. That’s what many renters, especially those with families, are looking for.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve used any of these tips to raise the rent, or if you have other techniques that have worked!

A biyearly maintenance schedule for busy landlords

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, maintenance schedule, paid, rental maintenance, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

If you own rental properties, you know that each one needs a maintenance schedule. You have a couple of alternatives if you don’t want to pay a property manager or maintenance service.

  1. Create maintenance agreements with tenants.
  2. Find a way of working a rental maintenance schedule into your routine.

Related: 5 Ways to Save Money by Being Your Own Property Manager

The first alternative is a great idea if you have responsible, long-term renters. But it might not be such a good one if you have a high turnaround rate or unreliable renters.

If you find the buck stopping at your desk, and your lifestyle won’t accommodate a monthly maintenance schedule, don’t despair. You should be able to take care of most major maintenance issues with biyearly visits, preferably in mid- to late-fall and mid-spring.

Fall maintenance

When you visit your rental property in the fall, your goal is to get it ready for winter. Make sure the heating system is in good working order, and inspect the structure for any problems that could be exacerbated in cold and snowy weather.

1. Service the central air system

Fall is the best time to clean and/or replace all the air return filters as well as the filters around the heating unit itself. If the property has a wood stove or fireplace, it’s a good idea to get the chimney swept once a year. This keeps the fires burning brightly and prevents sparks from causing fires in places you don’t want them.

Related: Who’s Responsible for Furnace and HVAC Maintenance?

2. Clean the gutters

Prevent ice dams and icicles by clearing leaves and debris from the gutters. It’s a messy and slightly dangerous job, so you may want to hire a handyman to do this for you.

3. Winterize the garden

Shut down the sprinkler system and then drain it to prevent burst pipes. Mulch vulnerable plants to protect them from frost. You can make great mulch material by raking leaves onto the lawn, mowing the grass, and collecting the cuttings.

4. Check weatherstripping and patch holes

Replace worn weatherstripping on doors and windows, and check around the foundation for cracks and holes. Patch the holes with caulk. If they look inviting for rodents, cover them with galvanized flashing so the renters don’t have a winter pest problem.

5. Do a safety inspection

  • Look for rotted wood, lifting or sinking concrete pads, or anything else that could be a slipping hazard when covered with snow or ice.
  • Check handrails for stability.
  • Check outdoor outlets and light fixtures to make sure they work and that they are waterproof.

Related: Top 10 fall maintenance tips for landlords and property managers

Spring maintenance

Spring maintenance is mostly about troubleshooting damage caused by ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. Because the ground has thawed and the sun is out, it’s also the best time to make improvements that enhance the appearance and habitability of the property.

1. Maintain Drainage

Clear blocked downspouts and gutters, and repair leaks. Look for standing water in the yard or driveway, and improve drainage so puddles don’t turn into floodwaters during summer rainstorms.

2. Look for plumbing leaks and repair them

All pipes are vulnerable to freezing in the winter but especially exterior pipes that are partially or completely exposed. Turn on the water to full pressure, and check all the joints for sweating or active leaks.

3. Stabilize fences, decks, and handrails

Exterior wooden structures take a beating during the winter. Replace rotted wood, and tighten bolts and nuts to keep them serviceable throughout the summer.

4. Power wash

Clean dirty walkways, decks, fences, and sidings to keep them mold-free and looking their best.

5. Test the smoke alarms

Press the test button on each smoke alarm to be sure the alarm sounds. Check the dates on the batteries and replace any that have been in place longer than 10 years.

6. Seal cracks and holes

You did this in the fall, but you should also do it in the spring. Rodent and insect activity are highest in the summer months, and sealing them out is the best way to prevent an infestation.

7. Test the cooling system

If your rental has an air conditioner, make sure that it comes on and blows cold air.

Adding pool and septic upkeep

Some maintenance tasks are property-specific. For example, not every property has a pool or septic system, but if yours does, you need to regularly maintain them.

For pools

Closing a pool in the winter and opening it in the spring are two important jobs. Most landlords contract with a pool service for regular pool upkeep.

Related: A Landlord’s Guide to Swimming Pool Maintenance and Liability

For septic systems

Check the level of the tank in the spring, and pump it if necessary. This is something you should do every three to five years. Don’t let your tenants off the hook when it comes to septic maintenance, however. The way they use the plumbing affects the health of the tank and drain field. Give your tenants clear guidelines concerning septic use when they move in. It goes without saying that tenants should also do their part to dispose of trash and maintain sanitary, mold-free conditions.

Related: How to Educate Your Tenants about Using a Septic System

Should you let tenants make improvements?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

You have a house that’s, to put it mildly, ugly.

The front porch sags, the exterior paint is peeling, the carpets are stained and worn, and the circa-1960 bathrooms have never been updated. But you have renters anyway, and they want to make improvements. Should you let them?

That’s almost exactly what happened in one Pennsylvania home. It turned out badly for the landlord who gave the month-to-month tenants a notice to vacate … after all the renovation work was complete. The court made the landlord pay more than $11,000 to reimburse the tenants for the improvements they made.

So the question remains: should you let tenants make improvements?

The answer: it depends.

Your tenant asks

Tenants often ask to make improvements to a home they will rent. They need to live there, after all. Common requests are to paint the walls, drill holes to hang window treatments or run cable, replace the flooring, update the light fixtures, create a garden in the backyard, and change the bathroom sinks.

Related: Should I allow my tenants to paint a rental property?

What you should do when your tenant asks to “improve” the home is to calculate how much it will cost to return the unit back to its original condition if need be. That might be necessary if the tenant’s so-called improvements make your rental less desirable. But, on the other hand, the alteration might very well be an improvement you can leave. And that will be a benefit for you and will make your current (and probably future) tenant happy.

If the security deposit will cover fixing the alteration, you might consider taking the risk and say, “Yes.” If the security deposit won’t cover the cost to return the property to its original state, or if you just don’t like the idea of what your tenant proposes, you can—to use Nancy Reagan’s famous line: “Just say no.” This is your investment we’re talking about.

But who pays?

If your tenant makes an “improvement” that devalues your home, and if they did so without your permission, they typically need to pay, and you would use that money to fix the issue. But if your tenant adds value to your house, like the Pennsylvania example above, the situation regarding who pays becomes more difficult.

One option is that you strike a deal where you pay half and they pay half. Another is that you might allow an improvement but only if they pay for all of it. Or you might decide the improvement will be a good value for your property, and you will pay for all of it.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s best if you address the issue of tenant improvements in the lease. If you haven’t done that beforehand, you can add an addendum to the lease that makes it clear who is responsible for paying for improvements or whether they can be done at all.

Related: The differences between repairs and improvements

Here’s a sample of what I have in my lease:

That guards against renters who decide to take matters into their own hands during their stay and allows for some negotiation.

If you decide to let your tenant make improvements, you could include language like this, courtesy of Law Insider:

For work you will do:

That ensures you will be paid for work you do that is requested but not a habitability issue.

For work done by either party:

This clause makes it clear that you get to keep the improvements to the property.

A clause if the alterations devalue the home:

This is the clause you point to if you need to withhold all or part of the security deposit.

What if your tenant makes alterations without your permission?

As soon as you notice that your tenant altered your property without your permission, you need to act. At the very least, send a letter or email letting them know that you are aware of the change to the property and that this change is a violation of the lease.

Then let your tenant know the consequences of their action. The change might be something you like. If so, let them know that they don’t need to restore the property to the original condition but that you will not pay for the alteration since you did not approve it.

If you don’t like the change, tell your tenant to restore the property to its original condition. But if that doesn’t happen, let them know that you will do so and will deduct the money from the security deposit.

If the alteration was unacceptable and the tenant is not cooperating with you, you can choose to evict at that point for violating a lease term.

Related: 4 tips for first-time landlords

When you should consider making improvements yourself

Your rental property is an investment. You should, therefore, protect that investment by at least maintaining and repairing as necessary. It’s also a good idea to know what the competition is like in your area. Most tenants don’t stay in a rental property forever, meaning that you will probably need to re-rent at some point.

It’s good to understand what tenants expect in a rental property for your price in your area. If your rental is lacking, you might want to make upgrades to make it more desirable. Most renters, for example, like stainless steel appliances, renovated bathrooms and kitchens, and central air conditioning.

Related: Top 10 amenities renters can’t resist

The bottom line

Rental properties need improvements from time to time. The best situation is for you to be on top of maintenance, repairs, and possible renovations for your property. But if you don’t do that, or if your tenant has suggestions to improve the space, you might want to entertain your tenant’s request to make improvements. Just make sure you and your tenant completely understand the terms of the deal.

Have you let tenants make improvements? Have you ever improved your rental property? Tell us about it in the comments!

Am I responsible for the damage my guests or pets cause?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, guests, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, paid, property damage, renter's insurance, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

You’ve invited a few guests over for a barbecue on the patio. Your pal Mr. Grillmaster, the self-proclaimed expert on charcoal grills, takes over lighting the grill and handling burger duty. A few squirts of lighter fluid later and the flames soar, which damages the exterior wall. So who’s responsible?

It’s your responsibility…

Even though you didn’t cause the damage, you will be held liable for it by either the landlord, their insurance company, or your rental-insurance company. You, as the tenant named on the lease, are responsible for damage caused by your household members, guests, and pets. Many rental agreements detail this information, so there’s no question about it.

…even if you weren’t home

It doesn’t matter how or when the damage happened—you’re still responsible. If you allow friends to stay in your place while you’re away and one of them causes a sink to overflow, damaging the floor or even an apartment beneath yours, you’re liable.

Your landlord expects you to pay for repairs to your unit and any other damaged property.

Dealing with renter’s insurance

If you have renter’s insurance, submit the landlord’s repair bill to the company, but don’t expect them to cover all damages. Renter’s insurance covers your own personal property, such as computers and clothing, but might not cover damage to your rental unit.

Renter’s insurance that includes liability coverage pays for damages to other people’s personal property, such as electronics in the unit beneath yours. As with other forms of insurance, the amount and type of coverage varies by policy. Read the fine print or call your agent to determine whether your policy covers damage to the building.

Related: A landlord’s guide to renters insurance

Shouldn’t my guest pay?

If your guest breaks a window, you can’t expect the landlord to send the bill to that guest. You’re legally responsible for the actions of the guest. You could ask the guest to pay the bill, but as far as the landlord is concerned, you’re the one ultimately responsible.

Burglary damage

If a burglar breaks in, you might not have to pay for damages to the unit. To help prove your case, file a police report right away and provide all pertinent information to the landlord. Read the lease terms to ensure you aren’t liable for such damages. Some contracts might shift such responsibilities to the tenants. Check local and state laws regarding this issue if your landlord refuses to pay for repairs.

Pet problems

Even if your landlord welcomes dogs, you could get stuck with a bill if the dog breaks a screen door, for example, when scared by lightning. Your renter’s insurance might cover pet-related damage, but keep in mind the cost of your deductible versus the cost of the repair bill. If you make an insurance claim, your premiums may also rise. It may be better in the long run to just pay for the repairs out of pocket.

Related: Landlord liability when a tenant’s dog bites someone

Ultimately, you’re responsible for everything that takes place in your home, just as if you owned the property. Keep that in mind before planning a wild party or adopting a large dog that might make a mess of the place in a hurry.

 

Top 8 ways to know if your rental meets safety standards

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, landlord liability, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, safety, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

The most successful landlords understand the importance and value of conducting regular property inspections. Making sure your rental meets the safety standards mandated by statutes (and common sense) is the best way protect your tenants and your bank account.

Make a checklist for each property you own, and update it when you inspect the property. Include these eight important items on your list.

1. Do you have GFI outlets?

The National Electrical Code began to require Ground Fault Interrupting outlets (GFIs) in 1971, and, over the years, it expanded the list of locations where GFIs should be installed. These include:

  • Kitchens
  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Anywhere outside

Many older rentals don’t have these safety devices, and that increases the risk of shocks and fires. If a non-GFI outlet were to overheat and catch fire in a place in which a GFI is required, insurance might not cover the damage.

You don’t necessarily have to retrofit all non-GFI outlets in a kitchen or bathroom. You could simply install a GFI breaker in the main panel, or you can locate the first outlet on the circuit and replace that one with a GFI. If it’s properly wired, it will protect all downline outlets by tripping whenever one of them detects a ground fault.

Related: How to get your landlord to fix a bad electrical system

2. Are there smoke detectors?

Most states have smoke alarm laws, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with those in your state or municipality and obey them. State or local regulations usually specify where the smoke detectors should be, and naturally, most fire prevention authorities require the smoke detectors to be in working order.

Check the smoke alarms in your rentals yearly by pushing the test button on each one and ensuring that the alarm sounds. Respond promptly when a renter complains of chirping noises because that means the battery is weak and the smoke alarm may not function in an emergency.

As of March, 2018, 27 states require carbon monoxide detectors in residential units through statute, and another 11 states require them through the state building code. To avoid having to keep track of both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, consider installing combination units. These come with sealed batteries to fire code requirements in California and elsewhere.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

3. Are the outdoor railings safe?

If your rental has a deck or balcony, the railings need to be at least 36-42 inches high, depending on whether the local governing authority relies on the International Residential Code or the International Building Code. The railings must be able to withstand a minimum shear force, which is also specified by code.

Wood railings tend to deteriorate over the years. The wood rots, and the bolts holding the posts to the deck fascia work themselves loose. Check the railings on your decks and balconies every year. Tighten loose fasteners and replace rotting wood.

4. How safe are your stairs?

You don’t want renters, visitors, or anyone else to slip and fall on any of your stairways or walkways. You can’t prevent every accident, but you can minimize the risk of one occurring by keeping stairs in good repair.

Replace rotted wood on wooden staircases and fix cracks on concrete ones before they widen and turn into hazards. Painting stairs and walkways with a non-slip coating is a good way to guard against loss of traction in wet weather.

5. Do the doors lock?

Most states require landlords to provide secure housing, and courts are increasingly awarding large settlements to tenants who sue landlords after burglaries or break-ins.

A secure exterior door is one with both a locking lockset and a deadbolt. Re-key the locks or change them with every turnover to eliminate the circulation of spare keys. Even better, equip the doors with electronic or combination locks. Discourage renters from duplicating keys, and keep a log of the keys that you hand out.

In high-crime areas, installing an alarm system is an added precaution that could prevent a burglary and keep you out of court.

Related:

4 considerations when choosing locks for your rental properties

Should landlords (or tenants) install an alarm system?

6. Is that paint safe?

You should be concerned about lead-based paint if you have a rental that was built before 1978. Before that date, lead was a common ingredient in interior paints, and paint containing this toxic metal may be flaking off your old wooden windowsills right now. If your renters have children, and the children ingest lead-based paint, they could suffer developmental and neurological problems.

It’s in your interest, as well as the interest of your renters, to test painted walls and woodwork for lead. If you get a positive reading, consult a remediation expert to determine the best way to deal with it. According to federal law, you must disclose the presence of lead paint to your renters.

Related: Understanding “the lead disclosure rule”

7. Is there a pest infestation?

Besides being a general nuisance, pests such as mice, rats, and cockroaches are unsanitary and can spread disease and generally lower safety standards in the rental. Renters may attract them by leaving food around or failing to clean up, but it’s ultimately the landlord’s responsibility to get rid of them. If you add a monthly payment to a local pest control company to the rent, you won’t have to worry about this problem.

8. Are the appliances maintained?

The dryer: This tops the list of appliances that need an inspection and possible maintenance at least once a year. For the sake of fire safety and dryer performance, check the lint trap and the vent opening in the side of the house for lint buildup. Clean the vent if you can’t feel a steady stream of air from the vent opening when the dryer is on.

The washing machine: Check the lint trap on the washing machine.

The water heater: Check for leaks. You should flush the water heater every three to five years to prevent leaks and maintain its performance.

Related: How long should appliances last?

Mention known issues in the lease

You may not be able to correct all the issues that lower safety standards in your rental as quickly as you’d like. It’s important to get to them eventually, but until you do, disclose them in the lease as the law requires. That isn’t guaranteed to get you out of hot water if an accident occurs, but at least you’ll be following the law, and you won’t be misrepresenting the rental.

How to find a contractor you can trust

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in contractor, edited, For Landlords, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Planning a large remodel? Needing someone to make an emergency repair? Looking to complete the support team for your rental business? If so, you’ll have many contractor options, but choose wisely.

Hiring someone who has few skills, manages time poorly, or is dishonest wears on your time and resources.

A trustworthy contractor usually has a network of tradespeople who can step in when the need arises. Find the right person and you may never have to search for qualified maintenance support again.

Related: How to build a little black book of contractors

1. Look for a trustworthy contractor

You can always find a contractor, but your goal is to find a good, reliable contractor you can trust. Here are some ways:

Through people you know

The No. 1 place to start searching for a trusted contractor is among your friends. Many of the best contractors stopped advertising long ago. They rely on satisfied customers to do their advertising for them. If you’re looking for someone to complete a particular task, find friends who have had that type of work done and ask for recommendations.

Neighborhood review websites

Join a neighborhood discussion group. When you ask for recommendations on sites such as Nextdoor.com, you usually get several leads, phone numbers and all. Yelp is another resource, especially for contractors who specialize in large-scale projects.

Online classified services (Craigslist)

Search the Services tab for your area, or post a job opening. If you post, be prepared to screen responses carefully because scammers are a fact of life in the world of online classifieds. Accept email replies only, ask for contact information, and initiate further contact yourself.

Local hardware and building supply centers

Here, you’re likely to find plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. Ask the customer service representative for business cards. They probably have several on file.

Related: 8 real estate professionals a landlord can’t live without

2. Ask questions…then more questions

Getting in touch with a pro who can handle your job is just the first step. You need to know more before you sign on the dotted line, especially if you’re contracting a big job. A trusted contractor can give you satisfying answers to the following questions:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Have you done this kind of work before and how often?
  • Do you have references?

The last question is the most important one. A reference should include contact information so you can follow up. When you call the reference, you’ll want to know the following information:

  • Did the contractor do the work in a complete and timely manner?
  • Was the contractor well organized?
  • Was the contractor easy to work with?
  • Did personal problems ever interfere with the work?
  • Did the contractor charge a fair price for the work? Were there “extra charges”?
  • Would the person ever hire this contractor again?

Related: 4 tips for first time landlords

3. Schedule a meeting

In the end, trust your gut feeling about a person you’re considering working with. Schedule a face-to-face meeting before you sign anything. During the meeting, you’ll want to go over details of the job, but let the conversation wander a bit to get an idea of the contractor’s attitude to work. You might ask such questions as:

  • How long have you been doing this kind of work?
  • Why did you start doing it?
  • What was your favorite (most troublesome) project?

Touching on appropriate personal issues—such as family—and trivialities—such as favorite movies—might reveal some shared interests, which is a good sign. A trusted contractor, like a friend, is someone with whom you share a certain commonality and who speaks your language.

4. Remember, trust is a two-way street

It isn’t a good idea to micromanage a pro, but it is a good idea to stay in touch and communicate any concerns that arise. Addressing issues such as work standards or punctuality at the outset prevents small matters from turning into bigger problems later on.

If you have an emergency, you need a competent contractor. If you want to create an effective maintenance network for your rental, you need a trustworthy one. In any long-term relationship, even with a contractor, trust works both ways. Be honest, communicative, and reliable, and that’s probably what you’ll get in return.

Related: 8 traits of an ethical landlord

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