Posts Tagged ‘Maintenance’

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.

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

How to test appliances before a tenant moves in

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in appliances, edited, For Landlords, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, move-in, paid

Landlords don’t have to supply appliances, but most do. After all, appliances make rentals more attractive.

If you furnish appliances, you’ll want to make sure they’re in good working order. You probably also want tenants to be able to use them to make their lives more comfortable and enjoyable.

Appliances don’t last forever, so when you’re getting ready to welcome a new tenant, test appliances to make sure they’ll last. Like people, appliances get sick, and when they do, they display recognizable symptoms. Looking for these symptoms when you test appliances usually doesn’t require any tools.

Related:

4 basic amenities that attract quality tenants

How long should appliances last?

The dryer

The dryer is the appliance that can cause the worst problems because it can overheat and start a fire. According to FEMA, dryers cause 2,900 fires in the U.S annually. After making sure the vent and lint trap are clean, dry a load of clothing you’ve just run through the washing machine and conduct these simple tests:

  • Turn the dial to manual and make sure the dryer starts. Check for excessive vibrations or squeaks, which could mean the drum belt is loose.
  • Set the timer to 60 minutes or the drying cycle to “Normal,” time how long it takes for the dryer to shut off. It will be 60 minutes if the manual timer is working. The timing is variable for an electronic dryer, but it should be close to 60 minutes.
  • Take out the clothes and feel how dry they are. If they still feel wet, the vent line could need a deeper cleaning. If you’re sure the vent is clean, it’s time to call a pro to check the burner or heating element on the dryer.

The washing machine

Like dryers, washing machines often malfunction because something in the outlet hose is blocked. In this case, the outlet is inside the machine, and you may have to have it professionally removed. But first, you need to know it’s there.

  • Do a load of wash and make sure the machine drains properly.
  • This test might also reveal strange sounds that could indicate a loose belt or a problem with the motor.
  • Doing a load of wash also gives you an opportunity to test the controls. If you hear any sounds, the machine vibrates excessively, or the controls don’t work, call a service pro. Most problems are fixable.

The refrigerator

Refrigerators also have moving parts, but they may make noise when they malfunction, and since a refrigerator is always on, you can probably hear it. The sounds are a warning to call a repair pro or get a new fridge. The gaskets, fan, and refrigeration system itself are also important.

  • Open and close the doors to check the gasket seal. You should feel a slight pull on the door when it’s almost closed. Replace gaskets that are torn.
  • Put a thermometer inside the fridge and turn the control to mid-range. Come back in 12 hours and check the temperature. It should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If it isn’t, turn the control to cold and check again in another 12 hours. Suspect a problem with the refrigerant if the temperature doesn’t reach 40 F.
  • Look for water on the ground or in the refrigerator compartment. It can indicate problems with the refrigerant or the controls.

The water heater

  • Turn on the hot water at every faucet and check the temperature.
  • Take a careful look at the color of the water. Cooler-than-expected water or a yellow or brownish tinge point to sediment and rust in the water heater.
  • Get it flushed before tenants move in to avoid water quality problems and premature water heater failure.

Related: The ultimate guide to “normal wear and tear”

The kitchen stove

The kitchen stove is probably the easiest to test.

  • Turn on each burner or heating element in turn and make sure it provides maximum flame or glow when the control is turned up all the way.
  • Set the oven to cooking temperature–about 400 degrees—and place an oven thermometer inside. Wait for it to reach the target temperature.

The other stove features are optional. They don’t have to work as long as you disclose that fact to the tenants.

Look for gas leaks

As you test appliances, be sure to listen for leaks coming from those that use gas. It’s a good idea to do a bubble test on each gas connection.

  • Make a 50-50 solution of dish soap and water and spray some on each connection.
  • If you see bubbles on any connection, tighten the connection.
  • If you can’t stop the bubbles, get a licensed gas technician to service the connection.

Check the lights, plugs, and smoke detectors

An outlet tester will come in handy. Plug it into each outlet to check for power.

  • Test GFCI outlets by pressing the bottom button on each one and verifying that the power goes off, and then press the reset button on the top to make sure the tester lights up again.
  • Turn on each of the lights to check for burnt-out bulbs.
  • Press the test button on each of the smoke detectors to make sure the alarm sounds.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

Give yourself time

As you test appliances, you may find problems that require professional repair. Give yourself time to make these repairs by conducting the tests at least a week before occupancy. That way, everything will be shipshape when tenants move in, and if anything goes wrong, it won’t be your fault.

9 maintenance issues tenants are responsible for

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, landlord tenant, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, rental maintenance

Maintaining a clean, safe, and livable rental property is a shared commitment. The law requires a landlord to provide a safe and habitable residence, but it won’t stay that way for long unless tenants share upkeep responsibilities.

Landlords can’t control how tenants live, but they have a right to expect proper use of their properties. Some commonsense tasks, such as proper disposal of trash, need no explanation. Other maintenance issues should be specified in the lease so everyone is on the same page.

1. Waste disposal

You have to throw away the trash if you want a clean and sanitary home. Most municipalities provide waste disposal services for which they generally charge a fee. Landlords often pass this fee on via a lease clause or include it in the rent. In places without regular trash service, it’s important to negotiate a disposal strategy and stick with it.

Related: How to handle dirty tenants

2. Pest control

It’s up to the landlord to ensure that a rental is pest-free before anyone moves in. Once the place is occupied, though, tenants automatically assume some of the responsibility for keeping it that way. If the landlord has corrected structural problems that allow rodents and insects to enter, tenants should avoid attracting them with poor hygienic practices. Tenants could be financially liable for abatement of an infestation caused by negligence, especially if they violate provisions specified in the lease.

Related: Best pest control and prevention tips for your rental property

How to deal with bed bugs at your rental property

3. Landscaping

Lawn and yard maintenance can fall to the tenant if a lease clause assigns these tasks. In that case, any violation of city or county ordinances would be the tenant’s responsibility. The tenant is always responsible for keeping the yard safe by removing obstacles and generally cleaning up. In certain situations, particularly in shared housing units, a landlord may contract a tenant to do yard maintenance in exchange for compensation.

Related: Should a tenant be paid for doing yard work?

4. Snow removal

Snow removal is a matter of safety, not only for tenants but for anyone using a public walkway that crosses the property. Some municipalities assess fines for failure to remove snow in a timely fashion. Able-bodied tenants are in the best position to handle this job, but it isn’t their responsibility unless the lease specifies it. However, because tenants have a responsibility to keep the premises safe, they could be faulted for failing to clear snow from doorways and walkways that access them.

Related: Snow removal—how to avoid being negligent

5. Mold prevention

Mold grows where there’s moisture, and the question of whose job it is to prevent it—and clean it up—can be a thorny one. In general, it’s the landlord’s job if the moisture comes from a plumbing or building leak. Liability for cleanup may fall to tenants if the mold is the result of poor hygiene practices, such as leaving piles of damp clothing in the corner. Tenants are also responsible for providing adequate ventilation and could be required to clean surface mold on furniture and bathroom walls.

Related: Is a landlord always responsible for mold remediation?

6. Proper appliance use

Appliances, such as stoves, microwaves, and dryers, won’t last long under abuse. Proper appliance use is a must in any living situation, and if any repair or replacement is clearly the result of negligence on the part of tenants, they may have to foot the bill. Landlords are typically responsible for routine maintenance, such as filter replacement or duct cleaning. This could be addressed in the lease.

Related: How long should appliances last?

7. Smoke detector maintenance

Smoke detectors are generally unnoticeable until they need new batteries or they go off, which hopefully never happens. When a smoke alarm needs new batteries, it’s the landlord’s job to replace them, unless the lease says otherwise. It’s up to tenants to avoid false alarms caused by shower steam or cooking smoke, but if an alarm goes off for no reason, they must notify the landlord as soon as possible so it can be fixed or replaced.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

8. Septic maintenance

Improper use of a septic system can seriously shorten its life. This is such an important maintenance issue that most landlords include a lease clause or provide a handout that describes best practices. They include treating oils, greases, and non-degradable substances as trash and not plumbing waste. Septic treatments, tank pumping, and pump maintenance are the landlord’s responsibility, but if the system fails, tenants could be dinged if negligent use is the cause.

Related: How to educate your tenants about using a septic system

9. Contacting the landlord

It’s illegal for a landlord to make tenants responsible for all repairs. Tenants do have a responsibility, however, to contact the landlord or property manager when the property needs repairs. Any damage that results from a failure to do so could cost all or part of the security deposit or more. Unless authorized by the lease, tenants can’t make repairs on their own unless the landlord does not respond. In that case, most states allow tenants to make repairs that affect habitability and charge the landlord.

Understand the lease requirements

When it comes to maintenance issues for tenants, it’s important to read and understand the lease before signing it. Certain clauses may stipulate maintenance tasks that don’t normally fall to tenants, and once they sign on the dotted line, tenants own these tasks. Encourage your tenants to take the lease home and study it carefully before signing.

Staple supplies for landlords to keep on hand

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, landlord, Landlord Tips, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, painting, rental maintenance

If you’re a landlord who wants to run a tight ship, you need certain supplies on hand to deal with common situations.

These supplies include tools and maintenance items, paperwork to make your life easier, spare keys, and a way to remove unauthorized padlocks and chains.

Tools and supplies for basic maintenance

Your toolbox should include the basics:

  • Hammer
  • Saw
  • Tape measure
  • Screwdriver
  • Power drill

For small electrical repairs:

  • Multimeter
  • Wire splicing tool
  • Utility knife

For plumbing repairs:

  • Two pairs of locking pliers (One pair is for holding the pipe while you tighten a leaking fitting with the other.)

Besides tools, you’ll need a few supplies to complete repairs. If you keep an inventory of a few basics, you can complete simple repairs efficiently without repeated trips to the hardware store. The list isn’t long. It includes:

  • An assortment of screws and other fasteners
  • Wall anchors
  • Electrical tape, duct tape, and plumbing tape
  • Carpenter’s glue and 2-part epoxy

Related: A landlord’s toolbox for appliance repair and maintenance

Supplies for painting and cosmetic maintenance

When a tenant moves out, you almost always have to do some painting to make the rental ready for a new tenant. Keep the following in your paint closet:

  • Touch-up paint
  • Brushes
  • Rollers

The painting job inevitably involves a certain amount of wall repair. So it’s a good idea to also keep the following supplies in your paint closet so you can make these repairs quickly and minimize downtime for the rental:

  • Drywall joint compound
  • Drywall tape
  • Spackling compound
  • Patching compound
  • A four-inch putty knife and a 6- and 10-inch drywall knife
  • A paint scraper

Related: The top skill you should perfect: painting

Cleaning tools and supplies

Cleaning is an important part of the turnaround process, so your supply closet should include the following:

  • Mop
  • Assortment of rags and sponges
  • Bucket
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Spray bottle that you can fill with vinegar (comes in handy for cleaning hard water streaks from the bathroom walls and shower door)
  • Squeegee

In addition, it’s a great idea to keep the following supplies in the cleaning closet:

  • Ammonia
  • Bleach-based cleanser
  • Dish soap for delicate cleaning jobs
  • Enzyme-based drain cleaner for slow drains
  • Scouring powder
  • Vinegar and/or hydrogen peroxide for disinfecting
  • Window cleaning fluid

Related: How to get your security deposit back

Paperwork to keep in your file cabinet

Your file cabinet should include the instruction manual for each of your appliances, as well as a copy of the warranty (if it’s still in effect). Besides these, it’s a good idea to keep the following paperwork:

  • Copies of lead paint and other disclosure forms that you are required to supply to new tenants
  • Fact sheets about the rental that include safety information and important phone numbers that you can supply to tenants
  • Ready-to-fill-out leases and/or rental agreements.

Related: Find a rock-solid rental lease and stick to it

Prepare for lockouts

It’s good practice to limit the number of keys you give out, and it’s an even better practice to have at least one spare set for each rental. Keep the keys in a place you can access quickly, and a late night emergency call from a tenant who has misplaced keys will be less of a bother.

Tenants who lose keys sometimes use their own locks to keep doors and other parts of a rental unit secure. It isn’t unheard of for these unauthorized locks to remain when the tenants vacate the premises. Keep a pair of bolt cutters in your toolbox, and you can remove them.

Related: 4 considerations when choosing locks for your rental properties

Consolidate all your supplies in one place

Not all landlords do all their own maintenance and repairs, but if you do, consider investing in an inexpensive used vehicle in which to keep supplies (except paperwork). This is a great idea if you have multiple units. You’ll always have the things you need right at hand, and you won’t have the hassle of organizing materials each time a job arises. You’ll save time and money, and every little bit helps to keep your rental operation in the black.

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

Spring maintenance checklist for landlords

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

communicationWhen March goes out like a lamb, it’s time for landlords and tenants to look at property matters that developed during winter’s deep freeze.

Spring maintenance items that affect habitability are most important, but it’s also the best time to address small defects that could turn into big ones, if they’re left unaddressed. Summer is coming, the best season to make repairs.

Warming temperatures create a good opportunity for landlords and property managers to inspect rental units and make a plan for spring maintenance. Tenants could handle some of the maintenance—especially in the yard or garden—but leaks, burst pipes, and other problems that affect habitability most likely need professional attention.

Related: 8 home repair tasks every landlord should learn how to do

Exterior inspection

Walk around the property to see the extent of winter damage. On this walk, try to do the following:

  • Check the roof and siding for deterioration. You don’t have to get on a ladder to see roof damage. Missing or broken shingles are usually visible from the ground.
  • Look for gutter leaks. Ice and snow are hard on gutters, and any leak you see should be repaired as soon as possible to prevent damage to the siding or erosion around the foundation.
  • Test the outdoor faucets. If water froze in the pipes, they may leak.
  • Inspect the walkways and driveway for cracks. This could happen from earth movements during freezing weather. These cracks need to be repaired or water will seep through them and cause further erosion.
  • Note any rot. Look on wood siding, trim, fences, or decking. A small amount of rot isn’t an urgent problem, but if the rot is extensive, now is the time to deal with it.
  • Pay attention to the condition of the lawn, garden, and surrounding foliage. Spring is the best time to prune back any branches that threaten to block windows or overhang the roof later in the summer.

Related: How to easily track maintenance requests and repairs

Interior inspection

If winter weather has caused any interior damage, tenants will probably know about it, but they might not let you know. It’s a good idea for a landlord or property manager to do a quick walkthrough to check a few things:

  • Assess the damage caused by roof or siding leaks. This could range from soggy drywall and mold to warped flooring or compromised electrical fixtures.
  • Note the condition of the floors and carpet. People tend to track salt-laden snow through the house on cold winter days.
  • Turn on the air conditioners. You want to make sure they work. Now is a good time to replace the filters.
  • Check for pests. Look for termites, cockroaches, and rodents. Critters tend to hunker down in the walls during winter, and they’ll still be there when spring comes.

Related: Ask Lucas 030: How do you perform an annual property inspection?

Handling spring maintenance

When it comes to repairs that affect habitability, such as major leaks and resultant water damage, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to do them or hire someone to do them.

The responsibility isn’t as clear-cut when it comes to defects that only affect the tenant’s enjoyment of the property. Peeling paint and displaced walkway pavers may be unsightly, for example, but they don’t stop life from going on. It may make sense to give tenants the option to make some of these repairs themselves. To avoid confusion over the issue of who’s going to pay, include a lease clause or amendment that covers it.

Lawn and garden maintenance is one area that the lease should cover. Many tenants like landscaping and may even consider a green light to do it themselves a perk of living on the property. But other tenants prefer this job be done for them. Landlords might consider charging more per month if they need to provide landscaping services.

General indoor cleaning is another lease topic for areas such as hardwood floors (that can suffer damage from salt and water), an unfinished basement, and the fireplace or wood stove. Whether it’s spring maintenance or year-round maintenance, it helps to clarify responsibilities in writing.

Related: Should a tenant be paid for doing yard work?

Get your game on

Once you’ve made your game plan, itemize the repairs you need to make with some urgency, and take care of those as soon as possible. Leave the others for later, but keep the list as a reminder. Priorities tend to change as the weather warms up and summer arrives, but winter will come again, and problems you don’t handle this year will be there next year. And they’ll be that much bigger.

 

Dear Maintenance Men – Maintenance Tools & City Inspections

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

DearMaintenanceMen

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am going to university and want to use my DYI skills to supplement my income.  Being that I live in a college town, there are a lot of rentals aimed at students.  Since students are sometimes hard on their living quarters and move a lot, I figured there might be a maintenance market for repairs and making rooms and rental units rent ready.  I don’t have a lot of money to invest in tools and want your recommendation for the minimum I might need tool wise to get started?

Bryan

Dear Bryan:

Good thinking Bryan, you might just be on to something; students can be a bit hard on rental units! Keeping in mind that as a college student yourself, you have limited funds, so other than a cordless drill, we will leave power tools out of the picture. The majority of the repairs will involve drywall, plumbing and cleaning. Other than light bulbs, leave the electrical to the pros.

Basic Tools

  • Retractable utility knife
  • 5 in 1 paint scraper
  • Drywall saw
  • Drywall mud and tape
  • Bucket
  • Hacksaw
  • Claw hammer
  • Tape measure 25’
  • Caulking gun
  • 6 way screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Channelock tongue & groove pliers
  • Small hand snake for bathroom sinks.
  • Toilet plunger
  • Broom and dust pan
  • Gloves
  • Flashlight
  • Safety glasses
  • Step stool
  • Cordless drill/screwdriver

This is a limited tool set used for light duty work. Try to buy quality tool. Many can be found at garage sales for a fraction of the retail price. With these tools, you will be able to change a faucet, repair drywall holes, unclog bath sink drains, caulk bathtubs, haul trash etc.

Dear Maintenance Men,

I am planning major remodel work to my 4plex and need some advice. My contractor has told me not to worry and he will have everything under control but I know that city inspections can cause serious delays if we are not ready for them or do something wrong. I am not an expert or experienced in construction, what should I watch for as far as the actual inspections are concerned?

Bob-

Bob,

It is not often we are able to share our experience on the actual General Contracting and building side of our business so, thank you for your question.

We have listed the top reasons why professionals do not pass inspections taken from a 2015 JLC (Journal of Light Construction) survey.

Foundation: Improper reinforcement or support of rebar

Wall Framing: missing fire-blocks, hold down straps etc.

Floor framing: missing anchor bolts, sheeting nails missing joist.

Trusses: bracing not installed, improperly connected to wall plate

Roofing: over driving of nails in shingles, missing nails, incorrect felt

Window and Door: improper flashing, inadequate fire rating, improper weather stripping

Handrail: Improper height or spacing

Plumbing: missing nail plates, improper pipe support

Electrical: missing grounds, GFCI protection, labeling of circuits

Decks: deck not built according to the plans, improper handrail installation

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have been contemplating the purchase of a high pressure sprayer for my employees to use in maintaining and cleaning around my apartment buildings.  Because these pressure washers produce a powerful stream of water, I am worried about my employees hurting themselves or damaging the building.  What size machine do you recommend and how safe are they to use? Should I rent one first?

Julia

Dear Julia:

As with any large ticket items it is always prudent to “try before you buy”. Fortunately there are a variety of rental places to choose from which carry all sizes, makes and models.

A rental yard will often use the best and longest lasting machines. Most times these companies can provide you with the best information on the products in regards to maintenance, wear & tear, life expectancy and performance.

In regards to workers safety, look at the operators manual for the best advice on personnel safety wear and use. These machines can produce a very powerful jet of water capable of ripping through clothing, skin and even break small bones.  You should always wear goggles, leather gloves, and steel toe leather work boots with nonskid soles.

Stucco & wood siding is especially susceptible to damage when using a power washer. Use the lowest setting and wide spray nozzle to avoid damage.  Lightly mist stucco surfaces if cleaning is your objective. Keep nozzle adjusted to spray not stream and approx. 2’ to 3’ away from the surface.

As with most things, proper training will help insure safe usage of power tools.

Bio:

Please call: Buffalo Maintenance, Inc for maintenance work or consultation.  JLE Property Management, Inc for management service or consultation

Frankie Alvarez at 714 956-8371   Jerry L’Ecuyer at 714 778-0480  

CA contractor lic: #797645, EPA   Real Estate lic. #: 01460075 Certified Renovation Company   

www.BuffaloMaintenance.com    www.ContactJLE.com   www.Facebook.com/BuffaloMaintenance

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