Posts Tagged ‘Property Management’

Easy Tips & Tricks on the Five Phases of Tenancy

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

Widget’s Way featuring Patti “Widget”

Application Process and Screening perspective tenants

Answer your phone “Property Management” when advertising a unit for rent. Deceiving applicants will simply hang up if they think a management company will be reviewing their application, instead of a private owner that they may be able to hide information or be deceiving.

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!

How to ensure your property is appealing to renters from every generation

Written by Sean Miller on . Posted in For Landlords, free, Income Ideas, Maintenance & Renovations, Step 1 - Perform Research

Rentals that appeal to every generationIt’s human nature to gravitate toward things we like.

So what you think makes a rental property attractive will probably appeal to other like-minded people. But you could be limiting your market by only doing that.

When you have a rental property, it’s best to make that property appealing to the greatest number of potential renters—people that span all generations—not just millennials or baby boomers, for example.

Landlords need to appeal to renters across multiple generations.

The good news is that appealing to one type of renter doesn’t have to mean alienating other demographics. Renters across every generation will likely be attracted to the same features in a rental.

The best way to start increasing the appeal of your rental units is by finding the commonalities most of your prospective tenants share. The 2017 “Renter Preferences Report” from the National Multifamily Housing Council is generated from survey responses by more than a quarter of a million apartment renters around the country, and based on the findings, here’s how to ensure you’re casting the widest possible net:

1. Focus on the essentials

For the most part, renters want the same basics. Air conditioning and access to high-speed internet made the top of the list, with 94 percent and 93 percent interest, respectively. In fact, 92 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t lease a unit without air conditioning. Many renters are also interested in reliable cell phone reception (92 percent), secure parking (88 percent), and secure access to amenities (84 percent).

By starting with these basic features that you know renters want, you can broaden your appeal and attract as many applicants as possible.

Related: Top 10 Amenities Renters Can’t Resist

2. Adopt useful technologies

Adoption of home automation technology has exploded in recent years; approximately one-third of U.S. broadband households own at least one connected device. Home automation adoption among renters, however, has been below the national average because of the complexity of choosing, installing, and maintaining a home automation system in a rental home. Take this opportunity to install home automation solutions that increase renters’ safety, savings, and convenience.

  • Smart locks prevent the need to rekey after each renter, and they improve safety by allowing renters or landlords to issue unique access codes that show them who was in a rental unit and when.
  • Exterior video cameras, such as doorbell or driveway cameras, let residents keep an eye on their home from the comfort of their couch … or halfway around the world.
  • Smart thermostats can improve savings by lowering energy costs when a unit is unoccupied.
  • Water sensors can alert you to flooding before unwanted water has the chance to wreak havoc.
  • Smart lights increase convenience and lower bills by turning off when rooms are vacant.
  • Voice assistants are appealing to all generations because they make it easy to control other smart home features.

3. Pick a good location

Location is key for any resident when they’re choosing a new home. Suburbs no longer hold the same appeal they once did; renters of all ages want to be closer to the action, where restaurants and nightlife are convenient and walkable.

4. Provide maintenance-free living

People of all ages want to live maintenance-free. In fact, one of the biggest appeals of renting is that landlords take care of upkeep and maintenance—from unclogging toilets to repairing broken appliances. Landlords who can respond to maintenance requests quickly and efficiently will attract great tenants.

The bottom line

The rental market is growing and becoming increasingly multi-generational. Millennials may represent the majority of the rental market, but a winning strategy is one that increases the appeal of your properties for all renters, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. Checking the essential boxes is the most important step you can take—from there, introduce the right technologies in the right locations, and you’ll have renters lining up to view your property.

13 creative marketing strategies for independent landlords

Written by Joe Fairless on . Posted in For Landlords, free, Rental Advertising, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

Marketing your rentalsAs an independent landlord who self-manages a portfolio of rental properties, you probably don’t outsource the job of filling vacancies to a property management company.

Unlike a property management company, you are the manager AND the owner. This means you control the marketing strategies and are directly impacted by their success or failure.

The best marketing strategies are designed to find the highest quality tenants—people who pay rent on time, treat the unit and property as if it were their own home, and are courteous to the neighbors—in the fastest possible time.

Finding high-quality tenants makes your life easier as a landlord and puts more money in your pocket. You’ll have more qualified leads, less turnover (and lower turnover costs), fewer evictions, and less late rental payments. Finding these tenants faster reduces your vacancy loss. By filling vacancies yourself, you eliminate the lease-up fees, new lease fees, and ongoing fees charged by a property management company.

How can you find the highest-quality tenant in the shortest period of time?

Now the question is how to find the highest-quality tenant in the shortest period of time without spending all your time marketing your vacant units?

As a result of building a portfolio of over $400 million in apartment communities, I have identified 13 creative marketing strategies to attract high-quality tenants:

1. Advertise on the internet 

Eighty-seven percent of renters search for their homes on the internet, so an online presence for your rental properties is a must. Start by creating a website (or at least a Facebook page). Then post your listing, and market the listing on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Next, all of your “for rent” units should be listed on popular online rental listing services like Cozy, Apartments.com, Craigslist, Realtor.com, Trulia, and ApartmentFinder.com. Make sure your listings include a clear and accurate description of the unit and property and highlight major selling points. It’s also a good idea to invest a few hundred dollars into having professional pictures taken.

Related: How to write attractive property listings in 8 steps

2. Hire locators

A locator is a rental agency that specializes in helping prospective tenants find their ideal home based on their needs. These are great sources for finding high-quality residents. The fastest way to find the locators in your market is on Google. The standard commission is 50 percent of a month’s rent, which is less costly than a property manager’s fees. If you decide to hire a locator, make sure you provide them with weekly updates on your current availabilities.

3. Partner with a real estate agent

You can partner with your real estate agent agent to advertise your rentals on the MLS. Realtors usually charge 50 percent of a month’s rent as a commission. This is a great way to build rapport with your real estate agent and ideally become their go-to investor for their pocket listings and off-market opportunities.

4. Use corporate outreach

Most major corporations have someone whose sole responsibility is to place employees who are relocating to the area into new rentals. Contact the human resources department of the major employers in your market. Ask for the contact information of their relocation specialist.

5. Target local businesses

Create a list of local businesses, employers, schools, bus stops, train stations, etc. to target your marketing efforts based on your renter demographic. Then, to generate leads, print out and drop off fliers, business cards, price sheets, floor plans, and site maps to these targets. Always ask for permission first.

6. Negotiate discounts with target businesses

Another approach is to negotiate discounts at local eateries, salons, fitness centers, etc. for your tenants, and then leverage those discounts when marketing your rental listing. The local business gets more customers, and your tenants get access to local businesses at discounted prices, so it is a win-win.

7. Build a referral program

Fifty-seven percent of renters search for a home through referrals from family and friends. To capitalize on this, incentivize your tenants to provide referrals. One approach is to offer cash to any tenant who provides a referral. A fee of $300 paid 30 days after the execution of the new lease is standard. To advertise the referral program, deliver notes to your tenants’ doors, and send out friendly emails with the details of the referral program on a monthly or bimonthly basis.

8. Provide a free gift to target business employees

Similar to the referral program, send a small gift such as a gift card, gift basket, bottle of wine, toolkit, etc. to the current tenants who are employed at the businesses on your target list. Thank them for their residency, and ask them to refer your rental properties to their colleagues at work.

9. Hold tenant appreciation parties

To promote resident satisfaction and retention, host tenant appreciation parties a few times throughout the year. Examples are to provide a small to-go breakfast; host a wine night; host a timely or holiday-themed event, like a Valentine’s Day card-making party; holiday gift wrapping session; back-to-school barbecue; or a Halloween costume contest. Be creative!

10. Encourage online reviews

The online rating of your properties will likely be the first thing a prospective tenant looks at during their rental search. Organic reviews are great, but you should also be proactive to increase your number of reviews. One strategy is to ask a resident for a review after fulfilling a minor maintenance request (probably not a good idea if it was a large maintenance issue) in a timely fashion. Or have a laptop station set up at your tenant appreciation parties and ask them to write a review before they leave.

11. Contact exiting tenants

Call all tenants who have previously notified you that they plan on leaving at the end of their lease to figure out why they are leaving. See what you can do to convince them to stay (assuming they are a high-quality tenant). Maybe they want to move to a different unit or want a minor upgrade, like an accent wall or new curtains. Also, explain to them the costs associated with moving out (new security deposit, hiring a moving company or U-Haul, cleaning costs, new furniture, etc.). This conversation should take place at least 60 to 90 days prior to the end of their lease.

12. Follow-up with old leads

Reach out to leads you received that are older than 90 days to see if they or someone they know is still searching for a rental.

13. Offer good customer service

Provide stellar, good old-fashioned customer service to prospective tenants. Be responsive and timely with requests and questions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marketing wizard and get hundreds of leads if you don’t pick up the phone or respond to emails quickly, politely answering questions, and getting possible tenants one step closer to viewing the property and signing the lease.

Summary

All 13 of these strategies have been proven to attract the highest quality residents in the shortest amount of time without the help (and costs) of a property management company.

Some of these strategies are free and just require some sweat equity on your part. Others require an upfront investment and/or result in a short-term reduction in income. So it’s important that you create a marketing strategy and set a marketing budget before closing on a deal. That way, you can account for the costs in your underwriting.

How many rental properties are too many?

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, paid

How many properties are too many?At my high, I had four rental units and, for me, it felt like too many. My husband and I have two full-time jobs, two kids, and too little leisure time. When much of our spare time was focused on our properties and not our kids, we decided it was time to simplify.

But, that’s my personal story. Everyone is different, and where four units felt like too many for our limited time, 22 units might be perfect for you. Real estate investors need to look at three things when deciding how many rental properties to acquire:

1. Personal finance goals

While some may think of real estate investing as a business, you are still using your personal finances to purchase rental properties, keep them in top shape, and cover tenant turnover costs. So, while rental properties are a business, you are funding it. Here are some things to consider when deciding how many rental properties to have in your portfolio.

Debt

How comfortable are you with debt? There are two types of real estate investors. Which investor are you?

Very comfortable: The first type is building a business. Typically, when someone builds a business, they get a business loan and/or find investors. This type of investor feels comfortable with debt and confident that they will pay it off. They will likely feel comfortable taking on more debt to build a bigger portfolio.

Not at all comfortable: The second type of real estate investor is the debt-free journey investor. They build their portfolio as part of a way to meet their financial goals. This investor is less likely to want to take out mortgages and has a goal of paying down the mortgages as fast as possible. They are more likely to pay cash for a property when possible.

Related:  How to Finance a Rental Property

Hefty retirement savings vs. passive income

When buying rental properties, you likely have one of two financial goals in mind: hefty retirement savings or passive income.

Those whose goal is a great retirement income will likely want a larger portfolio. If you accumulate properties in your 30s and pay the minimum mortgage, they will be paid off by the time you retire. You can accumulate more properties because your goal isn’t paying down the mortgage but rather putting money aside for down payments on more properties. This investor sacrifices a larger cash flow month to month to accumulate more properties and have a larger passive income cash flow in their 60s and beyond.

The investor whose goal is passive income now has a smaller portfolio and focuses on clearing the mortgages off their current rental properties. One way these investors handle their profits is to put them straight to the balance of their mortgages. As soon as the properties are paid off all rental income (other than regular expenses) will be passive income that can be used now.

2. Available Time

When deciding how many rental properties to have in your portfolio, consider the time commitment. Real estate investing is called “passive aggressive income” for a reason. It isn’t completely passive. Time is spent working with tenants, making repairs, and finding tenants. It can be quite time-consuming depending on your property and the tenants you have.

Related: Stress-free Property Management with Paula Pant from Afford Anything

Self-managed properties

If you self-manage your properties, consider the time it takes to manage each unit. While Cozy saves massive amounts of time with rent collection, maintenance tickets, and semi-automating the tenant application process, there are still tasks that need to be done. Cleaning, maintaining the property, responding to maintenance tickets, and tenant showings are done by you. Sit down and determine how many hours each unit takes of your time. Do you have that much extra time to dedicate to another property?

Property manager

Do you have a property manager already managing your rental units? Then time isn’t a factor. A property manager can take care of the time commitment needed for your properties. However, the cost of a property manager does need to be considered. Is your property still cash positive when you take into account the cost of the property manager? If yes, it might make sense to add another property to your portfolio.

3. Real Estate Investment Strategy

When deciding whether or not to add more doors to your portfolio, consider your overall investment strategy. The first item to consider is profit. You are in the real estate investing business for one primary reason, and that is to make money. How can you make the most money with the least hassle?

Profit

Your strategy might include more properties that are less expensive or fewer properties that are more expensive with higher rent potential. Neither option is the wrong one. What is wrong is not doing your homework. Calculate the cap rate, do the research, and learn about the communities before investing. Compare what profit you can make with either choice and don’t make assumptions. You might be surprised what heeds the most profits.

Law

Consider any laws that might make life more difficult with more properties. In Illinois for example, if you have 5+ investment properties, you need to hold security deposits in an escrow account, return the deposit within 30 days, or provide detailed receipts within 45 days of move out. Look for landlord-tenant laws in your state, as each state is different.

Conclusion

While four rental units were too many for me, it might be perfect for you. Maybe it is not enough for you. It depends on your financial goals and available time. Look at these factors and decide what makes sense for your situation. There is no such thing as too many rental properties or too little for that matter. There is only what works for you.

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.

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