5 Time Management Tools to Help Busy Landlords

You enjoy the experience of being a landlord, especially the income generating part of it.

However, if you don’t have the time to enjoy the money, what’s the point?

Your property management duties take up a lot of time, especially when you’re starting out.

You’ve got technology on hand to help you work smarter and more efficiently, such as accounting software, work order management, and electronic document signing.

1. Accounting Software
Filling out your taxes with income generating properties is quite a different experience from filling out a 1040-EZ.

If you come from a wage earner’s background, getting help with bookkeeping and taxes is a must.

QuickBooks is a common accounting software that is loaded with features and grows with your business.

If you prefer app-based software with a lower learning curve, try Expensify.

It automatically uploads pictures of receipts (taken with your phone) and syncs that expense amount with the app and supported accounting software.

2. Cloud-Based To-Do List
Is your property to-do list scribbled down on a piece of paper you lost in your car?

Step into the modern era by using a cloud-based to-do list, such as Wunderlist.

Cloud-based solutions are hosted on third party servers, so you can access them from any device with a web browser.

You write your to-do list once and it’s available and synced on your smartphone, desktop, and tablet.

Wunderlist allows you to create multiple to-do lists, so you can sort your tasks by category, property, or another organizational system.

3. Work Order Management Software
 Work order management software, such as LandlordStation’s tenant portal, allows tenants to send maintenance requests online or via mobile.

Work order management software streamlines the process on getting tenant problems handled, since you don’t have to check your voice mail for requests or keep paper copies of which property is having issues.

In addition, if it’s easy for the tenants to report problems, they’re more likely to let you know when something is wrong instead of ignoring it.

4. Electronic Document Signing
You found the perfect tenant, but their work schedule isn’t working with your availability when it comes to document signing and drop off.

Electronic document signing takes care of this issue by allowing the tenant to sign it online.

You use an electronic document signing service to upload your lease agreement and add marks that show where the tenant needs to sign through their software.

Once that’s squared away, you can send the document to the tenant’s email and they are directed to the electronic document for their digital signature and completion of the lease agreement signing.

If you already have your lease agreement typed up as a document, the only extra work you need to do is sending it through the electronic document signing system.

5. Automatic Backup Software
You deal with valuable documents as part of doing business as a landlord.

If you store everything on your local computer, keeping everything backed up is essential.

You don’t want to leave data redundancy up to chance, so use an automatic backup software so you always have your data available.

Some backup software also saves the data off-site, so you are safe even if your computer is damaged or destroyed in an accident.

Some backup software options include Carbonite, Seagate Backup Plus, and Microsoft Backup and Restore.

 

How to Verify Military Service

Claiming military service is an easy way to try to get benefits, discounts, and other perks.

Many will simply take a person’s word on their military service and issue the appropriate discount.

In some industries, such as real estate or employment, the claim of military service must be verified.

Here’s how you can do it.

 

1. Request an Official Record.

You can obtain the dates of service, a person’s rank, and even their duty assignments and status just be officially requesting them.

This request is made through the National Archives and is available through the Freedom of Information Act.

Make sure to include the reason why the information is necessary.

National Guard records can be obtained through the National Personnel Records Center.

2. Ask for Their Class Number.

Smart folks know that there are some bits of information that are classified, even from public information requests.

They’ll claim to be a Navy Seal or an undercover operative.

Every Navy Seal is issued a class number, so just ask the person for this information.

It’s a treasured number and will be instantly repeated.

If not, then you’ve just verified that they probably didn’t serve.

3. International Service Can Also be Verified.

Several nations keep thorough rolls of their military service members that have information that is sent with a simple request.

Just contact the nation’s version of the US National Archives, state the reason for verification, and then wait for the answer.

Most records date back to World War II.

4. Check the POW Network.

One of the more unique claims of military service is that someone was a prisoner of war and that their records may have been wiped clean for political purposes.

There is an independent database keeps track of the POWs that were known from wars since Vietnam called the POW Network.

It lists all those who were declared MIA or POW since 1952.

Finding military service information can be difficult at times not because of classified materials, but because of fake claims.

These options will help you be able to sort out the facts from the fiction.

5 Ways Landlords Save Money By Making Homes Eco-Friendly

Many individuals, landlords included, are opting to “go green.”

By making a property more eco-friendly, a landlord reduces the environmental impact of that home, but in addition to this benefit, there are a variety of ways it can also save them money.

1. Utilities Savings
While some landlords leave it to their tenants to have all utilities turned on, many also offer certain utilities, such as water and gas, as part of the rental agreement.

By installing water-saving technologies, such as low-flow shower heads and toilets, landlords can greatly reduce their water costs.
Similarly, investing in better insulation and new furnaces can reduce natural gas costs.

These are only a few options, as there are numerous home energy audits a landlord can perform to reduce a property’s environmental impact.

2. Tax Breaks
Although tenants are the ones who will inhabit a property, they’re not the ones who will have to pay taxes on it.

Because of this, it’s important for landlords to try to reduce their tax burden in any way possible, and fortunately, it’s easy to do this by simply going green.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) offers a resource that lists federal, state, and local tax incentives for home upgrades that are more environmentally sustainable.

3. Reduced Supplies Costs
Even seemingly minor costs can quickly add up for landlords who maintain more than one property. Paper waste, for instance, can quickly add up over the years.

Fortunately, a fair amount of this waste can be eliminated by simply using property management software that allows tenants to pay their rent online and landlords to perform background checks right over the internet.

4. Lower Repair Costs
Making a few eco-friendly changes around a property can also greatly reduce the repair costs that landlords see during a typical rental agreement.

Installing efficient insulation, for instance, will provide a home with better temperature regulation.

By doing this, HVAC systems will experience less strain from trying to maintain a comfortable temperature in a home.

Reduced HVAC running time equates to less wear and tear, and in the end, this means longer periods of time between necessary repairs and replacements.

5. Savings on Waste Removal
It’s also possible for landlords in certain areas to save money by reducing the amount of waste generated in their rental properties.

Many cities and counties, for instance, actually charge for waste removal based on the weight or volume of what’s removed from the property.

This means that, by simply eliminating some of the garbage created by tenants, landlords who cover waste removal can save money.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy, or sometimes even possible, to force tenants to reduce the amount of waste they produce.

It is possible, however, to increase the likelihood that they’ll do their fair share.

By providing composting areas for tenants, for instance, it’s possible to eliminate some of the waste generated in the average home by 25 percent.

Additionally, providing recycle bins can reduce waste even further.

In the end, these measures can result in substantial cost savings for landlords who pay for garbage collection by weight or volume.

There are countless environmental benefits of going green, but that’s not where the benefits end.

Whether a landlord is focused on saving money or saving the world, taking eco-friendly measures in their properties will help them succeed in their goal.

When your lease is silent or unclear

There are a lot of reasons landlords give tenants standard leases.

Sometimes it’s just faster and easier to use an existing or standard lease.

Standard leases help get a tenant in the space quickly, but they can also have drawbacks.

Even when a lease is customized to meet the needs of both landlord and tenant, unclear language or unforeseen circumstances can derail a smooth rental experience.

Before Signing a Lease

Many part-time landlords face these situations.

It is difficult to foresee in advance all the possible scenarios that may arise.

It is important to use a checklist of important issues relating to your property so you can make sure all those issues are addressed in the lease.

If you are using a standard lease, read through it to make sure that you understand what it is saying.

Don’t use language if you don’t understand what it means.  

Make sure you are familiar with your state’s landlord-tenant laws.

There may be laws that are automatically added into every lease.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website contains links to current state laws.

For example, Florida’s laws can be found at the following location: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/florida/renting/tenantrights

After Signing a Lease

You may need to amend your lease if you discover issues that need to be addressed.

You may need to define words in the lease or assign responsibility for maintenance of the property.

 If the change requires your tenant to do something that is not already required by the lease, the tenant must sign off on the change.  

The document that the tenant signs will then become a part of the lease.

If you and your tenant do not agree on the meaning of the lease or if the lease is silent, it is best to try to find a solution that is satisfactory to both of you.

 For example, If the dispute relates to repairs, you and the tenant could agree to split the cost of repairs or you could agree to rely on a decision of a third party as to who caused the damage.

Reaching an agreement allows you to preserve your landlord-tenant relationship, keep your rental income and avoid the time and expense of court.

If you believe that a lawsuit is your only recourse, then consider how a court would interpret the lease.

How Leases are Interpreted

In order to address these types of issues, it is important to understand how leases are interpreted by courts.

Some of the techniques courts use to interpret leases include:

  • The four corners of the document – What does the paperwork actually say regarding the disputed provision? Courts look at the whole document for answers, not only in the section that contains the disputed provision. Any specific details take precedence over any general language.
  • The intent of the parties – When the document itself doesn’t offer sufficient information, the court may be able to look outside the document for such information as the parties’ previous actions and other written communications between the parties.

Equally important is the need to maintain a good relationship with your tenant.

Tenants should feel like they are partners in the process of maintaining the property. Their involvement and interest in their home help landlords save time and money.

 

How to Insulate Yourself from Expenses with a Great Lease

Owning a rental property can be expensive, and if you’re not careful, you can end up footing the bill for repairs or damages that should be the tenants’ responsibilities.

One important way to insulate yourself from such expenses is to write a great lease that covers as many contingencies as possible and clearly specifies the financial responsibilities of all parties.

While regulations vary from state to state, there are some important items that should be included in any lease or rental agreement.

Names of All Tenants and Limits on Occupancy

Every adult living in the unit should be named and should sign the lease.

This way, each person becomes responsible for the rent and any other terms of the lease.

If one tenant leaves or can’t pay for some reason, you can legally collect the entire rent from any one of the tenants named in the lease.

You, as the landlord, have the right to screen and approve who and how many people live in your property.

So, the lease should clearly indicate that only the adults who signed the lease and their minor children can occupy the unit.

This way, you can evict a tenant who moves someone else in or sublets the unit without notifying you.

Rent and Deposits

The lease should clearly state the amount of rent, when it’s due and how you expect to receive it, such as by mail or delivered to you personally.

Make all details as clear as possible, including the following:

  • Acceptable forms of payment
  • Amount of late fees and whether there’s a grace period
  • Charges for bounced checks

The handling of security deposits causes a lot of conflict.

Avoid any misunderstandings by defining the following things:

  • The exact amount of the security deposit
  • How it can be used by you (to repair damages) and how the tenant can use it (to pay the last month’s rent)
  • When and how it will be returned to the tenant
  • Where the deposit will be held and whether the tenant is entitled to any interest earned

Repairs and Maintenance

Unless the specifics about your responsibilities and those of your tenant are unambiguously spelled out, you could find yourself paying for a lot of damage and repairs caused by a tenant’s abuse or neglect.

Specify things like:

  • Your expectation that tenants maintain a clean and sanitary unit and pay for any damages they cause
  • Their responsibility to notify you of any damages or defective conditions
  • Clearly explained procedures for submitting repair requests to you
  • Limitations on what kind of alterations they can make in the unit without your permission, such as painting or installing appliances.

Pets

If you allow pets, be specific about the size and number of pets allowed and what your expectations are for cleaning up waste in the yard.

Also, include requirements about repairing damage from pets in the repair and maintenance section of the lease.

Other Restrictions

Other terms that should be in the lease include:

  • It goes without saying that you don’t want your tenants doing anything illegal in your property, but to prevent property damage and avoid expensive legal problems, it’s still best to specify this in the lease.
  • Specify what, if any, businesses the tenant may run from the property.
  • Learn about all local laws and health and safety codes, and make sure your lease is in compliance.
  • Specify use of parking and common areas.

A lease is a legal document that is intended to protect you and your tenants.

Include these items in any of your leases to protect yourself from having to pay for something that should not be your responsibility.

Property maintenance tips for a landlord

As a landlord, you are responsible for ensuring your rental unit is free of damage and maintenance problems. Routine maintenance can be costly, so it is important to find ways to save money. By performing routine maintenance, you can help ensure that a small problem is fixed quickly before it becomes an expensive and headache-inducing emergency.

1. Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms Regularly

Not having a working smoke detector is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Ensure that this is never a problem by checking these alarms monthly. The best time to get permission from the tenant for access to the unit is when the monthly rent is due. Keep in mind that the average lifespan of a smoke detector is 10 years and a carbon monoxide alarm is five years, so record the purchase date to know when you’ll need to buy a replacement.

2. Be Vigilant in Checking for Leaks and Water Damage

Although the best time to check that there are no water leaks is just after a storm, don’t wait for a big storm to verify that your property is free of water damage. Prior to a tenant moving in or out, always do a complete inspection of the home or apartment to check for any new damage. If you spot anything, immediately contact a professional and inform the new tenant that they may have to wait to move in.

No matter what, always check the home after a torrential rain or wind storm. Look for signs of water collecting near windows, the shower and any sliding doors. Be sure to check the ceiling for any discoloration or signs of soft spots. If you do not address water damage in a timely manner, it can lead to the growth of dangerous mold.

3. Change the Air Conditioning and Heating Filters

To ensure that the air conditioning and heating units operate at peak efficiency, you should change the filters twice a year. To keep on a set schedule, change the heating filter in October when the weather is just turning cold and the air conditioning filter in March when spring is approaching. The dirtier the filter, the more the monthly utility bill will be for you or your tenant, and the more likely an expensive maintenance problem will develop in the future. If you are not responsible for paying utility bills, it is still important to change the filters because high heat and air conditioning bills may lose you some tenants.

4. Drain the Water Heater

Not draining the water heater can lead to the development of excess sediment that can clog the drain valve. Not only will this make the water heater less efficient, but it could also lead to needing to replace the entire unit. You can drain the water heater yourself but it’s important to read the instructions and labels carefully as to not damage the water heater.

5. Call a Professional

While you may consider yourself a competent repair person or want to save a little money, it is always best to hire a professional when facing a costly maintenance problem. Only a professional can fix the problem the first time or offer a guarantee if the work is not done correctly. For help in finding a qualified repair person, ask friends and families for references. Chances are good that if a neighbor or trusted friend is using the person then they will be reliable and reputable.

Five Strategies to Increase Tenant Retention

Just because a tenant’s signed a lease, doesn’t mean they’ll stay–keeping a good tenant around has a lot to do with being a good property manager. Being flexible and friendly, yet professional, is crucial to tenant retention. Here are five strategies to increase tenant retention.

1. Call 48 Hours Before Coming Over

Don’t show up unannounced. Nothing causes more frantic cleaning and a painful feeling of awkward invasion than a property manager who shows up without calling first. Many folks don’t even like friends stopping by spontaneously, much less a landlord interrupting their dinner party. It’s important and polite to respect people’s backgrounds and personalities. Calling 48 hours ahead of time is a safe time frame that allows them to adjust their schedule and prepare for the visit.

2. Allow (Reasonable) Changes to the Property

Good tenants care about the property they live on. When they move in, they look for desirable features in the property, such as landscaping and space for a garden or an area for children to play. They keep the property in good shape because they’re not just looking for a cheap place to rest their head, trash, and leave. They’re building a home and taking pride in its aesthetics and functionality.

To keep these tenants, it’s important to allow them to personalize the property, whether it’s through planting an apple tree on the sunny side, growing a luscious garden, or adding a tool shed out back. Not only will this increase tenant retention but it will increase the value of your property with minimal effort on your part.

3. Allow (Reasonable) Changes to the Interior

Good tenants–tenants who stick around–may want to do more than just hang up a poster. They might call you with ideas to paint a mural in the baby’s room or install a bar in the dining area. You can state in the rental agreement that the tenant must discuss or collaborate on these projects with you. Remember, a client who can get creative in building their home is a tenant who’s invested in it. This tenant is likely to stick around and re-sign the lease for years to come.

4. Be Prompt when Fixing Issues

While the aforementioned tenants who get jazzed up about installing a bar or planting an apple tree are likely to unclog their own toilets and change their own light bulbs, they might not have the time or inclination to fix bigger projects. If the stove or the sink is in a state of disrepair, it can throw a wrench into their busy schedule. If you’re prompt on fixing the sink when your tenants need you, they’ll stick around longer.

5. Be Flexible and Understanding

That being said, if the tenant gets laid off, a move to an apartment with lower rent will look appealing, even if their decrease in income is highly temporary. A good tenant will appreciate a good property manager–one who understands when times are tough and is willing to reduce rent for one month. Another kind and smart thing to do when a tenant is considering re-signing the lease is to offer a rent discount on the first month. Again, this will prevent them from moving, and save you the headache and income loss of finding a new tenant.  

Tenants who are treated like people with desires and needs will feel respected and valued. This will encourage them to be even better tenants because they’ll know they can invest in the property without fear of a picky property manager undoing their homemaking. If your final goal is to sell the home, these tenants could be the ones, if allowed to treat it as their own home, which it is, after all. Keep these strategies at the helm of your operations to ensure a long term, positive relationship with your tenants.

When can landlords use the small claims court?

The Small Claims Court is a great system for recovering small amounts of money that are owed to you.

In exchange for a filing fee, you can have your case tried by a judge who may order a tenant to pay you what is due.

The best thing about Small Claims Court is that you don’t need a lawyer.

Some states even ban lawyers entirely in Small Claims trials.

You’ll need to pay a filing fee, which can be as low as $15, but the sort of skyrocketing expenses that can happen in other types of trials are not a concern.

Common Small Claims Court Actions
The maximum award offered by a Small Claims Court is between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on the state.

This makes it ideal for the kind of disputes that occasionally emerge in a landlord’s life.

Property Repair Costs
It’s every landlord’s worst nightmare: when your tenants move out, you may find that they have left your property in such disrepair that even their security deposit won’t cover the costs to fix it.

This is one of the most common reasons for landlords to take tenants to court.

Unpaid Rent
In cases where the client is clearly in breach of the lease contract, such as not having paid their rent, the court can help to force payment.

In reality, just the threat of a court date is often enough to convince the tenant to pay up.

Third Party Services
As a client yourself, you can take action against service providers such as plumbers, electricians, and cleaners if they fail to provide the agreed service, or if they damage your property while working on it.

Things to Consider Before Going to Court
The Small Claims Court is an important part of the landlord’s toolkit, but you shouldn’t head down the legal route until you’ve considered a few other things.

Landlord Obligations
If the tenancy has ended in an eviction, you’ll need to prove that you followed your state’s guidelines for removing a tenant.

This may include copies of move-out letters or eviction notices.

Supporting Paperwork
You’ll always need a copy of the tenancy agreement to demonstrate how the tenant broke it.

If no agreement was signed, the case will be governed by your state’s statutory laws.

Bring any other documents that support your case, like invoices if you’ve had to pay for cleaning and repairs.

Also, be sure that you understand the court’s paperwork requirements.

Some courts have specific submission rules that require you to submit two copies of everything, for example.

Speaking to the Tenant First
It’s surprising how many people go directly to court without attempting to resolve the dispute in person first.

There’s no point in being too trigger-happy, since many cases won’t proceed unless there has been some attempt to amicably resolve the dispute.

In some cases, the verdict may recommend using some kind of mediation service to reach an agreement, so it’s best to make a reasonable attempt to settle things directly with the other person before taking things to court.

Everyone enters into a tenancy agreement in good faith, and most leases end on good terms.

But if they don’t, it’s good to know that Small Claims Court can help you get the money you’re owed.

How Do Tenant Improvements Work

As you step into your rental property, you’ve noticed there have been a few changes made to the property by the tenant.

Two of the rooms have been repainted.

New shutters were added to the exterior.

Those cracks in the concrete steps have been repaired.

Landlords have two options when they discover improvements: they can accept them and the potentially added value they provide or reject them if unauthorized changes are forbidden due to the lease.

If rejected, changing the property back to its original condition can often be charged against the security deposit.

Tenants Do Not Get to Charge For Value

Improvements made by a tenant can often be written off as a tax expense for them because they did the work.

Landlords cannot take any tax deductions from accepted improvements and may wind up having an increased tax burden if the improvements increase the value of the property.

This is often why landlords attempt to reject improvements that are made.

Tenants have a case to fight against improvement rejection for a number of common reasons.

1. The paint they used was the same color that was already in the home or room that was improved.

2. Flooring needed to be repaired anyway and they just did it without notification.

3. There was a safety concern in the home that the tenants resolved on their own.

If you have white walls in your home and the tenant paints them red, then that could be an improvement that would possibly be rejected.

If the white walls are still white, but with a new layer of paint, then the improvement must generally be accepted.

Tenants Have No Right to Claim Value

The issue that landlords face is that some tenants expect to be compensated for their work when they move out.

They use the improvements as a bargaining chip to have their full security deposit returned.

This isn’t necessary in a vast majority of cases. A tenant may have spent $1,000 giving a property new paint, but if they left the property without cleaning it properly, then landlords have the right to charge for that service.

Tenants cannot sue a landlord for the value of the improvements if they were taken on voluntarily and there wasn’t a health or safety issue that required the repair.

Even cracks in concrete steps won’t qualify unless it was a health or safety issue.

Tenant improvements are generally one of those things that are nice to see.

As long as the property hasn’t been altered dramatically, it is generally a best practice to accept them and prepare the property for a new tenant.

Landlords in the Know: Tenant Rights 101

The landlord/tenant relationship is just as important to the landlord as it is to the tenant.

If entered into with care, the lease agreement will protect both you and the renter.

Following are basic tenant rights you, as the landlord, should be aware of when preparing to rent a property.

1. A Positive Landlord Review from the Beginning
Savvy landlords will have current and previous tenants willing to talk to prospective renters about living conditions in the rental unit and area.

Prospective renters have the right to an understand of what it’s like living in the rental and dealing with you as a landlord.

For example, potential tenants may learn that a landlord responds quickly when the rental needs repairs or the building needs maintenance.

It is like free marketing for the landlord.

2. Conduct a Walk-About
Before your tenant signs the lease, you are wise to make sure the tenant does a thorough walk-through of the premises.

Some landlords will accompany the potential tenant on a property tour to document in writing and take pictures of anything broken, damaged or worn.

In some cases, the landlord may give the potential renter a key to let him or her do a walk-through alone. You must change the locks once the property is rented.

A professional landlord documents damages and wear before the tenant enters the apartment alone.

Prospective tenants can document any damage or wear-and-tear they find, and the landlord and tenant will agree to a final reconciled damage list.

You and the tenant should sign and date the document to make it part of the lease package.

3. Landlord and Tenant: Know Thy Lease
Renters must read and understand the lease.

It is advisable to sit down with the tenant and review the lease clause-by-clause.

The tenant can initial each of the contract sections, indicating he or she has read and understands the terms.

Brief the tenant on privacy notification guidelines, conditions for the return of the deposit, and conditions for and consequences of breaking the lease.

4. Landlords: Know What You Can’t Do
Certain landlord actions are illegal, and it is important that you know they are illegal.

  • Refusing to make repairs that affect a tenant’s quality of life or safety
  • Demanding arbitrary rent increases outside the terms of the lease
  • Threatening to evict
  • Preventing tenant associations from meeting in the building’s common room
  • Turning off utilities
  • Locking out a tenant by changing the locks or putting a lock box on the doorknob
  • Placing the tenant’s belongings on the street

Although it may be tempting to lock a tenant out when repeated damage is done to the property, or the tenant falls behind in rent payments or engages in illegal activities on the property, you risk a lawsuit for trespass, wrongful eviction, emotional distress, and even assault and battery, depending on the events.

In every case, you as the landlord must inform the tenant via some type of termination notice.

The names of these documents differ by state, but they may include the “Pay Rent or Quit Notice,” the “Cure or Quit Notice” or the “Unconditional Quit Notice.”

5. When the Landlord Wants the Rental Back
To avoid a claim that a tenant was wrongfully evicted, the lease includes a description of the process to be followed should you want the rented property back for personal reasons.

If the property is rented on a month-to-month basis, the landlord only needs to give appropriate notice to the tenant that the lease is terminated.

If the lease has a fixed term, the landlord must honor the term but does not have to renew it.

The only exceptions are in the rent-control states of New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.

There are limits on your rights to evict tenants to move yourself, or relatives, into the rental.

For example, in San Francisco, the landlord can evict a tenant to move in a relative as long as the person rents within 3 months and lives in the rental unit for at least 36 months.