Cut Property Maintenance Down to Size With These 5 Steps

Purchasing a rental property and finding a suitable tenant is only the beginning of your journey as a landlord. With such a large investment it is important to keep your property in great shape – you should be in this for the long haul after all. The 2 main keys to building a successful rental business are:

  • Maintaining your investment property to keep its value steady
  • Keeping your tenants happy and the rent coming in

You can, of course, choose a ‘reactive’ approach where you wait until an issue arises, and you receive a harried phone call from your tenant with an urgent need to fix something. However, this is not something that we would recommend if you want to avoid gray hairs and large unexpected bills.

The best option is to treat your investment property like a car. Inspect and maintain it regularly, dealing with small repairs as they arise. It may sound like a lot of work, but it will ultimately save you time and money in the long run. Here, we share our 5 simple ways to keep the maintenance of your rental property under control.

Step 1 – Regular exterminations to prevent infestation of insects and rodents

Image courtesy of www.illhostinginc.comWhen it comes to pest control, the best case scenario is to prevent infestation. This can be achieved with regular treatments, which some professionals suggest should be done monthly, although quarterly treatments can also be very effective. If you choose to enlist professionals to complete the regular exterminations these visits are often affordable, although it is possible to conduct them yourself with a little research.

The costs involved are minimal compared with dealing with an actual outbreak of rodents or insects, which could, in the worst cases, damage the infrastructure of the property or chase away your tenants.

The Bug Man demonstrates the best control tactic for bugs with available options depending on your budget.

“The best way to get rid of bugs and keep them under control is to invest in regular treatments. If you want complete elimination of bugs, choose our monthly plan. If you need treatment for pests like spiders, ants and millipedes that you see less frequently, choose a bi-monthly plan.

Need affordable control? Try our bi-monthly seasonal plan to eliminate seasonal pests like wasps, ladybugs, box-elder bugs and more. Finally, if you only have pest issues in spring and fall, try our bi-annual treatment. Or, if you don’t mind the occasional pest but have flea, rodent or bat issues, check out our one-time plan.” [source]

Step 2 – Check for leaks and water damage

Image courtesy of www.debkelly.comRegularly inspect your investment property for leaks and water damage, both internally and externally. Particularly after heavy rain, ice and snow, you should take the opportunity to inspect the drainage around the house to ensure that water is flowing away as it should. Take a look at the masonry for cracks and other signs of weather damage. Regularly identify any potential issues with the gutters around the house – something so simple that can prevent a host of issues. Take a look at what Patch says about the importance of maintaining clear guttering.

“Clogged gutters can wreak havoc with the natural drainage of water away from your home. This can result in damage to fascia, soffit, roofing or even begin leaking into your home. Additionally, water damage can ruin the very foundation of your home – something you NEVER want to happen.

Some of the many benefits of gutter cleaning include:

  • Prevent water damage to your home
  • Avoid nesting areas for termites, birds, mosquitoes and other insects
  • Prevent destruction of expensive landscaping
  • Maintain value and beauty of your home

After rain, you should also take a look inside the house for soft spots on the roof, ceilings and walls, which could indicate there is a leak. Additionally, your regular inspections should include checking around windows, showers, toilets, basins and boilers for signs of water. These are the typical spots that can spring a leak, and it is best to be aware of them as soon as possible.

Ongoing leaks can be very costly from 2 perspectives: the cost of increased water usage as well as the hidden damage that water may cause. This can be anything from mold (which may require a removal specialist) to issues with the foundation of the building.

Image courtesy of www.housedoctors.comStep 3 – Examine the integrity of grout and caulking

Grout and caulking are what you will find in the joints between tiles and the cracks between the trim and siding or masonry. Unfortunately, these products do not last forever. Due to the nature of their work, they are regularly exposed to water and lose effectiveness over time. Be sure you don’t overlook these seemingly small details when you inspect your rental property. In order to keep the seals watertight and prevent leaks, you should include caulk and grout in your regular maintenance checklist and refresh whenever necessary.

Step 4 – Test all safety equipment around the houseImage courtesy of www.paragonstl.com

As a landlord, you have a legal duty to uphold your tenants’ legal rights to live in a safe environment. This means that you must install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as fire extinguishers. Installation is not the end of your responsibility, though; it is important that you test the safety equipment on a regular basis to ensure they are working properly.

Such maintenance can save lives, so make sure you don’t skip this step. In the event the equipment fails when needed, you may even find yourself facing legal action. So, don’t drop this ball!

Step 5 – Regularly maintain filters, coils and closed water systems

Image courtesy of www.homestructions.comDon’t neglect the unseen parts of the systems keeping your rental property ticking. This includes cleaning the filters in forced air systems, such as air conditioning, and vacuuming refrigerator coils. Also, flush out closed water systems annually to clear any sediment that could cause problems over time. Of course, you can enlist professional help with this if required.

Keeping everything in good working condition is usually a simple task and can help appliances last for years longer than if you neglect them. When they are running efficiently, it often helps to stop bills from creeping up, too.

Don’t forget the garden

While you are inspecting your rental property, don’t overlook the garden. While it may seem superfluous to the essential running of your landlord business, there are legitimate reasons we suggest it.

Keeping the patio and walkways clear and free of tripping hazards not only keeps the property looking neat and tidy, but will also prevent any potential legal issues should the tenant fall and injure themselves. If the yard is kept trimmed, you can reduce the likelihood of infestations; keeping garages clear also removes safety hazards.

This is not an area to be taken lightly. Landlords are frequently found liable for injuries that occur on their premises even if it is a guest of the tenant that is hurt. Take a look at what Nolo.com says on the subject:

“To be held responsible for an injury on the premises, the landlord or property manager must have been negligent in maintaining the property, and that negligence must have caused the injury. All of the following must be proven for a landlord to be held liable:

  • It was the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the portion of premises that caused the accident.
  • The landlord failed to take reasonable steps to avert the accident.
  • Fixing the problem (or at least giving adequate warnings) would not have been unreasonably expensive or difficult.
  • A serious injury was the probable consequence of not fixing the problem (the accident was foreseeable).
  • The landlord’s failure — his negligence — caused the tenant’s accident.”

Summary

Protecting your investment through regular maintenance of your rental property is a sensible strategy. With frequent, continual, small repairs and preventative measures, you can keep your asset standing strong and holding value for years, which is essential if you intend to make a good profit a few years down the line. Of course, in the immediate term, regular property maintenance will keep your tenant happy (and paying rent) as well as protect you from any legal issues.

If it feels like too much of an effort, you can even hire property managers who will inspect the properties on your behalf and keep up with the repairs for you. Whichever option you decide on, protecting your investment in this way is a good business practice and should not be overlooked.

Is Your Rental Ready for Winter?

It’s that time of year again. The temperatures begin to drop and you’ll see the first flurries of the season.

There’s a dusting on the roofs, on the grass, and on the tops of the cars left out the night before. The snow can be beautiful, but as more and more of it comes, it can cause a real problem, especially if you are a landlord and property manager.

As beautiful as snow – and even ice – may look from your window with the fireplace going behind you, it can cause some serious damage if you’re not prepared.

Even light ice and snow, if it sticks to more than rooftops and the grass, can cause slip hazards.

If you own an apartment complex or have outdoor stairs of any sort on the property, they could become very icy and dangerous, leading to potentially serious injuries if your tenant or a guest takes a tumble.

Locks on the doors and gates might freeze shut, making it hard or even impossible for your tenant to leave the property.

Piles of snow may also keep them housebound, if their car is snowed in or if the snow is piled in front of the door so that they can’t leave.

Water in the pipes that freezes may cause them to burst and too much snow on top of a roof can, eventually, cause it to collapse in due to the weight.

In the same way, branches become brittle with too much ice weighing them down and can damage cars, roofs, or passersby that are unlucky enough to be walking under at just the wrong time.

Don’t let the dangers of the colder months overwhelm you. There are precautions that you can take both before and after the snowfall to protect your tenants, your rental property, and everything inbetween.

Preparing for Snow and Ice

While you likely won’t be in the home when the freeze hits, as a landlord and/or property manager you can prepare your tenants to take care of the rental for you.

Your lease should detail out who is responsible for what.

If you own an apartment complex, you are likely responsible for de-icing stairways, common walkways, and possibly even a parking lot if you have it.

If you rent out a single-family home, your tenants will likely be responsible for these things.

Either way, it should be detailed out in the lease from the beginning so that everyone can be on the same page.

Make sure to check your local laws (both state and county) to ensure that your lease matches up.

One of the first things you should do as winter approaches is to schedule a time with your tenant to drop by the property.

You’ll want to check the furnace, the smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors.

You don’t want the heat giving out during a snowstorm or find that a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector has gone bad the hard (and dangerous) way.

When you drop by, you may consider providing your tenant with a written reminder of their responsibilities for the colder months.

Include tips and tricks that you have learned over the years to better help prepare for it.

If the temperatures are forecasted to drop below freezing that night, leave the faucets dripping. That will help to keep water moving through the pipes so that they are less likely to freeze. It doesn’t do you or your tenant any good to have a frozen or burst pipe. You’ll need to call a repairman and, depending on the pipe that burst, they may find themselves without water for a short time.

You may also want to detail in this letter (especially if it’s the first freeze for them in the rental) what you will provide and what you will not.

If they do not have access to snow shovels, you may consider having one that you can lend to them.

They should keep salt, sand, or even kitty litter to help melt the ice.

If they’re looking for a quick way to remove large areas of snow out of your pathway, consider laying out a tarp down before the snowfall starts to catch it. If this is done over a walkway or driveway, it can be moved the next morning after a heavy, overnight snowfall.

Snow shovels and snow blowers will also help clear walkways and driveways after the snow has fallen and keep the snow from freezing to the concrete.

Check with them to see if they have experience removing the snow.

If you have a snow blower that you’ve left on the property for them to use, make sure they are aware of both how to operate it so that they do not damage the machine, as well as best practices to make sure they remove the snow efficiently.

The last thing they’ll want to do is battle a snow blower first thing in the morning just so they can get to work and end up late because they weren’t certain how to use it.

Ways to Help Your Tenant

When applicants come to look at your rental to compare it to others in the area, you’ll want to make sure yours stands out above the rest.

If you live in a location where snow can become a real problem, this is a place that you can shine.

Check out the following projects that you may wish to consider to make your rental property more desirable, especially during the long winter months:

  • Make sure all doors and windows are sealed. Drafts caused by loose doors and windows can drive the electricity bill for the property up as the tenants attempt to warm the unit.
  • Update out-of-date heating systems. If the heating system in your rental still works, but not efficiently, you may consider updating that system. Newer units are less likely to break down in the middle of a freeze, giving your tenants an extra layer of security.
  • Clear the driveway. There are a few options here. If you live close to the rental and you’re a do-it-yourself kind of landlord, you may offer to help them dig their car out in the morning. If not, you may wish to simply have someone on hand to call for that. While it’s a nice gesture to have a referral for this kind of work, you may consider paying to have this done, adding an extra perk to your rental that may not be provided with another.

Winter affects parts of the country very differently.

While rentals in New England may have already seen their first big snowstorm and expect more to come, rentals down in Texas may simply have to take a few precautions on the occasional overnight freeze.

You’ll want to approach your own rental with your local climate in mind, but regardless of where you live, there will be steps that you need to take to protect your rental and the tenants that live there.

Where to Start: The First Steps You Should Take as a New Landlord

As a first-time landlord, you want to get organized from the beginning to make your life easier.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge into owning rental properties, your next steps will determine your chances of success.

1. Utilize Property Management Software

Keeping records of all your payments and expenses is an essential part of being a landlord.

Tax time will go much smoother if you have organized data, and you’ll be more likely to increase your deductions if you have maintained your records all year instead of scrambling last minute to find receipts.

You may also use property management software to advertise your property as available on listing sites, send and receive documents, collect rent online, and more.

It often helps you streamline your process and limits the number of programs you use to keep up with the aspects of your rental business so that things do not become mixed up.

2. Learn State Laws

Take some time to read the laws on tenant-landlord relations applicable in your state.

While this may not be the most entertaining reading you could do, it will help you know what is allowable and what isn’t.

You don’t want to accidentally overstep your boundaries because you weren’t aware of current regulations.

Always keep in mind that while some laws are federal laws and will cover everyone, there are often state and even city laws that you will be required to know as well.

Make sure that you do not cut corners when it comes to keeping up with the legal side of property management.

3. Inspect the Rental Property

While you probably had an inspection completed when you purchased the property, you’re now looking at it through the eyes of a landlord and prospective tenants.

Consider updates that need to be made to attract tenants and keep them long-term. Look at the appliances and think about replacing them if they are older and not energy efficient.

Make sure the carpet or flooring is in good shape and that all windows and doors work properly.

Take a look at the exterior as well.

The outside of the unit will be the first thing that the potential tenant sees when they look over the property, and their first impression may be a deciding factor if they apply or not.

It will be easier to rent your property if everything is in working order and not too old.

4. Meet the Tenants

If you’ve purchased a rental property that already has tenants, you’ll want to make meeting them one of your top priorities.

Introduce yourself and make sure they know how to contact you.

Let them know if any changes will be made in the near future.

Having a new landlord can be a frightening concept for some people and may cause them to look for a new place.

To prevent this from happening, take time to get to know your tenants.

5. Be Insured

If you didn’t get insurance coverage as part of your purchase, make sure you do it now.

You’ll want to protect your investment in case of damage.

You’ll also want to maintain liability coverage for your property for injuries or damage to tenants or guests.

Even if you obtained a policy when you were financing the property, you may want to review it now to determine if you need higher coverage.

Also make sure that you have the correct coverage.

Some policies are meant for property owners that live at the property and may not cover damages if you are not a resident in that home.

Check with your policy and make sure that it allows for renters.

6. Determine Maintenance and Payment Schedules

Now is the time to set up a business that’s efficient and productive.

Decide who will be responsible for maintenance — whether you’ll take care of all issues or hire someone.

Set up a list of contractors and companies to call for various issues, such as heating or air conditioning, plumbing and electrical problems.

When you work with one company, it will respond faster when you have a work order.

You also want to decide about payment.Set up a payment system that works for you and your tenants.

You may want to hire an outside company to manage payments and late notices.

You’ll also want to have an accountant to deal with your finances if you have multiple properties.

You may even find it beneficial for your accountant to take care of a single property if you plan to expand in the future.

Start out your business on the right foot, and you can eliminate many of the problems landlords face.

You can focus on keeping your tenants happy or finding new tenants and making money from your property.

What Is a Rent Stabilized Increase

In New York City and other urban areas where the free market rental rates can be higher than what some residents can pay, rent stabilized units are available at varying levels of vacancy.

These units are not controlled by landlord-tenant negotiations or the free market conditions of scarcity.

They are instead governed by a controlling board or group that oversees how much a landlord is allowed to raise their rent every year.

If an apartment, flat, single family home, or other rental unit does not have rent stabilization, then most jurisdictions allow a landlord to raise the rent on that unit to whatever amount they want.

If a tenant doesn’t have a rental agreement in place that guarantees them a specific rate, then they are forced to either pay the new rate, leave voluntarily, or face an eviction process.

Rent stabilization avoids much of this, but that doesn’t mean tenants in these units won’t face an increase amount of rent.

What is a rent stabilized increase?

It is a specific percentage that the governing board or group states is allowed for all stabilized rental contracts over a specific period of time.

It Is Possible to Have a 0% Increase

Rent stabilization is often based on factors like the local unemployment rate, annual average household income, and other economic factors.

The supervising board or group will allow a rent increase based on the increase or decrease of those factors.

If a community is struggling to find employment and household incomes are low for a year, then a 0% increase may be a very real possibility.

Most rent stabilized increases tend to be in the 2-5% range.

One exception to this rule is if a landlord is charging less than the maximum rent amount allowed.

They are allowed to raise the rent to the maximum during the next period, no matter what the rent stabilized increase happens to be.

Tenants may not be able to control how much they pay in rent from year-to-year in many situations, but rent stabilization increases do limit the damage in high population urban areas.

Most increase demands are received with 60 days’ notice, but it is up to each tenant to know what they may be expected to pay in the next 12 months with this type of living situation.

Contact your local authority with any questions.