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.

Guide to Screening Tenants

Bonus: How to Read a Credit Report

Choosing a new tenant can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a new landlord or have had the same tenant in a property for several consecutive years.

It’s always good to remember that while vacant properties cost you money, delinquent tenants can cost you more.

While renters are looking for the right property to rent, as a landlord and property manager, you are looking for the right tenant for your property.

Not every applicant will be right for your property.

That’s okay. Don’t get discouraged.

A good game plan will help you streamline the process and take some of the stress of choosing a new tenant from the equation.

Screening a Potential Tenant

Tenant screening is an absolute must when you are looking for a new tenant to fill your property.

If you skip this vital step you are opening yourself and your investment up to terrible losses that could severely hurt your income.

Knowing who resides in your home begins with an application.

You may choose to use a physical version that you can hand to the applicant when you meet with them or, more likely, an online version that allows you to save time and paper.

Gathering application fees to run full tenant screenings on every single person that shows interest in your property can be difficult and time-consuming, so begin with a prescreening.

This begins with letting your applicants know what your expectations are.

Your listing should include information such as the rent rate, smoking policies, pet policies, and any credit/income requirements that you may have.

Letting your applicant know these things up front shows them that you are going to be honest with them and will allow them to bow out gracefully if they know that they will not be the right fit for your property.

You should have all of your policies in writing and they must apply to all residents that apply.

Sticking to your policies that you’ve created will help to hedge against appearing as if you are discriminating against an applicant.

Meeting an applicant face-to-face allows you to handle several items of business.

As the second round of prescreening, it allows you a chance to ask questions, give a quick tour of the property, and collect the application fee for the full tenant screening.

While this does not always hold true, if an applicant shows up late, does not have the full fee on hand, or is untidy in their appearance, you may think twice about them as a future tenant.

Do keep in mind that just because an applicant appears to be everything you’d ever hoped for, this is no reason to skip the tenant screening.

It is your first line of defense.

A full tenant screening should include a credit, criminal, and eviction report.

This will give you a fairly well rounded view of the history of person that wishes to rent your property from you.

You’ll want to watch for negative tradelines that indicate late or non-payments, as well as bankruptcies and collections owed on.

When you read over a credit history it is always a good practice to look at the details and not focus entirely on the score or recommendation given.

Verifying employment and checking with prior landlords are also part of the screening process, though a tenant screening company may not cover these.

Even so, if your applicant passes the credit, criminal, and eviction check, you still should not leave these two things to chance.

The sad truth is that people do lie about their income and past experiences.

An eviction may not be on the records yet if it is in the process of being filed for the property that they are currently in or the landlord may have decided to take another route that might not show on a typical tenant screening.

Reaching out to employers and asking for pay stubs help to give you peace of mind that the applicant is gainfully employed.

Checking with prior landlords (usually two or three back) ensures that they are not trying to slip past your safeguards.


If you’re on the fence between two or three qualified tenants you may have a difficult time choosing between them.

Some landlords are turning to social media for an alternative form of tenant screening, but you should always be careful with this.

While it may give you a great outlet to check on an applicant’s lifestyle – are they partiers? Tidy? Slobs? – and if they have any pets that they may or may not have mentioned to you, a landlord or property manager should tread carefully so that they do not appear choose one applicant above another using something that may be deemed illegal according to the Fair Housing Laws.

If you choose to take this route, make sure you are up-to-date with all of the laws associated with it. Social Media is a great tool, but you don’t want to risk landing yourself in trouble.

Follow the Law

There are local and federal laws that dictate the process that you will need to follow to find, screen, and accept a tenant.

While the federal laws will cover the country, you’ll also want to check in on your state, county, and even city laws to make sure that you are fully informed.

Ignorance is not an excuse that can be used if someone claims that you’ve broken the law as a landlord or property manager, and it can cost you in money, time, and reputation.

These laws are meant to help you both, so being fully aware is a must.

They are consistently changing and updating to meet the needs of landlords and tenants and better help to regulate that relationship.

The Fair Housing Act touches on situations from the moment that you start marketing your property and all the way into the actual tenancy and was put into practice in 1968.

It has been updated as different situations arise.

On whole, it’s meant to keep people from being turned away from housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, though some local laws will add to these, so it’s best to make sure that you are well aware of all laws that apply to your property.

You will want to be very careful in how you word your advertisements for your properties as well as what questions that you ask those that apply.

If you even appear to be leading them in one direction or another – for example, indicating that an apartment close to the playground would be better for the applicants when you find out that they have children and not offering to show other properties as well – that may be seen as discriminatory.

Refusing a disabled applicant reasonable accommodations such as a service animal in a property that does not allow pets may also be seen as discrimination.

There are also exemptions to the FHA that might com into play.

Once you have found an applicant that appears qualified and has passed the pre-screening, you will need to receive permission to run a tenant screening on them.

While criminal checks are performed on public criminal records, it is a good practice to be upfront and clear with what kinds of reports that you will be running on your applicant.

You will need direct permission to run a credit report.

Some tenant screening sites make it easier on you by reaching out to the tenant directly for this permission, but you may consider keeping a signed permission slip on file for your records as well.

State-specific documents such as these are easy to purchase and download online.

Finally, once you have chosen the best applicant to become your tenant you will sit down with them to sign the lease.

This is a legal document that should always be signed by both parties before the tenant is allowed to move into the property.

The lease will dictate what is expected from all parties involved so that if there are any questions at a later date, you may refer back to the document. 

This will be one of the most important ways (aside from the screening process itself) that you’ll protect your property and your investment.

It legally binds you both to the promises made and will help to simplify your landlord-tenant relationship.

Conclusion

Finding that perfect tenant can be stressful, but you’ll find the policies that work best for you with each time that you go through the process.

Speak with other landlords and ask advice. While learning from your own mistakes is a necessary part of growing your business, learning from others so that you can avoid the mistakes that they made is even better.

Choosing a great location that will appeal to the types of tenants that you’d like to attract, going through a full and detailed tenant screening process, and abiding by the laws set up to govern the landlord-tenant relationship will help set you and your new tenant on a smoother path and encourage a great working relationship.

Bonus:
How to Read a Credit Report

When you open your rental property up to a person it is safe to say that you’d like to know that you are making the best choice in the tenant that you accept.

You have gone through the first steps of the screening process: you have asked the interested individual to fill out an application, have spoken to them briefly about their qualifications, and have collected the screening fee.

This process has likely helped to narrow your pool of applicants down to a serious few and now it’s time to look over their credit and criminal repors.

If you are a new landlord or are switching the service that you use to run tenant screenings, you’ll want to make sure that the tenant screening that you order provides, at minimum, a full credit report and a nation-wide criminal check.

Some HOAs that your property may be apart of may require a certain level of criminal check to be performed in order to rent to an individual within that community.

Overall, it’s safer to conduct a full, nation-wide criminal search rather than rely on your applicant to provide you with accurate information of the areas that they have lived in.

A credit report may include somewhat varying information, but you should look for one that includes a credit score, tradelines, and public records (which should also include collections).

Below we’ll go through what is included in each of these, as well as a few other options you may wish to persue in a credit history.

For consistancy’s sake, we will be using LandlordStation’s sample report, though if you pull a report directly from a credit agency it may be formatted differently.

Credit Score

A credit score is provided by the credit bureau that the report is pulled from. For LandlordStation, this is Trans Union.

There are three major credit agencies in the United States, and while those scores may differ slightly depending on the information found in the agency’s database, they should be fairly similar.

Credit scores tend to range from around 300 to 850, though 800 is considered near perfect.

The tradelines found below the credit score will detail out what information the credit bureau has used to formulate the score itself.

Most tradelines will affect the score up to seven (7) years and will affect it less and less with each passing year.

In other words, if the year is 2015 a negative tradeline from October of 2014 will weigh heavier against the credit score than a negative tradeline from October of 2010.

Score factors are often detailed out next to the score provided.

These are notes that the credit agency will provide that explain what went into their calculations.

There will be times that no score is provided.

If a score cannot be calculated, this often means that the individual does not have an extensive or recent credit history.

Individuals that pay in cash, do not use credit cards, and do not take out loans will likely have a very bare credit history and a score may not be available for them.

This does not necessarily make them a poor canidate, though you may wish to focus more on other forms of screening (such as references and their criminal and rental history).

If your applicant claims that they should have a credit history or they find a discrepency in the history that was provided, they should contact the credit bureau immediately.

Credit Summary and Tradelines

A credit summary will be where you will see the summarization of the different items found on the credit report. The tradelines will be the details of that summarization.

There are five (5) catagories under the summary on LandlordStation’s credit reports.

1.    Closed with Balance – This will be a summary of any tradeline that was closed with a balance still open. It may have been a loan or a credit card. The reasons that it was closed before it was paid off may vary, and those details will be found in the tradelines.
2.    Revolving – A revolving balance will change. This is not a set amount, such as a loan, but one that is often being paid on and added to such as a credit card. The important thing to note here is the percentage of the debt that is being used at any given time. A person who have been approved for $100,000 of revolving credit and is using $10,000 is in a much better position than one who is approved for $5,000 and is using all $5000 of it.

3.    Installment – Installment balances are lines of credit that will be paid in installments, such as an auto loan or a student loan.
4.    Mortgage – Lines of credit for a mortgage stand apart from other installments.
5.    Open – The open category is simply anything that is still active and has not been shut down either by the creditor or the invididual that the report is being run on.
Under the summary the individual and total amounts will be listed for the balance, high credit, and monthly payments.

Tradelines will provide details on the information under the credit summary.

Each tradeline (both open and closed) will provide information on the name of the creditor, the loan type (ie if it is a credit card, auto loan, student loan, etc etc), current rating (meaning if it is currently being paid on, if it is late, etc), the balance, if any money is past due, and what the credit limit is. It will also note the high limit, meaning the most owed on that tradeline.

This will include any fees associated with late dues.

Dates will be provided for when the tradeline was opened, closed, and also when it was most recently reported to the credit bureau.

Collections

Collections are lines of credit that were shut down by the creditor and the debt was sold to a collection company.

The collection company may be awaiting payment, and if so it will be noted in this section of the credit report.

The collection section of the credit report will note the name of the original company owed, the balance owed (this should be looked at for the current balance over the ‘past due’ section), the high credit, and the agency that currently holds the debt.

The collection will have a date opened section that will show when the tradeline was placed for collection, and if it has been paid and closed it will note that next to the open date.

If the collection shows a balance and does not have a paid or closed date, it likely is still an outstanding debt owed.

As of 2014 medical collections do not impact a credit score as heavily as other collections might.

Public Records

Public records will include any legal proceedings that affect the applicant’s credity-worthiness.

This may be a civil judgement, a tax lien of some kind, or any number of things.

These are all considered negative marks against the applicant’s credit history.

Other Options

Some credit reports will offer various other options such as previous address history, known aliases, and employment history.

This information can be vaulable when fact-checking your potential tenant, as they will often provide this information on the application that they bring to you.