Avoid High Water Costs with Drought-Friendly Landscaping

Water is expensive.

From indoor plumbing to outdoor recreation, the love of clean, fresh water is impacting reserves and influencing costs.

Some property owners leave the responsibility of the water bill with their tenants.

While this is a tempting option, if a tenant is caring for an outdoor area that requires a great deal of water and the cost of that water becomes too much, the tenant may look for another place to live or cease to tend to the landscaping.

Property owners can combat rising water costs by learning to incorporate visually pleasing landscaping that conserves water.

Consider the Region
Plants are best used in their native regions, or in similar climates.

You could plant a desert cactus in the Northeast, but don’t expect it to thrive. Take note of the local temperature range, humidity, and soil conditions before designing your landscaping.

Consult employees at a local gardening store, a horticulturalist, or restoration ecologist to learn more about your area’s native ecology.

Hardiness maps are fantastic resources that visually divide the country into different vegetation zones.

Most plants are assigned a corresponding zone number that tells you how it will handle the environment.

Identify Beauty That Endures
Annuals are very greedy with water resources.

They are also more expensive, since they only last for one blooming season.

Perennials are beautiful and come back each year. When creating the landscaping for your income property, choose perennial wildflowers, native flowering shrubs, and drought-tolerant tree species.

Drought-friendly species are ideal for lowering water bills, and they are low maintenance as well.

This helps you save additional funds by scaling back on your landscaping crews and scheduled maintenance needs.

Factor in Adjustment Time
Scaling back on landscapers is fantastic, but it won’t happen immediately.

You can’t plant and walk away from the scene; you must nurture the new plants until they adjust to their surroundings and recover from the shock of transplantation.

No matter the age of the plant, it will require extra care for the first few weeks.

Once the new plants are settled, drought-tolerant landscaping will have you counting up the cash instead of handing it out.

Skip the Grass Lawn
Grass lawns are elegant when trimmed, but their lush appearance requires a great deal of maintenance and a regular water supply.

Lawns quickly turn brown in drier climates or drought conditions, and this can cause them to become an eyesore.

Drought-friendly landscaping skips the grass.

Clusters of shrubs or trees interspersed with wildflowers, bunch grasses, and trailing vine ground cover can be found in natural settings.

Drought-friendly landscaping looks to copy the beauty of nature. Rocky outcroppings and gravel are ideal for bringing a natural look to your property without increasing water costs.

Aim for Rebates
Drought-friendly landscaping is the first step on the water-reduction ladder.

To further reduce water costs, install certified water-saving equipment.

This equipment may even qualify you for rebates and tax incentives from the local and federal government.

Converting grass lawns to plant-focused landscaping, installing rotating irrigation spray nozzles, and upgrading to weather-sensing irrigation systems are all common activities that qualify for rebates in many states.

As a property owner, one of your main concerns is increasing the return on your rental property investment.

This becomes more difficult when funds are continuously directed toward large water bill payments.

Drought-friendly landscaping can help reduce water costs and provide a beautiful, eye-catching design element to your property.


The Benefits of Adding Insulation to Rental Properties

Property owners are tasked with giving tenants a comfortable and safe place to live, but keeping a rental unit warm in the winter and cool in the summer can be costly.

Even if property owners are passing on the cost of utilities to their tenants, keeping costs under control by employing energy-saving methods can attract the best renters.

These tips and the information found below about the benefits of insulating a rental property can help property owners understand why the cost of adding insulation to their property is a good investment.

Cutting Down on Heating Costs
Heating bills can skyrocket for rental properties that are located in the coldest regions of the country.

Particularly cold winters have sent heating bills through the roof, and many property owners are left paying thousands of dollars just to keep their tenants safe from the cold.

While insulation does not create heat, it does prevent the heat that is in a home from escaping.

Instead of letting the heating system’s work go to waste, heat is circulated throughout the rental property.

Keeping Cooling Costs Under Control
While air conditioning is typically considered a luxury rather than a requirement, offering tenants air conditioning is a good way to attract people who can afford and are interested in added touches.

In regions with exceptionally hot weather, air conditioning offers protection to the elderly and children.

As with heating, insulation is able to keep the conditioned air inside of a property instead of letting it seep outside.

Attracting Better Tenants
One of the biggest benefits outside of cost savings when it comes to insulation is attracting the best tenants to a rental property.

The fact that less energy is used when insulation is beefed up means that a property with added insulation is friendlier to the environment.

Tenants who are concerned about their impact on the environment may be more inclined to rent or even pay a premium price to live in a more green building.

Tenants who are more aware of their budget may also be attracted to a rental property that has been insulated to cut down on heating and cooling costs.

Many property owners choose to have their tenants pay for heating and cooling, and boasting an efficient property design that manages to keep a home more uniformly comfortable throughout the winter and summer is more likely to get a property rented out more quickly.

Keeping Insulation Costs Down
Adding insulation to a rental property can be a costly endeavor, but it is not one that has to break the bank.

Starting with small changes is best, especially if the property is currently being rented out.

Using caulk to seal up holes when adding insulation will help to prevent air from escaping or getting into the rental property.

Insulation is best added to basements, crawlspaces and attics.

These are the areas of a rental property that are most likely to allow conditioned air to escape from the building, so landlords who have limited means should focus on these areas first.

Insulating a rental property is a great way to keep down utility costs while attracting the best tenants.

Insulating targeted areas throughout a property is the best way to keep the project cost effective, and finishing up by sealing up air leaks will help to maximize the benefits of insulating a rental property.

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 To Get a Lien Release

Having a lien on a property is problematic.

Having a lien that won’t be released by the creditor is an even greater problem.

When a debt has been paid, (this is normally a tax debt) the creditor who owns that debt is supposed to release the lien.

If this doesn’t happen and the lien remains, a second debt payment may be requested upon the sale of the home.

That’s why knowing how to get a lien release is so important.

The first thing you must do is save all payment records regarding the lien and when it was completely eliminated.

Without records of payment, it may be impossible to prove that the lien was ever cleared.

Always send payments through a certified channel and use a method of payment that leaves a paper trail to further protect yourself.

Then you’ll be able to follow these additional steps.

1. Ask the Creditor to Send the Release.

Most of the time a lien release will happen with a simple phone call.

Just contact the creditor, explain that you paid the debt and have the records to prove it, and that you’d appreciate the documentation that proves the lien has been released.

Most will be happy to oblige the oversight.

Some contractors or mechanics who have placed the lien may not even know that they had to file the release. Be persistent in this.

For the first 3 weeks, call 2x per week and request updates to the status.

2. Request the Lien Release in Writing.

If you have gone through the 3 weeks of effort with a creditor and this work has not resulted in a lien release, then it is time to officially request one in writing.

State in the letter that you are requesting the lien release, that you have already submitted payment to clear the lien, and include proof.

Send this request via certified mail or through a method that allows for delivery tracking.

You may need to wait up to 15 business days for this process to begin.

3. Speak to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

The FDIC has the ability to issue a lien release for homes, vehicles, and boats that have a cleared lien that is still on the record.

To qualify for an FDIC lien release, your property must meet the following conditions.

  • The creditor must be either a bank or a savings and loan institution that is currently held in FDIC receivership.
  • The lien must have been paid off before the institution failed and the FDIC took over. Proof of payment will be required.
  • The lien was paid directly to the institution after FDIC receivership and the lien release was not issued.

A request for an FDIC lien release must occur in writing and the process may take up to 20 business days to complete.

Requests can either be faxed or emailed to the FDIC through their customer services and support center.

4. Some Federal Liens Don’t Always Disappear.

If you have a US federal tax responsibility that has remained unpaid, then a lien may appear on any of your property to help clear this obligation.

Even if the tax burden has been cleared, the lien is not always discharged in 30 days like it should be.

The US judicial system has ruled that the IRS may keep their lien status on tax delinquent homes as a proactive measure and still retain primary monetary rights.

National level tax liens do have some additional options that may not be available to other lien types.

They may even offer a withdrawal if the amount owed is less than $25,000 and there is an instantly debited installment plan in place that will clear the lien in 60 days or less.

Subordination is also an option, which allows a tax lien to be dropped below other debt responsibilities.

A discharge of property may also be available.

5. Beware of the Dreaded “Copy.”

Many financial institutions will be happy to send you a copy of a lien release letter that is generated to satisfy the debt.

The only problem with this is that it may not satisfy a future lender or clear the actual lien off of the property.

A letter is only good if it has been filed with the appropriate authorities and it meets their needs.

If someone needs an original letter to clear the lien, then get it.

Don’t be satisfied by the copy.

Knowing how to get a lien release may take several weeks of sweat equity on your part, but eventually it can be completed.

Follow these steps to get your lien cleared so that the sale you are planning can go through without a hitch.

How To Serve An Eviction Notice for Nonpayment of Rent

One of the biggest frustrations a landlord faces is a tenant that doesn’t pay their rent.

An estimated 2% of tenants tend to be problematic and may need to have the eviction process started.

To do so, you’ll need to create a notice that corresponds with the demands of your local landlord-tenant laws.

Either 3 or 5 days in most jurisdictions, once the notice is created, it will need to be served.

Many landlords choose to serve this notice in person.

This may not be the wisest option in some jurisdictions.

It may even be illegal in some locations.

You may wish to serve an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent with these alternative.

1. Send it Via Certified Mail.

You may be able to mail this notice through first class mail, but sending it certified is a better option.

This lets you know when the notice was officially delivered so that the timer can start counting down on the eviction process.

If you use this method, your landlord-tenant law may require a hand-delivered notification as well.

2. Use a Process Server.

If your tenant isn’t responding to the door or collecting their mail, using a process server is your next best option.

Tenants like these will typically go through the entire court hearing, so this method will show the court that you’ve performed your due diligence.

Remember that your eviction countdown may not start until the individual has been served, which may take a few days.

3. Deliver to a Prominent Location.

If all other methods do not work, then affix the eviction notice to a prominent location on the property.

A front exterior entry door or window is typically chosen.

To prove when you delivered the notice, take along a current day newspaper to include with the photograph.

This will prove that you were there when you said you were there when no tenant response happens.

Knowing how to serve an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent is beneficial for when the eviction proceeds to a court hearing because you won’t give a judge any excuse to rule in favor of the tenant.

Use these options to deliver your next notice and then prepare to file the unlawful detainer should the deadline on the notice not be met.

5 Cost-Effective Upgrades that Will Boost Your Rents

Let’s face it: you’re a busy landlord, and you don’t have time to do major overhauls, remodels, or renovations of your properties on a regular basis.

Your goal is to keep your units clean, in good shape, and appealing to tenants so that they’ll stay around and keep renting from you.

However, you’re probably open to devoting a bit of time and resources to key upgrades that will allow you to raise rents and still have your pick of quality tenants.

That’s the focus of this article; here are five of the easiest and most cost-effective upgrades you can invest in to boost rental value and draw in quality tenants that will stay around:

1. Remove the Carpeting
Carpeting tends to be a headache for both landlords and tenants alike.

It gets stained and dirty all too quickly and can harbor germs, allergens and pet dander.

Laminate flooring is much easier to clean and retains its look and quality much longer than most carpet types.

These days, laminates can help create the illusion of just about any flooring style, from hardwoods to bamboo to simulated slate tile.

Choose a neutral, timeless style and color so that tenants can enjoy and easily accessorize the decor of this new flooring for years to come.

2. Update the Kitchen
The kitchen is the heart and soul of every home, and for most people, liking (or not liking) the look and feel of the kitchen will be a strong determining factor in whether or not they decide to rent from you.

If the appliances and decor are in dire need of an upgrade, make the investment.

At the very least, simple, affordable cosmetic changes in the kitchen can make a big difference.

Repaint the walls, and consider cabinet refacing and/or changing out the hardware of the drawers and cabinets for a more contemporary look and feel.

3. Sanitize, Deodorize, and Repaint (if needed)
A rental that emanates odor from pets, dirt, smokers, or past renters who didn’t do a very good job cleaning regularly will not be appealing to new tenants.

Hire a cleaning service to deep clean your units from top to bottom, including the walls, floors, ceilings, and window treatments.

Another great way to “clear the slate” from past tenants is by having the interior repainted while it’s vacant.

Repainting is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help freshen up your units and restore a “like new” look and feel.

4. In-Unit Washers and Dryers
Having access to a washer and dryer within a rental unit is a feature and convenience that can take your properties to new levels of desirability.

If the unit is small, an all in one stackable washer and dryer combo can be the perfect solution.

This type of washer and dryer can be conveniently tucked away in a closet, and your tenants will love it.

5. High-Speed Internet
Internet service can be expensive, adding to tenants’ total monthly utilities cost.

You can help reduce this for them and make them more prone to renting from you by providing high-speed internet to the entire building.

You can still build it into the cost of your rents (and add a markup), but the net result will still be a lower cost per person and save your tenants a separate Internet service provider bill.

With resources tight, it’s important to be selective about the changes and updates you make to your properties.

Use these five targeted upgrades to help boost your rents without putting too much strain on your time, energy, or bank account.


Train Your Tenant to Help You

A good, professional relationship with your tenants will save you time and money in many ways.

Having an adversarial relationship with a tenant can cost you more than just sleepless nights worrying whether they are going to pay.

If a tenant is not interested in working with you, they are less likely to take care of your rental property or to let you know about problems as they develop.

Learning about an issue early can be the difference between a quick repair and a lengthy, expensive contractor visit.

It is important to train your tenants to help you out in taking care of your property.

On the flip side, if you have a good relationship with your tenant then you can keep them on the lookout for problems.

Regular, friendly communication is a two-way street and will ensure the tenant acts as your eyes on the ground.

Problems to Look Out For
Many expensive home repairs can be cheaper if caught early. If the heater breaks down during a cold snap, your pipes may freeze and burst.

Water damage, if it is not addressed quickly, will only get worse.

When the winter hits, check in with your tenants about the heat to make sure it is working.

You may wish to see if they plan to be away for any length of time during the cold spells.

If they are, you may want to check on the house yourself while they are gone (per the terms of your lease, of course).

Rodent and insect infestations are also easier and cheaper to fix if caught early.

If your tenant is comfortable reaching out to you as soon as they see a pest, then you can send over an exterminator right away.

Taking care of the problem early can lower your exterminator costs, and may prevent unpleasant surprises when you get ready to show the place to the next tenants.

Other problems to keep your tenants on the lookout for include mold, leaks, and structural issues.

Establish a good relationship
How do you train your tenant to share these issues with you?

It starts when you meet them. Establishing a polite, professional relationship early will pay off in the long-run.

Establish a friendly but professional relationship by maintaining a good reputation in the community and by being prompt in all your communication with them.

Stick to your word and be upfront with them at all times.

You want your tenants to know that you are trustworthy and that you will treat them fairly.

Developing a healthy respect during the application process will help to ensure that they do their best to take care of your rental and that they will reach out to you if anything goes wrong.

Keeping up a good relationship
To make sure the tenants tell you about problems as they develop, they will need to feel comfortable talking to you after they sign the lease too.

When they do reach out, be encouraging and responsive.

You do not want your tenants to be afraid to call you, so greet them warmly and respond to the situation calmly.

Watch your tone and word choice so they do not think that you are blaming them for the issue (even if it is their fault).

If they are worried about getting yelled at, they are going to let the problems fester.

You will also need to respond promptly to their concerns, no matter how small.

Think about it from their perspective: if their landlord takes two weeks to get back to them every time they reach out, they will be slower to reach out in the first place.

Establish a good relationship, encourage communication and guide your tenants to keep an eye out on problems in the house.

You and your bank account will be glad you did.


How to Prevent Getting Sued by Your Tenants

Many landlords get nervous about the thought of going through a lawsuit to evict your tenants or recover back rent.

What you may not have considered are the cases where the tenants may choose to sue you.

Understanding the situations that enable a tenant to sue you, and how to avoid these situations, helps you operate your property management business without the threat of a lawsuit.

Security Deposits
Security deposits can be the sticking point of an otherwise great rental relationship.

When it comes time to look through the rental unit to determine whether repairs need done, make sure you understand the definition of reasonable wear and tear and how that applies to the apartment.

If you do need to deduct anything from the security deposit, make sure you completely itemize it so there’s no question where the money went.

Additionally, store and return the security deposit in the way required by your state’s landlord and tenant laws.

Getting the security deposit back to the previous tenant in a timely manner not only cuts down on lawsuit risk, it also helps them out with moving expenses.

Property Maintenance
Another major sticking point for tenants is property maintenance.

As a landlord, you’re required to keep the property in a habitable state at all times.

If you can’t do that, tenants may have the opportunity to sue you for constructive eviction or other damages.

If there is an issue with the property, make sure you stay on contact with the tenant on the status of the repairs.

If they are frequently updated about the fact work is occurring, it makes them more charitable even if repairs take longer than intended.

Don’t overlook a request for repair by a tenant.

Even if it’s not anything major, you want the tenant to know you take their request seriously.

Security Measures
Do you have rental units located in higher crime areas?

While you may not technically be required to incorporate security measures beyond a typical lock and deadbolt in the property, a court may find you liable for crime and tenant losses if you don’t go above and beyond the standard requirements.

Consider a home security system to give your tenants peace of mind and increase the rental appeal of your unit.

Get Everything in Writing
Make sure your rental contracts have every relevant point in writing.

You want to cover your responsibility to the unit, the tenant’s responsibilities, recourse, and other import facets of landlord tenant law applicable to your rental.

When you have everything down in writing, there’s no dealing with he-said she-said verbal contracts that are difficult to prove in a lawsuit.

Maintain a Good Relationship with Your Tenants
Sometimes avoiding a lawsuit is as simple as having a good relationship with your tenants.

You aren’t going to be their best friends, since you want to have a professional and not a too-personal relationship with them, but treating them as valuable tenants whose concerns are heard and addressed helps a lot.

If you’re available to your tenants, stay on top of their repairs, and touch base every so often to make sure they aren’t having any problems with the unit, you can avoid unhappy tenants.


How To Verify an EIN

The Employer Identification Number (EIN) is mandatory for a business to have if that business hires employees.

The EIN can only be assigned by the IRS and is also necessary for tax-exempt organizations and entities.

Here’s how to verify an EIN so that an organization can be properly checked.

1. Determine The Business Status.

Businesses that have only one employee, as in the owner or the owner and their spouse, may not have an EIN.

You’ll need to verify the status of the business before searching because most sole proprietorships do not file for this ID number and so none will exist.

If there are employees, then it is necessary to determine if the business is a charity or a for-profit company so that the proper databases can be searched.

2. Search The IRS.

The IRS.gov website offers users the opportunity to search through charities.

Just go to the proper search page and fill out the search fields with as much information as you have.

You’ll be given a list of results.

For charities especially, this method is not always 100% reliable because of the manner of how the EIN was assigned.

3. Make a Phone Call.

Every employer has a designated contact for their EIN.

From time to time, an ID number can get lost. By calling the IRS at 1 (800) 829-4933, the IRS will give out the EIN to only the designated contact over the phone.

People seeking to confirm an EIN through this manner will be referred to the IRS website or a third-party verification option.

4. Use a Paid Search Mechanism.

There are numerous search options that can be found online today.

Some of these may be available through your tax adviser as well.

Fee-based services will verify the EIN and provide employer-related details.

Some sites offer free or limited EIN searches if only the EIN needs to be verified.

Keep in mind that some of these organizations may require an account to be setup with personal information.

Never share personal information to a non-secure website.

Knowing how to verify an EIN can help to determine the authenticity of a business.

Use the options today and you’ll be able to locate the information that is needed.

Common Maintenance Issues and How a Landlord Can Resolve Them

One of the biggest challenges that landlords face on a continuing basis is maintenance.

No matter how new or how well-built the property is, sooner or later you will have to deal with repairs and maintenance needs.

For first-time landlords, this can be especially difficult if they don’t know where to turn.

Have a Plan
Minor repairs can happen at any time, but they most often occur when it is least convenient.

You will get a phone call when you are sitting down to dinner or getting ready for bed.

To prevent the inconvenience that this can cause, you need to have a plan in place to ensure the issues is quickly and efficiently resolved.

Some issues are regular occurrences, like heating and HVAC problems, backed-up plumbing, and lockouts.

Be prepared for these situations by contracting with a company that you can call any time you need their services.

You can give the company a key and sign a contract for 24-hour service with a specified response time.

Just make sure you let tenants know that this is the procedure for these calls.

Larger problems such as a leaking roof may require a temporary fix until a more permanent solution can be provided.

In some cases, the roofing contractor may handle the situation while other times, you may need to find someone else who can stop the leaks temporarily.

Always know which companies you will contact for the various problems you are likely to encounter and find out exactly what services they provide and in what time frame they respond.

Hire Someone to Handle Maintenance Issues
For a larger rental complex, you may want to hand off maintenance calls to a service or manager.

You have several options to choose from:

  • An answering service takes calls from tenants and contacts the appropriate repair company to handle the work based on your instructions. They relay the problem to you on the next business day or with the call logs.
  • A property manager takes care of all tenant problems, including maintenance requests. The manager updates you or contacts you for unusual problems.
  • Pay a tenant to handle simple maintenance issues in exchange for reduced rent.

No matter which option you choose, you must have a clear plan of action for the most common repairs and maintenance problems.

Make sure that you relay the important information to all parties, including when you want to be contacted and how you will be informed of any resolved issues.

You also want to have a standard process for what to do when something unexpected arises that is not part of your plan, such as a flooding or a fire.

When major issues occur, you should have an emergency plan in place and procedures for the next steps.

You must provide a valid number where you can be reached or another person to act in your stead if you cannot be reached.

Having a complete maintenance plan in place helps you and everyone else know what to do when something happens.

It is also important that you relay the basic procedures to your tenants.

Let them know what steps will be taken and the timeline that they can expect a phone call or the issue to be resolved.

By having a plan in place, it protects you from minor repairs turning into major problems, and it keeps your tenants happy.