Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.
Whether you are a seasoned landlord or a first-timer, think about these simple tips to help keep the peace with your tenants.
1. Show well – Be sure your place is clean, in good repair and the paint is fresh. Renters are quickly turned off by dirty apartments that look worn down. If you are showing while you have a current tenant who is less than tidy, be sure to explain that before showing, and note the items you will fix before turning it over. This helps potential renters feel more comfortable, and may let them see past the pile of dirty clothes or dishes stacked up in the kitchen. If the place doesn’t show well, ask for and accept constructive criticism. Maybe there are a few minor fixes you can do to help rent your unit quickly.
2. Screening – Take time to screen your renters. Be sure they fill out an application, provide proof of income, landlord references (or good mortgage history) and good credit. But just because they don’t have excellent credit, or perhaps no credit, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good renters. Check their previous tenant history. Ask for a co-signer. Just be sure you’ve done your due diligence and you are ultimately comfortable with your tenants.
3. Know the Rules – Be sure you are familiar with landlord-tenant law. Also be sure you understand Fair Housing. If you are unsure about either of these consult a local real estate agent or an attorney.
4. Rentals are a Business – First and foremost, keep emotions out of it. Even if this is, or was your home, once you decide to rent it to someone else, it is an investment. Next, be sure you have the appropriate licenses. Make sure you have an accurate record keeping system in place. Get a simple bookkeeping system, set up a separate bank account and be sure to maintain files with any tenant communication. Lastly, have a list of trusted vendors on hand in case of any maintenance issues. You don’t want to be scrambling to look for an HVAC contractor when the heat goes out in the middle of winter.
5. Respect – Respect is a two way street. You want your tenants to respect your property, so it stands to reason that you should respect your tenants. Don’t show up unannounced (there are laws about that by the way.) As stated above, it is not your home now, but your renters. Respond to their questions or concerns in a reasonable amount of time. Hold up your end of the bargain. If you are including lawn maintenance or housekeeping in the rent, don’t let it slide.
6. Timely Repairs – Nothing causes landlord-tenant tension faster than a landlord ignoring repairs. In accordance with the law, you must maintain the property in working condition. If something stops working, fix it — and quickly. If you suspect the repairs are due to tenant negligence, ask your repair person to give you an honest opinion. It might be tough to prove, but either way the repairs are needed. Also be sure to keep money reserves on hand for repairs (as well as real estate taxes) so you aren’t strapped when they come up. Remember, your renters or the tax collectors aren’t going to be happy if they have to wait on something because you are low on cash.
7. Insurance – As soon as you decide to rent out your property, talk to your insurance agent or shop around. You will need to adjust your homeowners insurance. Your rates will likely increase as it is now rental property. Also, don’t forget in your lease to require your renters have insurance for liability and personal property. Your insurance does not cover their belongings.
8. Reward good renters – If you drive by your property and see they have planted some nice flowers and are going above and beyond to take care of your place, reward them. Send them a gift card for coffee or dinner. Remember they are your customer. A little appreciation goes a long way.
Finally, if this is all just a bit much for you, hire a properly licensed property management company. Most companies will take a percentage of the monthly rent, but they will handle everything for you, including rent receipts, invoices and landlord-tenant issues. Just be sure to find a reputable company.
A rental property can be a great investment. Proper maintenance, proper tenant screening and proper management during tenant occupancy can ensure a happy, healthy relationship with your tenants and maintain your investment for the long term.
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