Essential Summer Maintenance Tips for Property Managers

While you should be keeping up on maintenance issues year-round, summertime is the ideal time to do annual inspections and take preventative action.

Unfortunately, renters aren’t usually as conscious about repairs as it’s not their own home, so take the initiative by preemptively looking for repairs that need to be made. Remember, that most repairs are simple if caught early. Use the following as a check list for your annual summer inspections:

  • Roof Maintenance: As mentioned in a past post, roof inspection and maintenance is fair-weather project. Inspecting and quickly repairing
  • A/C Servicing: If your property has air conditioning, don’t let an inspection slip by. Upset tenants sweltering in their apartment can be bee in your bonnet, better to have it in tip top shape by summertime than wait.
  • Inspect deck or patio: A wooden deck or patio is a nice feature that your tenants can enjoy year after year. Inspecting it annually ensures that it will last you even longer. Resealing the deck every year or so will also help protect the wood, especially if the wood is pressure-treated. Pressure treated wood needs to be properly sealed to protect it from water damage.
  • Lawn Maintenance: Whether your tenants are responsible for lawn care or if you hire it out, a well maintained lawn not only is pleasing, it can also reduce fire risks. In particularly hot areas, dry grass can be a hazard.
  • Replace furnace filter: You may need to replace your properties’ furnace filters more than once a year, but doing so before summer is a must. After a winter of running non-stop your furnace filter will surely be clogged. To ensure better air-flow and air-quality you’ll want to inspect your filter often and change at least once every summer.
  • Inspect window and patio screens: Window and patio screens are pretty cheap and easy to replace, but they also get ripped pretty easily. Inspect all screens before the heat hits so your tenants can let cool night air flow through the house without inviting the mosquitoes and gnats inside too.
  • Inspect Washer and Drying Machines: Another fire hazard is a clogged dryer vent. If your properties include washer and drying machines, be sure to clean the vents at last once a year. You’ll also want to inspect the washing machine hose for wear and replace it every 3-5 years. You’ll also want to check that your Commercial Property Insurance covers this type of home fire.

While not all of these have to be done in the summertime, but it’s a good time to check them off the list. One thing is for sure if you inspect diligently and do repairs as needed, you’ll save yourself a lot time and money by preventing more serious repairs that would surely come if left unattended.

Want to Rent? What Will Be Required of You?

Whether you are a first-time renter or a seasoned renter, you’ll have to go through a screening process for every property you rent. The screening may be simple or it may be extensive. Landlords can require anything that they want as long as they are consistent and it isn’t discriminatory.

You’ll most likely have to pay a fee for the time it takes to screen you, so make sure before you apply, that you meet the eligibility terms. Renters are just as different as the properties there are to rent, but generally the nicer and more expensive the property, the more strict the requirements. But unless you have some glaring issues in your past, you will usually not have a problem finding the right property for you. Requirements usually fall into the following categories.

Income: You’ll need to provide documents (pay stubs, tax records or a letter from an employer) showing proof of income. Landlords will need to make sure that you’ll be able to afford the rent. The general rule is that your rent should not tie up more than a third of your monthly income. So if you make $2,100 you should not apply to rent something for more than $700 a month.

Credit Check: Renting almost always includes a credit check—if it isn’t required you may not want to live there anyways. A landlord will want to make sure that you’ve paid your debts in the past and have a past of being reliable.

Criminal History: Some landlords will check for a criminal background not wanting to rent to those they think may be troublesome or untrustworthy. But they may not consider what the crime was, how long ago it happened, etc. If you have a criminal history it may be best to be upfront and explain the situation for yourself. You can even provide a reference letter to attest for your character.

Good Rental History: Some landlords will want references from past landlords or property managers to see if you are a reliable and responsible renter. They may ask previous landlords questions such as, “Did the tenant pay rent late?” “Did the tenant give adequate notification to vacate?” Also, if it is discovered that you owe rent to a previous landlord, you may be required to pay back rent, before a landlord will rent to you.

If throughout the screening process, the landlord decided that they will rent to you, but decide you are a higher risk tenant, they can ask that you pay a higher safety deposit or have a co-signer for the rent. If they choose to do so they must send you an adverse action letter stating why these precautions are necessary. If the landlord decides that you present too much risk and cannot rent to you, they must also send an adverse action letter explaining why.

In addition to the eligibility requirements, read the lease to make sure you can comply with all rules and policies. Some apartments allow pets, others don’t. Some apartments require a security deposit, while other’s offer security deposit insurance. If both tenant and landlord are clear on where the other stands the chances for a good rental relationship are much better.

Security Deposits: Know the Law

Whether as protection from lawsuits or to get money back, landlords, property managers, and tenants alike need to know the laws about security deposits.

There are many laws and stipulations that must be followed or a tenant can rightly sue for their unreturned security deposit. Of course, as with any laws pertaining to rental properties, laws vary by state. For detailed information for each state, Landlord.com is a great resource.

  • Maximum Security Deposit: Some states have a cap on how high the security deposit can be, while others have no limitations. It is sometimes listed as a dollar amount, sometimes as a number of months of rent.
  • Interest: When people rent properties for years on years the landlord/property manager could make a lot of money off of your security deposit. So in some states, the landlord is required to pay that interest earned back to the tenant.
  • Separate Bank Account: Some states require that safety deposits be kept in a separate bank account.
  • Charges: Landlords/property managers are limited by what charges they are allowed to make against their tenants’ deposit. Some states indicate that it must be damage beyond normal wear and tear, whereas other states allow landlords to charge for wear and tear. This may be the difference between a tenant keeping their deposit or not.
  • Walk-through Inspections: Some states require a walk-through inspection at the beginning of the lease, and some require an inspection at the close of the lease as well. Make sure you check the law specific to the state, as it varies greatly. A checklist noting the current state of the property may be required as well. Whether required or not, thorough documented inspections protect both parties should there be a dispute over damages or wear and tear.
  • Number of Days to Return Refund: There is a deadline for returning security deposit, or what is left of it after damage charges, to tenants. If the remaining deposit isn’t returned by the deadline, tenants are entitled to receive their full refund.
  • Written Account: Most states require the landlord/property manager to send detailed list of charges that will be made against deposit. The list must be sent along with whatever deposit that is left over before the due date.

The debate over the security deposit has always been a point of contention between landlord and tenant. But the best thing you can do to avoid problems and protect yourself is to know the law and document everything. Or to avoid these problems all together, look into the new feature some landlords are offering called security deposit insurance.

4 Steps to Protect Yourself from a Tenant Lawsuit

The only thing more stressful than eviction to a property manager is the possibility of a lawsuit. There are a slew of reasons a tenant might sue their landlord or property manager. And although lawsuits against real estate practitioners are on the rise; fortunately, nearly three-fourths of these cases are deemed not liable. The following are the most common reasons you might be facing a lawsuit.

Wrongful evictions

Fair Housing Discrimination

Liability on the property

Retaining security deposit

In-habitability due to unsafe situations like mold, bugs, broken plumbing, etc

Of course, as long as you’re an honest, law-abiding individual some of those lawsuits just aren’t going to happen to you. But more often property managers and landlords are sued for taking the actions they felt were justified, but may not hold up in court unless proper procedures and documentation were taken.

1. Gather All Evidence: Ideally, you already have everything you need to defend yourself because your record keeping is just that awesome. If it isn’t, learn from your mistakes, and collect everything you can find. If the suit is about withheld security deposit, gather all photos and documentation about the status of the property before the tenant moved in and after the damages occurred.

2. Know the Law: Sometimes an uncrossed T can throw your whole case. The best way to protect yourself is by knowing the precise steps and procedures you must take for evicting a tenant, retaining a security deposit, or denying occupancy to an applicant.

3. Prevention: If the stairs are unsafe, fix them. If the plumbing breaks, fix it. If the property could use a security system, get a security system. Most problems can be resolved before they happen by being a proactive property manager. If you see a problem, or a potential problem, don’t delay. Procrastination can be your biggest enemy. And never, ever, ever go without good commercial insurance.

4. Compromise with Tenant: In the event that there is a problem or miscommunication between yourself and a tenant, go the extra mile to solve the problem privately. If a tenant threatens to sue because of neglected repairs, find a way to resolve the problem outside of the courtroom—no matter who wins, it’ll save you money in lawyer fees and it’ll win you some goodwill with your tenant.

A lot of property manager and tenant issues happen because a property manager doesn’t take the necessary precautions. If you’ve done everything asked of you, followed the law to a T, and documented everything, the tenant will have no case against you.

When Summer Celebrations Turn South for Property Managers

Summer holidays and celebrations are tradition that often include Barbeques, parades, parties and fireworks.

But unfortunately those celebrations also come with their fair share of noise complaints, accidental fires and drunken brawls. As a property manager, there is only so much you can do, but the key is prevention and protection.

Make sure tenants know the policies: Be clear about your policies for fireworks and noise. Make sure you’re aware of local firework restrictions. In some cities and states they are forbidden, while in others the restrictions are lack. If they are allowed, you’ll need to set your own policy. You may choose to ban fireworks entirely or set limitations, but realize that they may be hard to enforce. But stating it in your agreement, gives you protection in case of a problem.

Reminders: You may want to send out a friendly reminder before the holidays via Facebook, email or a flyer. Remind them that nothing is wrong with summer parties, they should remember the policies and they should also consider their neighbors before hosting a loud party or lighting fireworks late at night. Nothing creates tension between neighbors like rowdy behavior.

Insurance: The best way to protect yourself against damage whether it be a stray firework or a hole punched in the wall during a fight is by having good commercial insurance. Some landlords may even require their tenants to have renter’s insurance as extra protection.

Follow-up: Of course at the end of the day parties and celebrations sometimes escalate. When that does happen, you probably won’t be there, the neighbors may confront them, and or the police may get involved. But don’t let it end there. Visit with the offenders after the fact, explain your dissatisfaction and give them a fair warning not to let it happen again. Every once in a while you might get a tenant who continually causes problems which may lead to eviction, but usually people are understanding and remorseful.

If you take these steps, hopefully you and your tenants can have a safe and fun-filled summer!

How Property Managers Can Increate Effectiveness with Time Management

Time is a hot commodity for property managers. Between maintenance issues, looking for new tenants, training staff, and keeping the peace between tenants, sometimes there isn’t time for everything.

Every day employees lose approximately 75 minutes a day to unrelated business Internet use. As you’re going through your emails and posting to Facebook on behalf of your property management business, it is all too easy to get distracted and before you know it you’ve lost valuable time. What could you do with an extra 75 minutes a day?

Some people have had success staying focused by setting a time limit for checking emails, during work-related Internet work, and making phone calls. Set aside some time in the morning and in the afternoon to get these done. But when the time is up, you’re done. After that, ignore those email and Facebook alerts (albeit work related) and work on the task at hand. At the end of the day, allow yourself a half hour or so to check those emails, return phone calls, etc .

You’ll find that you’re more productive when you have a time limit for taking care of those time-eating tasks. There is time lost moving from phone call to phone call or email to email, that can be eliminated when you have a set time limit. You’ll know you only have a few minutes to get it done, so you’ll be motivated to stay focused and productive.

But don’t stop with yourself; implement the same policy with your staff. There are even time management computer programs that monitor Internet use to help you see where your time is going. Increasing productivity in yourself and your staff will help you accomplish more and may even save you from hiring more staff.

Pest Control: Whose Responsibility Is It?

property-management-pest-controlPest control can really go one way or the other, but it really all depends on what your lease agreement says.

Some landlords decide based on what kind of rental property it is. If it’s an apartment building it is extremely difficult to know who is responsible, and where the problem originated. Not to mention the pests will spread and fill the whole building quickly. In this situation, it is much easier if the landlord covers pest control.

However, for single family rental properties it is much easier to control pests if the property is taken care of. Most landlords require tenants of single family housing to provide their own pest control.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but make sure you put it into your lease agreement so there is no confusion.

Prevention of Pests

But no matter whose responsibility it is, make sure the tenants understand that they are required to maintain the property—the best way to keep pests out. A sure fire way to have a pest problem is uncleanliness; simply not taking out the garbage frequently enough can cause a pest problem.

Make sure the garbage bins are stored away from the building. Pests can easily travel from the outside garbage bin into the property. Also keeping shrubs from touching the outer wall will prevent bugs from entering the home.

Early Detection of Pets

Pest problems can quickly escalate; so try to get the situation under control as quickly as possible. Remind your tenants often to inform you of any problems with their rental—early detection can prevent major property damage and not just with pest control, any problem. Frequently inspect your properties and look for signs of a pest problem. Even drive-by inspections can tell you a lot.

To Allow Pets or Not To Allow Pets, That’s the Question

This question is a loaded one that plagues many a landlord and property manager. Pets can mean a lot of extra work and worries for property managers, but if you want to fill vacancies and keep tenants happy you may have to become pet friendly. A 2013 survey from Apartments.com found that a whopping 75% of tenants have pets, while only 25% do not.

There are definitely pros and cons to allowing pets. You need to examine and both sides and decide which one is best for your properties and company.

Pros of Allowing Pets

  • Fill Vacancies: If you have a no-pet policy, you may struggle to fill vacancies when you cater to the minority. When 65% of pet owners say they had some difficulty finding a rental that allowing pets, it really pays to be among those that do allow pets. Even those renters who don’t own pets, 58% said they sought out a rental that did allow pets. Whether they just like to be around pets, but don’t want to own one or if they’re planning to get a pet in the future, the majority of renters own or want to be around animals.
  • Happier Community: People who own pets are happier. It’s been proven time and again that people who own pets are happier and healthier. Sometimes doctors even prescribe getting a pet as therapy for a variety of health issues. And having happier and healthier renters is always a great thing.
  • Deposit and Fees: If you allow pets make sure you make necessary adjustments to your lease—protecting you from a myriad of situations. You can charge a separate security deposit fee for damage repairs. You can also charge an additional monthly fee.

Cons of Allowing Pets

  • Pet Damages: Pets are hard on property, so chances are you’ll definitely need that pet security deposit to clean or replace carpets and repaint walls. Ideally owners would train their pets and prevent them from doing major damage, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. But sometimes the damages are so severe that the deposit doesn’t even begin to cover the damage. In this case you’ll need to file a civil law suit to get the owner to cover the repair cost. This can be a lot of headache, work and money. This is the main reason why landlords decide not to allow pets.
  • Noise Nuisance: Pets, especially dogs, can cause a lot of strife with other neighbors if they make a lot of noise. Barking problems can usually be solved with good training. But if the dog or other pet continues to be a nuisance you may have to take action.
  • Lying Tenants: Even if you don’t allow pets, sometimes people are dishonest, and you may find out through a drive-by inspection that they brought along a pet anyway. In that case you may end up with damages that you didn’t plan on. And the only way that you’re going to get any money to repair damages it through court.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you and what you think is the best choice for you and your properties. There are pros and cons to each.

Roof Maintenance Tips for Property Managers

Repairing the roofs of your rental properties can be your most expensive maintenance repair.

But the everyday wear and tear of weather slowly takes its toll. And while the possible repair or replacement cost can be daunting, putting it off will only make things worse and more expensive. Proactive repairs and inspections will help you prolong the life of your roof and save money.

When to Inspect

You should have the roofs of your properties inspected at least once a year, but twice is ideal. Since inspecting roofs is a fair weather job, inspect once in the spring to access damage from the winter and once again in the fall after the summer heat and storms have taken their toll. However, you should inspect after any obvious damage such as a natural disasters and construction.

What to Inspect

You may want to consider having a professional inspect your roofs routinely. Or you can check for these basics and hire out the repairs or have your maintenance crew tackle it themselves. Either way, you need to keep good records, and inspect often to be eligible to use your warranty should the roof be compromised before its time.

Debris: Remove debris like leaves and sticks can collect around chimneys, skylights, and valleys in roof. Debris can cause algae to grow if left there for a long time. If algae or moss is starting to grow, install lead or zinc control strips.

Shingles: Check shingles for cracked, curling, split and missing shingles, and replace them. This is an easy and inexpensive fix, but compromised shingles can lead to much bigger problems like leaks which are much larger repairs.

Gutters: Gutters should be cleaned often. If you live in a heavily wooded area, you’ll need to make sure you keep your gutters free of leaves. You may need to clean them more often than twice a year.

Metal Areas: Inspect for rust. If you find any, use a wire brush to remove loose rust, and then paint the metal to seal it.

Vents and Fans: Check to make sure roof vents and fans are working properly. Insufficient ventilation can overheat your shingles and decrease their lifespan.

Seams: Look for and seal any cracked caulking or mortar in joints and around structures like chimneys.

Flashing: Make sure flashings are solid. If it isn’t, remove old caulk, clean and reseal.

However, sometimes leaks or other problems may happen even if you keep up on the inspections. Ask your renters to be quick to notify you if they have leaks or suspect any problems with the roof. When it comes to roofs, time is money, so the faster you get things repaired the better.

Remember maintaining your roof all comes down to prevention. Based on a study, renter’s dislike living in properties where there is a lack of preventative maintenance. So by routinely inspecting your roofs you can solve problems before they become major issues while also winning brownie points with your renters.

Pet-Friendly? Policies that Need to Be In Your Lease Agreement

If you do decide to allow pets in your properties you have a lot of work ahead of you.

Although there are many benefits to letting your tenants keep pets, there are also many possibilities for damage and nuisance that pets bring.

However, you don’t have to be victim to the problems if you make provisions for them in your lease.

  • Security deposit and monthly fees: Include a pet security deposit for damage repair after your tenants move out. But you might also want to include a monthly fee to help with repairs along the way, or to put aside for damage repair later. Fees should be per animal.
  • Dangerous animals: Require to see the pet before they sign the lease. Some animals, especially some large breeds of dogs just cause too much damage or are dangerous—some renter’s disallow certain breeds. You will also want to require references from past landlords/property managers concerning the behavior of the pet. You should also include an addendum to your rental agreement with an indemnification clause that will protect you from any liability should a tenant’s pet causes injury to a person or damage to personal property.
  • Secret pets: Include a clause in your lease permitting you to post charge pet deposits and monthly fees if you discover a renter with a “secret” pet.
  • Noise nuisances: Some animals can annoy to no end with their noise—particularly dogs with their endless barking. Include a pet addendum to the lease to protect your interests, and those of tenant neighbors, by indicating the course action to solve the problem.
  • Pet waste disposal: Dictate how pet waste should be disposed. To protect other tenants from pet waste require pet owners to safely dispose of waste and keep it out of sight. Cats should be kept inside and their waste should be double-bagged and disposed of in a designated trash can (same policy should apply to rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, mice and rats). Owners should pick up waste after dogs and keep on a lease when outside.
  • Fleas: Responsible pet owners should keep their pets flea-free with the help of the veterinarian. However, include an addendum in your lease should you ever find fleas after a tenant vacates their rental. The addendum should mention your right to have the property professionally cleaned at the tenant’s expense.
  • Require sterilization: Requiring that pets be spayed or neutered will go a long ways to preventing some serious problems. Sterilized pets are less likely to be dangerous and to urinate where it shouldn’t. Not to mention, you won’t have the problems that come with a litter of baby cats, dogs, etc.

But just because it’s in your lease doesn’t mean that tenants will follow it.

These three steps will help you prevent problems and damages later on.

How to Prevent Pet Problems & Damages Later On

  1. Thoroughly go over all policies before handing over the keys.
  2. Have “the talk” with new tenants about what you expect from them and their pet and what actions you will take if they are not followed.
  3. Frequently inspect all properties to check for pet damage, odor and “secret pets.” Don’t neglect drive-by inspections—that’s the most common way you will discover a tenant is housing a pet without paying the fees.