Landlord Tips for Managing Maintenance Issues
When a tenant reaches out to you to report an issue, it’s up to you to make a number of important decisions quickly. You’ll need to understand the scope of the problem and consider the impact of the issue on the health of your tenants and the condition of your property. Next, you’ll need to determine if the issue requires your immediate attention or if it can wait.
Depending on what’s happened and how you intend to respond to the issue, there are legal concerns that may also mandate your direct action within a specific timeframe.
With so much to think about — and so much to get right the first time — we’ve put together this helpful review of how to handle maintenance issue requests.
Handle Maintenance Issues In Your Lease Agreement
In order to ensure your real estate investment is properly maintained, you’re going to have to rely in some part on your tenant. Because they’re in the unit, they’ll notice concerns that can’t be seen otherwise.
Include terms that require tenant action. So you’ll need your lease to require your tenants to take quick action and inform you when problems arise. Work with your real estate attorney to create terms in your lease that obligate the tenant to notify you immediately of critical issues. Clearly state the phone number to call and include an email address.
Write terms defining how the tenant should handle emergencies. For those issues that threaten the immediate health and/or safety of tenants or neighbors, specify that they’re to contact first responders immediately and then contact you or the property management company working on your behalf.
Review the Communication Channels for Maintenance Issues
Tenants will want to know how to contact you or the property manager in order to submit maintenance requests. And you may be required by law to further provide contact information for the property owner as well.
Check your state laws and local codes to verify you’re providing the required information. Here are some suggestions for communication channels you may wish to use for tenants to deliver maintenance concerns:
Require tenants use a formal channel to request maintenance. Build a document template requesting common contact information from the tenant. By recording all encounters with tenants in a generic landlord and tenant communication log, you’ll be able to review and track issues as they come in. This can also act as a reference to chart the timeliness of your response to your tenant.
Subscribe to an online property maintenance app. If your rental business has a website, you might want to consider linking to online forms, or apps. Groups like Cozy.com or TenantCloud can help you keep track of the many variables that come into play when managing requests.
These types of services also give tenants the ability to photograph and video record the issue. They can also notify the landlord/property manager and other roommates or family as well when an urgent issue is reported. Many of these apps are full property management suites that offer online rent payment and lease signing among other tools.
For smaller issues, allow direct texting. Keeping the communication channels open can make a big difference with tenants. By responding quickly to your tenant’s needs, they’ll see you’re committed to being available to them. Encourage them to send photos and video of issues too.
Build a Response Plan
In addition to having an emergency plan of action for your tenants, you should have a protocol to follow when maintenance requests are delivered to you.
Create a process tree and assign responsible parties. By formalizing how maintenance issues are routed, you’ll be able to hand off the process to a property management group if necessary. You’ll also be able to delegate who’ll be responsible for follow-up of specific issues. Noise complaints could be handled by one party, and issues with plumbing would be routed to a qualified laborer.
The real benefit of having a process to follow is that you’ll have a response plan for common maintenance situations. And when really important issues arise that require immediate attention, you or your team will know exactly what to do and who to contact.
Manage Maintenance Issues According to Your Abilities
The truth is, you will probably need help at one time or another with maintenance issues. Some landlords are better suited for the financial side of their real estate investment, and others are more adept at dealing on a physical and mechanical front. Because most are somewhere in between, you’re eventually going to need to subcontract maintenance issues. Here's what you'll need to do:
Build a list of go-to pros. One big part of this plan is knowing who to call when issues surface. That’s why it’s so necessary to put together a dedicated team of professionals either under contract, or available at a moment’s notice.
Know your limits. If you decide to include yourself in the process tree and assign yourself maintenance duties, be sure you’ve got the skills to manage these issues. Remember, you can always defer to a professional if necessary.
Consider outsourcing to a property manager. If the idea of dealing with the heavy lifting of maintenance requests is too much, you can always write a check to a property management company. Some groups will agree to contract maintenance work on a per-case basis, which can be great if your rental’s in good shape and you don’t want to pay a monthly fee.
Hire an on-call custodian. Write up an agreement between your business and a local handy professional and make them the primary contact for maintenance issues. This option works best when multiple rental units are in the balance because the custodian can also maintain the property and landscaping needs of your real estate as well.
While you’re building a thorough maintenance request and response plan, check in with your American Family Insurance agent and explore your current insurance profile. If you decide to bring on another staffer, or hire a property manager, it may be time to revisit your coverage. Having the right insurance for your rental property investments can help you to advance more confidently towards your financial goals.