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Tips to Help Landlords with Rental Maintenance
Being a landlord can be a great business with many upsides. And the most successful landlords know, there are some responsibilities, too. One of your biggest jobs will be maintaining your rental property. You not only have to get it in shape for new rentals, but there will be repairs and routine work to be done while your tenants live there. We’ve got some tips to help you maintain your rental property with ease.
What Maintenance is the Landlord’s Responsibility?
A key word you’ll hear often in the landlord business is “habitable”. It loosely means the unit is fit for a person to live in it. But there is no strict definition of what that means and it could vary by region. If you’re a landlord you’re required to keep the unit habitable which could include structural repairs, electrical work, plumbing fixes and pest removal that existed outside of the tenant’s occupancy. Repairs that relate to habitability are a priority and you will need to fix them quickly.
If a repair can affect safety, such as a broken step, the fix should move up pretty high on your list. You don’t want to be responsible for any injuries that could have been prevented, even though you have landlord insurance.
A landlord is not responsible for damages the tenant created or if the tenant makes the property uninhabitable. You may request the tenant pay these repairs themselves or, if they are no longer a tenant, you can deduct the cost of repairs from their security deposit.
Keep a Detailed Maintenance Work Calendar
With any property, there are routine maintenance tasks. Some of these tasks may include changing filters, replacing batteries in carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, annual fireplace maintenance, removing leaves from gutters and more.
Each property is different so your task list may vary. You might also find there are years where you need to do one task more than usual due to weather, the condition of the property or other circumstances. The best course of action is to create a calendar or list of items you know will need to take care of and when they should happen. Then, record any additional visits or maintenance you encounter. This not only serves as a reminder from year to year, but it helps you keep track and prove that you’re holding up your end of the landlord/tenant relationship.
Create a Task Calendar for Your Tenants
There are some tasks your tenants may be expected to do and, since they’re living in your property, it’s a great idea to remind them of their responsibilities. While you’re handing off some of the work, it’s a great idea to make them a checklist of what is expected. This way they know what they need to do and they can keep track of when they did it. Some tasks you may have for your tenants include: mowing the lawn, raking leaves, shoveling snow, adding salt to water softeners, and more.
One thing to remember is that your tenants are not responsible for anything that breaks unless they broke it due to gross negligence or some sort of misuse. If you have an appliance that needs repairs and there was no fault on your tenant’s end, there are two ways to handle it. You can schedule a repair and pay for it. Or you can have your tenants schedule the repair and pay for it, but then they get to deduct that price from their rent. Typically, it’s better for the landlord to manage all repairs, but this isn’t a rule and you may find it works better for you to go the other route.
Landlord Rules for Entering a Unit
Landlords have an obligation to inform tenants that they will be entering a unit, and when. Only in emergencies, such as floods or fires, can a landlord enter a unit without advance notice. In other situations, the rules are established by the state you live in, but you typically need to give notice to tenants 24 to 48 hours in advance. If you have any questions, it’s best to contact local government or tenant advocacy groups to find out what your responsibilities are.
In some cases the repair may be more urgent, but not quite an emergency. If the heat or water is affected, you’ll want to have the repair done sooner rather than later. It’s still best to make sure the tenant agrees to the repair time, even if it’s within a 24 hour window.
If you, as a landlord, or if a repair person working under your order, breaks the law regarding notice there can be repercussions and, in some states, even a lawsuit against you.
Call in the Experts When Needed
While landlords can definitely save some money with DIY repairs, it’s not always a good idea to tackle everything by yourself. If you’re faced with a repair or maintenance that you’ve never done before, it’s best to call in the experts. Even the best DIYer can find themselves faced with a task that is over their heads and there’s no shame in having someone else come in and fix the problem right, the first time.
One note here, if you’re dealing with something that has to be up to code, it’s best to immediately turn to the pros. You certainly don’t want to put your tenants’ health and welfare at risk. This is where having a team of experts in repairs and maintenance comes in handy.
When to Repair or Replace an Appliance
If you find that an appliance is on the fritz and you’re faced with a repair or replace situation, there are some rules of thumb that might help you make that decision. If the appliance is older than half of its expected lifespan it’s probably wiser to replace it. Likewise, if the cost of the repair is more than half the cost of a replacement, you should consider replacing it. Of course the history of the appliance needs to be considered and also any safety concerns that may exist. Another thing you may want to consider is the repairs are tax deductible in the year in which they’re made.
Keep a Log of Complaints and Resolution
Even if you and your tenants get along famously, it’s best for your business to keep records of all complaints and then what steps were taken to resolve them. From little issues, such as a loose floorboard to big concerns, like a hole in the roof — everything needs to be documented to avoid the possibility of problems down the road. It’s this diligence that makes you a great landlord and a proactive business person.
One thing to keep in mind when maintaining your rental units is your relationship with your tenants. The business-savvy landlord knows that keeping a paying tenant in a rental is well worth a little extra diligence and a rapid response. The process of finding a new tenant can be tedious and for every day your unit stands empty, you’re losing money.
These tips are a great way to keep your rental units in good working order. Another way to protect your property is to make sure you have all the homeowners insurance and business insurance you need. Your American Family Insurance agent will be happy to get you on the right track toward proactive peace of mind.