By: Kristy DeSmit | May 22, 2014
No landlord is perfect. In fact, each real estate investor is bound to make a few mistakes along the way, especially if they are managing a rental property for the first time.
Whether you are just beginning your real estate career or you’ve been managing several properties for years — below are some common blunders landlords can relate to and how to avoid them.
1. Not screening tenants properly
When renting out a property, you should be cautious about who you let move in. This means establishing a sound screening process by meeting with prospective tenants before signing the rental agreement. Much like an interview, screening tenants allows the landlord to check tenant references, complete a credit check and have them fill out a rental application with their contact information, rental history and employment details. Screening is a proactive way to find responsible tenants who will respect your property and pay rent on time.
2. Not doing an initial and final walk-through inspection with the tenant
A walk-through inspection consists of examining each area of the rental suite together and making note of bent blinds, scuffed floors and other damage. It should be a routine procedure before a new tenant moves in and again, near the end of their tenancy.
Why? Conducting an inspection with your tenant beforehand allows you to both witness and document existing damage before they move in to avoid any future discrepancies — much like a rental car service does when they inspect the vehicle before you rent it. Therefore when you return the car, they can then assess whether you caused any additional damage, or if that damage was already there.
The same goes for a rental unit. If damage was recorded in the initial inspection checklist, there will be no confusion or surprises once the tenant moves out. It serves as a benchmark for assessing damage in your final walk-through inspection, whereby you assess the wear and tear caused during the rental period and estimate the complete or partial return of the security deposit.
Plus, it saves you from hearing, “that was there when I moved in” and have no written evidence to support it. Do a rental inspection before and after a tenancy term to avoid disputes, allow tenant to remedy damages and determine the security deposit return.
3. Not updating the lease agreement
I say “updating” in hopes you at least have one to begin with. Keeping your lease agreement up to date is important for many reasons:
- First, it establishes a binding legal agreement between you and your tenant, where you formally agree to rent out property. Any form of legal contract should be current to preserve its validity.
- Second, it set out the rules and responsibilities of the tenancy, including rent price and payment schedule, length of lease term, and provisions, such as utilities, parking, pets, tenant improvements, security deposit, termination or notice conditions, insurance and more. If your lease is not current, these provisions may not reflect your wishes and you may end up being forced to obey certain conditions that are not beneficial or profitable to you as an investor.
- Third, it guides the tenancy in the event of disputes or misunderstandings, as well as limits your liability as a landlord. An outdated lease put you at risk. In the case of disputes, you won’t be able to legally uphold your current rental rules, procedures or understanding if it does not match the provisions in your lease.
Summary: Update your lease regularly so it always reflects your current rental situation.
4. Not enforcing the lease agreement
A lease, like mentioned above, protects you as a landlord and guides your tenancy in the event of disputes. If a tenant happens to make a breach, it’s important you follow the consequences spelled out in your agreement. Failure to enforce lease terms can result in lost income, respect and property value.
For instance, if a tenant violates the lease by not paying rent on time, you should enforce a late fee penalty if that is what you specified in your lease agreement. Other breaches may include property damage, in which you should immediately look for remedy on behalf of the tenant by sending them a notice of lease violation.
If they severely violate lease terms by conducting illegal activity on the premises, you may have grounds for eviction and should follow up with a notice to quit.
See: Eviction Forms
Enforce the rules outlined in your lease. Some actions may not require penalty (such as paying rent one day late) but more severe violations should demand your attention. After you have taken action, document the breach and what you did to respond (such as sent them a written warning and make a copy of that warning for your records). If you don’t carry out the consequential plans, it could result in a loss of money, repeat violations or worse.
Summary: Your lease is only as effective as your ability to enforce it.
5. Not learning state Landlord and Tenant Laws
Being a landlord comes with responsibility, including knowing both you and your tenant’s legal rights. While each state varies in regards to tenancy laws, it’s important to have an understanding of your state’s rules in order to make sure you are complying with property law and contract law. View the Tenancy Rights for your state to familiarize yourself with the statutes, eviction proceedings and specific Acts to confirm you are managing your property in adherence to regional and state law.
6. Not conducting regular property checkups
Checkups are a form of inspection that keep your property up to code with building regulations. For instance, you’ll want to regularly assess smoke detectors, as well as ventilation systems, taps, walls and appliances to make sure there are no leaks, and everything is working both effectively and efficiently. Staying on top of these inspections shows professionalism and keeps your property from incurring unnecessary damage.
7. Failure to maintain the property
Maintenance works in conjunction with inspections and requires consistent effort and priority. Maintaining a rental property includes everything from internal suite repairs, to outside yard landscaping. Falling behind of maintenance can result in greater, long term and expensive damage. Your maintenance effort may vary with season, but it’s important to keep on top of things, such as mowing lawn, shoveling snow or tending to broken hand rails before it gets worse to not only keep your tenants safe, but also prevent landlord liability.
8. Not listening to and respecting tenants
Your tenants are your customers. They sustain your investment through their tenancy, which is why you should treat them respectfully and take their concerns seriously. Their feedback is likely to help make you a better landlord by attending to their needs, staying on top of repairs and providing a safe and secure environment for them to reside. Furthermore, act on their concerns quickly. This shows you respect them, and in turn they will respect you. This very basic level of listening and communicating can actually help insure your rental space, give them incentive to stay long-term, pay rent on time and respect your property.
What are some other common mistakes landlords make? Have you ever made one? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below!