It’s a binding contract. It’s also a handshake with eye contact. You’re the landlord, they’re the tenant. You have a business relationship and a human connection. Some of the landlord-tenant relationship is simple, black-and-white business. But some circumstances ask you to honor the human side of the relationship with a little psychology and a little give-and-take.
Here are some tips to help you walk that fine line with success.
Get the business end sorted out first. That means screening your prospective tenants thoroughly. Get names, dates of birth and social security numbers for everyone, and get their permission to run credit checks. Do background checks for evictions and criminal history. Get at least three references and call past landlords. If they were good tenants then, they’re good candidates now. Look at the past several years of their job history; as a general rule, rent should not exceed one-third of net earnings. That’s an affordable ratio for most renters.
Spell out your policies clearly and unequivocally. No pets, but you can have a goldfish. You can bring Whiskers the Cat, but no exotics. (Unless you want to chase down baby pythons after tenants move out.) Specify what behaviors are not allowed; for example, any drug use will violate the lease agreement. Define their responsibilities and tell them what triggers a late fee.
Have a lawyer review the lease. Before everyone signs it, get copies of driver’s licenses. Before move-in, take pictures to document the condition of the property. Complete a property condition report together, room by room and around the yard (if there is one). Your tenant may spot things you haven’t!
Document everything. Keep receipts for rent payments and tenant-financed repairs so you can reimburse your tenants. Keep emails and texts. Document everything and develop a system for documentation.
Hold Up Your End of the Deal
It’s on you to provide and maintain a property that’s safe and livable. This means fixing stuff. On average, landlords get called six times a year for property repairs. (Yes, six times!)
Keep a log of repair requests, and keep tenants posted about the status of their requests. It’s annoying to keep after the landlord to fix a leaky faucet, but it’s reassuring to get a prompt call from you saying, “It’s on the books for Monday; sorry for the delay, but we had to order a part.” People are usually willing to wait if you keep in touch; they’re much less understanding if it seems like you’re ghosting them.
Be easy to find—make sure they know how to get hold of you in an emergency, or who they can call if they can’t reach you. Tell them what qualifies as an emergency (a broken water pipe) and what qualifies as a repair request (fixing the front-window awning).
After they sign the lease, get the property in move-in condition. Make sure it’s clean and appliances work. Look around and ask yourself if you’d move in here tomorrow, or if it needs to be painted. Make the move-in inspection a formality—if there’s nothing wrong, you start with a clean slate and there’s no argument about later damage. Also, tenants are paying you good money for use of the property, so don’t use it to store your old lawnmowers.
Illness and injury happen to us all, and economic downturns can be hard on both landlord and tenant. In a Porch survey of 532 landlords, 41% had a tenant who stopped making rent payments, and landlords said that tenants were late with rent 25% of the time.
If a tenant starts interrupting your cash flow, be a pro and maintain your cool. When you get emotional, you risk triggering answering emotions. Find out why they’re late, or why they can’t pay rent. If they lost their job, decide if you can make an allowance for them to pay back-rent later, perhaps in installments, once they get on their feet. Obviously, your own circumstances will dictate how generous you can be. But if it’s within your means, it’s a chance to offer someone a kindness they’ll appreciate.
If a great tenant disappoints you and decides not to renew the lease, don’t make things difficult by “delaying” return of their deposit. Word gets around about what kind of landlord you’ve been, so preserve your good reputation. Nearly half the landlords that Porch surveyed have had tenants who asked to break a lease early. Things happen; outside the lease agreement, decide how you’re going to react on a human level.
As you begin a relationship with a new tenant, get off on the right foot. Be welcoming. Provide information they might need in their new home, like an info sheet with trash pickup days and the location of nearby grocery stores. A small “welcome” gift can mean a lot; a gift card to the local coffee shop is easy, and it fosters a positive vibe from the start.
Keep in touch. Between inspections, check on them to see if everything’s all right. Being proactive can prevent maintenance problems and it says, “I’m responsive and cooperative.”
Respect their privacy and don’t show up unannounced. Give at least 24-hour notice that you’re coming by, and don’t make them jumpy by scheduling too many inspections. Two to three times a year might be plenty.
If you screen thoroughly, it increases your chances of renting to good tenants in the first place. And once you find good tenants, it’s to your advantage to encourage them to stay. Check with them well before the lease is up; if they’re not renewing, find out why and if incentives might change their mind. These might include property fixes like a new appliance… a price break for renewing or renewing for a longer term… carpet cleaning or a whole-house spring clean. Keeping a good tenant may be a lot cheaper than finding a new one.
If you’d rather leave the landlord duties to someone else, our property management team can take care of your property and work to keep it occupied with good tenants. Give us a shout!