Many property owners have a fear of being a landlord, yet in a time where the real estate market may be in correction, some owners will choose to become landlords instead of sellers. So what’s it take to be a good landlord?
The first step to being a good landlord is understanding what a tenant thinks “good” means. For many landlords, it’s been a very long time since they themselves were tenants. The second step is understanding why a landlord wants to be a good landlord. To a tenant, a good landlord takes pride in their property. They are interested in maintaining the home and understand and respect the value of a good tenant. I often tell my landlords, a good tenant is worth their weight in gold. That’s not to say a landlord should ever be beholden to a tenant or that the tenant should be allowed to dictate terms. The homeowner is always in charge. It’s their home. A good tenant should be grateful that the landlord is allowing them to rent their home, regardless of how qualified that tenant is but in return, the landlord has to live up to certain responsibilities and understand their tenant’s expectations. It’s a two-way street that requires mutual respect and cooperation.
When a tenant begins searching (Search Listings Here) they’re typically looking to move within 30 days. This is a good thing since most landlords want their, soon to be or already vacant rental to be rented yesterday. Therefore, the first thing a good landlord needs to do before listing their property for lease is to get it in tip top shape. Tip top shape of course can mean different things to different people. I have one landlord I often joke with by asking, “Are you a slumlord?” For him, getting the home ready consists of wiping down the counters and baths, taking a lawn blower and “blowing out the home” and then vacuuming. While this method may work for him, it’s not the approach I recommend. I am of the opinion that the more pride a landlord takes in the condition of their property, the better the tenant will treat and respect it. Obviously, there are always going to be tenants that get into a place and are total slobs and disrespectful. However as a Realtor who’s done my share of lease applications, we do our best to try and screen this type of thing out. Looking at credit history is one obvious data point, but these days we also Google our applicants and look at their social media pages too. It’s a lot easier to truly find out about people by this method than just looking at credit or income. I tell my kids, be careful what you post, you never know who’s going to see it!
Regarding condition, a good landlord should pay attention to the obvious: cleaning. If your rental is spic and span, it will rent more quickly. This means, be sure to focus on the caulking, the grout and things like the window tracks. Look at the light switches and the outlets. Not only does a clean rental show better and raise the likelihood you’ll get a high quality tenant and a better price, it makes the eventual move out easier because if it starts out in great condition, the tenant needs to return it great condition. In California a tenant is entitled to “reasonable wear and tear.” This admittedly is subjective, but I tend to think wear and tear applies in large measure to the paint and sometimes the carpet depending how old it is. I always put in my leases that the tenant must have the home and carpets professionally cleaned (Contact Tim Here) at move out. I tell my landlords to expect to have to do paint touch up and often recommend to tenants, that they allow a pre-move out walk through to establish what the expectations are for both parties at move out. As a landlord you have to expect that when a tenant moves out, that there’s going to be touch up required. This means down time. The longer the tenancy, the more painting will be required and the longer the down time and down time is money. In any event, if you deliver it in A-1 condition, you can reasonably expect it to be returned in A-1 condition for the most part.
Next up in our “Tip top shape” definition for a good landlord, is “In working order.” Broken microwave handles are a no-no. For that matter, broken anything should almost always be repaired by the landlord before the tenant moves in. If it’s not discovered prior to possession and the tenant calls it out, a good landlord will hop on the repair right away. That’s not to say a landlord jumps at every little thing the tenant asks for, but if it’s broken, it should be repaired and in a timely manner. Also keep in mind, if a property is delivered with broken blinds or window latches, torn screens, door handles etc. the tenant is going to be sent a message. That message is, “I don’t care” and if you don’t care, neither will they. Some of you out there have old homes that aren’t in the best of shape and your rent reflects it. Heck, my college apartment in Isla Vista was a total dump. And we were hard on it, but that’s a college apartment and for the purpose of this article, I’m focusing on more “Regular” suburban homes, not low income or college town housing. I started by suggesting that some of you might consider becoming landlords because as the real estate market softens, some owners will elect to rent their place instead of selling in a buyer’s market. If this is you, all I’m saying is make sure everything is working before you put it out there for lease.
Another thing that makes a good landlord is being responsive. If you are moving out of area, it’s best if you hire a property manager. If you are nearby, be sure and get back to your tenant when they have issues. Some landlords buy a home protection plan and instruct the tenant that it’s there for their use, but they are responsible for the service call fee. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. If a tenant doesn’t want to pay the $75 for the service call, things in the home that stop working correctly can quickly become neglected. Sure, the tenant may be held responsible for this down the road at move out, but that’s really not desirable. Plus, if following the move out a tenant objects to the landlord’s withholding of a deposit and chooses to take that landlord to small claims court, the landlord should know, the landlord often loses. This is especially true in California where courts tend to side with the tenant. Better to take care of your home’s health than depend on a tenant to do it only to charge them at move out. Some long term tenants ultimately treat the rental home like their own and take care of things out of pride, but you shouldn’t expect this as a landlord. It’s a big bonus when it happens but it isn’t all that normal, especially in this day and age.
Speaking of what a good landlord should take care of, gardening is at the top of the list. Many landlords are willing to give the tenant a reduced rent if they take care of the garden. I don’t like this approach however. When I was a renter, I would have agreed to care for the yard for a reduction in rent. Let me tell you, you would not want to have me care for your yard. I only kill gardens and can’t grow squat. Since there’s no way to know if a future tenant has a green thumb or not, there is no benefit to the landlord to give the tenant the option of caring for the yard. Landscaping replacement is expensive and most deposits won’t cover the cost of a new lawn or plants and flowers. A good landlord offers gardening with the rent, it’s in their best interest.
Finally, there’s the issue of pets. Most landlords apparently don’t own pets – not sure why that it is but it’s true, while most tenants do. I make it a policy to try and get my landlords to accept pets. There are a couple reasons for this approach. The most obvious is that it’s easier to rent your home if you accept pets. Second is that a tenant who has a pet could lie and bring the pet in anyway and while this is a violation of the lease terms, it’s difficult to police. Another more recent issue is that under nondiscrimination laws, if a tenant has a service animal you can’t turn them away. By the way, it’s easy to get a dog certified as an Emotional Service Animal. If you look online, there’s a bunch of online services. Last year I had a landlord turn down 7 applicants including one willing to pay a full year in advance because they didn’t want pets. Finally, we found a tenant who didn’t have a pet and took even less than asking when accepting them. She moved in without a pet. Two months into the lease there was a school shooting at USC where her daughter attended. The daughter ended up moving home and commuted to school. Since it was determined that she was suffering from PTSD, her doctor recommended she get a service dog. It helped her immensely but the landlord who so adamantly refused a pet, ended up taking a pet anyway and without compensation in the form of “Pet rent.” By the way, in California a landlord can only take up to two times the monthly rent as a deposit. That means not 2 months plus pet deposit. The total deposit cannot exceed 2X rent. When a prospective tenant comes forward with a pet, the way the landlord gets compensated for taking a pet is by charging a little more rent for the pet. I call it pet rent. $25 or $50 helps offset any extra potential wear and tear that a pet brings and most tenants don’t object because after all, they love their pet and it’s a small price for them to pay to get the home they want and keep their pet. On a side note we are seeing many of our military service members come back from war and they have service animals with them. It’s just become a fact of life.
Being a good landlord pays dividends in many ways. It usually leads to better quality tenants and better tenants tend to take care of the property. This means less down time doing repairs after a tenant vacates which in turn saves the landlord money by getting it turned around and rented faster. The downside to being a good landlord? None that I can see.
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