Common Mistakes New Landlords Make and How to Avoid Them
May 30, 2023
Not Being Proactive
It can seem natural to just leave any faulty item as is, so long as it is still functioning. For instance, if a tenant calls a landlord about a heater making clanging sounds, a landlord might be tempted to leave it be so long as it is still keeping the unit heated. But then, the tenant might be calling back next winter when the heater has completely broken down, and now the landlord has to get an emergency replacement and will likely have to pay for a hotel room for the tenant to stay in while the heater is replaced.
In the long run, it is absolutely worthwhile for a landlord to check on maintenance issues as they come up. Even if the issue is not something that the landlord can fix, checking on the item right away to confirm the problem will give the landlord time to shop around and find the best option for replacement before it completely breaks down. And of course, it will prevent the tenant from being left without vital services.
Another way to be proactive and establish expectations with tenants is to clarify what the service standards are for certain maintenance requests. For instance, if a tenant calls about a damaged floor, they might expect a speedy fix within a day or so. However, it might be the case that the service standard for the work involved is a fix within 3 days, based on availability of parts, maintenance workers, and the urgency of the repairs involved. By not communicating this standard to tenants ahead of time, the landlord may be adding to a false perception that they do not meet maintenance expectations, as the tenant in this case would expect a repair within a day while the landlord expects to complete the repair within 3 days.
Budgeting is incredibly important for landlords to stay on top of. Most landlords will budget a monthly amount for maintenance, but underestimating the cost of emergency repairs is a common issue. Ideally, a landlord should budget for ongoing preventative maintenance and emergency large scale repairs. This would allow them to continue using their available budget for ongoing preventative maintenance, and then when a significant repair is required (e.g., broken pipes, malfunctioning air conditioning unit, etc.) they will have a certain amount set aside to address it, without having to disrupt normal maintenance processes.
Not Checking on Repairs
A common mistake landlords make is not taking a look at items requiring repair themselves, and not following up to ensure that repairs are done properly. The easiest route for most landlords will be to just send a maintenance person to the property to determine the scope of the issue and complete the necessary repairs. But it is important for the landlord to understand the issue themselves to ensure they give the maintenance person the correct information to work off of. Then, when the repairs are complete, it is vital for the landlord to follow up to ensure that the repairs were completed to the satisfaction of the tenant.
At minimum, this could be a call to the tenant to discuss the issue and ensure they are satisfied with the maintenance work, or the landlord could physically visit the unit (with proper notice given) to inspect the repair and follow up as needed with the tenant and the maintenance person for any follow up work required. At the end of the day, the property belongs to the landlord, and the landlord is ultimately responsible for its upkeep. They have a responsibility to ensure the unit is livable and all required aspects of the unit are maintained in working order for their tenants.
Not Passing on Costs to Tenants (When They are at Fault)
Landlords are generally responsible for maintaining their property as the owners, but of course there are some circumstances where the costs can (and should) be passed on to tenants. Specifically, tenants should be billed for maintenance work where they are responsible for damages beyond the normal wear and tear expected for their unit.
As an example, a fridge might have a suggested life span of 8 years. A landlord would be responsible for maintaining the normal wear and tear for the appliance during its life span, and would be responsible for replacing it when it reaches the end of its lifespan. However, if a tenant is particularly rough or unhygienic when using the appliance leading to significant maintenance or replacement, it is reasonable to pass some or all of the cost on to the tenant. This is especially true for tenants with a pattern of damaging property.
Many landlords do not pass on costs when warranted to the tenant, either out of goodwill or a fear of causing either a contentious relationship or even a legal dispute with the involved tenant. One simple way to pre-empt these issues would be to write into the lease that tenants are responsible for paying for damage they cause to property in their units (beyond that caused by normal use), while landlords will cover the costs associated with general wear and tear maintenance and replacement.
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