Landlord Responsibilities: Patios, Decks, Porches, and Balconies

As a landlord, you have plenty of responsibilities from the condition of your rental property to following all local, state, and federal laws. The safety of the property and, ultimately your tenants, should be one of your top concerns. Not only do you lose money and good tenants when you don’t take care of a property, you can also be found liable for the problems that occur.

 

In our continuing series on landlord responsibilities, it’s time to talk about outdoor living spaces like patios, decks, porches, and balconies. When these spaces are neglected, people get hurt.

 

Your Tenants’ Responsibilities

 

Like every other part of your rental, your tenants have some responsibility to the property and its care while they live there. Your expectations should be made clear in their lease, and you should make sure they understand what the rules are when they move in. In the case of decks, porches, patios, or balconies, you can set some rules for tenants to follow.

 

Outdoor furniture should be appropriate for the space. No living room couches or tables should be used outside. If wet or infested furniture is brought in and out of the house, the interior of the rental can be infested or damaged.

 

Tenants must follow proper grill safety. One specific rule you can include is to keep a grill at least 10 to 15 feet away from the exterior of the property at all times. This can reduce the risk of fire damage. You also have the option to not allow grills of any type.

 

Problems should be reported immediately. If they notice loose railing or broken blocks, they should contact you as soon as possible. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists.

 

Landlord Responsibilities

 

It’s not enough for your tenants to follow the lease and do their part to keep the property safe, especially on a patio or balcony. You must do you part and stay proactive. People can fall and hurt themselves, balconies can collapse, and multiple other problems can happen that injure people. You don’t want anyone to get hurt, and you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit, either.

 

  • Inspect decks, porches, patios, and balconies at least once a year. You may want to hire a professional inspector to look for structural problems for you.
  • Repair problems as you discover them. Do not put off any maintenance that might get worse or lead to injury.
  • Don’t “patch” a problem. Fix it.
  • Replace old decking and balconies at least every 15 years, which is the average lifespan of a deck.
  • Make sure your deck, patio, porch, or balcony are up to code. This is important to find out when you first buy a property to rent. When you replace the decking, work with a licensed contractor to make sure the new structure is built to code.
  • Know the structural limits of a deck or balcony. If a balcony can only safely hold so many people or so much weight, let your tenants know. Post signs if necessary.
  • Use the right materials for repairs or replacements. Cheaper isn’t better. When decks or balconies collapse, people get hurt.

 

No one becomes a landlord because they love taking calls for repairs or problems from tenants. You’re trying to make an income. Don’t let unintentional neglect ruin your rental property, cause people to get hurt, or be the reason you’re in a courtroom with an expensive attorney. Take care of the decks, patios, porches, and balconies on your property.

 

Hate the hassle of keeping up with necessary repairs? Would you rather have expert help with the lease and yearly inspections? Work with a property management team that takes your property’s maintenance and your tenant’s safety as seriously as you do. Here at ERA American Real Estate, we can make sure your lease is consistent, you’ve got qualified tenants, and your property is taken care of. Give us a call today.

How to Lower Your Insurance Costs

Landlord insurance isn’t a luxury item. You’ve got to have it so that you and your property are protected against the big disasters that can hit at any point. Lightning, fire, theft, and lawsuits are just a few things that can go very wrong. But paying your insurance premiums can be painful, especially if you’re in between tenants and not receiving any rental income.

You can’t avoid insurance (please don’t try) but you don’t have to pay too much, either. With just a few small changes, you could lower your insurance premiums and dread the expense a little less. Take a look at all the ways you can lower your landlord insurance costs.

Note: For specific questions about insurance coverage for your rental, please talk to a qualified insurance agent.

Increase Your Deductible

This one is probably the most obvious, but it can definitely help lower your insurance costs. If you don’t file a lot of claims or you have plenty of savings for potential problems, consider increasing your deductible to the highest amount you can reasonably afford. Which means don’t make it so high that a single claim would cause serious financial hardship.

Take Safety Precautions

Before you rent your property, make sure there are working carbon monoxide and smoke alarms throughout the home. Consider adding a home security system with a direct connection to emergency responders. Depending on the type of property you rent out, you may want to invest in a sprinkler system. These safety precautions not only lower the risk of a big claim, they may lower your premiums, as well.

Perform Maintenance and Inspections

The best way to keep your costs down is to prevent problems before they happen. Every property should undergo an annual inspection. While you may think of this as a time to spot problems the tenants have caused, think of it as a way to find problems before they become claims. Check the roof, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, decks and patios, balconies, and anything else that could present a hazard to the tenants or the property. If you’re unsure what to look for, hire a professional inspector to do it for you.

Renovate and Upgrade When Possible

Your insurance premium will be higher if your roof is 15 years old than if it’s a year old. Building standards and codes have changed a lot over the years. Upgrades you make now may cost up front but will save you money long term, including on your insurance premiums. Add a fence, replace the roof, or upgrade plumbing or electrical that is outdated or potentially dangerous.

File Fewer Claims

Your insurance is meant to be there for you when a disaster strikes. Use it when you need to. That being said, you may want to consider when to file. If the damage is approximately what you’d pay in your deductible, it may be easier to handle it yourself. Some water damage claims can lead to higher coverage or being dropped because of the threat of future mold.

Review Your Policy

Every year, sit down your insurance agent and go over your policy. Has the value of your property gone up or down? Did you make renovations that you forgot to tell the insurance company about it? Do you qualify for discounts if you bundle multiple policies under one company? These are worth looking at to make sure you’re not overpaying for your insurance.

If you’ve got questions about buying landlord insurance or your current policy, talk to your insurance agent. When you’re ready to have help maintaining and managing your rental, contact us at ERA American Real Estate. We can help take some of the stress and hassle out of being landlord.

Landlord Responsibilities: Lease Agreements

Your lease agreement is your contract with a tenant. It’s the document that can help you get a bad tenant evicted, but it’s also the thing that can force you to pay up in a lawsuit. Your responsibility as a landlord doesn’t require a lease agreement, although it’s highly recommended. But if you do have a lease, you have responsibilities as a property owner and a landlord to make sure it’s legal and accurate.

In our ongoing series on different responsibilities you face as a landlord, let’s look at lease agreements, and what you need to know about them.

Be Consistent

Whatever lease agreement you use should be the same for every single tenant. Some of the details will change, such as move-in date and rent and security deposit, but every renter gets the same lease. If you don’t, it’s easy to be accused of discrimination if one tenant finds out they’re living under a different lease than another tenant.

Get an Attorney

While some landlords run to an office supply store and use a blank lease, it’s better to have a lease agreement drawn up by an attorney who understands landlord/tenant law in Florida. They can also make sure that any special language you want included in your lease is allowable under the law.

Follow Your Own Lease

You’re using a lease so you can hold your tenant accountable for their behavior in your rental property. The same is true for your renter. You can be taken to court and sued if you don’t follow your own lease agreement. This means not showing up unannounced, making demands on the tenant the lease doesn’t allow, or doing anything else that violates your agreement.

Keep It Legal

While you should have an attorney look over your lease, even if you don’t, you’re still obligated to keep everything in the lease legal. This means you can’t disallow service animals because you have a no pet policy. You can’t exclude children which would be discriminatory. Eviction can’t be labeled as “immediate” because there’s a full legal process you must go through.

Include Specific Information

Your lease agreement should include a lot of information, but here are some specifics that are part of your legal obligation to your renters:

  • How much the security deposit is
  • Where the security deposit will be deposited
  • How the deposit will be used and/or refunded upon move-out
  • Who the owner of the property is
  • Who the tenant should contact for problems or to pay the rent
  • Who has the power to collect rent, make repairs, address complaints, and issues notices
  • The move-in date that the unit is available for rent
  • The eviction process
  • What you allow in your property
  • What you do not allow in your property
  • What the tenants’ rights are under the lease agreement
  • How notifications will be issued to tenants
  • How tenants can contact you

If you miss any crucial detail in your lease agreement, it can and will be used against you in court, especially if you do something wrong or violate your own lease.

How do you avoid problems with your lease agreement? Work with a property management company that has an airtight, legal lease agreement already in place that can be customized for your specific needs. Here at ERA American Real Estate, we take the stress and guesswork out of staying on the right side of landlord/tenant law while taking care of your property and your tenants. Contact us today!

Understanding Fair Housing Law: Service Animals

The most basic understanding you should have of the Fair Housing Law as a landlord is this:

You cannot discriminate against potential and existing tenants on the basis of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, religion, familial status, or disability.

That sounds simple but as you begin to apply it to your properties, you’ll find it can quickly become complicated. In our series on Fair Housing Law, we’ll look at different elements that you need to be aware of as a landlord.

When you rent property, you cannot discriminate against tenants who have a disability. You are required to make reasonable accommodations for them without requiring that they pay higher deposits or rent. One of the common needs of a person with disabilities is an assistance animal.

Service Animals vs. Assistance Animals

Assistance animals are often referred to as service animals, but depending on the specific law, they are two different things. There are multiple laws that deal with the idea of service animals. They’re all slightly different, and you can’t just follow one. As a landlord, the Fair Housing law is most important, though.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which discusses, in part, the use of service animals specifically defines these animals as a dog that has been trained to do specific tasks or work for and with a person with a disability. As a landlord, you cannot follow such a narrow definition. The Fair Housing Act allows reasonable accommodations for assistance animals. These animals do not have to be dogs and they don’t always have to be specially trained.

Assistance animals perform very specific functions for people with disabilities. Some of those things include (but are not limited to):

● Guiding people who are blind or have low vision
● Alerting people who are deaf or have hearing problems
● Providing protection or rescue assistance
● Pulling wheelchairs
● Fetching items
● Alerting people to impending seizures
● Providing emotional support

While you may be able to see someone’s wheelchair or know someone is deaf, you can’t tell by looking at people if they have PTSD or are prone to seizures.

Pet Policies and Assistance Animals

The most important thing to understand as a landlord working with a tenant with disabilities is that assistance animals are not pets. You cannot treat them the same way. No pet deposit can be required, and you can’t deny a tenant the ability to rent your property because you have a “no pet” policy.

Renting to a tenant who needs an assistance animal when you don’t normally allow pets is considered a reasonable accommodation. In order to determine if this tenant’s request is a reasonable accommodation, ask yourself two questions:

1. Does this person have a disability, either a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
2. Does this person have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? Does this animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or service for a person with a physical disability? Does this animal provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability?

Some disabilities will be obvious – a blind person with a seeing eye dog, a person in a wheelchair, etc. Some disabilities won’t be visible to the eye. If you cannot tell by looking at someone why they need their assistance animal, you can request documentation of their disability or their need for an assistance animal. You cannot ask for medical records.

Exceptions to Allowing Assistance Animals

Only in very specific circumstances can an assistance animal be denied to a tenant. If you think you have an exception to the accommodation, it would be best to speak with an attorney or someone well-versed in fair housing law before refusing the tenant.

The exceptions are:

● The specific animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others that can’t be reduced through other accommodations.
● The specifical animal would cause physical damage to the property of others.

These exceptions must be based on an individual assessment of the animal and the people and property involved. Objectionable facts are required, not fears based on breed or animal type or what “might” or “could” happen.

As a landlord you have a responsibility to your property and your business. But, when you work with the public, especially in housing, you also have a responsibility to deal with everyone fairly, including people with disabilities. Not allowing pets is your right. Not allowing a needed assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation could be illegal.

If you don’t want keep up with all of the legal requirements as a landlord, hire a property management company to do it for you. At ERA American Real Estate, we stay on top of all laws and regulations for landlords and tenants. We know how to keep you legal and put good tenants in your properties.

Should You Let Tenants Redecorate?

No matter whether someone rents or buys a property, they want it to feel like home. It should come as no surprise when your tenants ask to make cosmetic and even structural changes to the property. Most of the time, it’s a good sign that they intend to live in their rental for a long time, but that doesn’t mean you should always let them redecorate.

What Do Your Tenants Want to Change?

It’s highly unlikely that your renters will ask to make big, expensive changes. Most changes they ask to do themselves will be cosmetic in nature. They expect you to take care of the big renovations – that’s why they rent.

Most of the time, when a tenant asks if they can redecorate their rental, they’re talking about painting the walls. You might get a renter who wants to change light fixtures, hang shelves, or even change the flooring. They may ask to lay a new patio or deck in the backyard or repaint the back porch. You never really know what someone might want to change or update.

You Can Set the Rules

If you’re imagining avocado floors and purple walls, don’t worry. There’s no requirement that you have to allow tenants to make changes. Your lease agreement should spell out the process about how to handle these requests. The first step should be to ask you first. After that, it’s up to you.

● You can require that they hire a licensed professional to do the work.
● You can require your approval before any changes are made.
● You can select paint colors they can choose from.
● You can buy the materials yourself so you know what’s being used to do the job.
● You can require they repaint the walls or fill in holes in the wall when they move out – or lose part of their deposit.

And ultimately, you don’t have to allow them to make changes. Instead, you could consider their requests for future upgrades you already have planned.

3 Reasons to Say Yes

Most landlords envision DIY home projects gone wrong and being stuck with the cost to change things back. Those are valid concerns, but there are also good reasons to say yes to a tenant who wants to make small changes.

1. Tenants who put their “mark” on a home often want to rent long-term.
2. Small, simple changes are easy ways to make a tenant feel at home and happy.
3. Their suggestions or requests may actually improve the property and increase the value.

If you don’t have a blanket policy in place, consider the tenant. Are they careful, easy to talk to, and receptive to what you tell them? Renters who understand your concerns and work with you on their plans are likely going to take care of the property just like you would.

4 Reasons to Say No

Not sure what you should do? If the idea of letting a tenant paint walls or build a back patio makes you uneasy, you’re not alone. There are perfectly valid reasons to refuse their request.

1. Your tenants may do a sloppy job requiring more work later.
2. They may build something unstable that you might be liable for.
3. They may select colors or styles that you don’t like.
4. They could leave the job unfinished which will pose a problem for you when they move out.

To avoid confusion and hassles later, especially if you feel strongly that you don’t want tenants redecorating, create a policy and include it in all of your lease agreements. This will cut down on requests you’ll have to deny later.

There’s no one right answer to the decoration question. You have to do what is best for you and your properties. If you’d rather let someone else deal with these questions, work with a property management company who has heard every tenant request and knows how to advise you on the best course of action. Work with ERA American Real Estate.

Landlord Responsibilities: Safety

You became a landlord because you had a house you couldn’t sell or maybe you were drawn in by the promise of a good, second income. Whatever your reasons, there’s a good chance you weren’t prepared for the amount of responsibilities you’d have as a landlord. You probably had no idea there was so much to take care of and deal with.

Much of what landlords think about have to do with the physical property – the roof, the lawn, the air conditioner. In reality, one of your biggest responsibilities is to the safety of your tenants and the neighborhood. Neglecting this won’t just lose you a good tenant. Forget to see to basic safety, and you could end up in court facing a million dollar settlement. Of all the things you need to think about as a landlord, safety should always be at the top of your list.

Tenant Protection and Landlord Liability

As a landlord, one of your responsibilities is to keep your tenants safe while they rent your property. You are required to do your part to protect renters from theft, assault, and the criminal acts of fellow tenants (in multi-family dwellings). You must also protect the surrounding neighborhood from the illegal activities of your tenants.

Failing to do so could result in lawsuits and massive legal settlements. Your tenants could sue you if a criminal hurts or steals from them. You may also be held liable when a crime occurs in your rental, especially if similar problems occurred there in the past. This becomes especially important if you didn’t take extra precautions or disclose security concerns to your renters.

How to Keep Tenants Safe

The things you can do to keep your tenants safe range from small and simple to expensive and complex, but if you’re a landlord, it comes with the territory. And no, you don’t have to stand guard at the front door and act like a bodyguard.

  • All locks, windows, and doors should work properly. Buy and install good locks, ideally those that exceed any state or local requirements.
  • The home should have plenty of lighting, including outdoor lighting. Motion sensors and lighting on timers are both good options.
  • Be realistic about the crime in the neighborhood and come up with solutions that address the problems. This might be a security system or sturdier locks. Work with local law enforcement officers, your insurance company, and even security companies to come up with a plan.
  • Talk to your tenants about what the neighborhood is like. Make sure they know what security measures are available to them. Be realistic with them about what they’ll need to do to keep themselves safe, too. Remind them not to leave their car unlocked, to let local police know if they’re going out of town for an extended amount of time, and not to let people know when the house will be vacant.
  • Fix broken locks, doors, and windows as soon as possible. Maintaining the property lets would-be thieves know the property is cared for and someone is paying attention. Plus, if a break-in occurs because you didn’t fix a lock or window in a timely manner, you might be held responsible.
  • Handle tenant complaints about safety issues immediately. If they report dangerous people, suspicious activity, or security problems, take action quickly to address their concerns.
  • If additional security options – like a good security system – require a higher rent, let your tenants know. They may be willing to pay more for extra safety.
  • Know the property manager you’re hiring. If you hire someone to handle the property for you, and they don’t address issues or if they commit crimes against your tenants, you could be held liable. It’s your responsibility to check the background of anyone you allow to work with your properties.

Dealing with Drug and Tenants

Sometimes the problem isn’t the neighborhood or criminal activity against your tenant. Sometimes the problem is your renter. You have a responsibility to the neighborhood, too. While any criminal activity can happen, the most common problem is drugs.

There is no way to guarantee you won’t rent to a drug dealer, but there are things you can do to minimize the changes.

  • Complete a thorough background screening of every potential tenant. Do your best to find out about their criminal background and/or drug use.
  • Don’t take cash. Money orders, checks, and online payments are better options.
  • Add a clause in your lease agreements regarding tenant behavior. You should not tolerate activities or behavior that are disruptive to the entire neighborhood. Explicitly mention drug use or illegal activity. With this language, you can more easily evict a dangerous tenant.
  • Respond to reports from neighbors about suspicious activity or high traffic in and out of the property.
  • Work with local law enforcement officers and security professionals to learn how to prevent, discover, and respond to illegal behavior in the most effective way possible.

You cannot prevent bad things from happening, but you can minimize the possibility. When you take the safety of the neighborhood and your tenants seriously, you’re a better landlord and will attract higher quality tenants. You’ll also help keep yourself out court.

If you’re overwhelmed by the magnitude of keeping everyone safe as a landlord, hire a property management company you can trust. ERA American Real Estate has a solid history of taking care of landlords, tenants, and properties while keeping everyone as safe as possible.

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What Kind of Insurance Do You Need as a Landlord?

Many new landlords make a common mistake of believing their homeowner’s insurance policy is good enough for their property after they rent it out to a tenant. If you rent out your home, your homeowner’s insurance isn’t going to cover you. You need very specific insurance as a landlord. If you don’t get it, you could be stuck paying hundreds of thousands of dollars from damage, medical expenses from tenants, and lawsuit settlements.

Hotel and Hospitality Policy

This coverage is what you’ll get if you’re offering short-term rentals in your property. Maybe you have a condo and you want to rent it out during the summer, but live in it during the winter. You’ll have multiple “guests” staying and not all of them will take care of your property. A hotel and hospitality policy will cover property damage and liability if a guest is injured during their stay. Their medical expenses will be paid, and you could be covered if they decide to sue. Some policies even cover loss of income if you can’t rent your property out while it’s being repaired from covered damage.

Landlord Policy

Most landlords need a landlord insurance policy, though. If you’re going to rent out your property over a long period of time, typically six months or longer, get this insurance. Physical damage to the property will be covered. You’ll also have liability protection if your tenant or one of their guests is injured on the property. Loss of income coverage may be available if you can’t collect rent on a property while it’s being repaired or rebuilt from a covered loss. You may also be able to purchase coverage for personal property you leave at the rental for maintenance or for the tenants to use.

Loss Assessment Coverage

If your rental property is located in a condo or homeowner’s association, you need to purchase loss assessment coverage. This policy will protect you financially if the HOA or COA has to levy a special assessment against all its members when the association insurance is not enough to pay for a covered loss. For example, an accident on the property resulted in a $1.5 million claim for the association but the policy limit is $1 million. The $500,000 difference will be split amongst the members to pay the difference.

With loss assessment coverage, you’ll be covered up to your policy amount, typically $5,000. When purchasing this insurance, it’s important to choose a limit that you think will cover you in an emergency assessment. The coverage is only available for purchase if your HOA or COA have good insurance in place with solid limits.

Umbrella Policy

An umbrella policy is a good idea for anyone with insurance, but as a landlord, it’s an added layer of protection for liability. Every insurance has a policy limit. Sometimes, however, a claim may be higher than those limits. Without an umbrella policy, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for the difference. But umbrella coverage will pay the difference between your regular insurance claim limit and the total claim amount. It may even help pay for liability losses not covered by your insurance policy.

Require Renter’s Insurance

As the landlord you won’t purchase renter’s insurance, but you can require your tenants to have it as a condition of the lease agreement. The mistake many renters make is thinking that their possessions are covered under your insurance policy. Wrong! Requiring proof of a renter’s policy lets you know that if they lose everything, they will be able to replace their belongings while you repair the property.

Make sure to talk to an insurance agent to find the best insurance policy for you and to ask questions about what exactly is covered by each type of coverage. It may be worth paying a little more for higher limits and added peace of mind. But if you think that your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover your rental, think again. Renting out property comes with plenty of risks. Make sure you’re protected from the worst of those with the right insurance coverage.

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15 Ways to Market Your Rental Property

You’ve finally done it. Instead of selling your old house, you’re going to rent it out. You’ve been reading about the hot rental market and want to get in on it, make a little money, and maybe turn it into a long-term option for a second income.

You’re dreaming of retirement and the extra cash, but first, you need to find a tenant. There are plenty of ways to market a rental, both old school and new. It’s important to add your rental to multiple outlets because you want to find the best possible tenant. Here are 14 ways you can do that.

  1. Clean the property from top to bottom. You may want to hire a cleaning crew.
  2. Decide if you’re going to stage the home with furniture – a popular and effective option many use for selling homes. Hire a professional stager or bring in furniture yourself and set it up to make the property look it’s best.
  3. Clean up the front yard, landscape, plant flowers, repaint shutters, and increase the general curb appeal. Consider hiring a landscape company to do this for you.
  4. Now that the property looks its absolute best, you need to take pictures of it. You’ll need dozens of pictures taken, and you’ll want to make sure you do it on a bright, sunny day. You can hire a professional photographer to do this for you.
  5. Record video while walking through the home. Video is very effective online. This allows people to get an idea of the layout and size.
  6. Buy an ad in the local paper(s) for your rental.
  7. Buy yard signs to put in the front yard and directional signs to point people to your rental from the main road.
  8. Add your rental to Craigslist. Be prepared for potential tenants to question you heavily – there are a lot of scammers on Craigslist.
  9. Add your rental to Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads, Rent.com, and other real estate websites. If you make changes to the price, amenities, or other features, you’ll need to update all of the websites you’re using.
  10. Hold an open house to let potential tenants come see the property.
  11. Talk about it with your friends, family, and business colleagues.
  12. Make flyers and distribute them at local businesses, churches, and other locations with community bulletin boards. You’ll want to remove them once the property is rented or you’ll be taking a lot of unnecessary calls.
  13. Post pictures and the listing information on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites you use.
  14. Create a website for the property and add all the pictures, video, and other property information.
  15. When it comes to marketing your rental property, you want to be in as many places as possible.

It’s a lot, isn’t it? There’s an easier way to get the job done. Work with a property management team who does this for a living. Here at ERA American Real Estate, we have the resources, the knowledge, and the time to effectively market your rental and find the best tenant.

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Landlord Responsibilities: HVAC Maintenance

Part of your legal responsibilities as a landlord is to make sure your property is “fit and habitable” for your tenants. While electrical and plumbing issues, as well as safety, are included in this definition, the one that gives most owners headaches is HVAC maintenance. In the summer, the temperatures rise to unbearable levels, and overheating is a real risk. Once winter hits, rain and cold are new concerns that can make people sick.

Even if the risk to your tenants wasn’t an issue, a property without a well-functioning HVAC system is subject to mold, damage, and other problems that can lower the value of your property. It’s important that you understand what happens if you neglect HVAC maintenance and how to avoid any potential problems.

How to Handle HVAC Maintenance

Because of the health and structural risks of a malfunctioning HVAC system, you will want to be more diligent with your rental property’s heating and air conditioning systems than you probably are with your own home. You don’t live in this property and aren’t there to check for small problems before they become big ones.

Here is a list of what you’ll need to do to maintain a working and efficient HVAC system in your rental property.

Schedule seasonal maintenance in spring and fall. After a summer of working hard, it’s important get the system checked for any wear and tear or potential problems. Once winter is over, especially if it was a cold one, you want to have it serviced again so you catch any problems before the summer heat arrives. This will save you the headache of tenant calls and the cost of repair bills later.

Make timely and full repairs when a problem is found. Putting a “band-aid” on an HVAC system almost guarantees you’ll be faced with a bigger repair bill later. Making your tenants wait for a repair to have a safe and habitable home can lead to legal problems. When your tenants call to report an issue, jump on it, get it fixed, and communicate with your tenants so they know what’s going on.

Replace and upgrade the property’s HVAC system as needed. Ideally, “as needed” won’t be once it dies and you have no choice. Instead, keep track of it’s age and what the service company tells you about it’s performance and when it should be replaced. It’s much better to schedule an upgrade and replacement when you and your tenants can prepare for it instead of being surprised and rushed.

What Happens If You Neglect the HVAC Maintenance?

While you should have every expectation that your tenants will take care of the basic upkeep and day-to-day maintenance of your rental property, you have to take care of your responsibilities as well. This includes making quick repairs and replacing the HVAC in a timely manner when necessary.

If you don’t meet your responsibilities and your tenants are left in an uninhabitable rental, they may have some legal recourse against you.

  • They may be able to move out before the lease is up without having to pay any additional costs for breaking the lease.
  • They could pay for the repair itself and deduct the cost from their rent payment.
  • Your tenants might even withhold the rent until the problem is fixed. In order for this to be legal, they would have to place it in an escrow account and so that the rent is “paid” just not to you.
  • Renters could and may contact local health and safety inspectors who could fine you for that and any other safety and health violations they find.
  • You could be sued.

All of these situations could only happen in very specific circumstances, but if you keep the HVAC system in your rental properties maintained and working as much as possible, this won’t be something you have to worry about.

The easiest way to avoid the worry and hassle is to work with a property management company who understands the legal responsibilities and requirements of being a landlord. They should also have the resources to take care of problems while keeping you informed of what your options are. ERA American Real Estate has the vendor contacts, the legal knowledge, and the ability to help you take care of your rental properties and tenants. Give us a call today!

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What Your Annual Maintenance Checklist Should Look Like

As a landlord, you have a long list of things you’re responsible for and have to think and worry about. Rent payments, marketing a vacant property, talking to tenants, and dealing with potential damage to your properties are all major concerns. One of the things you can do to minimize potential problems is an annual maintenance check.

Once a year, your properties need to be walked through and inspected. This helps you catch any small issues before they become problems and allows you to stay on top of any wear and tear issues. It also gives you the opportunity to plan what improvements, upgrades, or changes you may want or need to make to a rental property – either when your tenants move out or to keep your tenants for the long term at a possibly higher rent.

These inspections are also good if you suspect that your tenant isn’t taking care of the property as outlined in the lease agreement. Your inspection gives you the opportunity to have an objective conversation about what your tenants need to do to take care of the rental property. You can also use this checklist when a tenant vacates to determine whether you’ll return their security deposit or not.

To be consistent with each property and to make sure you don’t forget anything critical, make one checklist that you can print and use for every inspection.

If you haven’t made a maintenance checklist before, make sure to include these things:

1.    Check for mold and damp around doors and windows.

2.    Look for damage to paint and drywall.

3.    Door hinges and locks should work.

4.    Check for cracks in the walls and around ceilings and floors.

5.    Look for stains, dirt, and damage to carpeted floors.

6.    Check for chipped tiles and scratched or scuffed hardwood and laminate floors.

7.    All appliances should work and doors should open and shut properly.

8.    Kitchen counters should be free of major damage including cracks, peeling, or pulling away from the wall.

9.    Cabinets should shut properly.

10.  Check that all light switches and outlets work properly.

11.  Make sure light fixtures – with working bulbs – function.

12.  Check for signs of tampering or damage to wiring and electrical systems.

13.  Windows should open and shut completely. Make sure the locking mechanism works.

14.  If blinds were installed prior to the tenants move-in, they should lift and lower. Check for damage to the blinds or the cords.

15.  Make sure HVAC maintenance is done on schedule.

16.  Check the thermostat and for any leaks around the HVAC unit.

17.  Look for leaks in the kitchen and bathrooms.

18.  Faucets should shut off completely without water dripping.

19.  Check for damage to the sink, tile, and toilets.

20.  Flush the toilet – does it empty and refill properly? Does the handle work?

21.  Make sure the smoke alarms have batteries and are function.

22.  Check the ceiling for stains, holes, and other damage.

23.  All the closet doors should open and close and, if applicable, be on their tracks.

24.  Go up in the attic or crawlspace and look for holes, leaks, or signs of pests.

25.  Outside, look up at the roof. Look for obvious holes, leaks, or loose tiles.

26.  If applicable, check the chimney for loose brick or damage.

27.  Check the gutters for damage and make sure they’re attached properly.

28.  Look for blockages and excessive dirt and leaves.

You won’t be able to fix everything you find, but keep a few tools with you in case something simply needs to be tightened to make a quick fix. Take pictures of the damage and issues you find to document the problems and to show your contractor.

If this sounds overwhelming, you can always work with a good property management company who can handle this for you and make sure nothing gets missed. Best of all, your property manager will go over all the issues with you, let you know what you should fix first, and help you make a plan. When you’re ready to hand over the hard work to the professionals, contact ERA American Real Estate.