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.

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.

10 People You’ll Need to Hire to Help You Manage Your Properties

You’ve done it, taken a big leap, put your property on the rental market. The house is ready, looks good, and is going for top dollar in the market because it’s worth it. The applications are pouring in, and you’re feeling good about finding a good tenant.

Have you hired everyone you’re going to need to help maintain this property for you? Take a look at this list and make sure you find the best people for the job.

Plumber

When there’s a big leak or a busted pipe, the tenants will call you. You need a professional who can fix the problem and make sure it stays fixed.

Electrician

The lights go out. An outlet or two stopped working. Only a certified electrician should handle that kind of job or you may have to worry about a house fire.

General Contractor

When the roof needs repair, the handrail to the stairs is wobbly, and other parts of the property need fixing, a good general contractor will make sure everything’s fixed and up to code.

HVAC Service Team

The air conditioner/heating system must be serviced twice a year to make sure it continues to work properly. Tenants must have heat in the winter, and any Floridian knows, no air conditioning in the summer is brutal. Plus, if you do need a repair, it’s better to have someone you trust who can take care of the problem.

Lawn and Landscape Crew

Have a certain standard you want your lawn to meet? Did you promise lawn maintenance as an amenity? Start looking around and narrow it down to the best crew you can find at a reasonable price.

Pest Control

Termites, ants, and other bugs can ruin your property and bring down the quality of living in (and value of) your rental. Routine pest control is a must. When there’s an infestation, you’ll be grateful for your pest control company.

Pool Maintenance Crew

The day-to-day cleaning of the pool may be up to your tenants but when the pump breaks or the chemicals need to be adjusted to keep it safe, you’ll need to call the pool company.

Bill Collector

Got a tenant who still won’t pay the rent? Hire a bill collector who will hound them (legally) until you can go through the eviction process.

Accountant

You need an accountant to help you keep up with how much income you’re receiving from your tenants, your expenses for property maintenance, repair, and upkeep, and who’s paid and who hasn’t.

Attorney

Don’t buy a blank lease from an office supply store. Certain clauses may not be included that you really want – no pets, no smoking, etc. Instead, you’ll need an attorney who can write up a lease that fits what you want and stays within the law so that if your tenant violates the lease, you’ve got a leg to stand on in court.

That’s a lot of people to interview, compare, and ultimately hire. It’s also a lot of money to pay each month for their services. If you have more than one rental property, your costs will be higher. Of course, you could always hire a property management team like the one at ERA American Real Estate. We’ve got the contacts and the vendors, and our attorneys have already looked over our lease agreements. You can focus on what matters – growing your investment income.

What Renters Care About Most

High quality tenants take care of their home, pay their rent on time, and help you achieve your financial goals. Wouldn’t it be great if you could make sure that your rental property catered to those types of tenants and attracted long-term renters?

At the end of August, Buildium, a property management system for real estate professionals, released its first-ever survey of tenants, the 2016 American Renters Survey. It was conducted in June 2016, and 900 tenants participated. The results are worth paying attention to if you want to know what renters are looking for and how to make your property competitive.

Online Payment Options

We can pay for almost anything online these days – taxes, driver’s license renewal, insurance, and even our groceries. It should come as no surprise that your renters want to pay their rent online, too. The survey showed that 37 percent of tenants currently use online payment systems, but 50 percent don’t have that option. Overall 59 percent of tenants surveyed said they want to be able to pay their rent online.

Online payments take the hassle out of remembering to write a check and drop it off or mail it in. Payment portals can also reduce the amount of late payments you receive. If you work with a property management company, make sure they have this option for your tenants.

Good Neighborhoods

Buyers aren’t the only people who care about the neighborhood they live in. Over 70 percent of renters said that location and neighborhood are a major factor in deciding where to live. Many times, they’re raising families or want to some day and knowing they have access to a safe place to live and good schools is important.

The amount of rent you can get for your property isn’t just based on the condition or size of the home. Where the property located is also important. If you’re looking for rental properties to invest in, make sure you choose properties in established neighborhoods or up-and-coming neighborhoods so you’re offering rentals that good tenants want.

Amenities Included in the Rent

Tenants are willing to pay more in their rent if amenities are already included. Internet, water, and an in-unit washer and dryer are just a few of the amenities tenants mentioned in the survey. They also appreciated the walkability of a neighborhood, pet-friendly properties, green spaces or a yard, and recycling options. Most of those surveyed already had access to those amenities, but they said they’d be willing to pay higher rent for access to a fitness center, pool, more storage space, and security access to the neighborhood or property.

Of course, you probably can’t put in a pool or add a storage shed to your rental property simply to increase the rent price. But keep these things in mind when you’re looking for ways to improve your property in between tenants and for added incentives to lure good tenants.

Giving tenants options for easy payment, making sure they have a good neighborhood to live in, and offering amenities that make the property more attractive are excellent ways to attract the kind of renter you want over the long-term. Good tenants pay on-time and stay in properties longer while also taking care of the rental. Give them what they want, and you’ll be rewarded with better tenants and less stress.