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.