I was on my second Heineken after a long, hard day at work while watching a re-run of The Office. The ringer on my phone was turned off and my laptop was stored away. All the hassles of the day faded as I watched Jim and Pam prank Dwight Shrute yet again.
Finally, at about 8 pm I looked at my phone. I had missed an odd phone call on Facebook Messenger from a guy named Josh. Who is Josh and why is he calling me on Facebook at night? My Gmail account was blowing up too. Someone claiming to be Josh’s mom said there was an emergency at the house.
Then I realized …. Josh was one renter in a Victorian I own in the district. I didn’t recognize the name because the main tenant of the home was my nephew and Josh was a sub-renter of one bedroom. I had gotten got lazy and broken the first rule of being a successful landlord. I didn’t know who was living in my house.
I wasn’t being a successful landlord. Here are our top 10 tips on how to be.
Always Know Who’s Living in Your Property
My nephew was attending Georgetown and had been living in my 100-year-old home for several years. He had a rotating roster of good college students living with him. In the beginning, I was vigilant about meeting the roommates and getting all the contact information. But I got lazy. When Josh called, I had no clue who it was.
Poor Josh. He had been dealing with a broken shower head for hours which was gushing water and wouldn’t turn off. It was the last day of school. My nephew was on a party cruise and Josh was all alone in the house trying to figure out who to call and how to fix it before the entire house flooded. He didn’t have my cell number or even my email. His mom had to track it down.
Bad move on my part. I rushed over to the house, turned the water off, and had a plumber take care of it the next day. I felt bad for Josh and was embarrassed for slacking like that. Always know who is in your property and always have your (or your property managers) information handy for everyone in the house, even a sublessee.
Always Have Proper Insurance
My situation didn’t turn into a disaster, but it could have. Make sure and protect your investment and yourself by having adequate liability and other types of insurance. Suggest to your tenants they look into renter’s insurance. A small premium can pay huge dividends if the unthinkable happens.
Always Call a Professional for Repairs Beyond Your Abilities
Successful landlords don’t make the mistake of doing a crummy repair job to save a few dollars. The repair is a tax write-off and your tenants don’t want to live with an unsightly or unsafe repair job. This is especially critical with electrical or plumbing work.
Always be Appreciative
When your tenant takes exceptional care of your property or is always prompt with the rent, it’s great to reward that behavior with kudos. This could be something as small as a note of appreciation or even a discounted month’s rent.
Always Follow the Law
The Fair Housing Act says you cannot discriminate based on sex, race, disability, family status, national origin, religion or color. The authorities take this law seriously. This isn’t just good moral policy, but it will also help you avoid litigation should someone feel discriminated against.
Always Give Proper Notice
Give your tenants at least 24 hours notice before showing up to inspect the property or make repairs. Put yourself in their shoes and consider a landlord just dropping by and see how that makes you feel. Give respect, get respect.
Always Get a Lease in Writing
While a gentleman’s handshake may have been good enough way back when my house was built in 1917, it’s important today to get all the specifics documented. Use the proper forms and get them in writing. This is protection for both parties.
Always Know Who You Are Renting To
Know who you are renting to. Look into each applicant by at minimum checking past landlord references. You should screen potential tenants by checking social media accounts and credit scores. Take the time to call their employer. Scammers and con artists are the friendliest people on earth. Don’t fall for it.
Always Keep The Property Clean For Landlord Success
Be sure to get the property ready as though your mother was coming to stay. Clean, clean, and clean! A fresh coat of paint and carpet cleaning can do wonders and cost very little. Every six months, consider power washing the exterior. Keep the heater and air conditioner running tip-top. This keeps good tenants in your home.
Always Keep the Home Safe
Make sure the home is pest-free. Buy roach and ant traps and place them around the home every two months. Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Any bedroom upstairs should have rope ladders stored in the closet in case a tenant needs to climb out.
Outside, keep the gutters clean and any holes in the yard filled. Ask your tenants to report any problems immediately.
Being a successful landlord is a lot of responsibility, but is one of the best ways to build long-term wealth. Nipping problems in the bud before they bloom is the best way to head off most severe problems.
I’m now following my own advice.