If you were to take a sample of what the general public thinks of when they think of landlords, I’d wager a guess most would fall into one of these categories:
- Landlords are bullies that often take advantage of tenants in lesser advantaged circumstances.
- Having rental property is a big pain with large risks that aren’t worth it.
Perhaps you find yourself in #2 and thus find yourself reading this article. Dealing with tenants is tiring! Or maybe you are on the other side of the coin and have had a few uneventful tenants. Either way, these tips are needed in your rental business, large or small!
1. SCREEN Your Tenants!
The Number 1 way to turn around your exhausting experience as a landlord is to step up your process for screening tenants. Screening is everything in property management.
Requiring proof of income and a cash deposit to move them in is not enough. Leaving your listing up for a week or two and taking the best tenant at that point is likely not enough.
Here is a rough summary of how we screen:
- Tenants must meet our 4 qualifiers. Initially, we accept their verbal answers.
- Once qualified, they may drive by.
- Once they drive by, they can use Calendly.com to schedule an appt for a showing.
- We meet them in person and have various ways we evaluate them. We have some pointed questions, and certain things we look for in their appearance, car cleanliness, etc.
- They may apply by filling out ALL the blanks on our carefully crafted application.
- This is where the screening really begins. We will run down our score card to check off ways the tenant can score better. We call the supervisor to verify employment, and even ask more questions to learn about their character as a person. We talk to previous landlords, personal references, etc. Some landlords will even swing by the tenant’s current residence with “paperwork while they were in the neighborhood” and see the cleanliness level of the home.
- Following this step is the background check and credit report.
- We finish with a few logistical steps of moving the process towards signing a lease. We keep an eye out for red flags and aren’t afraid to move on to the next tenant!
The moral of the story is that by making the screening process thorough, it may be time consuming, but it saves you time in the future 10-fold by having fewer evictions and vacancies.
2. Create, and Document, Systems and Processes for Everything. (And Maintain “Company Policy”)
Indeed, it is the systems that you set up as a landlord that take the work out of landlording. Each time you do something new, or a tenant does something that you weren’t sure what to do about at first, add it to your procedures and systems. Rental property is the sum of 100s of menial tasks. Ask me how
I know! You have to make sure you have a system for what order those menial tasks go in.
When it comes to communicating with tenants, sometimes these systems become “company policy”. The tenant wants the late fee waived for being 4 days late? “I’m sorry, but our company policy is to charge the late fee on the 6th of each month.” It’s not you charging them extra, it’s company policy and the lease being the bad guy! Tenants will always test boundaries and will push you if you give in on smaller things. It also can be very helpful to have a partner (spouse perhaps) that you can leverage. “I’m sorry, but my partner is a real stickler on keeping to company policy.” Lastly, if you don’t think you have company policy because it’s just you or you and your spouse, guess again! If you are making money on rents, you have a company! You don’t need a company name to be a business.
Here are examples of a lack of systems working against you:
- A tenant moves out, and as you get the property ready for the next tenant, you notice a hole in the shower. Not only that, come to find out, the wood under the shower is wet and starting to rot. You could be on the hook for a $700 repair! There goes a month of rent.
- A tenant has moved out, and oh boy here come the calls! 10 calls a day, at least 5 minutes each to answer all their questions… No wonder you always feel like there’s too much to do!
- The tenant met you to sign the lease but “misunderstood” that they were to bring first month’s rent, not just the deposit. They are late on the first month, and it they get progressively later on rent each month from there.
Here are some examples of systems we use to make landlording easy:
- We reduce miscommunications with tenants about move-out costs and repairs by documenting condition before and after they live there. Going the extra distance to communicate with the tenant will often make them agreeable, and they’ll take their security deposit or pay the overages and move on. The paperwork stands up in court, as well.
- We direct 95% of tenant inquires to our email inbox, which automatically responds with our main four qualifiers for a tenant. If they aren’t tire kickers and actually want to rent our place, they’ll respond by answering how they meet those qualifiers. For the 5% that do call, we breeze through a script quickly. Systems are huge time savers, and make it easier on you!
- Perhaps the tenant “forgot” to bring first month’s rent to the lease signing. What this really means is they probably don’t have enough cash to move in, and worse, probably don’t have the financial skills to be our tenant. Our system and policy is that they can’t sign the lease. As painful as it is to reschedule (while holding costs on the rental continue to grow), how much more painful is it to have to spend $100s in a few months to evict the tenant!
3. Train Your Tenants – Most Importantly When They Are New!
Did you ever think of having a tenant as a trainee? In a way, they are an employee of yours, and for them to be successful and for you to be successful, they need to be guided into the proper behaviors. Now that you have screened them, they have shown that they have potential to be a great tenant. But you’ll still be setting and enforcing guidelines all the way down the road.
You can even look at it as an opportunity to help them grow as a person because the financial skills needed to save money to pay the rent are the same financial skills that give them bigger opportunities to partake in the American Dream down the road.
This tip is similar to #2 because this will include enforcing the systems you have. If you have on the lease that you only take money orders, but one month you decide to take a personal check, you’ve effectively trained that tenant to believe that personal checks are really okay.
So how in the world do you train a tenant? Four words:
Communicate and enforce expectations.
Simple. Not easy. The little things at the beginning become the bigger things later, so take on the tough role of being “the bad guy” early on to set the pace for the rest of their stay. The trash all over some of the rental properties you drive by didn’t get there in one day! It took time and a passive landlord.
And be sure to balance your “enforcing” with your own natural charm and positive feedback. A Christmas card never hurt anyone and is inexpensive. Build up some rapport with chit chat to understand their background and who they are. Get those repairs needed as quickly as possible!