Starting a property management company is a tough business, plain and simple.  Landlords deal with the problems of tenants who call to complain constantly; tenants who don’t pay their rent and what can seem like endless, high dollar property repairs.  Buying rental property and becoming a landlord comes with a lot of stress and responsibilities and all of these things can turn a well-meaning property owner into a jaded landlord.

Oftentimes, as a landlord, it’s easy to start viewing tenants as dollar signs instead of building a lasting landlord/tenant relationship.  But creating a good connection with your tenants and marketing yourself as a great landlord has numerous benefits.  It will make working with your tenant on fixing repairs and showing the property to prospective new tenants at the end of a lease to go smoother – and your tenants are more likely to renew – possibly even with a rent increase. 

Here are seven tips you can utilize to be a great landlord. 

1.      Customize the Lease

[AOA suggests you use their lease, form #101- FREE to members on www.aoausa.com.]  This will cover basic things like rent, security deposit costs and any legal tenant rights in your state.  Add in any specific rules you have for the property such as a weight limit on pets and use as much detail as possible and include everything from late payment fees to maintenance responsibility and tenant’s behavior.  A clear cut lease will reduce friction between you and your tenant in the future. 

2.      Know the Laws

Each state has a landlord and tenant act that covers rent, security deposits, landlord and tenant obligations, tenant’s rights and evictions.  You can get a copy from the Department of Housing office or website for your state.  [If your building falls under rent control, get a copy of the rent control handbook for your area!] Get to know these laws well.  Violating a tenant’s rights will at the very least lead to an unhappy tenant and at worst, land you in court. 

3.      Make Those Repairs

When a tenant calls with a repair request, set up a time to go and inspect the damage.  If the repair doesn’t fall into the emergency category, set up a time that works best for the tenant.  Tenants will respect you more if you let them know ahead of time when you plan to stop by and [California] requires this notice in writing. [Serve AOA’s 24-Hour Notice of Intent to Enter Premises – form #130].  Once you inspect the damage, schedule the repair immediately.

State laws handle property management maintenance differently.  Some states will allow a tenant to deduct the cost of repairs from his rent if you do not make them in a timely manner.  Even if your state doesn’t set a cap on repairs, the faster you make them, the better chance you have at retaining the tenant. 

4.      Keep the Lines of Communication Open

While you do not want your tenants harassing you at home or calling you at all hours of the day, you do not want to cut yourself off from your tenants completely.  Tenants feel more at ease when they know how to get in touch with their landlord.  When a tenant moves in, give them your business number right away.  Better yet, include an email address where the tenant can reach you.  This will cut down on the amount of after-hours calls you get and help you keep a written record of communication between you and your tenants. 

5.      Respect the Tenant’s Privacy

Several years ago, I moved out of an apartment that I loved simply because the landlord would not stop showing up at odd hours.  While I knew he had the right to inspect the property and I was happy to give him access anytime he asked, his repeat visits before 7 a.m. and after 9 p.m. led me to not renew the lease at the end of term and cut out.  Tenants want their privacy.  In fact, [California] requires that you give a tenant notice before you enter the rental.  You certainly shouldn’t abandon the rental property altogether, especially if you suspect the tenant may have caused damage, but let the tenant know ahead of time when you plan to stop in.  And…limit your visits to business hours. 

6.      Listen to the Tenant’s Concerns

Every property management company deals with the odd, nosey neighbor, the overly concerned tenant or the cranky complainer, but most tenants won’t contact the landlord until they feel they have to.  When you get a call from a tenant, LISTEN to his concerns and do the best you can to make him feel like you addressed them.  Granted, you cannot do anything about he neighbor’s lawn gnome collection if that neighbor isn’t your tenant, but you can mediate a dispute between two of your own tenants.  If you can do something about the problem, tell the tenant you will address it and then do so. 

7.      Exercise Compassion

Occasionally, tenants will have a problem.  Maybe they’re running a day late on their rent payment or they need to let their recently divorced brother sleep on their couch for a few weeks.  Whatever the problem, try and tap into your compassionate side when dealing with these situations.  If you show tenants a bit of compassion and let them slide (within reasonable boundaries), they will remember the kindness.  If tenants feel they have a compassionate, understanding landlord and not just a business automaton, they will be more likely to renew their lease or accept a small rent increase. 

Final Word

There doesn’t have to be a huge divide between lessor and lessee.  By taking these seven tips into consideration, you can make sure that you’re an attentive, proactive and understanding landlord. 

Reprinted from the Wisconsin Apartment Association News.