A How-To-Guide for Every Do-It-Yourselfer Landlord

Marbles down the sink. Snakes falling out of the ceiling. A whole Cornish game hen in stuck in a garbage disposal. That might sound like the stuff of nightmares, but each one has happened. As a landlord, you never know what you might see when you enter a rental property.

Marbles down the sink.

Snakes falling out of the ceiling.

A whole Cornish game hen in stuck in a garbage disposal.

That might sound like the stuff of nightmares, but each one has happened.

As a landlord, you never know what you might see when you enter a rental property. Will someone get wacky with the cement and fill the drains? Will a tenant have a cat hidden in the guest room?

If you have to hire someone to retrieve the marbles and game hens every time something happens, you can expect to pay big bucks. It’s much easier to handle basic maintenance tasks yourself.

You simply need to gather the right tools and learn a few tricks of the trade. Then, you’ll know how to maintain a rental property on your own.

Check out some basic maintenance tasks, along with the tools you need for each one. Also, get ready to learn more about those marbles and Cornish game hens.

How to Fix a Clogged Toilet or Sink

How to Fix a Clogged Toilet or Sink

When it comes to things that usually go wrong with rental properties, you can put clogged toilets and sinks at the top of the list.

You might not think that’s much cause for concern, but clogged toilets and sinks are no laughing matter.

Take the landlord who had a tenant who constantly called his landlord in the middle of the night due to a toilet that kept clogging. The landlord quickly realized the problem wasn’t with the plumbing. The tenant’s kids had a habit of flushing toys down the toilet (East Bay Property Management, 2016).

Another property manager went to a property to investigate a clogged sink. It had been clogged for a while, so the tenant dumped marbles down the drain to release the clog (Molloy, 2016). As you can imagine, the marbles didn’t clear the drain.

These are just a couple of the countless horror stories out there. You never know what you might find when you investigate a clogged toilet or sink, but regardless of what you face, you can fix it with some basic tools and a little bit of time.


  • Plunger with an Extension Flange
  • Closet Auger

Start with the Plunger

Start with the Plunger

Ninety percent of clogged toilets can be fixed with a plunger, according to The Family Handyman (DIY experts of The Family Handyman magazine, n.d.). This tool works well on sinks, as well.

Take out a plunger with an extension flange, so you’ll get all the power you need to unclog the toilet or sink.

Put on some rubber gloves in case the water overflows. Then, start with a gentle plunge. Your plunger will be full of air during that first plunge, and if you go too hard, the air will cause water to come out of the toilet or sink.

Then, it’s time to really get to work. Plunge as hard as you can while maintaining the plunger’s seal. You might have to plunge as many as 20 times to dislodge the clog. Alternate between huge thrusts and steady strokes to break up the debris.

That usually will work, but if it doesn’t, it’s time to get out your trusty plumber snake.

Using a Plumber Snake

You can pick up a cheap plumber snake and unclog a toilet or sink, but as a landlord, you need to have a closet auger. It’s a little more expensive, but it can handle tasks that a basic snake cannot.

Simply feed the closet auger into the toilet or sink. It will feed into the pipes easily until it reaches the clog. Turn it clockwise. This will cause the snake to either cut through the debris or grab it, so you can pull it back out.

Hopefully, you won’t end up with marbles on the other end of that closet auger.

How to Fix a Running Toilet

How to Fix a Running Toilet

A running toilet might not seem like a big deal, but it is to your tenant. A running toilet means higher water bills, so he or she will want you to get out there as soon as possible. You don’t want your tenant to say he or she can’t pay the rent in full because of the water bill.

Fortunately, this is a quick and easy fix (The DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine, n.d.). There are various things that could go wrong with a toilet, so you might need:

  • Flapper
  • Fill valve
  • Hacksaw
  • Plyers

Collect all these materials so you’ll be ready, regardless of the issue.

Replace the Flapper

More times than not, it’s an issue with a flapper, and this is a super easy fix. If you have a flapper on hand, you can change it out in a matter of minutes.

Step 1 – Test the Flapper

First, test the flapper by pushing down on it. If the water stops running when you push down on the flapper, you know that the seal isn’t working properly. That means it’s time to replace the flapper.

Step 2 – Turn Off the Water

You need to turn the water off at the shut-off valve before you begin. This is the valve that is located right next to the toilet.

Step 3 – Remove the Faulty Flapper

Start by removing the flapper chain from the flush handle lever. Then, remove the flapper from the pegs. If the flapper is made of hard plastic, the ears will snap off. Otherwise, the ears will slide off the pegs.

Keep in mind that some flush valves don’t have pegs. These flappers are attached by a ring. Just take the flapper off the ring to remove it.

Step 4 – Prepare the New Flapper

If your flush valve has pegs, you’ll need to cut off the ring that is located on the back of the flapper. Otherwise, keep the ring in place, so you can properly attach the flapper to the side valve.

Step 5 – Install the Flapper

Hook each of the flapper’s ears into the pegs or connect the ring. Then, you’ll need to connect the flapper and the chain. The chain should have just a little bit of slack when the handle lever is in the resting position. Tighten it accordingly.

Step 6 – Test the Flapper

Turn the water back on and flush the toilet. The leak should be gone.

Replace the Fill Valve

If the flapper is working but the toilet is still leaking, you likely have a problem with the fill valve. This fix is a little more difficult, but still possible for a do-it-yourselfer.

Step 1 – Prepare the Toilet

Start by turning off the water supply. Then, flush the toilet and remove the rest of the water with a sponge. You’ll also need to disconnect the water supply line. Once that is done, remove the old fill valve. You’ll simply need to unscrew the locknut, and it will come right out.

Step 2 – Install the New Fill Valve

You’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to insert the fill valve. Then, tighten the locknut. Once it is tight, give it one more half turn to make sure it stays in place.

Step 3 – Shorten the Overflow Pipe if Necessary

Look at the fill valve and the overflow pipe. The overflow pipe should not be higher than the critical level mark. If it is, you’ll need to use a hacksaw to shorten it. It should be 1 inch below the mark.

Step 4 – Connect the Fill Tube

Your fill tube has two ends. Attach one to the enclosed angle adapter and one to the fill valve nipple. Then, connect the angle adapter to the overflow pipe. Attach the flapper chain to the flush lever using the provided ring or clip.

Step 5 – Test the Toilet

Now, you’re ready to give the toilet a flush. Once it fills up, it should stop running.

How to Fix a Leaking Sink at Your Rental Property

How to Fix a Leaking Sink at Your Rental Property

Most landlords have encountered a leaky sink or two. These repairs don’t seem all that important, but it’s actually crucial that your tenants let you know if water is leaking under the sink. You could end up with a serious mold problem if it goes unattended.

While some people call the plumber, out can fix a leaky faucet on your own (Freeze, 2017).

You’ll need:

  • Adjustable C Wrench
  • Phillips and Flathead Screwdriver
  • WD-40
  • Replacement Washers
  • Replacement O-Rings

Step 1 – Turn Off the Water

You want to dive right in and fix your sink, but first things first. You need to turn off the water supply. Don’t just turn off the handles on the sink. Go underneath the sink and shut off the water supply that comes in from the main line.

Step 2 – Remove the Handle Nobs

Use your flat-head screwdriver to remove the decorative knobs. Once removed, you will see a screw that’s used to mount the handle. Unscrew it and then take off the handle with your flathead screwdriver. If it won’t come off, use some WD-40.

Step 3 – Remove the Stem

Take your wrench and loosen the packing nut. Once loosened, you’ll see the stem. You might have to twist it from the valve to get it off, or it might pull right off. Make sure that the parts are in good working order.

Step 4 – Check the Washer and O-Ring

Look at the washer and O-ring inside of the valve seat. It is likely they are in disrepair. Disregard them and replace them with a new washer and O-ring. Make sure the O-ring is the proper size.

Step 5 – Reassemble the Sink

Now, you’re ready to reassemble the sink. Go in reverse order. Once everything is reassembled, turn on the water.

What if It’s Still Leaking?

If it’s still leaking, your valve seat might be corroded, or the seals could be worn out. In addition, your parts might be worn out, or you could have a serious plumbing issue.

How to Repair a Leaking Pipe in the Wall or Ceiling of a Rental Property

How to Repair a Leaking Pipe in the Wall or Ceiling of a Rental Property

If someone calls you to fix a leak in the wall or ceiling, it’s a good idea to act fast. Take Pro Housekeepers COO Jennifer Rodriguez’s word for it (Smith, 2017). Her team went to a home where they thought the sink was clogged. Then, they noticed there was a leak in the living room that needed to be addressed.

They cut out some of the living room ceiling to get to the leak and noticed a small crack in the pipe, and to their horror, a small snake was poking out of it. They thought that was the entire problem, but they were in for a real surprise when around 20 snakes fell out of the ceiling.

Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with something that serious, but if a tenant calls you about a leak, get over there quickly before you end up with a serious pest control issue on your hands.

There are many options for repairing PVC pipes and joints (Stickley, 2018). Choose the one that works best for your situation.

Depending on the repair you choose, you’ll need:

  • Rubber and silicone repair tape
  • Epoxy
  • Fiberglass wrap

Repair with Rubber and Silicone Repair Tape

Landlords should always have rubber and silicone repair tape in their toolboxes. This tape comes in handy, especially when it comes to leaks at PVC pipes and joints.

Pull this stretchy tape as tightly as you can when wrapping the pipe. Don’t just wrap the tape at the joints. Extend well past the leaky area.

Repair with Epoxy

Repair epoxy is another important material to keep in your toolbox. You can use putty or liquid epoxy for this job.

Start by drying the pipe. Then, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to apply the epoxy. Let it sit for about an hour before turning the water back on.

Repair with Fiberglass Wrap

Fiberglass wrap is an excellent material to keep in the toolbox, as well. You just wet the cloth and place it around the leaky pipe. The cloth has a resin that hardens on the pipe. The manufacturer will have specific instructions to follow, but it will likely harden in about 15 minutes.

How to Change the Locks at Your Rental Property

How to Change the Locks at Your Rental Property

Changing the locks on your rental property is a pretty basic process and one you should do whenever someone moves out. It’s not required by law in most places, but tenants will be unhappy if they find out that a former tenant has the key to their home.

That might not be the only time you have to change the locks. Sometimes, you might be forced to do it.

One landlord sounded off on Reddit about an incident that required a lock change.

A tenant changed the lock without informing the landlord, left, and didn’t leave the key. That meant the landlord couldn’t get back into the property. That’s pretty frustrating, but it happens more than you realize.

Whether you have to change your lock for a new tenant or to get into your property, it’s a very easy process.

If you have the proper tools, you can change the locks in 1–2 hours (The Home Depot, n.d.).

You’ll need:

  • Drill
  • Drill Bits
  • Tape Measure
  • Screwdriver
  • Safety Glasses
  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Doorknob
  • Deadbolt

Step 1 – Remove the Existing Doorknob and Measure

Start the process by removing the existing doorknob, so you can get an accurate measurement. Remove the screws that are located on the interior side of the door. This will allow you to pull the doorknob off from both sides.

Once everything is removed, take out your tape measure and measure from the center of the hole to the edge of the door. The measurement you end up with is called the setback. It’s important to get a lock with the same setback, so you don’t have to change the hole in the door.

Step 2 – Replace the Latch

Remove the latch plate. The latch plate is fastened in place by two screws. Take them off and remove the latch.

Take the new latch and look for the tapered side. The tapered side should face in the direction the door closes. Push it into the opening, making sure it is flush with the door’s surface.

Step 3 – Install the Doorknobs

When you pull the new doorknobs out of the packaging, you’ll notice a long piece of metal that sticks out. This is the spindle. You’ll need to slide the spindle into the latch. The latch has a slot, making it easy for you to slide it right in.

The lock has two long screws inside of it. Align them so they go into the cylinders on the exterior knob. Use your screwdriver to tighten the screws.

Now, it will be time to remove the strike plate that’s located on the door jam. Remove the screws and use new screws to install the new one.

You need to test your work before moving onto the next step. Open and shut the door, making sure it works smoothly.

Step 4 – Remove the Deadbolt

Remove the screws to take out the existing deadbolt. There will be screws on the interior and edge of the door.

Step 5 – Install a New Deadbolt

The new deadbolt will slide right into the hole left by the old one. Use the screws to fasten it in place.

Then, pick up the exterior part of the lock. You will see a long metal piece. Feed that through the opening at the center of the deadbolt.

Next, pick up the interior part of the deadbolt lock. Slide the provided long screws through the interior plate. Then, use screws to secure it to the holes in the bolt and the exterior part of the lock. Start by hand tightening them; then, use your drill.

Put on the decorative outer plate. It should just snap on.

Keep in mind that some deadbolts have concealed screws. If that is the case, you will have to consult the manual for specific instructions.

How to Replace the Floors at Your Rental Property

How to Replace the Floors at Your Rental Property

If you’ve been a landlord for very long, you surely know how difficult it is to deal with carpets and rugs. You have to clean them every time someone moves in and out, and sometimes, they have to be completely replaced.

Landlord Jimmy Moncrief knows all about that (Moncrief, 2018). He rented a property to someone who was relocating to Chattanooga. Initially, he was pleased. After all, she paid the deposit and first month’s rent before she even saw the place. On top of that, she paid on time for seven months. She was a great tenant.

Until she wasn’t.

All the sudden, she went dark.

She relocated to Atlanta and didn’t let Jimmy know. She hadn’t just left the apartment, though. She left her cat behind.

He didn’t even know she had a cat.

Jimmy had just installed new carpet before the tenant moved in, and as you can imagine, it was in terrible shape. It wasn’t salvageable, and he ended up having to replace the floors.

If you don’t want to end up like Jimmy, consider installing ceramic tile in your rental property (Lowe's, n.d.). Tile can stand up to everything — even a cat who treats the property like a bachelor pad.

You’ll need:

  • Chalk Line
  • Goggles
  • Carpenter’s Square
  • Sponge
  • Rubber Grout Float
  • Tape Measure
  • Hammer
  • Notched Trowel or Spreader
  • Buckets
  • Tile Cutter or Tile Saw
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Knee Pads
  • Grout Tile
  • Tile Adhesive
  • Silicone Caulk
  • Silicone Grout Sealer
  • Cleaning Cloths

Step 1 – Draw Reference Lines

Many landlords start at a wall when installing ceramic tile, but that’s actually a mistake. You’ll have a much more uniform look if you start in the center of the room. You need to create a reference line, so you’ll know exactly where to start.

Divide the room into four quadrants using a chalk line. The chalk line should meet at the center of the room. This will be your starting point for laying the tile.

Step 2 – Mix and Spread the Mortar

Next, you need to mix the mortar. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you end up with the perfect paste.

Then, go to the reference line in the middle of the room and use the thin side of the trowel to spread the mortar. Spread it in a 3-foot-by-3-foot area in the center of the room.

Turn the trowel around and use the notched side to comb the motor in a single direction. You’ll need to hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to do this.

Your trowel will have a lot of excess mortar. Wipe it off and put it back in the bucket, so you don’t waste it.

Step 3 – Lay the Tile

Now, you’re ready to lay the tile. Before you put down any tiles, though, take them out of the boxes and mix them up. Most people don’t realize this, but the tiles can look slightly different from one box to the next. By mixing them up, those little differences won’t be noticeable.

Put the first piece of tile on the motor and press it lightly while twisting it. This will allow it to set in the mortar.

Then, take your spacers and put them at the edges of the tile.

Continue with the process of spreading mortar and laying tile until you finish with a section of the room. Then, take your rubber mallet and level to make sure each piece of tile is level.

Go around the tiles, looking for any excess mortar. Wipe it away quickly with a damp sponge before it sets.

Then, move onto the next workstation and continue the process.

Step 4 – Cutting the Tile

When you are in the middle of the room, the job will move quickly. Eventually, though, you will need to cut the tile.

You will need to make a mark on the tile where you need a cut and then use a tile saw to make relief cuts. Take your nippers and snap off the pieces. Then, smooth it down with the file.

Step 5 – Grouting the Tile

Wait 24 hours after laying the last piece of tile. Then, you’ll be ready to grout it.

First, remove all the spacers from the tile. Then, mix your grout. It’s important that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, so you have the right water-to-grout ratio.

Put the grout in the joints. Then, push your rubber grout float diagonally across the joints to remove the excess grout.

Once you finish the last tile, let it sit for 20 minutes. Then, take a damp sponge and wipe the grout lines, using a circular motion. Even after you do that, some grout will likely remain, so use a grout haze remover to clean the tiles.

Step 6 – Sealing the Grout

You’ll want to wait at least three days before letting heavy traffic onto the floor, but it will take three weeks for the grout to be completely cured. Then, it will be time to seal it. Just follow the instructions on the grout sealer to protect your grout.

How to Fix the Garbage Disposal

How to Fix the Garbage Disposal

If your rental property has a garbage disposal in it, expect to get some calls, especially around the holidays. Paul Abrams, the spokesman for Roto-Rooter, says the day after Thanksgiving is the company’s busiest time of the entire year (Koncius, 2016).

His team has shared some crazy garbage disposal stories, including finding a whole Cornish game hen clogged in the disposal. The team has even found a Little Kings Cream Ale bottle blocking the disposal.

Regardless of how badly the garbage disposal is jammed, you should be able to fix it following a few simple steps (Trethewey, n.d.).

First, gather your tools. You will need:

  • Hex-head Allen wrench
  • Garbage disposal wrench

Step 1 – Check the Power

You need to make sure your disposal can power up. Try the wall switch, and if that doesn’t work, check the fuses or circuit breakers located at the main electrical panel. Hit the wall switch again and see if you can hear the disposal.

If you still can’t hear it, you will need to find the thermal overload button. This is inside the sink cabinet at the bottom of the disposal. After you engage it, try the wall switch again.

If you still don’t have power, you will need to contact a licensed electrician to restore power. However, if you do have power, unplug it, so you can begin to work.

Step 2 – Use a Hex-Head Allen Wrench to Unclog the Disposal

Look at the bottom of your garbage disposal, where you will find a recessed-shaped hex hole and slide your hex-head Allen wrench into it. This wrench came with the garbage disposal, so you should already have it on hand.

Rotate the wrench counterclockwise, and then change direction to turn it clockwise. This will turn the disposal’s motor and should free the clog.

Once the clog is freed, plug the disposal back in and turn the water on the sink. Then, turn on the disposal. If it’s working again, you are done. If not, move onto the next step.

Step 3 – Use a Garbage Disposal Wrench

You will need to push this wrench into the disposal from up above. Rotate the wrench until you feel the jaws lock. Then, rotate it counterclockwise. After a few rotations, turn it clockwise. You will have to force it to make those turns.

Then, plug the disposal back in, run the water, and test it.

How to Patch Drywall

How to Patch Drywall

You think the walls in your rental property are safe, but that’s not always the case. In fact, crazy things can happen to the drywall, especially during an eviction.

That’s what one landlord found out after he returned to the property after evicting his tenant. The tenant was a carpenter, and he cut chunks of drywall out. He stuffed dead fish in the walls and then sealed it back up. The landlord paid to have the place professionally cleaned several times, but the smell was still there. Over time, they realized something was dead inside the walls. (Molloy, 2016) As you can imagine, he had to do some serious cleaning and drywall work to make the property livable again.

That’s not even the worst of it. When Al LaTrace worked as a property manager, he possibly saw the worst case of tenant revenge ever (LaTrace, 2015). The property management company finally evicted someone after he failed to pay rent for eight months. The tenant appeared to leave the place spotless, which was a surprise because it had been messy when the management company was in there previously. Even the walls looked like they were cleaned.

The company rented the property to someone else quickly, and it wasn’t long before the new tenant complained of a smell. The management company couldn’t find anything wrong with it, but the tenant kept complaining. That went on for a month.

The company went back out and noticed the walls were slightly discolored. The team poked at the drywall, and maggots started crawling out. The former tenant had cut holes in each room and put meat inside the walls. Then, he patched the walls back up.

Hopefully, this never happens to you, but it’s still a good idea to know how to patch and repair drywall (PlanItDIY, n.d.).

You’ll need:

  • Drywall Patch
  • Drywall Joint Compound
  • Putty Knife
  • Painter’s Putty
  • Spackling Paste
  • Knife
  • Trowel
  • Fine Sanding Sponge

Step 1 – Prepare the Hole

First, use a knife to make the hole slightly larger. Make sure the exterior of the hole is larger than the interior.

Step 2 – Use Painter’s Putty

Use your putty knife to spread painter’s putty over the hole. The putty should be thin, smooth, and even with the wall’s surface. Wait for the putty to dry before moving onto the next step.

Step 3 – Sand the Area

Use your fine sanding sponge to lightly sand the putty. Continue this process until the putty is perfectly smooth.

Step 4 – Spackle

You need to spackle over the putty one to two times. Use your putty knife, making sure you get it is as smooth as possible.

Step 5 – Sand the Surface

Sand the surface once again to get that smooth look. Be sure to wipe off the dust.

Step 6 – Put the Patch in Place

Your drywall patch will have a paper backing. Peel it off and then place the patch on the wall. Make sure the mesh is facing toward the interior of the room.

Step 7 – Spread the Drywall Compound

You’ll need to spread the drywall compound to keep the patch in place. Spread it as smoothly as possible and wait for it to dry.

Step 8 – Sand

It’s time to get out the sanding sponge once again. Sand it off until its smooth. If you sand off too much drywall compound, spread it again. Continue spreading and sanding the drywall compound until you can’t see the patch.

Protect Your Investment with DIY Repairs

DIY repairs are an excellent way to protect your investment. You can also protect your investment by screening your tenants. Background checks, credit checks, and more can help you find the best renters for your property. When you go through the tenant screening process, you will rent to responsible people who will let you know when your property is in need of repair. Also, well-screened tenants are a lot less likely to leave fish in the walls.

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