How to Make Sure You Are Never Mistaken for a "Slumlord"

Managing rental properties is an important responsibility. As the owner of rental residences, you are providing affordable and flexible housing for families that do not yet own a house or aren't ready to put down roots yet. From Los Angeles to New York City, landlords serve a vital role in the community and their responsibilities are vast.

  • Thursday, August 29, 2019

  Slumlords   New York City   California   

Managing rental properties is an important responsibility. As the owner of rental residences, you are providing affordable and flexible housing for families that do not yet own a house or aren't ready to put down roots yet. From Los Angeles to New York City, landlords serve a vital role in the community and their responsibilities are vast.

The Importance of Landlord Responsibilities

Once you have a streamlined rental management routine, keeping all your properties and tenants cared for can be easy. But it's also important that you take measures to prevent your standards from slipping. In an office job, slipping standards can mean a few dropped numbers or missed calls. But as a landlord, your standards of management determine resident quality of life. One of the biggest risks for any landlord is becoming distracted with other projects, properties, or personal life events that pull your attention away from the regular maintenance and care you would usually give to every property in your portfolio. And the last thing you want is for tenants to file a "slumlord" complaint because their lives have become difficult or conditions become unlivable.

Thoroughly Covering Your Bases

We know that landlording is a busy business, especially if you have a wide collection of homes and tenants to care for. So today, we've put together a comprehensive guide of policies, techniques, and failsafe to make sure your properties are not able to slip below a certain standard of maintenance and care.  Whether you're working independently or as part of an REIA (real estate investment association), these tips will keep your rental homes in top condition and ensure that even the most distracting year will have your tenants well-cared-for. 

Read the HUD Guidelines for Your State

As you already know, all landlording starts with adherence to the law. HUD is the community short-hand for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. They determine and curate the housing standards, laws, and tenant rights both federally and state-by-state. The best way to build a foolproof landlording system to take care of properties and tenants is to memorize the laws for any state you provide rental homes in.

Start your research with the HUD catalog of tenant rights by state. Let these rules inform every other decision you make. You can be sure that the system you build is not just safe and supportive, but also in complete compliance with the law.

Custom-Tailor Your Lease and Live by Your Terms

The next step is to be intimately familiar with your lease, ideally by hand-tailoring your lease to both state laws and your own preferred landlording style. Boilerplate leases are actually the leading cause of legal trouble between reasonable tenants and reasonable landlords. If you don't really know what's in your lease, you might not agree with the terms and failing to adhere to lease terms is technically illegal.

Instead, put some time and thought into each lease you sign. You might even want to customize leases property by property, depending on what each property requires in terms of maintenance, local laws, and the tenant care you can provide. Decide how you feel about pets, deposits, maintenance costs, fees, and so on. Then be ready to talk these over with tenants so they understand and agree as well.

There's also nothing wrong with doing a little lease negotiation and alterations before signing. For example, if a tenant is a professional repair technician and would like to trade reduced rent or pet privileges for professional resident-maintenance.

Always Renovate Newly Acquired Properties

Another common trip-up for well-meaning landlords is renting a house right after buying it. Even if the place looks great, even if it passed buyer inspections, it's best to put a little renovation work into each property you rent. Become familiar with the place and do more extensive inspections or testing to make sure they are each truly move-in ready for tenants. 

It's also smart to remain vigilant with any home during its first two years of rental use. Your tenant reports can inform you of seasonal patterns like insect migrations or frozen pipes that can be prevented with smart maintenance in future years. Losing track of a home after buying and renting it is, unfortunately, one of the fastest routes to being mistaken for a slumlord if, say, you weren't aware of the cockroach problem that occurs every spring for that neighborhood.

Have a Representative or Property Manager in the Area

To take good care of your tenants, you need someone on the ground. Someone to respond when a pipe bursts or an old stove catches fire or the basement floods. It's also smart not to assume that you will personally be available should something go wrong. Many landlords see their rental maintenance standards slip when life events or other business investments draw your attention away from tenant care.

Whether you live far away from a rental investment or there's a chance you'll become very busy, it's best to have another representative or a property management service on-hand to take care of tenants when you are unavailable. This begins our small set of tips on how to ensure that tenant repair and maintenance requests are always answered in a quick and satisfactory manner.

Make Sure Every Tenant Email is Answered in Less Than One Week

By most laws, landlords have 30 days to respond to a tenant's request for repairs, maintenance, or other needs. However, this not the time you have to answer the email, it's the time you have to call for repairs. To make sure everything is taken care of in a timely manner, and that no serious maintenance issues are left untended for a long time, try to answer every tenant email within 7 days (5 business days) of receiving it or much sooner.

Tenants also send emails when they need permission for something involving their own life circumstances. A request to pay partial or late rent due to financial hardship, or permission to take on a roommate, welcome a relative for a long stay, or sublet are all time-sensitive situations that you'll want to respond to quickly.

Share Your Landlord Email Address With a Team

Just as you want someone else in the area who can help tenants in case you are unavailable, it's also a good idea to have a team of people who can respond to tenant emails in case you don't or can't get to that account for an extended period of time. Property managers are the standard commercial way to always have a backup team, though they do of course require a monthly cost to monitor your properties.

You can also work with family, friends, or other members of your REIA just to make sure someone is keeping an eye on tenant emails no matter what else comes up in your personal life or other business demands.

Provide Tenants With an Emergency Contact Alternative

Along the same lines, consider giving your tenants two or three numbers they can call in an emergency. Always consider the possibility that your phone will be dead or left at home on the counter when your tenants experience a burst pipe, break-in, or other emergency. Having more than one number to call means that your tenants will always be able to reach someone to help them deal with situations beyond the scope of their lease or personal ability to handle.

Provide Tenants/Property Managers With Approved Services to Call

Let's say you're wrapped up in other business concerns when your tenants need their water heater repaired. Tenants are legally allowed to call for repairs and have the expenses deducted from their rent, and you may even prefer to handle things this way. But you also want to ensure that your tenants (or the property managers helping your tenants) call a reputable service with reasonable prices.

The best way to manage expenses while also ensuring that your tenants can receive timely and quality home services is to give them a contact list. Provide your tenants and/or property managers with a list of local services that you, or another local landlord you trust, have worked with in the past and approve of. This way, tenants can handle their own issues, if needed, while making the same decision you would if you were handling the situation personally.

Automate Annual Inspections and Maintenance Services

For landlords handling a large number of properties or those who are new to the landlording can both benefit from automating a few key services. Annual inspections, for example, are the best possible way to ensure that your tenants are not living with insect or mold infestation, that dry rot is not forming, that the roof is still in good shape, and that the appliances aren't about to fail catastrophically.

Because your income from rent is essentially automated, it's also safe to set up annual scheduled services with your local maintenance companies so that these things take care of themselves and send you a bill/report whether you remember the schedule or not. Many well-meaning landlords are mistaken for slumlords when maintenance issues slip through the cracks year-on-year. So automated maintenance and inspections can ensure that you never lose the thread on keeping each home up to your personal rental home standards.

Read Each Move In/Move Out Checklist, and Do Your Own Checklist

When tenants move in or out, there should always be a move in/move out checklist done on minor damages, wear & tear, and maintenance concerns. Don't just send your tenants the lists and tune out. When tenants send back their notes, look over them. Pay attention to the things tenants note year-on-year, what some tenants notice that others do not, and new damages noted by one tenant or another. This is a good way to stay apprised both of the condition of your rental homes and what tenants personally see.

It also helps to do your own inspections or ask your local representative to do a walkthrough each time and take their own inspection notes. Ideally, with the most recent move in/move out checklists in hand to double-check these items and note anything in addition. When you know what's up with your rental homes, it's much less likely that wall cracks, growing mold, and other issues will be allowed to fester and cause tenants to mistake you for a slumlord.

Use an Online Tenant Portal for Rent Payments, Information, and Service Requests

Last but certainly not least, equip your tenants with an online tenant portal. Most tenants today are active members of our high-tech society. They pay all their bills online, they look up answers before asking, and they prefer email or live-chat to snail-mail and phonecalls. When tenants can handle their entire rental experience online through a portal instead of worrying about calling you, mailing checks, or requesting information, they are far more capable of taking care of themselves and keeping you in the loop on both property and tenant care.

Landlords are human beings and occasionally, a mistake or oversight can happen. By taking these precautions, you can ensure that each and everyone of your rental homes is well-maintained, that your tenants are well-cared-for, and that you are never-ever mistaken for a slumlord. For more landlord insights, tips, and helpful professional resources to better manage your property portfolio, contact us today!

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