What makes a great landlord?
September 13, 2005 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Advice for a first-time landlord.

I've bought and studied the legal book, carefully cleaned and repaired the property, advertised on craigslist and started setting up appointments to show the house. This is the first time I've done this, so I'd like to hear advice from both landlords and tenants on what makes a great landlord.
posted by letitrain to Work & Money (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Let people pay their rent late. I always found that endering when I was broke.
posted by delmoi at 2:19 PM on September 13, 2005

Actually do the opposite of what delmoi just said. If you let people pay late, they will. Every single month.
posted by glenwood at 2:22 PM on September 13, 2005

Make them fill out an application. Find out where they live now and where they lived before. Get contact information for their current and previous landlords and then call them up and ask how they were as renters. Seriously. The best advice is getting good renters, they make it so much easier.
posted by pwb503 at 2:24 PM on September 13, 2005

Get contact information for their current and previous landlords and then call them up and ask how they were as renters. Seriously.

Keep in mind that if they're really bad tenants, some landlords might lie and say they're great in order to get rid of them. Try to get other references, too.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

My favorite landlords let my roommates and me paint and do minor repairs ourselves once we proved competant at it. (They approved the first paint choice, informally checked the results, and were so pleased that they gave us carte blanche and paid for any materials.) My least favorite landlords looked like I was insane for even asking about painting the place -- it just gave me a "This place is OURS, not YOURS" vibe that put me off.

The good landlords also put us up at a local hotel when the heat went out, and got all major problems (like lack of heat in Boston winter!) taken care of quickly and professionally.

The bad landlords thought of themselves as handy-people, and continually made inept repairs and only after much complaining.

Basically, I liked the people who went out of their way to find tenants that they trusted, and then actually acted like they trusted them. I disliked the people who never returned my calls or acted like every complaint I had was somehow a means of screwing them out of money or time.
posted by occhiblu at 2:30 PM on September 13, 2005

I've only ever had two landlords I liked, both were prompt and courteous about fixing things that were broken. One was a handy-man type who did the repairs (well) himself, the other was a couple who had quick and competent repairmen on call 24x7.

When the water heater, in a locked room in the basement, is broken... it's never the entire building's fault, don't make them suffer through a week of cold showers. When the roof leaks it's never the tenant's fault, don't make them suffer through a winter of cold "showers." When sewer rats invade the building, not their fault. When two bums get rowdy and decide to fight in front of the building and one throws the other through the front window... you get the picture.

If there are going to be delays in getting something fixed for reasons that are out of your control knock off a bit of rent (ie. no hot water for a week is probably worth 1/2 a week's rent).

On preview...

As far as paying late, make a 4-5 grace period available. Also all of pwb503's suggestions make a lot of sense.
posted by togdon at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2005

Prescreen by phone; ask where they work, why they're moving, how many people will live there, etc. That saves some time showing it. When you give them the application, be clear that you intend to be a good landlord and will be responsive to repair issues, and expect them to be good neighbors/tenants. I show them the rental agreement at that time.

Check the references thouroughly. Do not ever let anybody move in without signing the rental agreement or lease, and do not ever let anybody move in without the full rent and security deposit. Ever.

Talk to the Legal Aid group in your town and be very clear on your tenant's rights, and do not violate those rights. If you must evict a tenant, do so legally, and document everything.

I have an owner-occupied 2 family. I revised a standard application to meet my own needs. I don't use a lease, since they're a pain to enforce, I use my own rental agreement that spells out my own rules, like not allowing kerosene heaters.
posted by theora55 at 2:38 PM on September 13, 2005

I pay my rent on time, and expect to be able to hang pictures on the wall and cause other normal wear and tear, and get my security deposit back in full. Being able to paint, make slight alterations to the property, etc. at my expense is a plus. (I have a habit of changing light switches wherever I go.)

No rent increase would make me love you, and substantial rent increases would make me upset and move out. Which is fine, I guess, if tenant churn is what you want.
posted by trevyn at 2:39 PM on September 13, 2005

Go see a real estate (landlord-tenant) lawyer, have him/her draw up a good lease agreement for your property and jurisdiction, and make friends with him/her. Down the line, when you start having problems with tenants (which are inevitable), s/he will remember you and be ready to go if you need to start an eviction process. (The attorney might also have a good, form application that you could use, too).

Don't allow late rent payments. It just snowballs into later and later payments, until you are collecting last month's right when you should be collecting next month's rent.

Take good care of your property, fix things promptly and be nice to the tenants. The more they like you and the property, the better they'll treat it.

And, make sure that your lease agreement allows you to stop by at reasonable times. Do so, occasionally, to make sure that everything is OK and that your tenants are not trashing the place.
posted by MrZero at 2:49 PM on September 13, 2005

The website Mr. Landlord.Com is a good resource.

Make sure that you screen your tenants well - there are several online services for this. People are creatures of habit - if your prospective tenant has been paying his/her bills on time for other creditors, chances are that he/she will pay you on time, too.

When we had our rental house, we had it written into the lease that the first time the rent was late, a $50 late fee would be added for that month, and the rent would go up by $50 for the remainder of the lease. We always got our rent on time. (And we probably wouldn't have enforced this if the payment wasn't overly late).

If you allow pets (personally, I think it's a good idea - wider pool of potential applicants), assess a deposit big enough to cover carpet replacement in the entire unit, just in case ...
posted by Ostara at 2:52 PM on September 13, 2005

Speaking as a renter, here's what I like about landlords:

1. Make sure your tenants have your contact information. If you are going out of town, let them know who they can call in an emergency. (e.g. You might be ok with your tenants calling a plumber and deducting the bill from their rent, but the tenants may not have several hundred dollars lying around to pay for a plumbing emergency.)

2. Be hands off. While you may own the building, it is their home. Give them notice if you are going to be coming by. You can give tenants quite a fright by letting yourself in the backyard or puttering around the side of the house.

3. Be very specific about what you will NOT allow.

4. Give your tenants a copy of your city/state's tenant and landlord code, even if it's not required. It shows the tenant that you are responsible and not a slum lord.

5. Consider allowing pets (especially dogs). Dog people who rent know that it's a rare landlord who allows dogs, so we tend to be fantastically loyal renters. Interview the dog along with the potential tenant. (And of course charge a pet deposit.) Also, a smaller dog is not necessarily a mellower one.
posted by luneray at 3:07 PM on September 13, 2005

Response by poster: occhiblu, I've repainted the house inside and out, but I understand that not everyone wants generic "Swiss Coffee" wall color. What if I said they could paint their choice of color only if they agreed to repaint to the original color when they moved?

Ostara (and luneray on preview), I will allow pets, but I'm finding that my homeowners insurance will not allow certain breeds of dog. It's Allstate, and they have a list that includes some surprising breeds (German Shepherd, for example).
posted by letitrain at 3:16 PM on September 13, 2005

My wife used to screen tenants for a living, she said the two most important things were to do a credit check and to call old landlords. Don't call the applicant's current landlords--they may lie for the reasons ThePinkSuperhero gives above. Call the one before that. Also, if the person moves away owing you money, get a court judgement against them. Sooner or later they will probably get their shit together, and they will have to pay you to clear that judgement before buying a house, etc.
posted by LarryC at 3:27 PM on September 13, 2005

Get a real plumber, not old retired Ernie from down the block who putters around with drains.
posted by matildaben at 3:41 PM on September 13, 2005

The best thing that I've found for paying on time is this policy:

Rent is due on the 1st, late fees charged after the 5th.

This lets people pay 'late' in their mind, but gives plenty of time for them to send the check, or what not. Best policy I ran into as a tenant.
posted by id at 3:56 PM on September 13, 2005

I'd be thrilled to have a landlord that allowed painting, and I would expect to be required to return it to the original color at my expense and time when I left, or lose my deposit. Shit, I'd even be willing to drop another $100 or so deposit as a token of good faith.

As far as pets go, if you just had an informal statement that you'll allow pets that are covered by your homeowner's insurance, subject to a pet deposit, you'd be a billion percent more reasonable than most landlords are. A size or weight restriction is just dumb, unless that's what your insurance makes you do. A big sleepy great dane or a greyhound will be far better "tenants" than a 15--30 pound terrier-ist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:58 PM on September 13, 2005

Be upfront about ALL CHARGES and DON'T LIE when the tenants sign the contract. If you plan to charge surcharges, put them in BIG BOLD PRINT and POINT THEM OUT before you have the tenants sign. Sure, they may read it, but if you want to be kind you won't be hiding things. Heck, if you're really nice you'll step them through each point in the contract and be sure they're happy.

I was this || close to taking my landlord to the Ontario Housing Tribunal for a ridiculous $250 1/2 season air conditioning charge that the superintendant had informed me wasn't going to be charged this year when I signed the lease (which doesn't mention the charge either). Luckily the super went to bat for me with head office and it seems cleared up.

Just because hydro goes up doesn't mean you get a get out of jail free card for rate increases during the rent term, should you include hydro.
posted by shepd at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2005

Word of mouth referrals are the best.
posted by flummox at 4:42 PM on September 13, 2005

I love slumlords because they just don't care what I do as long as I don't fuck up the property. And that's the attitude you should take. You're going to be getting $800+ a month in free money and all you have to do is pay the garbage bill and the property taxes and make sure it's a safe place to live. So who cares if they paint the walls! That'll cost you, what, $200 to repaint it "Bland Eggshell" for the next tenants? You're making money hand over fist here, and you'll have to repaint anyway.

Don't be one of those creepy landlords who drives by the property all the time to make sure that the tenant keeps the grass cut to 1/8". We're paying your mortgage, no need to be clingy.

Knowledgeable tenants like myself love to sue landlords when they don't give us our deposit in time. So do be careful to itemize the list of repairs that you'll be taking out of the tenant's deposit once they move out and send it to them immediately.

Just don't be a dick. A friendly, flexible landlord is a good landlord.
posted by cmonkey at 6:25 PM on September 13, 2005

My favorite landlords were ones who gave me a copy of the landlord-tenants rights brochures when I moved in along with a more customized list of phone numbers for emergencies [them, the owner of the building, the people to call to get a phone, electricity, recycling bins, local pizza, etc]. I had an idea of what to expect up front and since I was a new tenant, it gave me a chance to see what some of my rights were as well as my responsibilities. Setting expectations early is a good way to start off.

A good landlord-tenant relationship basically makes it clear that both sides have legal responsibilities, even though, as cmonkey says, renters are helping you pay your mortgage. A good landlord will also be communicative and accessible in case things break. It may not be your fault, as the landlord, that you can't get the plumber in until Monday, and it may not legally be your responsibility to do anything about it, but if you offer some sort of compensation to tenants [cash, in-kind, a place to shower, whatever] as a way of saying "Hey I understand that this sucks for you" it can go a long way towards making the relationship civil.

That said, if you get too buddy buddy with your tenants, then it can blur the line between your legal obligations and what might be doing them a favor and this is often a bad situation. Always respect rules about when you can go into their house, how much notice you need to give for inspections or what have you, and try to remember that you live someplace else but this is the only place they live.

I had a very bad landlord in a very dangerous apartment once. There was a bad furnace and I was getting sick from it. My landlord could have sympathized, gotten me a space heater [and/or offered to help with the increase in electric I'd see] or tried to get the thing fixed [in Seattle, it wasn't that cold, so I wouldn't die by staying but I was uncomfortable] but instead he was an obstinate jerk, didn't return calls, was fairly callous about the whole thing, and when the place got condemned and I was forced to move as a result, I went for the jugular and made him pay me relocation expenses [upwards of 2K] which I was entitled to legally. If he had been a nicer guy, or more helpful, or even decent about the entire thing, I would have been more inclined, much more inclined, to let the whole thing slide.

On the rare occasions that I have rented my place out, I have often gotten myself into trouble by waiving a security deposit when I really should have required one, or been open to "work trade" for rent when I really should have just offered to pay for work done after the fact, not beforehand. I'm sort of a softie/sucker as a landlord and I don't personally have the stomach for it, but my sister seems to be able to pull it off just fine.
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 PM on September 13, 2005

If you hire a super/handyman, they should speak good English. I like my current landlord (or rather, his management company) and building just fine, but it's a little intimidating and always a hassle to talk to the super about problems because I know it's going to be a frustrating slog through his vocabulary.
posted by Vidiot at 9:43 PM on September 13, 2005

My parents are landlords and I share some of the duty.

Be nice, above all. Let them be a little late on the rent. Little differences can make you the steady person who accepts their issues rather than the enemy. This will be more than repaid by them being easy on you when the utilities fail or they find a leak, plus it's just being a good person.

But you knew that.
posted by abcde at 10:04 PM on September 13, 2005

I like the policy that the rental amount changes based on the day they give it to you. If you get the rent check on or before the first of the month, then the rent is $X if you get the rent check after the first of the month (but before say the 5th of the month, the rent is $X+25.

It's amazing how often the rent will be on time.

Beside that, be nice and trust your gut.
posted by mulkey at 10:37 PM on September 13, 2005

In an extremely ural area (poor), the single easy screening I did was whether they had a current phone number. The ones that didn't have one weren't folks to rent to. Simple, effective. This has become less useful, I suppose, due to cell phones.

Inspections are good, but from what I've seen, you only need do this once, a month or two after they move in. If they are the trash-the-place sort, it will show. If not, they are not likely to become so, so why violate their privacy? Nothing makes a landlord more my 'enemy' than meaningless inspections. I ain't in the military no more.

The advice about being nice, playing fair and legal, is excellent--Especially the legal part. I've bitten a few landlords over the years for not keeping things within the law.
posted by Goofyy at 3:19 AM on September 14, 2005

> What if I said they could paint their choice of color only if they agreed to repaint to the original color when they moved?

I guess my reaction to that would depend on how long I'd been in the apartment, and whether the landlord had approved the color beforehand. If he agreed to the color, and I did a good job, then I'd feel that I shouldn't have to repaint. If I'd painted when I moved in and lived there five years, then I'd feel that repainting on move-out should be his expense, since he'd have to do it anyway.

If I painted the place some weird color and was only there for a year, then I could see needing to paint it back.

California law has similar expectations for damage to the paint job -- if the tenant's only been there a short time, the landlord can charge for damages, but after three or four years the landlord can't expect the walls to look freshly painted. (Info here, in the gray box near the bottom.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:59 AM on September 14, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the excellent answers. I found a few things I was unaware of, especially the "code" luneray mentioned: California Tenants - A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities. It's not light reading, but it's a very clear outline of both parties' responsibilities.

Thanks again, and wish me (and the tenants) luck!
posted by letitrain at 4:13 PM on September 14, 2005

Response by poster: That link is a PDF, by the way.
posted by letitrain at 4:14 PM on September 14, 2005

don't forget to insure the property.
posted by mirileh at 12:53 AM on September 15, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, it's insured. I've run it all past my agent, and the only thing she mentioned was to avoid certain dog breeds or dogs with bite histories.
posted by letitrain at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2005

I recently stopped looking for an apartment after only seeing my first landlord -- they were that good. I'll give you an idae of some of the incentives. Many are perhaps impractical for you, but ...
  • They are charging me only a $250 security deposit on a $700 rental, because my credit's good.
  • They've recently renovated the apartment, so I have a new sink, new tile, a newly reglazed tub, new windows, a new fridge, a new stove, new cabinets, and a new sink.
  • They repaint with every tenant, and give the tenant a choice of colors. That's their "schtick."
  • They do not charge for filling in nail holes. (Other damage, yeah, they'll charge for that.)
  • I can begin moving in as early as the 15th of the month beforehand without charging me a pro rata rent for that time.
  • They have a website which has e-mail addresses for property managers and leasing agents for their properties.
That's about all I can think of all the top of my head, but everything's been pretty amazing about this particular landlord. :-)
posted by WCityMike at 4:44 PM on October 2, 2005

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