Maintenance and repair dollars have to stretch a long way if a rental property is going to remain profitable. There’s not much margin for error when it comes to deciding how to spend those maintenance dollars.
One way to determine the right course for your property is to prioritize maintenance and repair expenses, based on the potential for profit loss:
Premise liability is a real concern for every landlord. That’s due in large part to the unpredictable nature of the injuries that could occur, and the resulting damages that could be awarded.
If landlords are aware of a hazard that ends up causing an injury, punitive damages could be awarded, which are not always covered by insurance. In some jurisdictions, if a landlord “should have known” about a hazard, that is enough to make them liable for negligence.
Foreseeability is the standard that is applied in most premise liability cases. Doing what is reasonably necessary to protect tenants from harm is a defense to a liability claim. Therefore, to the extent a landlord can predict a probable hazard and eliminate it, maintenance dollars should be applied there first.
That means evaluating risks around the property, starting with access areas, like elevators, stairs, patios, fire escapes, and windows. Also, pay close attention to the condition of common areas, including parking lots. Be sure to regularly maintain trees to reduce the risk of falling branches.
Use building and fire codes to your advantage by maintaining the property to those standards.
Also a top priority, funds must always be available for maintaining deadbolt locks, outdoor lighting, and other security features tenants are relying on to deter crime at the property. Repair requests for these items should be answered immediately.
Keeping a unit cool in the summer and warm in the winter is a must-do if you want to avoid rent abatement claims. Room temperature is typically considered a feature of habitability, and the lease requires that a landlord meet this standard. Additionally, a number of cities have passed local ordinances which impose costly fines if the heat drops below a certain mark.
Regular maintenance of these appliances is key to keeping them in good running order, and can deter the need for expensive emergency repairs once the weather becomes a factor.
Respond to a tenant’s reasonable complaint regarding climate control as soon as possible, and offer cost-effective solutions while waiting for repairs. Otherwise, tenants may take matters into their own hands and then deduct those excessive costs from the rent.
Water, more often than not, is the culprit behind the most expensive property repairs. Whether it’s leaks from toilets and washing machines, or leaking roofs and foundations, the risk of structural damage increases quickly, and if left unattended, the results are never cheap to repair. Place these repairs high on the priority list — while there is still time to avert expensive damage.
Fortunately, much water damage can be avoided with low-cost, routine maintenance, like regularly cleaning gutters, inspecting and repairing minor roof damage, and routinely checking washing machine hoses for wear. Also, keep tabs on the age of appliances and set aside the funds needed to replace those on the edge of their expected lifespan.
Water damage will lead to mold outbreaks. Don’t skip the step of mold remediation when making repairs, or you may have the problem for months — or years.
It’s easy to put off complaints from tenants over seasonal pests like mice or ants, but the liability from an outbreak is too high to ignore. Not only do pests lead to tenant lawsuits and claims for rent abatement, but some may cause damage to walls, wiring and other hard-to-fix areas. Bedbugs can infest an entire buildings, and cost thousands to exterminate, if an infestation is left untreated.
Tenants have avenues to report bedbug outbreaks, so an untreated infestation could make it hard to fill future vacancies.
Have a plan in place for pest control, and put the effort into nipping any pest problem early.
Track Repair and Maintenance
Each unit should have a repair and maintenance record so its history is easily accessed. Listen to tenant complaints. Repetitive complaints may be signaling a problem that is going unresolved, and will only get worse.
Tips for Reducing Your Maintenance and Repair Costs
Prohibit tenants from performing their own repairs. The tenant may not have the skill to successfully complete the repair or maintenance, and the poor workmanship ultimately will lead to higher costs.
Respond immediately to tenant requests. If the item is cosmetic, you still want to take the time to explain to the tenant that you are not going to repaint, recarpet or so forth. Ignoring requests will only make the tenant more determined to have something happen. In a worse case scenario, they will hire a contractor to fix or change something, and deduct that amount — which is more than you wanted to pay — from the rent.
Lay out the maintenance schedule in the lease, and stick with it. Tenants are comforted by knowing that there is a regular regiment for upkeep.
Hire licensed, bonded contractors who are going to be around to fix a job if it didn’t work the first time.
Look for vendors who offer warranties, and hold on to that information.
Carry sufficient insurance, and ask tenants to carry renters insurance to cut down on the likelihood of a claim.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.