While there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be liked as a landlord, it shouldn’t – and may not always – be the case. Being a landlord is sort of like being a teacher. Most students like their teachers until they get their first bad grade, or until they get yelled at for the first time. It is important to remember that you are running a business, however, and not a popularity contest. Your job is to protect your asset, as to get the most out of it for as long as possible. Often times this means being the bad guy and enforcing the lease to the letter of the law. The minute you let things slip is when your tenants will start to walk all over you. Every landlord has rules, but not every landlord enforces them. Here are the top five rules that every landlord needs to enforce:
1. Timely payments: On its own, getting a rent check a few days late isn’t that big of a deal. The problem is that a few days can quickly turn into to a week, and the next thing you know you are still waiting for a check. The most important thing with any rental property is to ensure cash flow is coming in. Without it, the process stops and everything changes. If you thought that this was important enough to include in the lease, you need to enforce it. You can allow a grace period of five or even ten days, but if it hits that mark you need to act on it. There are times when there could be legitimate reasons for being late, but these are the exception rather than the norm. By imposing a late fee, you proclaim that items on the lease are not just there for show. A $25 fee may not break the bank, but it does give some consequence for paying late.
2. Pets: There is some debate on just how firm landlords should be in this area. Many renters have pets, and by not accepting them you cut off a large segment of potential renters. If you do decide that there are too many potential negatives with pets, you need to stand your ground. The first thing you should do is have an eviction clause if a pet is found on the property. For as popular as a pet may be, there are some potential downsides for the right kind of pet. A large dog may damage any hard wood floors or couches. They can also be loud enough that it becomes a disturbance to neighbors. Certain pets carry an odor that is difficult to remove from the house. If you have this policy in place, you cannot break it if a relative visits for a weekend or a friend is staying the night. Once the policy is on the lease, you should be prepared to enforce it.
3. Smoking: In general, the number of people who smoke has significantly declined over the past decade. That being said, there is still a large number of people who smoke. Stale smoke odor is one of the most distinguishable smells. You can have a great property in a great location, but if it reeks of smoke you will have a tough time finding a renter. Even if you try to cover it up with masking agents and cleaners, smoke is a difficult smell to eliminate. Smoke smells can directly impact your future demand and must be dealt with immediately. If you do allow smoking outside the property, make sure you do something with the cigarette butts. If you enter the property and suspect someone has been smoking, check to see if the smoke detectors are functioning. Smoking in the property should be met with zero tolerance.
4. Parking: Parking is not nearly as big an issue as the other three mentioned, but it is important nevertheless. Depending on the parking situation, spots may be precious. Off street parking is difficult to enforce, but in a multi-family situation you need to enforce driveway rules. Tenants may be paying a slightly high rent amount that includes access to a parking spot. By having a tenant constantly use that spot, you jeopardize your lease. The first time should be met with a warning, but after that you need to threaten with a penalty. The size of the fee doesn’t need to be large, but it should be something that gets their attention.
5. Condition: There is always a fine line between giving your tenants their space and monitoring the condition of your property. A compromise is to schedule a monthly walkthrough weeks in advance. This way you are not surprising them and catching them off guard, but it is a way to see what the condition is. One of the main items on any lease is a provision for how the property should be maintained. On your visits, if there are items broken or being used in a way you don’t want you need to point this out. You are holding a security deposit, so any repairs can be done at lease-end with their money. Every subsequent warning can be met with a fine, and possibly even eviction.
Enforcing the rules you set up in the lease does not mean that you are a bad person. You can be a nice person and still enforce the rules you have in place. If you don’t, you will find that tenants will eventually start to take advantage of you, or not believe what you say. By enforcing your lease, you are take control of almost any situation.