Lease, Repairs, and Maintenance
When it comes to renting your property, one area that causes a lot of conflict is the need to handle repairs and maintenance. Setting yourself up with best practices will make for a smoother and more successful process with future clients when entering in a new lease agreement.
The goal of most property owners is to have seamless renewals to alleviate the loss of income and lower the stress involved with property tenant turnover. The first thing I’d suggest doing is taking a good look at what your responsibilities as a landlord are. These responsibilities need to be spelled out clearly. It’s not only a convenience, but also part of your legal responsibility through the state of Florida.
In building a long-term relationship with your tenant, handling repairs and maintenance is something you need to consider. If your tenant feels you aren’t handling your end of the deal responsibly, fairly, and in a timely manner, there’s a good chance they’re not going to renew when their lease comes up.
Another thing to think about is that a well-maintained property helps you. This is an important asset in your portfolio, and an unkempt property isn’t doing you any favors.
- Allowing tenant to perform repairs
- Making the tenant responsible for the first portion of the cost
- Liability issues
It may seem to save you hassle by allowing your tenant to make the repair for you, but this is a big mistake. Let’s look at one. There are risks involved here, not only cost, subpar materials, and liability issues, but there may be thing such as code violations and more. It may seem like a time saver, and maybe even a money saver, but I’d advise you to reconsider this option.
Next, telling the tenant they’re responsible for the first $50, $75, $100 of a repair may seem like a fair trade-off, but what happens when you shift that responsibility to the tenant? Let’s look closer.
Maybe money is tight. They’ll put off a repair because they don’t have the extra cash available for their responsibility as written in your lease agreement. The next thing you know, a small drip they ignored turns into damaged wood beneath the sink because it was put off for too long. What was once a small issue has turned into rotting wood. A lot of things can go unreported which turn into much bigger headaches and more costly problems.
Liability. Period. Do you want to end up in court over something that was unavoidable? You do have liability insurance, right?
Quality is an important issue when it comes to repairs. Your tenant isn’t invested in your property the same way you are. They may do shoddy repairs and use subpar material as mentioned above. There’s no way to know the full quality of the work being done when you simply leave it to a tenant who is handy with tools.
Emergency Repairs are Critical
The tenant and landlord relationship is based not only on a mutual agreement and understanding, but also on expectations. There’s an important component in understanding what constitutes an emergency, and this should be properly clarified between the tenant and landlord.
To save yourself future headaches, be certain to include what constitutes an emergency in your lease agreement. What exactly is an emergency repair? Whether it’s an addendum or written in the original agreement listing what can be considered an emergency also has to do with when a tenant can and should contact you.
Nobody wants to get a call in the middle of the night over a non-emergency situation. If that’s happening, you need to solidify the understanding.
Based on the Florida legal statutes and our understanding of them, these are considered emergency repairs. Now, before we go forward, it’s important to speak with an attorney so you have a full understanding of these details, but we’ll give you some guidelines. This is not a substitute for legal advice.
Here are a few situations that we’ll break down in more detail.
- Refrigerators failing
- A/C and heating
- Loss of electricity
- Some plumbing or sewage issues
- Downed tree limbs
If a fridge fails the tenant, their food is in that fridge. Ruined food along with the inability to keep food on hand is generally seen as an emergency repair.
Air conditioning and heat in Florida are an important matter. If you have somebody here in Florida that does not have AC in the heat of the summer that can be an emergency and lead to real serious issues, so we consider that an emergency repair. Heat is just as important in the colder months.
The loss of electricity would also be considered an emergency repair. While it may seem obvious, it’s important to include this, so it’s not overlooked.
There are certain plumbing issues that become emergency repairs. You’re required by law to have at least one working bathroom, so if you only have one bathroom and it’s not working then that’s considered an emergency. Another situation is if something takes out both bathrooms in a two-bathroom home that would be considered an emergency repair.
If sewage is backing up into one of the toilets or bathrooms, that’s an emergency. It’s not only off-putting for your tenant, but anytime you have water intrusion in your property it leads to much greater damage.
Another issue that we deal with in Florida is hurricanes and windstorms. Anytime there’s a tree limb or a tree that falls on your home, it’s considered an emergency repair that needs to be addressed immediately.
What is Your Tenant Responsible For?
A landlord is not responsible for damages caused by the tenant. This is a legal matter. Typically, your lease states that you’re providing the tenant with the home. In the lease, it states that they’re responsible for bringing it back to you in the same condition as they rented it in.
Now, keep in mind, this is an asset. Your property is an important piece of your portfolio. While you’re not responsible for damages caused by the tenant, you’ll want to control the repairs. If the tenant brings something to your attention that’s been damaged, you’ll want to make arrangements for the tenant to pay for it. On the other hand, you’ll also want to control who’s making the repairs along with signing off on how those repairs are made, and that you’re satisfied with the repairs when they are completed.
When it comes to the tenant’s responsibilities, the clearer you are about them upfront, the less opportunity for misinterpretation will exist.
- A neat/clean home
- Simple changes such as lightbulbs
- Air filters
- Pest control
It’s natural and fair for the homeowner to expect the property to be kept neat and clean. This helps not only with keeping the home proper in appearance, but also help keep pests at bay. Small fixes like lightbulbs, unless you have very high ceilings and need ladders to reach them, in that case, it’s smart to do those yourself. A tenant on a ladder is a situation to avoid.
Changing air filters is easy enough and helps with the maintenance of your air conditioner. We suggest buying the air filter for the client, so they don’t avoid this simple process that will help with the overall efficiency of your unit. If however your filters are in places that are hard to reach, it makes sense to do the changing yourself to make sure there are no liability issues. It’s simple enough to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and get air filters to keep on site.
As for damages, it should be noted what normal and acceptable wear and tear is considered. Having documentation helps you if there’s a problem when they turn your property back over to you. Spelling things out saves you time and frustration if there’s a problem, whether it’s something like patched holes in the wall, paint, or other issues. There is a myriad of issues that can arise, so setting clear expectations is vitally important for peace of mind.
Based on the type of unit the tenant is renting, landscaping and pest control may be the tenant’s responsibility. Now, if it’s a multi-family unit, pest control falls under the owner’s responsibility in the state of Florida.
As for landscaping, it’s usually the tenant who handles this, unless you have a want or need to control this portion, due to specific types of plants that need special care, or you want your yard to look a certain way. If you want to keep control of this, you may want to work the cost of landscaping into the rental agreement.
When Your Tenant Moves Out
Having guidelines will make the transition easier when it comes time for your tenant to move out. This should be part of the language used in your lease agreement. Clear expectations make things go smoother.
If your tenant has decided not to renew, we again give them another copy of the move-out guidelines as a refresher of information we’ve already given to them. We keep things very clear and easy to find, so there aren’t any reasons for them to be like, “I didn’t know,” or have other excuses.
In fact, in every email follow-up, we have it attached to the conversation so it’s front and center. The more we communicate our expectations, the more likely they’ll meet them. And in turn, that means it’s also less expensive and time consuming when it comes time to bring in a new tenant.
Strong Communication is Vital
Retouching on repairs, communication is critical when it comes to repairs and maintenance. Remember, the number one reason tenants don’t renew is because of the way repairs and maintenance are handled.
It’s often due to the lack of communication, not so much a lack of action. Just saying you’re working on it doesn’t answer the question of a timeframe or that you’re actually doing something for your tenant.
Let’s say that it takes some time for you to be a hold of the contractor, get it scheduled, get the contractor out there, find out what’s going on, and do your diligence.
If that takes a week, three days, or longer, you’ve got that period of time that the tenant’s stewing. They may be thinking, “Well, he said he was going to do something about it, but where is he? What’s going on?” It’s easy to be resentful when you can’t see the moving parts.
It’s important that you communicate back to the tenant, “Here’s where I’m at. Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s what you can expect.”
Don’t allow them to fill in the void of communication with their own idea of what you’re doing. You want to increase the opportunity for them to renew and to continue paying rent. Let them know that you’re on it, and you’re not simply ignoring them.
Are you Still Responsible if the Rent is Late?
Another thing that’s important to touch on is that you as a landlord are responsible for your repairs whether or not the tenant is paying rent. I know that hurts sometimes. It can be frustrating. But, if you withhold repairs because they’re not paying their rent, then that’s viewed as retaliatory behavior.
It’s viewed poorly by the courts. Make sure that if you’re in a situation where the tenant’s not paying their rent, that you’re still making the reasonable repairs required by the lease.
To wrap up, one of the most critically important parts of the landlord/tenant relationship is the management of maintenance and repairs.
- It starts with setting expectations.
- It continues with you living up to your responsibilities.
- You must monitor and hold the tenant responsible for their responsibilities.
- You must communicate well.
- You must be a good steward of everything—your relationship with the tenant and with caring for one of your most valuable assets.
There’s a lot that goes on in repairs and maintenance, which makes it critically important. If you have any questions or need help, be sure to reach out to me. I’m Clay Lehman with Resolute Property Management. Be sure to subscribe, so you can be notified of future helpful information and resources.