Now that I’ve convinced you WHY you want to have happy tenants, today I’ll tell you HOW to have happy tenants. One thing that is very important: this property is no longer your home. It is a property that you have leased to someone else. There are two aspects to this: it’s just a property, and it is now in the possession of the tenant.
Don’t Be Vague
Be sure your lease is well-written, and clearly explains both tenant and landlord responsibilities. I see many complains about issues that should have been addressed BEFORE the lease was ever signed. The most frequent conflict that I see is about who is responsible for appliance repair. This is absolutely something that should be in the lease. Other conflicts include pest control, acceptable lawn maintenance, and heating/air conditioning control.
Ask Your Tenant’s Opinion
I have a property manager who disagrees with me, but as a frequent renter, I love it when the property owner asks me what I would like to see changed or improved. When our kids were little, that last thing I wanted was to move into a freshly painted house. A smart landlord would look at a house with slightly older carpet, look at a tenant with two small children and a dog, and ask before replacing the carpet. When possible, consider giving the tenant choices on small, relatively insignificant items: Do you like this creamier beige paint, or this more khaki beige paint? This doesn’t have to create extra expenses; sometimes it will even save you money.
Present the Property In Good Condition
Make sure your property looks good on move-in day. It doesn’t have to be fancy-schmancy. It does need to be very clean, and everything has to work. There should be no unfinished jobs when the tenant moves in. This sets an expectation of how you expect the property to be returned to you.
If you know the house, help your tenant by providing instructions for how to operate features and any unusual things that will help them be more comfortable. Explain that the second switch in the foyer operates the outlets on the left wall of the living room, include the name and phone number of the kid down the street who can cut the grass, and tell them that the neighborhood gets dumpsters during the second week of May each year. Each of these small things will create goodwill with your tenant.
Document The Property Condition
Do a detailed move-in inspection with the tenants, and document things thoroughly. Be careful to do it in such a way that emphasizes that this is for the benefit of both of you. This is one place where the way that you say something can be even more important that the words that you say.
Fix Broken Stuff
This is the most important part of being a good landlord, and it is the place where I see the most landlords making mistakes. Have a plan for responding to maintenance requests, and provide prompt service. Tenants hate to have things broken, and they doubly hate feeling like you are not responding to their complaints. Sometimes, repairs are harder than they seem. I’ve had a mystery fuse that kept tripping, and it took a while to track down the culprit (and it is so convoluted, you wouldn’t even believe me if I explained it.) If something can not be fixed immediately, make sure your tenant knows that you are aware of the problem, that it is a priority for you, and that you are pursuing the repair as quickly as possible.
Don’t trivialize repairs, even if they seem small to you. That french door handle that is a little wonky? Just replace it. You can’t accurately judge how important an issue is to the tenant. Just because it never bothered you doesn’t mean it won’t really irritate your tenant.
Keep In Touch With Your Tenants
Your relationship will be a lot better if you have positive contact with your tenants, and build a good relationship before negative things happen. Negative things will happen: toilets will overflow and rent checks will get lost and trees will fall on houses. If you’re starting with a good working relationship, all these issues will be resolved much more pleasantly. Call or send an email a few weeks after move-in, asking if they have any questions and checking to make sure that everything is working well. If there’s a bad storm, check in the next day and make sure everything is OK.
Respect Your Tenant’s Privacy and Possession of the Property
Once you’ve handed over the keys, be overly respectful of your tenant’s right to the quiet enjoyment of their own property. Don’t show up unannounced, don’t let yourself in without a very good reason AND permission, and give plenty of advance notice when you do need to enter the property. (Obviously, there are emergency situations where this rule goes out the window. Be careful how you define emergency, though. I would limit it to fire, roof damage from storm debris, or a water leak large enough to be apparent from outside the house.)
This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever get a peek at how things are going. Monthly ventilation filter replacements and monthly smoke alarm checks are a great way to reasonably keep an eye on your property without looking like a busybody. Just be sure to put these practices in the lease, so that the tenant isn’t surprised when you call to schedule your first visit.
Show Your Appreciation
There are 1001 ways to show your tenants that you appreciate the fact that they are taking good care of your property, paying their rent promptly, and being pleasant. A fruit basket at Christmas
Don’t Let Your Tenants Take Advantage of You
This seems counter-intuitive, but tenants need to know the limits. Don’t waive a late fee “just once,” because many tenants will be confused if you don’t waive it the next time. Don’t reply to non-emergency calls in the middle of the night. Don’t ignore the grass that has grown too high. You can be assertive without being mean. If it is hard for you to find the right balance, ask for help from a property manager or a friend who is good with tough conversation. It is hard for a lot of people, but being consistent is much more important than being nice.
Leave Them Alone
Now that I’ve given you many reasons to keep in touch with your tenant, I’m going to tell you to do the opposite. Don’t go overboard with keeping in touch with your tenant. If you are doing monthly smoke detector checks and HVAC filter changes, that is already more than enough contact. Otherwise, I’d shoot for about once a quarter. The exact frequency isn’t nearly as important as the balance. You absolutely do not want your tenants to feel like you are bothering them, or being nosy or annoying.
None of this stuff is hard, but it doesn’t all come naturally or easily to every landlord. Being thoughtful and deliberate about your relationship with your tenant is a great investment in caring for your property. And that will make your life easier and your wallet heavier – both good things.
Photo by Frank Kovalchek
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