A lot of the landlords we work with at Mynd Property Management are often unsure about what they should be taking care of and what their tenants should be taking care of. Our tenants are often unsure about that too; every rental experience comes with a different set of rules, responsibilities, and expectations. We’re talking about this subject today so that all of our rental property owners and residents can feel like they’re on the same page when it comes to which party is responsible for which tasks.
If you’re wondering about my experience, I grew up in southern California, and I helped my dad to manage 25 rental units. It was our job to take care of maintenance, repairs, and make-readies for both tenants and owners.
Landlord Responsibilities: Knowing the Laws
Your first responsibility as a landlord and rental property owner is to know all the laws. There are a lot of them. Each city and state will have its own set of laws, ordinances, and regulations that must be followed when you’re renting out property. Some cities will require you to be licensed. Other cities will require an inspection of your home. Each state has its own separate laws that govern security deposits, late fees, smoke detectors, rental increases, and other issues. In many cities in California, there’s rent control to contend with and just cause eviction statutes. In Texas rental markets, you have to be sure to follow the requirements of the Texas Property Code.
Make sure you get to know the specific laws that are applicable to your property in your market.
There are also federal laws that must be followed no matter where you’re renting out a property. For example, the Fair Housing Act establishes seven protected classes of people, and you cannot discriminate against those classes when you’re marketing your property, screening your prospective tenants, or making maintenance and lease enforcement decisions. Every tenant and potential tenant must be treated equally. Some states and cities go a step further and have additional protected classes.
Another federal act that pertains to landlords is the Americans with Disabilities Act. You’re required to make accommodations for qualified tenants who need assistance. This might mean having a handicapped parking space in front of your multi-family building. It might mean installing a wheelchair ramp outside the home or safety bars in the shower and tub. Usually, service animals and support animals are the subject of confusion for landlords. You don’t have to have a pet-friendly property. But you do have to allow service animals and emotional support animals if your tenant needs one. You cannot treat those animals as pets because the law sees them as accommodations.
There’s also the Fair Credit Reporting Act which dictates how you handle and protect the personal and financial information of your tenants and your applicants. When you reject a tenant, you need to send out a specific letter that explains why, especially if it’s due to their financial information.
A landlord is responsible for knowing and following the laws. It’s easy to make a legal mistake, so be sure to educate yourself and stay on top of the changes.
Landlord Responsibilities: Contracts and Communication
As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to produce and execute a legally binding lease agreement between you and your tenants. This lease agreement should cover all of the state-specific requirements that your location needs. A lease in California will likely look very different than a lease in Florida. Make sure you’re not just grabbing any sample lease off the internet. You need to have a lease that protects your property and covers any potential disputes or conflicts that could put you in a courtroom. If you don’t have a strong lease, you’re leaving yourself open to a lot of liability and risk.
You can find some great lease templates through attorneys, property management companies, or professional associations like the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM) or the California Apartment Association (CAA) and other groups. Make sure your lease includes contact information, terms, payment policies, responsibilities, and all required state, federal, and local disclosures and addenda.
Communicating the lease requirements and rental expectations to your tenant is also the responsibility of a landlord. If you’re renting out a home that’s in an HOA, you will likely have a long list of rules and regulations pertaining to the HOA community as well. Make sure they understand what is allowed and expected because if there’s a violation, it will likely come back on you, the property owner.
Communication with your tenants is critical. As the landlord, you should be the one who sets the standards and establishes the norms. Make sure your tenants have all your contact information so they can get in touch with you if there’s an emergency. Make sure they know when and how to pay rent. Be sure there are multiple ways to communicate. Some tenants may prefer texts or emails while others will want to have a conversation on the phone. As a landlord, you need to be flexible and available.
Landlord Responsibilities: Keeping the Property Habitable
The most important responsibility of any landlord is surely to keep the rental property in good condition. It has to be in good foundational order. This means the roof has to be intact, the water has to be running hot and cold through every faucet, the power has to work reliably, and every outlet must function. You’ll want to be sure the windows and doors all have working locks and the smoke detectors are doing their job.
The best way to ensure you are meeting this responsibility is by inspecting the property regularly. Do a thorough inspection before your tenants move in so you can fix anything that needs a repair or a replacement. Inspect the property every time the tenant calls with a repair request so you will notice other problems that may arise. Keeping a close eye on the condition of your home will protect its asset and fulfill your responsibility as a landlord.
When tenants do report issues or you notice a maintenance concern, take care of it right away. Emergencies will obviously elicit your immediate response. We recommend that you respond to routine maintenance needs with the same sense of urgency. Don’t let those small problems sit and fester. They’ll only become larger problems, and larger problems are more expensive. Save yourself some money and be responsive to the needs of your residents. A lot of data shows that one of the main reasons tenants leave the property they’re renting is because their maintenance concerns were not a priority for the landlord.
Don’t be that landlord. Take your responsibility for keeping the home habitable seriously. Your tenants need heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. They need toilets that flush and appliances that work.
Tenant Responsibilities: Maintaining the Home and Systems
Tenant must maintain all the systems of the home. They can do the simple things like replace light bulbs and change air filters. They should be expected to keep the property clean and in working order. Some lease agreements will require the tenants to take care of things like landscaping and pest control. This will vary from lease to lease and property to property. You can decide what you want your tenants to do and what you don’t want them to do. For example, if you have a swimming pool, you might want to have it professionally serviced rather than expecting your tenants to maintain the pool. However, the tenants can be expected to keep the pool clean and free of debris and trash.
When something goes wrong at the property, it’s the tenant’s responsibility to contact the landlord or the property manager so it can be fixed as soon as possible. Make sure you reinforce this with your tenants. In some instances, tenants hesitate to report a minor repair. They think that they shouldn’t bother the landlord, or they fear that making a repair request will mean their rent is going to go up.
Let your tenants know that you want the maintenance issue reported right away. This is critical in protecting the home and preventing deferred maintenance from really causing problems at your property.
If you want your tenants to do the lawn mowing in the summer and the snow shoveling in the winter, make sure they know it. Communication is essential and everything must be included in the lease. Be available for their questions and be willing to show them how the property works so they can continue to keep it in good shape while they’re living there.
Every state and every landlord will have different ideas about who should do what. Generally, the landlord wants to preserve the asset. Tenants want to find a great place to live. Establishing expectations early will lead to a great rental experience for everyone.
If you need any support managing your rental property, please get in touch with us at Mynd Property Management.