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Property Management FAQs for Landlords

There's a lot to know and a lot to consider for both new and experienced landlords alike. We've answered the 22 most frequently asked questions and compiled them in a handy list for you to reference.

Key Points

  • 1 If your property is market-ready and priced at market rates, your average wait time is about 26 days.
  • 2 A property manager can help streamline the entire process of renting your property.
  • 3 It’s essential to perform a full background check, which includes a credit and criminal history check.
  • 4 Think of yourself as a business owner, and the tenant as your customer – you should do your best to remedy reasonable complaints as quickly as you can.

Advertising Your Property

Screening Tenants

Managing the Property

Finances and Liabilities

Managing Tenants

Advertising Your Property

Row of houses

How should I advertise my rental property?

Fortunately, some of the easiest, widest-reaching ways to advertise rentals are the cheapest, or even free. The Internet, of course, is the main source of free advertising – you can post on Craigslist or other free websites that are sponsored by local media. A fair warning, though – a wider audience means an increased likelihood of scams, spam, and more time spent weeding out worthy inquiries. But it can be worth it for the chance to advertise to hundreds, or even thousands, of potential renters.

If you prefer to focus on a select audience, you can use regional websites, but they’ll run you around $200 weekly for five lines of copy in some markets.

Whether you opt for specialized paid advertising or use Craigslist, you can always go for the tried-and-true “For Rent” sign in the front yard, especially if there’s a lot of traffic in the area, and post on public billboards at colleges, stores, and libraries.

How long will it take to rent my property?

If your property is market-ready and priced at market rates, your average wait time is about 26 days. If your home is not in market-ready condition or not priced at a competitive rate, it can take much longer. Vacancy periods can also be affected by the general vacancy rate in the area, and the time of year, since properties tend to rent faster at certain times of the year such as summertime.

How can a property manager help me advertise my rental?

A property manager can help streamline the entire process of renting your property. They have professional experience with screening tenants, marketing properties effectively to reduce vacancy periods, and preparing the properties for rent. This means less time spent on dealing with your rental, and more peace of mind for you.

How long will it take to get my property ready to rent?

It can depend on the property, since no two are alike. But if you work with professionals to prepare your property, you should estimate the following times to complete any needed updates:

  • 3 days for relatively minor updates (minor damage, holes in walls, etc.)
  • 5 days for more complex updates (carpet, painting, appliance repair, and replacement)
  • 2 weeks for major updates (linoleum, plumbing, and electrical systems)

Should I ask for a higher rent? I can always reduce it later, right?

It’s a tempting idea, but you should remember that tenants and homebuyers are quite different. If a prospective tenant thinks your property is too expensive, they do not negotiate, they simply move on to the next property. Many tenants actually put a minimum and maximum rent they’re willing to pay when searching properties online, so if you inflate the price, your listing won’t even be displayed to a good number of searchers. This means you could lose out on qualified tenants, and your property will remain vacant longer.

Another reason to think twice about purposefully charging a higher rent is that interest in a newly available property tends to be the strongest during the first two weeks of advertising, with a sharp drop-off afterwards. To avoid losing money on a property that is just sitting vacant, you should list your best price first.

Should I lease my house to a tenant month-to-month?

It depends. If this is the only offer you’ve received from a qualified tenant, and you need to rent quickly, this can be a viable option.

Screening Tenants

Keys on the table

How do you screen rental applicants and find a good tenant?

It’s essential to perform a full background check, which includes a credit and criminal history check. You should also verify their employment, income, and rental history to check for falsehoods, previous evictions, or a history of late payments.

For safety, you should always have someone else with you when you are showing a rental property to prospective tenants, and remain aware of your surroundings during the showing. For example, you can have them enter a single door room first.

What are non-discrimination practices and how can I ensure I follow them?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex. As a landlord, you must not discriminate in any of these categories when screening potential tenants. When you deny an application, you must notify them in writing the reason for denial. Read the FHA in its entirety to make sure you fully comply.

What if a tenant’s rent check bounces?

Call your tenant and let them know that the bank refused the check and have charged your account for an NSF free (typically about $27). Inform them that you will only accept certified funds, such as a cashiers check, in the future. You can also call the bank and provide the account number and dollar amount to check if the funds are in the account.

The penalty for writing a bad check varies by state law. Generally, the penalties fall into two categories: civil and criminal. Civil penalties concern how much you can collect if you receive a bad check. Depending on your state laws, it could be more than the amount, including attorney fees and damages. A tenant who writes a bad check can also be prosecuted criminally, particularly if there is proven intent to defraud. Most of the time, dealing with a bad check goes the civil route.

Managing the Property

Aerial view of a neighborhood

What rental property maintenance liabilities do I need to consider?

Think of yourself as a business owner, and the tenant as your customer – you should do your best to remedy their reasonable complaints as quickly as you can.

It’s best to provide tenants with a system they can use to send maintenance requests 24/7. For emergencies, you are bound by state laws to handle them right away. If the problem puts the tenant’s health and safety at risk, you could be liable for not attending to it immediately.

It may be tempting to cut corners by using unlicensed technicians, but this violates city codes, so you will be in a lot of trouble if you do this. Use licensed professionals for all heating and cooling, plumbing, electrical work, and other repairs.

Should I do all of the property maintenance myself?

You certainly can, but it’s a huge undertaking. Outsourcing various aspects of maintenance and inspections to qualified and bonded professionals can eliminate a lot of stress and time spent, and the costs are often lower than you’d expect.

Who pays for rental property maintenance costs?

The landlord does, most of the time. This generally counts normal wear and tear on the property, unless you can show that the tenant caused damage or was negligent.

What determines if a rental property is uninhabitable?

State laws vary on the details, but in general you are responsible for completing all repairs and keeping the premises in an inhabitable condition. This includes:

  • Keeping all common areas of the premises clean and free of hazards
  • Maintain in good and safe working order and condition: electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, kitchen, and other appliances, such as elevators, that are supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord

Minor issues or older appliances do not generally mean a unit is uninhabitable, but you should do your best to ensure that repairs are completed in a timely manner, and you must comply with any applicable laws.

Am I responsible for mold?

Yes. If the tenant feels that the landlord has not responded to mold concerns, they may contact the local board of health or housing authority for assistance. Mold is a common problem, so make sure to stay up-to-date on your state and local laws and regulations, and do your best to minimize or eliminate mold on the property.

The CDC recommends the following practices to inhibit mold growth:

  • Keep the humidity level in the house between 40% and 60%.
  • Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier in warmer months.
  • Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in kitchen and bathrooms.
  • Add mold inhibitors to paints before application.
  • Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.
  • Do not carpet bathrooms and basements.
  • Remove or replace previously soaked carpets and upholstery.

Finances and Liabilities

Writing a budget

What out-of-pocket landlord expenses do I need to consider?

It may seem like collecting the rent is the bulk of your financial activity, but in fact, that is a rather small piece of the picture. Most of your financial concerns will involve up-front costs for inspecting, preparing, and advertising your property, as well as insurance and fees for background and credit checks, and legal documents.

Which insurances will I need to take out?

Landlord insurance can cover damages to the property caused by natural disasters, break-ins, etc. Disaster-specific policies, such as earthquakes, may need to be taken out separately. Liability insurance is essential to cover you in case of tenant lawsuits. You can also require your tenants to take out a renters insurance policy, so that they are covered in case of a fire or other incident that damages their belongings. An attorney and/or property manager can help you navigate this smoothly.

Should I allow pets in my rental? What are the liabilities?

This is ultimately up to you. Allowing pets means you can select from a wider pool of prospective tenants, but it also opens up the potential for liabilities. Is your property suitable for pets? Are you willing to make modifications, such as dog doors, as needed?

In the case that a dog bites someone while on your property, most states hold the owner liable for any damages, regardless of a property being a private or public space, the dog’s temperament, or the owner’s knowledge of its temperament. So this scenario, while unfortunate, would probably not involve you.

Can you explain how parental responsibility laws work with rental property?

Generally speaking, the parent is responsible for any and all damages, whether the damage was caused intentionally or accidentally by their child. The maximum amount of damages can vary by state. Make sure to stay brushed up on your state’s parental responsibility laws in case any situations arise.

What are my entry rights for a rented property?

It depends on your state and local laws, but in general, a tenant may not unreasonably deny access, refuse entry, or withhold consent to enter the rental if an owner, agent, or manager needs to make repairs. The general protocol to follow for entering a rental unit is as follows:

  1. Enter as infrequently as possible.
  2. Always give ample notice and allow your tenant to reschedule if needed. (Check your state and local laws – some have strict rules on the amount of time to give notice, and/or you may have to obtain written consent, etc.)
  3. Always enter with a clearly defined objective in mind.

Managing Tenants

People exchanging house keys

How do I know when I can evict a tenant, and what is the process?

Of course you must start by having a valid reason for the eviction, such as violating the lease, failure to pay rent, or causing health or safety hazards. The actual process varies by state, but it is illegal to attempt an eviction yourself – you must follow a legal process. Is it as follows:

  • Once a reason for eviction has been established, you will need to fill out a formal notice.
  • Place the notice on the front door of the rental, and also send it via certified mail. The paperwork should specify a deadline to comply with the notice or correct the problem, such as failure to pay rent.
  • If the tenant fails to meet this deadline, the next step is to go to the courthouse and file eviction papers.
  • You and the tenant will attend a hearing. Assuming you win, the judge will issue the terms of the eviction.
  • If it applies to your situation, you can then sue for damages or unpaid rent.

What if a tenant only pays a partial amount of the rent?

It depends on your state and local laws (check with an attorney or your municipal office), but most of the time, paying only a partial amount of the rent counts as a default – after 30 days or partial payment, you can begin the eviction process.

What if my tenant files for bankruptcy?

First, check your nearest federal courthouse for records of the bankruptcy to obtain proof it was filed. Then, contact your attorney. It’s important to remember that this is a federal matter, so do not begin eviction proceedings against the tenant, since federal laws grant certain protections to those who file for bankruptcy.