I have been both a landlord and a renter. Find out what you need to know to keep your sanity in either role.
Landlord or Tenant?
I have been both a landlord and a renter.
I owned an apartment that was attached to my main house. We lived there for seven years. We probably had six to seven different tenants during that time. Most of them we good, but not all. And when you get a bad tenant, it can ruin your life for a time. Bad renters cause stress. They cost you money.
When we sold that house, we had to rent for the first time in many years. So far, we've lived in three different houses. We've had a different rental experience in each house.
We rented the first house from the owners, who lived overseas. So, we dealt with a relative to rent and if anything was wrong. The second house we rented from the owner and also used an intermediary. However, we mostly dealt with the owner. On the third rental, we rented through a property management company.
Here are some of my experiences being both a landlord and a tenant. By reading this article, I hope you can save yourself time and money and headaches.
Read the Lease
Many landlords use a standard lease. So, if you're familiar with the lease, you may assume it's the same as the last one.
Always read the lease. Take the twenty minutes and save yourself a lot of time and hassle later. That's because the landlord can write just about anything into a lease. Also, make sure that after you sign the lease, you get a copy.
Leases can include all sorts of weird things. Sometimes a landlord can take 60 instead of 30 days to return a deposit. Maybe you're responsible for watering all the plants outdoors. Maybe the landlord gives you a snow shovel or maybe not. Where can you park? In a nutshell, know exactly what you can or can't do. And if you have issues, work it out before you sign the lease.
If you're a landlord, make sure the lease explicitly states what you expect. Does your tenant have a pet? You better be crystal clear what you're willing to tolerate. A barking dog can make your life hell. A dog can also scratch wood floors beyond repair. Do you want pet rent? Do you really want to allow a pet at all?
We had a really weird situation at one of our rentals. We have a cat. Although there wasn't an allowed pet in the lease, the agent who rented the house told us to go ahead. Well, the landlord saw the cat and knew nothing about the arrangement. Ultimately, the lease has the final say. That's the legal document. Even the landlord could say it's okay and deny it later. If it's written down, you're always good.
Make sure you outline everything in the lease and discuss it between parties.
Always Do a Thorough Check-In and Check-Out Process
Document, document, document.
This might be the most important thing you do either as a landlord or a tenant. Even if you're the landlord, insist that your tenant do a thorough check-in.
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Because we rented for such a short time with the first two rentals, we neglected our check-in sheet. Huge mistake. With the first rental, it didn't make much of a difference. However, with the second, it turns out the landlord was pretty anal and deducted for everything.
Normal wear and tear on a house should cover a lot, but it's going to depend on your landlord's good will if you don't have proof of previous damage. Don't rely on anyone to be reasonable. Avoid disagreements. When you move into a place, take pictures and document everything. Even document the little stuff. Our landlord deducted a huge amount for scuffs and marks on the wall. We were stupid. Because we didn't do a check-in sheet, we couldn't do anything about it. We had to rely on his mercy.
Keep in mind, this landlord didn't need or want our money. He was just very picky. Imagine what can happen when a landlord knows you didn't do a check-in sheet? Basically, that landlord can do whatever he or she wants. You have no recourse. Sure, you can take the person to small claims court. Unfortunately, you'll lose.
Another smart move, particularly when you do a check-in sheet is to walk the property with the landlord upon check-out. That way, you can agree on any problems. If you leave it to the landlord, as we did, then the landlord gets to decide.
Take as many photos as you need. Do not neglect this process or you will regret it.
Security Deposit Poll
Is a Property Management Company A Plus or a Minus?
I haven't had that much experience with property management companies or property managers.
Where I live, people give them a bad rap. They certainly add cost to your rent. However, within a month of moving into our rental, we had a sewer back up. That is something that needs immediate attention. With an owner in another state, such a thing could be a serious problem. It could also result in out-of-pocket expenses. What if the landlord disputes what plumber you called. Or was it really necessary in the first place?
Our property manager not only had a number to call, but also emergency response. The plumber came within two hours and unplugged the sewer. They also contacted a mitigation company who came out the same day. As an aside, if black water enters your home, a company should always mitigate. Many people skip this step. It can lead to long-term health problems in the house, like mold.
I didn't have to deal with much here. Obviously, we experienced inconvenience. However, the property manager handled it all. That's a plus in my book. As of now, there's been no cost to us.
That said, I have heard stories of property managers being brutal when it comes time to leave. However, if you follow my check-in guidelines, you can avoid that.
Can You Be Picky About Your Renters?
Be aware, there are laws. You can't discriminate against potential renters. So, be very careful.
That said, you can make it clear in your advertisements what kind of person you want. Terms like "professional" or "responsible" can emphasize adults. If you don't allow pets, post that. If you don't want to rent to college students, post it.
Of my many renters, my biggest issue was with a young couple. They didn't treat the property well and cracked a bunch of ceramic tile in our kitchen. I also had a conflict with a nice guy. The conflict was my fault. I tried to charge him for damage he probably didn't cause. Again, this speaks to making sure everyone is on the same page at move in and move out.
For me, single, professional adults with no pets were always the best renters. As far as I'm concerned, less headaches equals a better experience.
You might notice below in one of the comments the mention about renter's insurance. This is something I overlooked in the first draft of this article. However, it's a crucial thing if you are renting.
If you want your stuff covered, you need to buy a renter's insurance policy. This is not a case of your landlord trying to screw you. Most homeowner's policies simply do not cover anything other than the dwelling. In other words, the landlord's insurance will not cover your stuff.
This means that if there's a flood or a fire, the landlord's property is covered. Yours is not. So do yourself a favor, get some renter's insurance. It's not that expensive and well worth the peace of mind.
Being a renter requires extra care. Be picky and anal. Document everything. You should even record cosmetic damage upon move-in. Treat your rental as though it was brand new. Use kid gloves.
Are you a landlord? Do everything you can to encourage your renter to record any damage. Do a personal check-in and check-out. Be responsive. Get the renter you want by advertising for it without discriminating.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Allen Donald
Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on August 28, 2020:
Doris, thanks! I will update the article. Those are great comments!
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 28, 2020:
I have been both a landlord and a renter. You give very good advice. I know because I've been there at either end. However, I would like to add one more thing, Insurance: Landlords, when taking out an insurance policy on the rental property, read it extra carefully. Make sure it does not have a clause that says (paraphrasing now) the company will not pay for damages caused by the tenant, either accidentally or by vandalism because you gave the tenant permission to live in the home therefore you gave the tenant permission to damage the home (no joke).
Honestly, right now we are repairing approximately $10,000 in damages our last tenant did to a small house I've owned for years. The insurance company said that he had our permission to vandalize, burglarize and accidentally damage our house!
They sent a copy of the policy that actually said that, which I don't remember its being in the original or I wouldn't have bought that particular policy in the first place. So remember also to carefully read any amendments to the policy they may send you after the policy goes into effect and keep copies of everything. You are paying more for a landlord's policy than you would pay for a homeowner's policy if you were living in the home.
If you are a renter, take out a renter's policy because the landlord's insurance does not protect you. One tenant had a burglary. She was angry because she claimed I didn't tell her that my insurance didn't cover her. I showed her in the lease where I'd put that in writing and I had told her verbally at the time of signing.
Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on August 27, 2020:
Thanks very much for commenting.
Liz Westwood from UK on August 27, 2020:
This is a very useful article for landlords and renters. It's great that you have been able to put your experience to good use for others.