Whether you're renting out a single property or you have a rental empire, being a good landlord will get you a higher caliber of tenant. But maybe it's been a long time since you rented yourself, or perhaps you just don't really know what tenants want and need in this day and age.
There's a lot you can do to set yourself apart from the average landlord and ensure that your tenants are so happy with their experience that they stay for years and tell everyone they know how great you are. If you're just starting out or are deciding to up your landlord game, here's how to make sure that you're the best landlord on the block.
Screen your tenants
If you want a good relationship with your tenants, then it helps to make sure that you're getting good tenants in the door in the first place. A lot of landlords screen tenants for credit history and possibly even criminal background, but it's up to you how far you want to go to get good tenants in the door. It does cost money to screen, and often landlords pass this cost along to tenants; if you want to set yourself apart, offer to refund any costs of screening to the tenant if they end up signing a lease with you.
Understand the laws
Every state has different laws about renting property, and there are even some county-specific and city-specific laws that you need to wrap your head around if you're going to rent a residence.
Make sure you understand the very basics of the legal landscape before you write a lease, let alone ask someone to sign a lease. Know the guidelines around evictions, and make sure you're fully aware what a tenant can be evicted for and what is beyond your power to control. Know what tenants' rights are, and understand your rights as a landlord, too.
Customize your lease
All that said, laws are rarely entirely black-and-white -- you'll often have some wiggle room. If you want to "wow" your tenants, think about customizing a lease according to their needs and specifications. Of course, it should still align with the laws of the area and state, but if your tenants seeking a nine-month lease or have a cat, then there's no harm in adjusting the lease to reflect their desires as long as you've decided you can meet them.
Walk them through the lease
Some tenants have signed several leases in the past, but you'll also find that some are less familiar with what they're signing -- and either way, it's good practice to explain what each section means and why you're asking them to agree to those parameters in writing. Spend ten minutes or so during the lease-signing process to walk them through your lease and ask them if they have any questions about anything.
Follow lease guidelines
Once you've thoroughly explained the lease to your tenants and they've signed it, do everybody a favor and make sure that you adhere to the exact terms of the lease -- don't be the landlord who tells renters that the lease is open to interpretation through your actions and behavior. If you want them to behave like adults and follow the document they signed, then you'll need to respect the lease, too.
Help tenants get adjusted to the area
Some people might be deeply familiar with the area where they're moving, but there are a lot of renters who don't know where to walk the dog or pick up groceries when they move to a new area. If you're willing to be a resource for those tenants and help them get acclimated and accustomed to the neighborhood, that alone will get you brownie points -- and make tenants feel like this might be a place they can call home for a stretch of time.
Write a welcome letter (or even better, a welcome packet)
A welcome letter can document some of the things that you want to make sure your tenants understand while also helping them feel as if they are ... well, welcome to settle in. A good welcome letter will express your thanks to them for choosing your property, gently remind them about any important rules, explain or clarify parking (if needed), and provide your phone number and contact information.
If you're really feeling inspired, put together an entire welcome packet. Include the letter in addition to take-out menus from local restaurants, a map with highlighted landmarks, details about utility companies, and even an introduction to any neighbors who also rent from you.
Stock the bathrooms
When you've been moving boxes and furniture all day, the last thing you want to do is run to buy toilet paper or a shower curtain so that you can actually make use of your new bathroom. Make it easy for your tenants to feel comfortable and get clean by providing them with at least a shower curtain and some toilet paper. They might also appreciate some small sample bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, like you'd find in a hotel bathroom.
Mow the lawn
There's a lot to manage when you're moving house, so mow the lawn and take care of any landscaping needs before your new tenants arrive to give them a little bit of breathing room before it becomes their responsibility. It's entirely reasonable to expect your tenants to take care of the lawn themselves once they're settled in, but it shows consideration and care to offer a brief respite from lawn maintenance until they're fully moved in.
Help them change their address
It's a huge hassle to pick up and move all your things from one place to another, and tenants appreciate any little help they get tying up the loose ends. If you pick up a bunch of change-of-address forms at the post office, or include instructions on how to do so online in your lease agreement or other tenant documents, they'll thank you for helping make one more loose end just a little bit more manageable in a time of upheaval.
Of course, you didn't become a landlord for the fashion -- and that's understandable. Nobody expects you to show up wearing designer labels or a three-piece suit.
But by the same token, it's a given that clean, nice clothes give other people a positive impression of your professionalism and your ability to (at the very least) dress yourself. Put yourself in their shoes: Would you rather rent a unit from a landlord wearing a grease-stained tank top (unraveling at the hems) and dirty cutoff shorts, or a landlord wearing a pressed polo with clean blue jeans? What does it say about the cleanliness and maintenance of their units when you picture a landlord wearing either outfit?
Do your property proud and don't dress like a bum. Your tenants will treat you with more trust and respect.
Touch base after a month
You don't need to do anything major, but just reaching out to tenants after they've been settled in a month to talk and ask them how it's all going can be a big help to them and can help you avoid any unpleasant surprises. Take their pulse -- ask how they like the area, how they like the place, how the commute to work is going, and whether they have any questions or issues surrounding their rental home. You might be surprised by what they'll tell you, and if you need to reset expectations, early is better than later.
Keep your cool
Sometimes, tenants can be the most trying people in the world. Maybe they're complaining about the heat being broken and you've discovered that they simply don't understand how a thermostat works. Or perhaps they're not tending the lawn or taking out the trash in the manner outlined in the least.
Remember going in the door that your tenants are going to jerk your chain every now and again -- because you're all human. And when it's happening, remind yourself that you knew this was coming. Stay calm and collected, and don't blow up, no matter how tempting it is. At the very least, you can be proud of how you behaved under pressure when the fan was hit.
Don't make new friends
There will be some tenants who are just passing acquaintances, but there might also be some who have a lot in common with you, and who even feel like a long-lost sibling. Under those circumstances, it can be hard to maintain boundaries when you're feeling like you've just discovered a new kindred spirit.
Remember that this is a business relationship, and if there really is a special connection with one tenant or another, wait until that person isn't renting from you anymore before extending the hand of friendship. This applies even more to romantic relationships. It's easy to see how a soured friendship or deeper involvement could wreak havoc on a rental situation from a distance ... so just don't even go there when or if the opportunity presents itself.
Tenants talk to each other, and they'll figure out pretty quickly if you're offering one special treatment that another one isn't getting. Even if you're customizing leases for each tenant, do your best to be consistent with the basics, like when rent is due, penalties for late payment, how quickly you respond to emergencies, and other common factors across rental households.
Inconsistency is bad business practice and could even open you up to legal trouble if there are protected classes involved, so it's best to treat everybody the same as a landlord.
Waking up in the middle of the night because there's an electric or plumbing problem is nobody's idea of a good time -- but imagine being the tenant dealing with the emergency, unable to contact the person who can fix it. As the landlord, it is your duty to make sure that your tenants can access you when they need to, and to realize that when tenants need to access you has little to do with your own convenience. If you don't want to be on call all the time, then set up an alternative -- just make sure it's a reliable one.
Time flies when you're having fun, and it slows to a crawl when you are very much not having fun. Any tenant dealing with a renter's emergency is not having fun at all, and there's nothing that says "you matter to me" like showing up when someone needs you to be there.
Make sure you have a plan in place for responding quickly and professionally to your tenants when they need you. Return phone calls within a reasonable time frame, respond to text messages, and do your best to be on the ball when it comes to your tenants and their needs.
Make repairs in a timely manner
There's little more frustrating than waiting on a repair to a home where you live but don't own, and an excellent landlord makes sure that tenants don't have to wait longer than humanly possible. It goes without saying that the need for a repair will manifest at the worst possible times -- the middle of the night and weekends are two popular times for repair emergencies to go code-red -- but you'll be mitigating damage and winning tenant loyalty if you can tackle those repairs as soon as humanly possible.
Respect the tenant's privacy
There's an implicit trust between a landlord and a tenant: The tenant will treat the place with care, and the landlord will give the tenant space and privacy. Feeling like you don't have any privacy in your own home is not a nice experience, and unfortunately, there are some landlords who give the rest a bad name by barging in without warning at all hours of the day or night.
When your tenants are in one of your properties, do them the service of acknowledging that this is their space, too. Call in advance to tell them about any visits you have to make, and don't drop in unannounced. They will appreciate your courtesy more than words can express.
Listen to any concerns
Tenants are going to see more of your property than you will -- so if they call you with concerns about something, it's in your best interest to listen to what they have to say. You might not agree with their assessment of what is or is not a problem, but listening never hurt, and you're not promising to do anything by listening. Have an open-door policy for any issues or concerns that tenants might experience, and keep notes every time you do get a call or note about something; you never know what could develop into a bigger problem as time goes by.
Life happens to the best of us, and its surprises aren't always benevolent. There might be times when your tenants lose their jobs, get divorced, or experience a death in the family -- for whatever reason, they might be having trouble paying rent at the same time.
You are not obligated to be compassionate as a landlord, of course. There's no law stipulating that you have to accommodate tenants' life changes and needs. But if you decide that this is something you can do, you'll find it's rewarding in its own right.
Some surprises are good, but many of them aren't. If you know that the park playground where the tenant's kids play every day is about to turn into a parking lot, or even if you aren't sure when you're going to be able to stop by and take a look at that dripping faucet, be upfront and honest with your tenants. The temporary discomfort of being transparent is going to be a lot easier than a blow-up when whatever you didn't want to reveal is inevitably uncovered.
Budget for maintenance
No house lasts forever, and it's sometimes hard to see exactly how much a place has aged if you're not living there yourself. You don't need to budget for a full remodel whenever you get a new tenant or anything outsized like that -- but do be aware that there will be at least repairs and maintenance to make in order to keep the home basically livable. So budget for them, and then you won't feel any pinch if the phone rings and it's your tenant with a problem.
Know what your online profile says
Remember: Tenants talk to each other -- even online, where everyone can see what they say. Did you know that there are websites where tenants can review landlords? Besides Yelp and social media, landlords should be keeping on top of landlord review sites and should know what all of the above say about the properties and the services provided.
If you disagree with a written review, make sure you follow best practices about addressing it. Most people understand that we're all human and that sometimes mistakes happen, but they'll be less forgiving if you're replying to a complaint with a rant or pointing fingers.
Offer online services
Paying bills online is a big convenience of modern life, and good landlords want to make paying the rent convenient for tenants. Offer a way for tenants to pay you digitally, and if you can provide a portal where they can book appointments for things like walk-throughs and scheduled maintenance, they'll love that, too.
Bring as much of your business online as you can and make it easy for tenants to interact with you and provide you with the monthly rent.
Keep electronic copies of everything
Being a landlord can be very rewarding -- and it can also be a trial if there's ever a legal accusation or issue. When that's the case, you'll be happy that you kept electronic copies of everything, from voicemails to rent payments to lease agreements.
This might seem like overkill, but electronic documents can be easier to access than paper, and if there's ever a question about terms and conditions in the moment, you won't have to run home to consult the lease ... you can just pull it up on your mobile device.
Establish policies (and stick to them)
Some landlords create policies only around moving out and moving in, but other landlords prefer to have policies about everything from parking to dog waste to guests ... you get the idea. Remembering that consistency is key, think about which policies you might want to establish in your properties, then make sure that your tenants are aware and do your best to enforce them.
When you're signing the lease with tenants, it might be a good idea to include a one-sheet document on your property policies and walk tenants through those, too. Explain why you've set them and any penalties for not complying. People are more likely to follow policies and procedures if they feel like they understand why they were established.
Reward your good tenants
When you have good tenants in a property as a landlord, you never want them to leave. If you make it a point to acknowledge and even reward your good tenants, then they might stick around for longer.
Consider offering rewards (like a percentage off rent or even a month free) for things like paying rent early or on time consistently, maintaining lawns and common spaces, picking up pet waste, or following other policies and procedures that you've outlined. You could advertise this "bonus" or keep it under your hat, but incentivizing your good tenants to stay for longer can only reap benefits for you as a landlord.
Get help when you need it
Nobody likes asking for help, and sometimes landlords feel like they should be able to handle everything. But the truth is that we're all human and have different strengths and weaknesses -- so some people are going to be better at tenant screening while others will be lease-writing gurus and still others are adept at repairs and maintenance.
Don't beat yourself up if you can't do it all, but do get qualified help as quickly as possible. If you understand where you need help, then you can arrange for it before you really need it.
Be a businessperson
Being a landlord doesn't always necessarily feel like work, but you can never lose sight of one fact if you want to be an excellent landlord: This is a business -- your business -- and you need to treat it like one.
That means protecting your reputation by behaving professionally, keeping your finances in order, maintaining the property, and generally being a businessperson. It's lovely having the flexibility and options that renting property can bring to your life, but if you forget that you're running a business, your tenants (or the property itself) will remind you, perhaps unpleasantly.