How to attract and keep good tenants
One of the first challenges landlords face is finding good tenants to move in, so the property starts making a profit rather than sitting uselessly empty. However, finding good tenants – who pay rent on time, care for the property and do not cause problems – is the easy part compared with keeping them. When you, as a landlord, are lucky enough to have good tenants the last thing you want is to lose them. Aside from the fact that it costs time and money to find new tenants, you never know if you will get lucky again and end up with replacement tenants who pay on time and are respectful of your property and undemanding of your time.
Think of your tenants as customers, since essentially that is what they are, and treat them as any business that wants to succeed would treat their customers – i.e. treat them well. Remember, you are competing with hundreds of other landlords, and happy tenants are more likely to remain your tenants, because they want to keep you as a landlord. Happy tenants are also more likely to consistently pay rent on time, and recommend you to friends, which is useful if you have more than one property to let or if they do have to move out because, for instance, they are relocating to a different city.
As someone who has been on the tenant side of the equation for almost twenty years, I have more than enough experience on how to be a good tenant and on how to spot and appreciate a decent landlord. It really is not difficult to be a good tenant – I have no interest in jeopardising my living situation, so I pay up on time, refrain from destructive behaviour (as after all I do not want to be surrounded by disrepair) and only call my landlord when there are problems I am unable to fix.
Equally, it should not be difficult to be a first-rate landlord, not when it just requires following simple common sense practices. Tenants want a nice place to live, and if you stick to the practices listed below that landlords are most commonly advised to follow, it will go a long way towards ensuring you end up with good tenants who are willing to stay the distance.
Meet your tenants – Such a simple gesture if you live near your let property, but one that many busy landlords neglect when they have letting agents or building managers at their disposal. However, the property is your investment, not anyone else’s, and delegating the responsibility of meeting and background checking tenants is no way to protect your investment. Of the four places I have rented over the years, I met all four landlords before moving in. Not only did this give the landlords a chance to vet me in person and pave the way for good communication during the course of the tenancies, before I committed to signing any paperwork it was encouraging to know I would be dealing with people who cared about who lived in their properties.
If you take over a property that already has tenants, make an effort to introduce yourself to them so they see you as a person and not an anonymous entity, and also to let them know your intentions if you are planning any drastic changes. At the place where I currently live, the landlord passed away earlier this year and his son took the trouble to knock on my door so he could break the news in person and let me know that he would be taking over as landlord and had no plans to sell the property.
Be contactable – Just as you should always request contact information from your tenants, giving them your contact number will reassure them they have a way to reach you if any issues arise. Make sure you can actually be reached at the number you give, and that you promptly return calls that go to voicemail, unless you want frustrated tenants on your hands. My previous landlord travelled overseas frequently, so he sensibly supplied his email address as well as his phone number, thus ensuring he would always be reachable in case of a crisis. When a crisis did arise that I was unable to resolve (the toilet tank started to continuously lose water and then refill itself) an email to my landlord resulted in a prompt call back from his son. In no time at all, I ended up with a brand new toilet, water stopped being wasted and my landlord was saved from an unnecessarily high water bill, none of which would have been the case so quickly had I not been armed with his email address.
Be responsive – There is no point being contactable if you are not responsive when informed of problems and ignoring your tenants will only annoy them, so fix problems quickly or notify your tenants if repairs are going to take time. Quick action will benefit you too, since a neglected situation could worsen and further damage the property, costing you much more in the long run. A friend, who luckily had lived in her building longer than the original twelve month lease and was on a month-to-month basis, moved out of her flat after her landlord failed to act quickly to a problem. Her upstairs neighbour’s shower started leaking through her bathroom ceiling, and despite several calls she and the neighbour made to the landlord, leaving voicemails each time, they received no response. Two days later a chunk of her ceiling fell off, leaving a gaping hole, and it took a further two days before her landlord finally called to say workers would be dispatched the following day to begin repairs on the leak and the ceiling. Thus, what was merely a troublesome situation turned into aggravation for my friend, and presumably aggravation for the landlord who had to search for a new tenant and probably ended up with a hefty repair bill, which he may or may not have been able to recoup depending on the terms of his let property insurance.
Perform routine maintenance – The absence of glaring problems is not an excuse to neglect general maintenance on your property. Conduct an annual check on the building’s interior and exterior so potential problems can be found and attended to, and it would not hurt your standing with your tenants to touch up the paint job every couple of years if necessary and replace ancient appliances or fixtures. Your tenants will be grateful that you care, and your insurance provider will be grateful that you are staying on top of the property’s condition. I was certainly impressed with one landlady, when shortly after I moved in she called to ask if I wanted to go refrigerator shopping. She was planning to buy a new one for herself and thought it might be time to replace the old, small one in my flat, so I ended up picking out a new, large (very important), energy-efficient (even more important) refrigerator, which she purchased and arranged to be installed.
If your property has common areas, such as a lobby or garden, keep them in good condition for the sake of your property and to give your tenants a sense of pride in where they live. A friend recently moved out of his house because of a divorce, and after viewing several places to let he narrowed his choices down to two flats. He finally chose the smaller, yet slightly more expensive flat, simply because he preferred the lobby in that building. It may seem like a minor point to be fussy about, but he ultimately decided that a shabby, poorly lit and musty smelling lobby was indicative of an uncaring landlord.
Abide by the lease contract – You are as equally bound by the terms of the contract as your tenants are, and just as you are entitled to initiate legal action if your tenants breach the contract, they can do the same if you violate the terms. To prevent legal action against you, and to grant your tenants a pleasant living environment, make sure you honour the contract. Additionally, stay on top of contract renewal dates and, as a reminder, give your tenants advance notice when the date is coming up.
Respect tenants’ privacy – Keep communication channels open and greet your tenants in a friendly fashion whenever you encounter them, but refrain from going overboard. Your tenants are not meant to be your friends, so do not barge into their living space without notice or engage in behaviour that could be construed as harassment. One friend rented a unit from a lonely woman whose grown children had flown the nest, and she definitely blurred the line between landlord and tenant. She frequently let herself into his unit and left food for him on the kitchen counter, questioned his whereabouts if he was away for more than a few days and generally acted like a mother hen. He grumbled about the situation to his friends but tolerated it with his landlady, since he felt sorry for her, but eventually his sanity wore thin and he gave notice.
Go the extra mile – While you do need to be conscious about not overstepping the boundaries, finding little ways to please your tenants will help keep them loyal to you. Tenants will appreciate even small gestures, such as if you send them a Christmas card or give them a welcome basket of goods when they first move in. One friend lived in a house where the lease stipulated pets were not allowed without prior permission, and a couple of years ago she decided she wanted to get a Chihuahua, so she called her landlord to ask. The landlord not only agreed, he offered to obtain a doggie door and install it for her, at no charge. To this day, when new visitors come by her house she includes the doggie door on the house-tour and tells the visitors about her landlord’s gesture. The landlord was smart though, because my friend is also extremely conscious about not leaving the dog unsupervised in the house for long enough to do anything destructive, although it is debatable how much destruction a Chihuahua could actually wreak ….!
In a similar vein, a couple of friends have a property that they let to students, and they know the turnover will be high but they do expect their tenants to stay for the duration of the lease and refrain from property-damaging behaviour. Therefore, they treat their tenants well, and for the extra mile they offer to pay for a housekeeper to come by every couple of weeks and clean the house. The students may be young but they are probably perceptive enough to know this is not a completely altruistic gesture – and it is not, since this is a way for my friends to keep an eye on the condition of their property – however, every set of tenants they have had has accepted the offer, and my friends have never had to deal with problem tenants.
Finally -There are many ways a landlord can attract and keep good tenants, so even if you follow the suggestions above, there is no reason not to also follow others that spring to mind. The key is to keep your tenants loyal, so they will stay for the long-term and want to treat you and your property with the same respect you are treating them.
Ladaniel McNaughton is a professional landlord and home improvement expert who has written prolifically on the subjects. His musing can be seen at Landlords Insurance, and liability insurance for landlords