As the adage goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” For rental property owners, the same is true. A few dollars of preventative maintenance can avoid a hefty bill of hundreds or even thousands of dollars to “cure” a major problem. You also avoid risking getting sued or gaining a reputation as a “slumlord” who fails to maintain rental properties well..
The Law & Property Maintenance
First, let’s look at the reasons why you need to care about regular maintenance. Landlords must ensure that rental properties comply with relevant building and housing standards. Maintaining a suitable habitable living space means that the property has adequate heating, cooling, hot water, plumbing, and a safe electrical system. Also, all fixtures and appliances should be safe and in good working order.
Tenants are responsible for paying rent, and the landlord is responsible for maintaining the unit in a livable condition.
According to Cornell Law School, even if the lease agreement doesn’t require landlords to make repairs, it is still their responsibility. In legal terms, this is called the “implied warranty of habitability.”
Of course, tenants have to notify you if there are minor repairs requiring attention. For example, a tenant would have to inform you if the refrigerator is leaking or there is a dripping pipe. If the tenant fails to do so, they could be liable for property damage resulting from the problem they ignored.
On the other hand, if a tenant notifies you of essential repairs, you must carry them out within a reasonable time.
Dealing With Maintenance Requests
Dealing with maintenance requests can be a landlord’s biggest pain point. Requests to carry out maintenance can come at any time of day or night. The frustrating aspect is that what a tenant thinks is an emergency may not be so serious.
Essential maintenance can be divided into two categories—emergency and non-emergency situations.
An emergency could be a burst pipe that threatens to flood the unit or a furnace that breaks down in winter. It’s crucial to act fast to make emergency repairs so that the rental unit is liveable. In these cases, you can enter the rental unit without prior notice.
Non-emergency situations are more related to small repair jobs or preventative maintenance. The tenant may inform you of a slow-draining sink or a running toilet. Usually, these issues don’t threaten your tenant’s health and safety. So, you can schedule repairs in line with the rental agreement.
It’s also a good idea to carry out a property inspection to check for maintenance issues and service appliances.
Successful landlords and property managers need a robust system of tracking maintenance requests. For this, it’s a great idea to use a property management app. The app should have the ability to track requests, assign maintenance contractors, and ensure requests are handled promptly.
As well as responding promptly to maintenance requests, a landlord can use a property management app for much more. For example, it’s possible to schedule preventative maintenance jobs and routine seasonal inspections and keep a network of vendors for repairs.
Essential Maintenance Tasks
What are the essential jobs to maintain a rental property to a high standard? Here are some handy tips on how to care for an investment property.
1. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
To ensure tenants live in a safe environment, it is vital to check carbon monoxide and smoke detectors annually. Most states require detectors in rental homes, and they may require that you maintain them in working order. Failure to do so could mean that you’re liable for injuries or deaths due to smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning.
2. Check for leaks and water damage.
Water damage can quickly make a rental unit uninhabitable. It is usually possible to avoid problems with flooding, mold, and property damage by repairing leaks promptly. As part of your essential maintenance, check under sinks, bathtubs, and water heaters for signs of leaks.
Also, make sure that you clean gutters every year and those downpipes are watertight.
3. Maintain heating and cooling systems.
Preventative maintenance can make sure that the furnace, water heater, or air conditioner doesn’t break down. Some of the most expensive maintenance issues involve the HVAC system. It’s usually best to have a professional service the heating systems, change the filters, and check everything is in working order.
At the same time, a plumber should flush the water heater. Sediment can build up in the unit and affect the heater’s efficiency. Not only does sediment make the heater more expensive to run, but it can also cause it to break down.
Replacing or repairing the HVAC system and the water heater is expensive. Keeping them in good condition will keep repairs to a minimum and your tenants will be happy.
4. Check caulking and grout in bathrooms.
Old grout and caulking aren’t just an eyesore—they can cause water damage. During your annual property inspection, ensure that the caulking around bathtubs and grout between tiles are intact. If you notice broken seals or loose tiles, replace them immediately to prevent water damage.
5. Ensure doors and windows are secure.
Home security is also vital for tenants, and in many states, it’s part of the implied warranty of habitability. Ensuring that tenants have ways to keep the rental unit secure also reduces the risk of theft or criminal activity.
During the inspection, use your master key to ensure you can open and lock all doors. Check that windows open and shut securely and that there are no safety issues. Generally, rental lease terms forbid the tenants to change the locks. The maintenance inspection is a good time to resolve the issue if they have done this.
Keeping rental properties well-maintained is a hallmark of a successful landlord. Regular maintenance keeps properties, fixtures, installations, and appliances in good working order.
This way, you reduce repair costs and maximize rental income profits. You will avoid situations where tenants legitimately file complaints, withhold rent, or pay less rent. Failing to maintain a rental unit could mean that you break the lease, and tenants can move out in the middle of the tenancy.