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5 Steps to Building a Healthy Working Relationship with your Tenants

Post contributed by Rob Break, Mr. Breakthrough.

I had no intention of investing when I bought my first investment property.  Quite frankly the only thing I knew about investing in real estate is that some landlord would collect rent and ignore you if you needed something fixed.

I purchased this house to live in myself and it happened to have a legal basement apartment.  It was a 1 ½ storey on a very short street in a row of only four little run down houses.  Let’s just say it was much nicer on the inside than what it appeared from outside, but we loved it and really unbeknownst to us became real estate investors that day.

When I first started interviewing tenants for the basement I would watch the people quickly drive by, too horrified to exit their cars.  I see it clearly now, my wife and I standing with smiling faces excited to meet our potential tenants. To the them we probably looked like crazed maniacs peering out of our door like a scene from a backwoods horror move.

That said,  I was quick to pick the first person who said they wanted it, a mistake I have made more times then I should have.

Many years later I’ve learned a few things about being a landlord.

Here are five steps to help build a healthy working relationship with every tenant.

1. Set Expectations

This can be done during your pre move in inspection. It’s best to do this before move in day so you have their full attention.

Let them know that rent is due on the first of the month and inform them of your late rent  policy.  I always issue N4 (Notice to End Tenancy Early for Non-payment of Rent) on the 2nd of every month.  It allows them time to get good but show that it is taken very seriously.

I had a mentor tell me once that he will even jokingly pick up the plunger and demonstrate how to use it. I have adopted this as it adds a little fun . Even in the joke there is an expectation set.

Give them a copy of the garbage and recycling schedule/rules as well as laying out any other things that you believe that should be taken care of by them.

2. Use A Property Maintenance Agreement

A property maintenance agreement is separate from the rental agreement.  If the tenant is to be responsible for lawn cutting and snow removal it is a must.  The agreement outlines the work to be done and names the tenant as the contractor to do the work.  I will usually pay the tenant $50/month for maintenance depending on the size of the driveway and yard.

Having yard maintenance in the rental/lease agreement is fine, but it will not hold up at the Landlord Tenant Board.   There have been times the Tenant did not take care of the property and I did not pay the $50.

3. Do Your Semiannual Inspections

You won’t know they didn’t shovel or that the place is a mess until you get a bill from the City if you don’t stop by.

Yes, I learned this the hard way! When a Tenant first moves in it’s a good idea to do a monthly drive by.  Get to know their habits, are they taking out garbage, keeping house free of debris, etc.

Inspections are not limited to the outside. At least twice a year I do an full inspection including

  • Fire and c/o2 detectors - take a video and test
  • Water leaks
  • Caulking in bath
  • Downspouts and eaves
  • General damages

Sometimes you get a tenant who is messy or breaks things.  If I do find a tenant is not keeping the  house or causing damage I send a N5 notice referencing our rental agreement saying the house needs to be kept in good repair. It is a few days before I go back and confirm that they have remedied the problem.

4. Don't Get Annoyed When Your Tenants Contact You

First of all it is good to explain what constitutes an emergency and what is a general question or concern. This way you are not getting calls at 1am about blown light bulbs.  When you do get a call, try and put yourself in their shoes. Most likely the goal isn’t to be a royal pain in your butt after all.  Them informing you that the water in the tub won’t stop dripping is actually a good thing. Now you can get it fixed and save on the next water bill.

5. Connect With Them

This can be easier to do for some people than others. I realized I need to get better at connecting when I knew tenants pets names better than the tenant's because they used it for the rent password. To help build a connection I like to send an email an week after move in to make sure everything is working out  and ask if they have any questions or concerns.

If they have had anyone through for repairs I ask them if the problem was fixed to their satisfaction and make sure that the service person was courteous.

Say thank you to your tenants. Thank you for keeping house so nice or always paying the rent on time etc.

Last but not least a small gift at Christmas or other big occasions like getting married or having a baby.

A lot of people say they don’t invest in real estate because tenants and toilets are such a head ache but having open line of communication and systems in place can make it easier. I own a few properties in not the best areas of town but I have placed great tenants and have respectful relationships with them.  This includes “The Backwoods House” which I still own and is now my favourite property.

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