Considering that nearly 35 percent of Americans currently reside in approximately 40 million rental units throughout the country, it’s surprising that few people give much thought to how they communicate with their property manager or landlord. Nearly every one of these landlord-tenant relationships last a minimum of one year and some last many years, even decades.
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The relationship that you have with your landlord can directly impact your lifestyle, comfort, image, and financial standing. Establishing a positive and healthy relationship with your landlord can go a long way in helping you live in the best conditions possible, getting you the fastest responses to maintenance requests, as well as keeping your rental rates reasonable. Here are some quick tips to help to maintain and improve landlord-tenant relations:
During your Rental Search
1. Know your expectations before searching for a property. If your requirements aren’t offered at a particular property, then move on. Don’t expect a landlord to add an unreasonable amount of amenities or upgrades to an existing rental. Find another other unit to meet your needs.
2. Submit completely accurate rental applications regardless of your shortcomings. Do not overstate your income or lie about credit problems. Landlords are increasingly open to working with challenged credit, especially if you are able to provide a clear explanation as to why your credit has suffered and expressing your desire to improve the situation. It’s recommended to send a pre-written letter with this information along with the rental application as it shows that some planning and thought went into your process. Lying on an application is almost always grounds for denial or later termination of a lease.
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3. Ask good questions. These questions are the ones most important to you. In many cases landlords or agents are not required to disclose information that may be important to you so do your part and ask as many questions as necessary to get a good understanding of the property. It doesn’t help to be shy when searching for a home to rent!
4. Get it in writing. If a landlord has promised repairs, new carpet, new appliances, or anything else that will be done as a condition of your lease, be absolutely sure to get it in writing, preferably on the lease document itself. Anything less opens up the chance for miscommunication and leaves an opening for problems. Promises don’t get things done. Written agreements do.
5. Read through the lease completely. This is a critical process. You are making legally binding guarantees regarding payments, upkeep, repairs, etc so read it thoroughly before you sign it. If possible ask for a copy the day before signing the lease so that you have enough time to read and think about any potential questions you may have.
6. Complete or request a walk-through to assess any existing wear or damage. This will alleviate many disputes at the time of move out. Make sure this is done thoroughly and ask for a copy for your records. Take photos to document any damage that was there prior to your move-in.
7. Make sure that you know all of the pertinent property information like utility info, garbage day, instructions for alarms, entry systems, sprinkler systems, HOA rules, etc. If you collect all of this information up front you can eliminate calls to your landlord over the first weeks of tenancy. When landlords receive a flood of calls from a new tenant they instantly start to think of that tenant as high maintenance which can strain the relationship as well as set up future problems. An effective landlord should provide this information but many do not. Do your part to get what you need to know ahead of time.
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8. Understand the exact process for contacting your landlord in case of any questions or repair issues. Each landlord is different and has their own process for dealing with tenant inquiries. You are best served to ask exactly how the landlord would like to be contacted. Don’t assume that texting them or calling them on their cell phone is the preferred or most effective option. By following the landlord’s preferred process you will instantly become “easier to work with” than the tenant who contacts them by some other means. Landlords are also likely to respond more quickly to those who operate the way that they prefer to.
During your tenancy
9. Pay your rent on time. This is easy enough when everything is going well, but what about when things are not? Your best option is to contact the landlord as soon as you see a problem arise and work out an agreement to get on track. Very few landlords will want to evict a tenant who they believe honestly wants to pay but is having a short-term problem. The worst option is silence. A non-paying, non-communicating tenant will and should be dealt with harshly.
10. Be reasonable with your requests. Most landlord-tenant issues that don’t involve money center around tenant maintenance requests that they feel are not handled adequately by their landlords. There are many cases where the tenants are absolutely in the right and landlords have neglected their duty to provide clean, safe housing. However, in many other instances the requests made by tenants are completely unreasonable and by utilizing a bit of patience and thought these issues can be resolved reasonably.
Handle very minor issues on your own. Almost any tenant can replace a light bulb, furnace filter, or smoke detector battery. However, these types of tiny issues constitute a huge number of service calls and maintenance costs for landlords. If you have small issues and can’t handle them on your own then wait until a larger problem arises that truly requires service and ask if those smaller items can be addressed as well saving multiple service trips. If you have a non-emergency issue, don’t require that it be handled on an emergency time frame.
Above all else, it’s important to remember that you are ultimately dealing with another human being. If you are speaking with a property manager or maintenance techician you are dealing with someone who can choose to help you or ultimately push your concerns aside. By portraying yourself as an honest tenant, preparing yourself for your tenancy up front, educating yourself on your lease terms and rules, and making reasonable requests using the proper channels it is very likely that you will have a happier and more successful relationship with your landlord and a more pleasant stay in your rental property.
Ben Holubecki is a licensed Real Estate Broker and a Co-Owner of STML Realty Group, where he oversees the business development and leasing activities of the company. Holubecki is a regular contributor to Buildium's All Things Property Management blog.