I’ve heard several people say they would never invest in a multifamily rental property because they don’t want to fall into what I call “The Landlord Trap.” The Landlord Trap says that when you buy an apartment building or rental houses, the tenants suddenly take over your life. For example, a tenant might do something stupid and break something. then call you at 4 AM to let you know that it needs to be fixed immediately even though they actually broke it early yesterday afternoon. And then they want to whine about other things for an hour. Basically, you stop being a real human being with a life so that you can be a landlord.
So that’s what’s known as The Landlord Trap. And this is a very real concern. Anyone who’s owned or managed a rental unit or two for a while knows it can be a problem. If you’re not careful, it is easy for this to happen. The good news is that it doesn’t have to. The solution is really very simple. It just takes a little careful planning.
The Solution To The Trap
The solution is in the systems you use. If you can create a systematic way of handling your property and stick to it, you’ll sleep easy and avoid the headaches that so many other owners and managers have. Here are four systems that I think everyone should have in place. I will leave the “how to” up to you, because there are so many options out there.
You need a system for screening out problem tenants before you sign the lease. That means a complete rental application form and actually checking up any references. If the possible tenant skipped rent at the last three places they rented, they will probably skip rent at your place. If they can’t seem to hold down a job, they can’t pay rent. Set guidelines for renting, and have the resolve to stick to them. Every time you have a problem tenant, look back at your application and see if there is something you could add to avoid getting more of the problems.
You do need to make sure that your screening is legal. It cannot be based on race, religion, gender, etc. It is a good idea to write up the requirements you have to rent, and when you reject an application, to record which of the requirements they failed to meet. The laws differ from place to place, so you’ll need to do a little research yourself.
You need a good system for rent collection. Find a way that works for you. If you don’t have a well defined system, you will have money fall through the cracks. A good accounting software will help you do this without a big headache. And nowadays, there are easy ways for tenants to automate payments. You should know about those and use as many as makes sense for you.
You need an organized way of dealing with maintenance problems. This is the biggest area where people get stuck in The Landlord Trap. What usually works best is some kind of work order system where you can know exactly what needs to be done and check up on it every day. There are plenty of paper systems and work order software packages out there.
You should also consider finding an emergency repair provider that your tenants can call at 4 AM. You can buy printed magnets to stick on every unit’s refrigerator so they know who to call after hours.
You also need to have a system set up for evictions. I’m not saying that you need to be completely heartless here, but you do need to be consistent. It can end up being expensive to evict, so you may want something built in your system to help tenants make up a missed rent payment. Just keep in mind that if you allow a tenant to miss two payments in a row, they will almost never get caught up.
Whether you need to get out of The Landlord Trap or avoid ever falling in, the solution is the same: make a system and stick to it.
Besides managing properties, Bryce works in the technology side of real estate, operating an online work order software as well as an online provider of utah real estate continuing education credits.