by Valeri Khromov
Even if you have well-paid, well-behaved tenants settled into all of your properties, the time will come when someone moves out and you will have to go through the entire process of finding and managing a new tenant again. This is always a stressful time, not only because a month’s rent might be lost, but also because you’re starting over from scratch with new people who may or may not pan out.
I’ve found that by putting a system in place for every stage of the property management process, you can cut down on the uncertainty that comes along with new tenants and pave the way for a positive, mutually beneficial relationship.
Stage 1: Establishing your role
A lot of investors don't pay attention to one core principle of the landlord/tenant relationship: There has to be a leader and a follower. These roles are defined at the very beginning of the relationship. To manage tenants effectively, the leader has to be the landlord. A landlord sets up rules, establishes the framework for everything that follows and fills the dominant position. If you let tenants dictate the relationship, they may feel like they can challenge or contradict you. Once that becomes the case, it's nearly impossible to flip the script.
Another technique that could help you avoid pressure from tenants is by positioning yourself as property manager or minor partner rather than an owner. In doing so, you create a classic third-party authority who enacts objective final decisions. This removes a lot of pressure. You won’t have to make decisions on the spot, won’t be seen as the ‘bad cop’ and will still be privy to any concerns your tenants might have.
Stage 2: Screening potential tenants
If your property attracts a high volume of prospective tenants, or if there’s a specific type of tenant you’re looking for, it may make sense to pre-screen over the phone. To avoid any challenges from human rights legislation, design some indirect questions that will help you to know your prospects better: What’s your work schedule? Who’s going to live in the unit? Do this before booking an appointment. If you don’t see a prospect as your future tenant, ask them to call back to book a viewing. When they do, it might just happen that your property has already been rented.
It’s always important to do proper due diligence on tenants, no matter how anxious you are to fill a vacancy. A credit check is mandatory, as are calls to a tenant’s employer and previous landlords. Google the person’s name and review their social media activity, too. If your gut is still telling you no, it’s better to move on.
You will receive applications from people who you don’t want as tenants. The best way to say no without actually saying it is to say that the owners are still reviewing applications. But if you’ve found your dream tenant, act fast to sign a lease agreement and get a cash commitment. Good tenants won't wait too long, and the great ones aren’t going to come along every day.
Stage 3: Maintaining the tenant-landlord relationship
The first thing you need to do is lay out the rules. Your lease and the move-in package you devise for your tenants will establish the relationship between you and your tenant. Go through both documents with your tenant to ensure there are no misunderstandings and so you can emphasize what’s really important to you as a landlord.
A lot of tenants believe it’s the landlord’s responsibility to pick up rent, but many investors don’t realize that according the Residential Tenancy Act it’s actually the tenant’s responsibility to ensure that rent gets paid. To avoid chasing your tenants down, set up multiple payment options – cheques, direct deposits to your banking account, email transfers, etc. – and push them to deliver payment on time.
You need to remain professional in every aspect of landlording. That means keeping records on any bookkeeping/accounting matters and logs of your tenant interactions. It also means keeping your emotions in check and handling everything in a business-like manner. Tenants can be very emotional, but it’s your duty to remain cool-headed. Don’t be provoked into regrettable decisions. Use the third-party authority trick to avoid direct confrontations with them and position yourself as a messenger rather than a decision-maker.
When it comes to enforcing your rules, be consistent. Apply the same set of rules to everybody and don’t be so strict that you infringe on anyone’s rights.
Stage 4: Handling a move-out
Always be ready to let your tenant go, even if they are legally bound by a lease agreement. If a tenant tries to push you to do something you’re uncomfortable with by threatening to move out, don’t back down. In such cases, I always pull out a form for mutual termination of the lease and suggest we put in an exact date and sign. If your tenant really wants to leave, make sure they submit the request in writing and follow through. Tenants frequently say that they are moving out but, for various reasons, never do.
Make sure your tenants who move out do their job to clean up and hand over the unit. Even if you don’t plan to do a move-out inspection and take the keys personally, it’s always a good idea to tell them that you’ll be there to take the keys. It will encourage tenants to clean up after themselves. You can always say that something happened last minute and ask them to leave the keys on the counter and lock the door from the inside.
By following a few of these simple yet powerful tips, you can decrease your chances of ending up in uncomfortable situations, making yourself a happier landlord in the process.
Valeri Khromov is a multiple-award-winning real estate investor and coach with more than 10 years of experience managing a portfolio of single and multi-family properties. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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