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Property Management Blog

Published on Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Getting Repairs Done to the Home You’re Renting

As property managers, we try to address repair issues within a reasonable amount of time.  We still get blind-sided sometimes by irate tenants with issues we’ve never heard about before.  These tenants claim they told one of our contractors about the repair issue “weeks ago” and want to know why we haven’t fixed the issue.  Or we get a call from a tenant about a specific repair and then their list of repairs grows to several items we’ve never heard about and the tenant wants everything fixed immediately.

What’s the best way for a tenant to approach repair problems?  Let’s discuss how to go about it to maximize the chances of the repairs being taken care of.

Communication
– This is the most important, the key to everything.  What’s more we recommend all communications about repairs be put in writing by tenants.  Calling is fine (be sure to call the office!) to start the ball rolling, but should be followed up with an email or letter.  In the challenge we had above with a tenant telling one of our contractors about a repair they wanted, the issue was that our contractors are not our employees.  They had no incentive to tell our office about a repair request they received.  Either it didn’t matter to them, so it went in one ear and out the other, or they probably assumed the tenant would also inform our office.  We’ve had contractors that we sent into a property for a repair call us a year later to inform us a tenant was calling them from “out of the blue” with another repair issue.  We’re lucky in those cases when a contractor will alert us, but the tenant shouldn’t be calling them in the first place.  So, be sure to direct all your communication efforts to the office, not to contractors.  Our lease states all repair issues, excluding emergency repairs, must be put in writing and sent to our office.  Still, many of our tenants don’t do this.


Promptness – Don’t put off alerting your landlord about a repair and then expect them to drop everything to get it fixed immediately when you finally get around to calling about it.  Water leaks can cause a lot more damage if they’re not addressed quickly.  You may want to check your lease about this issue – our lease allows us to charge a tenant for further damages if they don’t promptly communicate a water leak to our office.


Share Details – One of the more frustrating issues we experience in trying to get repairs done is vague descriptions of the problem.  This often leads to the wrong contractor being sent out or the contractor not having the proper tools or supplies.  Both issues extend the amount of time it takes to make the repair and frustrates everyone involved.  With so many people now having camera phones, take a picture of the problem and email it to the office.  Your repair issue will get resolved faster.
Be Reasonable – Just because you’re renting a property, doesn’t mean you’re staying at a hotel with your own private concierge.  There are some things you can and should take care of yourself.  We once had a tenant that called us to replace a light bulb that burned out.  Another called us about a “broken” ceiling fan where the only problem was that they were pulling the chain on the fan, but didn’t turn the light switch on.  If you “abuse” your landlord by calling with every little thing, eventually just like with the boy that “cried wolf” too many times, your landlord may ignore a “real” repair request you make.
So, what happens if you do all of the above and a repair still isn’t getting done?  The first inclination of many tenants is to threaten or actually withhold rent.  Legally, there are certain steps you must take before you can be justified in withholding rent.  Let’s look at them:

The repair must be something that affects your ability to make use of the property as intended and is under the landlord’s control.  A burnt out light bulb wouldn’t qualify, neither would a utility outage that was the responsibility of the utility company.

You must be able to prove you informed the landlord about the repair issue.  This is where getting used to putting things in writing pays off.  If you communicate via email, save the emails you exchange with the landlord.  If you don’t have email, send a registered letter via U.S. Mail and save the receipt.
You must give your landlord an appropriate amount of time to address the repair.  How much time is this?  It really depends on the type of repair and sometimes the weather, season or time of year.  For a non-emergency repair, you probably should wait at least 30 days.

You must prove your ability to pay the rent when you withhold it.  Because too many tenants have tried to “play” the system and use a repair as a reason not to pay rent they didn’t have to begin with, most courts/judges will require you to prove you had the money to pay your rent when it was due.  There are really only two ways to do this: 1) have enough money continuously in your bank account to cover all rents you withhold, 2) escrow the rent money with an attorney or other licensed professional.  If you don’t do this you risk having a judge dismissing your case and/or giving your landlord a money judgment against you.

Overall, if you communicate with your landlord, follow up with their office and act civilly, you’ll find most repairs are taken care of to your satisfaction.  Even more get taken care of if you escalate your communications.  Very few repair issues get to the point where you’d have to withhold rent.

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Author: Web Master

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Landlord Knowledge Base

If you’ve ever considered investing in a few rental properties in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA now might be a good time. Prices are still low in Philadelphia, but have been on the upswing. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home in a US metropolitan area grew 13.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, the latest in a 17-month streak of year-over-year price increases. 

New landlords can choose from properties that are likely to appreciate and a large pool of potential renters.Licensed realtor Pat Mueller cites a few reasons for this trend: “Many families have lost their homes to foreclosure and are entering the rentals market for the first time in years. Mortgages are also harder to get now, so fewer people are qualifying for a new one.”The more skills you bring to the table to get into Houses for Rent in Philadelphia Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA and the more time you have to devote to your properties, the faster you can make a return on your investment. 

But investing in rentals can also be disastrous (or too stressful to be worthwhile) without expertise. Here are three professionals you may consult about your new rental properties, and what you can do to mitigate how much they cost you:Handyman:  You may need to hire a specialist for some work on your rental. If you need new outlets or new pipes, for example, hire an electrician, plumber or licensed contractor. Handymen usually tackle smaller, more manageable tasks, like:

  • Painting and paint removal
  • Drywall repair
  • Minor appliance repairs (fixing a leaky toilet or faucet, among others)
  • Installing tiling or flooring, moldings, windows, doors
  • Refinishing decks, cabinets and other wood items

When You Could Skip It: You could do any (or all) of these projects yourself if you have the time and interest in learning. Of course, this only works if you live relatively close to your rentals and are flexible enough to service them on short notice. And if you’re willing to respond to the occasional 5 AM basement flooding.

Average Savings: Any base rates or costs-per-hour vary from location to location in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA , but nationally, you can expect to spend an average of $60 to $85 per hour for repair costs. It general costs less to hire an individual handyman than a handyman employed by a company. Expect an additional charge if your job requires a trip to the store for materials.

Resident Property Manager As the owner of a handful of rental properties, you may be able to manage them yourself, but if you want help, a single resident manager would probably be more cost efficient than a property management company. Resident managers may:

  • Serve as a handyman
  • Advertise vacancies in your units
  • Show apartments to prospective tenants
  • Review rental applications
  • Collect rents

When You Could Skip It: Again, the closer you live to your properties and the more spare time you have, the less likely you are to need a manager. The obligations of being a boss will also cut into the time you save on maintenance.

Average Savings: The national median wage for residential managers is just over $25 per hour. Research the wages in your community and adjust according to how much responsibility your manager will take on. 

Real Estate Agent: Once you’ve gotten your financials in order and done your own research on the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, you might contact a realtor to show you potential properties. You can also arrange for a realtor in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA to show rentals once they’re ready to rent.

When You Could Skip It: It depends. Even if you’re a local, or have thoroughly researched the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, a realtor is a great resource for a first-time rental buyer. Realtors have access to data and statistics not necessarily available to the general public and first-time buyers may not know all the right questions to ask. Using a realtor to fill your Houses for Rent vacancies is less of a no-brainer, depending on your other time commitments or whether you plan to hire a resident manager who could do the same thing.

Average Savings: As a buyer of rental properties, as when buying your own home, sellers typically pay most, if not all, of the buyer’s realtor fees. In this case, Mueller points out there’s little reason not to work with a realtor. For help in filling your units in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA, the services of a realtor would set you back between 10-20% of the unit’s rent per month.  Mueller recommends interviewing with several brokers before making your final decision to invest into Houses for Rent .

The Bottom Line: As a new landlord, you can’t necessarily control the flexibility of your schedule or the amount (and cost) of unexpected repairs to your properties. Rentals are a long-term investment. However, to maximize profits from your Houses for Rent, new rentals, you can buy close to home and start small. It is best to begin with just one or two properties. This will allow you to maximize the time you spend on your properties’ needs, and minimize the amount you’ll have to pay anyone else.

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