The life of a landlord

Acquiring the building is just the beginning. Maintaining tenant relations is critical to becoming a successful property manager.

lived as a tenant,” says Debra Poe-Hartsfield, vice president of planning at Barrington Financial Advisors in Houston, “I was upset by a landlord who took profits but did not put anything back into the property. We moved out as soon as we could.”

If you do make necessary repairs, it may pay to go first class, rather than cut corners. “For example,” says Gulley, “most people just use vinyl tile when they have to replace a kitchen floor. I use ceramic tile instead. That way, I won’t have to keep buying new vinyl tile every three to five years.” However, Gulley warns against loading up a rental house with expensive amenities that are likely to suffer wear and tear from tenants’ use.

Try not to court trouble. No matter how carefully you screen tenants, or how much hands-on maintenance you provide, it’s still possible to wind up with unruly tenants. What’s the right way to deal with them?

Norton usually uses a month-to-month lease for the first year to see how a tenant works out. Then he can decline to renew the monthly lease for a troublesome tenant. “After a year,” he says, “I’ll offer longer leases to good tenants.” However, even proven tenants can sometimes present problems before their leases expire.

“I try to avoid going through eviction proceedings,” says Norton. “It’s an expensive process.” You could lose rental income while the matter is in dispute, or a disgruntled tenant might cause extensive property damage. “Instead,” continues Norton, “I’ll sit down with the tenant to find out what the problem is. If the problem isn’t solvable, I may go into my own pocket to help a tenant relocate.”

One of Norton’s tenants, for instance, was a woman with two children. “She lost her job and had to go back to school to re-train,” he says. “She had been a terrific tenant, but it was obvious that it would be awhile before she’d be able to pay the kind of rent she had been paying. So I let her stay, rent free, for a short time period while I helped her make other arrangements. She wound up in a less expensive home, one that was managed by someone I knew.”

Poe-Hartsfield agrees that it’s better to resolve a problem with tenants as quickly as possible. “Otherwise,” she says, “they can drag out an eviction. In the end, all parties will loose.”

Dispose of the bad apples. Nevertheless, a landlord has to let tenants know that he or she means business. “If you don’t have the heart to evict people,” says Poe-Hartsfield, “you shouldn’t be a landlord.” Moreover, your actions shouldn’t come as a surprise to tenants.

“You should have a zero-tolerance policy on late rent,” says Dunagan, “and you should let your tenants know about it. If the rent is due on the first of the month, for example, and it’s late, you should give notice right away.”

Evicting an unwilling tenant can be done without delay in most areas, according to Cain, if it’s done properly. “Be

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