Following on from our rather popular ‘Don’t Be a D*ck’ guides for estate agents and homebuyers comes Hometruths Melbourne’s essential ‘Don’t Be a D*ck’ guide for landlords. Good landlords: may we know them, may we be them, may we become them. Being a landlord is an important social role, and one that many take with all due seriousness. Unfortunately, some landlords make life difficult for everyone involved – for their tenants, their managing agents and for themselves – due to either sheer bloody-mindedness, a lack of understanding of the landlord-tenant relationship or because they’re just d*cks. We hope today’s handy guide goes some way to remedying the situation for the latter.
1. Don’t be the cheapskate who self-manages their investment property.
Don’t be that guy. Often a close relation to the vendors who put ‘For Sale By Owner NO AGENTS’ handwritten signs against their front windows or in micro-font in the local paper, the self-managing landlord is motivated principally by cheapness fuelled by ignorance. ‘Why should I spend $100 bucks a month on an agent?’ he thinks. ‘What me worry?’ When your investment property burns down due to an ill-maintained hot water system or a crew of whimsical bikies take over the residence using the corner spa as a giant meth-cooking boiler, you’ll be worrying alright.
Unlike the relatively short term relationship between a vendor and a buyer, the relationship between a landlord and a tenant is an ongoing affair which may last many years. Like any relationship, it will have its ups and downs. It requires good professional boundaries based on a robust knowledge of tenancy legislation in your respective state, an understanding of bonds and notices and of the responsibilities and rights of both landlords and tenants. Even in the best of landlord-tenant relationships, matters can become fraught. Whether that’s because of rent late-paid regularly, maintenance issues, wear and tear or body corporate issues – a managing agent is the essential fair sounding board between you and your tenant – emotionless and encouraging resolution at all times. Resolution supported by the hard word of the law, that is. If you don’t know where to lodge a bond (or you wonder what a bond even IS), can’t properly create condition watertight reports, if you don’t know how to correctly vet potential tenants or understand the parameters of legislation around rental arrears, eviction and representation of matters at VCAT – you cannot risk self-managing. The systems and accountability mechanisms a professional property manager has at their disposal shores up your financial position, while leaving you to get on with your daily tasks – not trying to remedy complex tenancy matters you are not expert in. Word to the wise: leave it to the professionals.
2. Don’t get Uncle Don to perform maintenance on your property.
And don’t pretend to be Uncle Don either, ya cheeky bugger. Some landlords are controlling and suspicious when it comes to maintenance, occasionally doubting the veracity of the request for maintenance. If they learn there’s a gas heater on the blink or the oven’s not working, they will attempt to perform maintenance on the cheap by doing it themselves. This is dangerous and irresponsible. Deaths have been caused by faulty appliances. It’s a serious matter. Don’t believe me? Read this article and feel the fear of God. Unless you are a registered, insured tradesperson, don’t put your tenant’s welfare at peril for the benefit of a financial saving. Your property manager has an array of trusted, insured professional trades at their disposal for urgent and non-urgent repairs. Take your property manager’s advice when it comes to maintenance, and don’t be the d*ck that haggles over service callout fees (“What do you mean it’s $220 for a callout? I’ll just get Uncle Don to go ’round.”). Being a landlord has responsibilities which are expensive – maintenance done properly and in a timely fashion is one of them.
3. It’s your investment property, but it’s not your home.
Flying in from interstate on a stopover? Ringing your property manager incessantly once you land to get through your property ‘for a quick look’ on short notice? ‘They won’t mind, will they? It’ll only take a minute’. Erm, actually the tenant probably will mind. Your tenant has the right to quiet enjoyment of their home. They pay for the privilege. Your property manager can inform you about annual access to your investment property for routine inspections, but make sure to begin any conversation about inspecting your investment long before you fly into town. Your tenants will likely want to present their home in the best possible light, and be aware of strangers entering their private space.
4. Don’t be a hateful bigot.
Thinking of asking your property manager to turn down the applications of people based on their race, gender, sexuality, marital status or disability? You don’t deserve to be a landlord, you unutterable bastard. Nick off.
5. Don’t choose a property manager based on cheap fees, or ‘free management’ periods.
Property management businesses who urge you to join them by offering heavily discounted fees or ‘free management’ periods are focused on building up their estate agency’s largest asset: that being their rent roll. These are worth a motza to the agency. What they’re not focused on however, is the service they offer you as a landlord or the health and workload capacity of their property managers. You’re just a number to fatten a rent-roll for these behemoth discounting real estate businesses, rather than a client to be cared for. By all means, if you’re being prospected by an on-the-ball property manager who knows you and your property inside-out, consider leaving your lacklustre current agent for them. But don’t be wooed by a cheap fee which will only save you shekels and likely disturb your tenant-landlord relationship. Your role as a landlord is more than a simple return on investment and screwing down every service provider to save you dollars – you’re housing humans. And if you’re irresistibly drawn to cheapness remember: thing that are free aren’t of value. That goes for property management services and anything else of import in life. Property investment and being a landlord is a long-game, in which you should try your very darndest to not be a d*ck.
6. Realise that selling your leased property is an inconvenience to tenants.
Sometimes ya just gotta sell a property. I get it. Whilst having a tenant in-situ during a sales period isn’t ideal (in many cases it dissuades owner-occupier purchasers who need to wait for your tenant’s lease to expire), it isn’t uncommon. It is an inconvenience to your tenants, however. Think carefully about your motivation: are you really ready to meet the market, or are you livin’ on a prayer Jon Bon Jovi style when it comes to your asking price? If you’re being wooed onto the market on the never-never, don’t put your tenants through the hell of a sales campaign – months of open for inspections with no result due to your own price expectations being out of the ballpark. If you are ready to sell, proceed with the selling process in tandem with your property manager and sales agent, respectfully and transparently. It is a good idea to offer fair compensation to tenants during sale period – a sum that will be paid to them (or taken off their rent) at the end of a set time contingent on the property being opened at agreed times and in a condition which is appropriate. This is both an incentive to the tenant, and an act of good faith. By the way, this doesn’t mean throwing them $20 a week for three months worth of opens. Don’t be a d*ck.