Here are a few things I’ve learned from being a distant landlord.
I live in a neighborhood that has been considered one of the safest, kid friendly communities in our city. Yet, a few weeks ago two young men robbed a neighbor at gun point as he exited his vehicle in front of his house at 10:30 pm. Obviously that shook us all up, not to mention the individual. Though there is nothing we can do to be 100 percent immune to crime, there are several things we can do.
In Property Management it is essential to be in-the-know, not just about local issues that may influence your business, but to remain alert to national trends as well. The laws related to property management are constantly changing. There are increasingly new and better ways being introduced to the property management business. We can all learn from one another, no matter how long we may have been in the business.
In May of 2015 Airbnb renters caused upwards to $150,000 damage to a home. This isn't to suggest that such behavior is common among short-term renters, nor to imply that short-terms rentals are bad. Stories like this are simply an important reminder that we need to be mindful whenever we choose to rent out our property and this becomes especially important when dealing with short-term renters.
Inclement weather may have made it impossible to accomplish all that was on your annual spring 'to do' list. But now is the time not only to catch up, but to add new tasks that are particularly summer related. Your summer will be far more enjoyable if you get these necessary seasonal tasks completed as early as possible. If you are the owner/resident, these items can be pursued at your convenience.
A June 18, 2015 MarketPlace.org article written by Krissy Clark caught my attention this morning. (You can read it HERE). Increasingly, many employees - essential to the success of a business - are no longer able to find affordable housing within reasonable proximity to their place of work. This trend is being replicated all around the country, not merely in Marin County, CA.
No. This isn't about noisy property managers, though I'm sure there may be some such inconsiderate individuals. This article is about how property managers can deal with complaints from tenants regarding noise.
Let's face it, finding peace and quiet is not easily obtained in the 21st century. Many people are simply rude, believing they can play their music however loudly they like whether it offends others or not. Others simply believe that their music is so wonderful everyone else must think so too. Still others just don't think through what they are doing. They permit their pets to bark endlessly. They throw loud parties that last until the wee hours of the morning. They use loud equipment too early in the morning or late at night or operate vehicles with loud exhausts.
What is often forgotten is that their neighbors may work nights and sleep days, have babies at home that need to take naps, are adults who work from home, are students attempting to study, or are people who are simply bothered by unnecessarily loud and/or frequent noise. The noise issue becomes an even more acute issue in HOA's and apartment/condominiums.
A Few Facts
Sound is measured in decibels. For every increase of ten decibels the level of noise appears to double. Most people are bothered by sounds levels at 65 decibels. When noise is sustained at 90 decibels hearing loss may occur. Normal conversation at 3 feet is about 60 decibels. Truck traffic at 500 feet is usually around 90 decibels. A home lawn mower at 16 feet may produce a noise level at 100 decibels.
There are solutions - solutions that are increasingly being leveraged by frustrated residents. Be sure to check the ordinances against noise in your city. Also, if you live in an HOA, be sure to check their rules as well.
- Time Out - in our particular city the law for residential zones states, 'no person shall cause, suffer, allow or permit sound from any source which is plainly audible beyond the property line of the property creating the noise between the hours of 10 pm and 7 am.' On Friday and Saturday evening 'time out' begins at 11 pm.
- Defining Unlawful Noise - certain types of noise are unlawful any time of day. Again, from our city by way of example, the law defines unlawful noise as 'any unreasonably loud, unusual, or unnecessary noise which disturbs the peace and quiet of any neighborhood, or which cause discomfort or annoyance to any reasonable person of normal sensitivity residing in the area, or which otherwise injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace, safety, or welfare of others.'
- First, Be Neighborly - If possible, and safe, the preferred first step is to contact your disruptive neighbor. Often the offender is not even aware of the issue. S/he may be hard of hearing and have their music/TV up loud enough for him/her to hear, not realizing that it is also up so loud that you can also hear it. It would be well for all of us to step out of our homes to see if the volume we play music at and/or listen to TV can be heard outside.
- Second, Call the Police - Some folks are too afraid or unable to contact their neighbors about a noise issue. It would then be appropriate to contact the police, using their non-emergency number, and ask them to make the contact. If the noise issue persists, contact the police again. Violation of the city noise ordinance is a misdemeanor in our city.
- Third, Contact the Property Manager - If you live in an HOA and the noise continues despite police warnings, it would be appropriate to contact your property manager and/or HOA board. They can, equipped with police reports, levy a fine on the owner of the property. Unfortunately, if the police have been unwilling to act, the HOA board will have less ability to take action. The only option left will be the voting box at the next election.
Unless your company is large enough to have employed individuals with all the necessary skills to repair and remodel the properties you manage, you will be looking to hire an Independent Contractor sooner or later. Here, briefly, are a few things to keep in mind:
- Plan Ahead - know exactly what you want to accomplish before searching for a contractor. Will you need a general contractor who will then be responsible for hiring subcontractors with the skills necessary for specific jobs or will you only need to hire a specific contractor, such as a plumber or electrician?
- Ask Questions - if possible, obtain referrals from trusted friends. Look at the work a particular contractor has done for someone else. Check out any online reviews of the contractor. How long has the contractor been in business? Are there signs that he is going out of business? Get bids from several different contractors and compare their answers. What might appear to be a good deal may result in a shoddy job, so don’t go for ‘cheap’. A nice person is not necessarily an appropriately skilled person. Ask about who will actually be doing the work, when they will be able to start, etc.
- Observe - how thoughtful is the contractor when visiting with him? Is he careful with his equipment, protective of your home, and does he pick up after himself? If he is careless when he enters your property to make an estimate, he may be careless in the way he does the job.
- Confirm - make sure the contractor is licensed, experienced, and has a reputation for competence in the specific task you are hiring him/her for, and is known for his/her integrity. Check your state and local licensing requirements. Be sure a permit is obtained. Ask to see all documentation.
- Insurance - though the contractor should be insured, it is often best to have your own insurance that will cover the contractor and his work. Check to see what your own insurance does or does not cover. It is not unusual for clients to not only sue a contractor, but also the management company that hired the contractor. Make sure all bases are covered. Again, be sure to ask to see the contractors certificate of insurance.
- Contracts - read the contract through very carefully. Are the provisions generally stated or is it adequately detailed? Does it list the specific materials that will be used, the model numbers for parts, brand names, etc.? What is the payments schedule? How soon after the job is completed must you make the final payment? Will you be allowed time to see if the job was truly done correctly before making the final payment?
- Taxes - if the sum of what you have paid out to an independent contractor is $600 or more in any given year, you must obtain his/her taxpayer ID number and file form 1099 with the IRS. Be sure to request form W-9 from the contractor to avoid being held responsible for backup withholdings.
New landlord? Are you a landlord as a business choice or are you an 'accidental landlord'?
Do you have any experience or training in property management?
If you are new to property management, here are a few basic 'landlord tips' that may save you a lot of time and money.
- Write It - What is written and signed 'is' the agreement - not what you 'meant' to say. Be specific.
- Know It - What you have written must be legal. Know the laws related to property management.
- Repair It - You don't save money by not making repairs. Keep your property well maintained.
- Contract It - Know and hire competent, proven contractors to do repairs on your property.
- Secure It - If your tenants don't feel secure living in your property, they won't stay there long.
- Screen It - Once you have an application, run a credit and criminal screening on the applicant(s).
- Disclose It - Whatever must be legally disclosed should always be disclosed, rather than hidden.
- Inspect It - With legal notice, inspect your property at least once every six months. Don't just drop in.
- Insure It - Don't be frugal on liability and property insurance. Get expert advice on what you need.
- Resolve It - Make every effort to settle conflicts with tenants outside of court.
These are some of the basics, but there is so much more to learn. Keep learning.