By Ladaniel McNaughton
Your success as a landlord depends not on sitting around idly while the rent money rolls in, you need to invest wisely and take proactive measures to protect your investment. Once tenants are handed the keys, your property is in the hands of strangers, and if you fail to ensure the property is protected, the results could be devastating.
Misuse of your property can range from the irritating to the catastrophic. These can include holes in walls where pictures are hung, broken windows or doors, clogged toilets or drains, smoke damage from cigarettes or candles, mildew, mould or flea infestations and, if you are truly unlucky, a property that is turned into a cannabis factory, drug house or brothel. Dealing with such problems and paying for the subsequent repairs are the downside of being a landlord, so it is to your benefit to do all you can to minimise the risk of property damage.
The first step in minimising the risk is to be careful when choosing your tenants. Conduct a thorough background and credit check on any potential tenants, and if the checks raise any red flags do not agree to the tenancy, regardless of how urgently you need the rent money. Additionally, do a full inventory of the property before handing over the keys, so you have written and, if possible, photographic proof should damage or loss occur, and obtain a deposit up front from the tenants. Once your property is occupied, treat your tenants well and with respect, so hopefully they return the favour and treat you and the property with respect. However, to fully protect yourself against the possibility that your property is not treated with respect, ensure you have landlords property insurance in place. Coverage options include building coverage and contents coverage, as well as legal and liability coverage and rent guarantee insurance.
Finally, and critically, keep an eye on your property so you can spot any problems and attend to them early enough to avoid crippling costs and time spent on repairs, or in worst case scenarios, forfeiture. Remember, it is not enough to simply assume that if the rent is paid on time every month, all is well, hence the need for your vigilance.
One way you can exercise vigilance is to drive by your property occasionally to check for outward signs of general misuse. Telltale signs include a messy front garden or driveway, since if either area is cluttered with items that do not belong, it is possible your tenants are equally uncaring inside the property. Also, look at the windows to verify they are intact, and that there are no broken or boarded up panes of glass. If you do spot signs of misuse or disrepair, call your tenants so you can schedule an inspection of the property and talk to them in person about any problems you find.
Regularly checking the interior is also important, so arrange in advance with your tenants to conduct quarterly or bi-annual inspections, which will give you the ability to assess conditions inside the property and attend to any necessary repairs. Additionally, if you know any of the neighbours, have them report back to you if they notice suspicious, anti-social or destructive behaviour, and certainly if any neighbours call you to complain about your tenants, take action immediately.
In addition to looking out for signs of general misuse and disrepair, keep an eye out for signs of drug activity on your property. However unlikely the possibility may seem to you, instances where cannabis factories and methamphetamine labs have been discovered in let properties are not uncommon, and you need to avoid it happening to your property. If it does happen, at best you risk sky-high costs to make your property habitable again, assuming the property does not need to be demolished entirely, and at worst you also risk fines or imprisonment if the authorities think you were aware of what was happening and failed to stop it.
Since the problem with drug activity in let properties has increased over the past few years, local police forces and various landlord associations have issued guidelines to help familiarise landlords with the signs. They advise landlords to regularly check on their properties to prevent this type of problem in the first place, and to be suspicious of tenants who want to pay several months rent in advance, since that is often an indication of intended illegal activity. Furthermore, if tenants deny you entry into the property or block your access into certain rooms, the chances are it is because they have something they want to hide.
Additionally, there are a number of telltale signs to look out for when conducting drive by checks and on site inspections of your property. Lights kept on all day, covered windows, pungent smells, large quantities of bin bags filled with vegetable material, excessively humid properties and evidence of rewiring are all signs of possible drug manufacturing. A final indication of illegal activity is if you or the neighbours notice a high level of unusual comings and goings at the property.
Obviously, you want your tenure as a landlord to be a successful one, and to achieve that goal it pays to put in that little bit of extra effort to help keep your property safe. By following the appropriate simple precautions and remaining vigilant to signs of misuse, you will reduce the possibility of severe property damage and save yourself from ending up with a nightmarish situation on your hands.