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by Brett D Furniss

money down the drainAs a property management company, we work to maximize the cash flow of our clients. Period. We don’t have a problem admitting that.

Sometimes things break in rental homes and that decreases the cash flow our clients receive. They don’t like it, and we don’t either. However, it is part of the game (pardon my street talk), so it is a necessary expense. Sometimes.

Normally if a repair policy is explained to tenants properly at the lease signing, there aren’t any problems. The landlord is responsible for operational issues; that is, if there isn’t any evidence of negligence by the tenant (if there is, the “Sorry if you smashed your toilet because your girlfriend dumped you for being volatile, but the bill goes to you…” message is sent). Then the easy stuff (changing light bulbs, air filters, etc.) is taken care of by the tenant. It’s simple stuff and everyone gets along grandly.

If the home is on the newer side and maintained, there just aren’t that many maintenance calls. Most people want their homes to operate properly (“hey, it’s nice to have the dryer dry clothes in less than 3 hours, so maybe I’ll clean the lint filter occasionally”), so they do the small things to keep it that way.

However, there are some tenants that seem to discover an awful lot of problems that they want the owner to fix. And when they are compared to other tenants, their identity becomes painfully obvious. The calls and the e-mails of their problems continue month-after-month. It gets to the point that everyone involved with managing the property has the tenant’s contact information memorized (“Oh, 704-xxx-xxxx? Mrs. X must be calling from work today.”) Sometimes, the repair requests are a string of bad luck and legitimate; often the tenant is trying to take advantage of the landlord’s altruism and is under the impression they don’t have to lift a finger because someone else will take care of them.

Repairs really hurt cash flow. But if the repairs aren’t done, unhappy tenants also hurt cash flow by trying to use their seemingly one point of leverage (holding back rent) to get what they want done. So what to do?

Before getting to some techniques to ward off unwarranted repair requests, I want to first iterate that almost all tenants (that I’ve worked with, at least) are reasonable with their repair requests. Most have busy lives and can’t be bothered will illegitimate claims. It’s not a huge problem on a whole. I find that doing the repairs that are requested builds trust and keeps everything running smoothly. So requested repairs should usually be done.

For the tenants that abuse the repair system, here are the top techniques to stop the illegitimate request flow:

Recalibrate expectations on repairs: Before the next repair is done, a meeting should be set with all principals on the lease. The purpose of the meeting (or call) is to reexamine the lease and go over exactly what is covered by the landlord and what is not. Also, it is probably time to schedule a walk-through of the house to make sure the maintenance agreement is being followed.

Alert the repair vendors that fraud is suspected: Vendors who visit the home should be put on alert. They can provide information about what claims are legitimate. If a claim is due to non-compliance with the maintenance agreement or rough play, the tenant needs to be billed for the issue, not the landlord!

Push back: If it was your house, what would you be calling a repairman fix, and what would you be doing yourself? That question is a good start to figuring out what repairs may be unnecessary for the landlord to cover.

Keep at code: The landlord is responsible, by law, to keep the rental home at building code. Nothing more. What is being requested beyond that?

Relocation:Maybe it’s worth asking the tenants if they would be more comfortable in someone else’s home?

Though this issue isn’t overly common, it can be uncommonly expensive and will continually siphon cash flow. If you find yourself signing over the monthly rent to the handyman month-after-month, it may be time to try something new!

Brett Furniss is the President & Owner of BDF Realty (“Charlotte’s Most Innovative Property Management & Investment Company”), and Rent-To-Sell Realty (“When You Need a New Solution to Sell Your Home”) which specialize in rent-to-own (lease options) and rent-to-sell homes. You can contact him directly at [email protected]. For a FREE subscription to “Charlotte Property Management Weekly” visit http://www.BDFRealty.com/Blog.php.

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  • gary

    Perhaps this might be helpful:
    In my lease, it’s stated that any minor repairs costing less than $100 are the tenant’s responsibility. I verbally mention that there are still some items that I may decide to fix within that range (depending upon circumstances) – but that decision is mine and for the most part, I’ll likely decide that $100 or less items are theirs.

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