Buy to Rent: What is a Landlord Responsible For?

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 18 April 2017 11:22

While it's true that you can make a lot of money through rental homes, you need to be prepared for expenses beyond the initial purchase price and mortgage interest. Part of the appeal to renters is having someone else to take care of any problems, and certain maintenance expenses fall on the landlord by law with no option to have a lease that makes a tenant responsible. Here's an overview of what you should expect to pay for:

Basic Utilities

All residential properties must have working connections for electricity and water. Without these connections, a property isn't fit for habitation and a tenant may be allowed to withhold their entire rent payment if utilities aren't in place.

Of course, you don't have to pay for the tenant's electric and water usage. As long as you have an individual meter on the rental unit, you can require them to set up an account directly with the utility company to pay their own bills. What you can't do is have one meter for multiple units and divide the cost between each unit. You also can't have the electricity for a common area, such as hallway lighting between units, running into the meter for one unit. In those cases, you'd either need to include utility costs in the monthly rent or pay to have the required meters installed.

Keeping the Elements Out

Tenants are also entitled to be protected from wind, rain, and insects. You must be prepared to fix any leaky roofs in a timely manner, maintain windows and doors so that they are properly sealed, and install window screens if you're in a state that requires them. You don't have to be 100 percent energy efficient -- small drafts in windows are legally OK -- but going the extra mile could lead to happier tenants and higher rents.

Appliance Repairs

If an appliance was a promised amenity with the apartment, you are responsible for keeping it in good working order. If it breaks down due to age or normal wear and tear, you have to repair or replace it. Of course, if a tenant breaks it through misuse, failing to clean it, or not alerting you to a minor problem before it turns into a big one, you'll be able to send them a bill.

Heating and Cooling

Everything that applies to appliances also applies to heating and cooling systems. Many states also require that a heating system be installed. That means that while you can tell a tenant to bring their own refrigerator, you may not be able to tell them to bring their own furnace. You should also know that heating and cooling are generally considered habitability issues. That means that if landlord-provided heat or air conditioning goes out and it's unbearably hot or cold inside, the tenant may be entitled to withhold rent until it's fixed, so be prepared to provide a fast emergency repair.

Paint and Carpeting

Paint and carpeting are expected to wear out and lose their appeal over time, so tenants can't be held responsible for normal wear and tear. If they've lived there for a few years, you can't force them to cover fresh paint or a new carpet. If they damage a wall or stain a carpet that's still within its normal usable lifespan, you can bill them for the costs. Also be aware that local laws may require paint and carpeting to be regularly replaced within certain time frames either between tenants or even sometimes while a long-term tenant is still living there.

Exterior Hallways and Landscaping

If a rental property has multiple units, the landlord is entirely responsible for maintenance in common areas and can't leave it for the tenants to sort out themselves. With a single-family rental home on its own lot, you usually can delegate routine tasks like lawn care and snow shoveling. However, to make sure the work gets done, your property stays in great shape, and you don't have to deal with city or county fines, it may be best to hire someone yourself and include the cost in the rent.

Pest Control

Even if your jurisdiction doesn't require pest control, hire your own exterminator for regular treatments. Tenants will blame bugs on you no matter how poorly they've kept the rental unit. A tenant likely won't do much more than put down roach traps and occasionally spray Raid. If there's an ongoing bug problem, they'll simply move out and leave you to deal with the infestation while the property is sitting unoccupied and not earning you any money.

For more tips on buying and renting check out:

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