In a perfect world, a tenant would treat your rental property as if it were their own. But unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world – and we probably never will! So as landlords, we have to think about ways to prolong the longevity of our buildings’ systems and hard surfaces in spite of our tenants’ behavior. It’s what we called “tenant proofing” our rentals. Because let’s face it, even the most well intentioned tenants can cause some real wear and tear.
Here are a few of the most common issues we’ve encountered, and a bit of insight as to how we’ve learned to deal with each:
It’s become more expensive to buy and install carpet in recent years, an expense that has really started to add up for us.
How long a carpet lasts really depends on the tenants. Some are much cleaner than others, and a big X factor is whether the tenant has pets. I’ve found that if a tenant has pets, the carpet’s lifespan is usually only a few years.
We’ve realized that it’s actually more cost effective to install laminate flooring than carpet. While the initial costs are higher (sub-flooring needs to be installed), the laminate is more durable and lasts longer.
We make an exception for bedrooms, which tend to see less wear and tear.
We still use carpet in the bedrooms (for now!—we’re considering switching to laminate in the future). When we do install carpet, we try to choose the darkest multi-colored carpet we can find in order to mask unwanted stains.
If you have carpeting in your units, one perk you might want to offer a tenant (if they renew their lease) is a free annual carpet cleaning. The costs are minimal and will be perceived as a gesture of goodwill by tenants. They usually don’t even realize that you’re not necessarily doing it to be nice, but rather to protect your investment!
We try to avoid ceiling fans at all costs. They’re hard to clean (and tenants never seem to clean them!) and it’s harder to change the light bulbs in them than in normal ceiling lights.
N-I-G-H-T-M-A-R-E! I wish we could just leave it at that, because I hate even thinking about what a headache garbage disposals cause us. Tenants seem to think they can empty out their refrigerator and put any food they want down the disposal, big chicken bones and all. Disposals are only supposed to be used for minor table scraps but nobody seems to care.
It’s no wonder they break so easily! And the problem is the cost to fix a garbage disposal is more expensive than just buying a new one.
We’ve learned it’s not worth the headache and over time we’ve just stopped installing them in our units.
We used to think we were super savvy investors since we’d save money by buying refurbished appliance from our local appliance recycler.
We’d get great deals on these appliances, and the company would deliver them for us and even haul away the old ones. Welp! We were wrong!
Turns out those refurbished appliances only have a lifespan of about 14 months. We finally decided it was better to spring for brand new appliances. We’ll look for the lowest cost new appliances, typically anything that’s on sale at Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowes or our local company Judd & Black. Although the appliances cost more initially, new appliances seem to last 7+ years – so we’re actually saving in the long run.
On a related note, let’s talk about refrigerators for a second: Save yourself the hassle and do not buy refrigerators with ice machines or water dispensers! Not only do these tend to break easily, but they’re also nearly impossible to repair. The also require water filters, which can be expensive and you’re relying on your tenant to replace them frequently enough and properly. You’ll also have to worry about water and ice spilling onto the floor and causing damage over the long-term. As a general rule of thumb, stick with appliances that are basic but functional.
Garage door openers
Throw these in the same category as garbage disposals. What category is that, you may be asking? It’s the “I have no clue how tenants manage to break this so often” category. Tenants always seem to misuse garage door openers. No idea how–it’s a mystery we’ve been trying to solve for some time now. We’ve had tenants knock the laser off, tenants who leave things in the way when the doors shut and the doors get dented, and others who just routinely lose their remotes. Like disposals, we’ve just done away with garage door openers.
Most landlords opt for cheap plastic or aluminum blinds. We have to admit, we did that for years, too. They’re about $20 per window and simple to install. But we’ve learned that these inexpensive blinds are easily destroyed by children and pets—and once a blind gets bent, good luck replacing the slats. They’re also really difficult to clean. One time we had to soak a set of blinds in the bathtub just to get the built-up gunk off. Yuck! So we’ve transitioned to higher end wooden blinds. Wooden blinds are nearly 4x more expensive, but they last so much longer. Pony up for the weighted blinds without the strings. They look better and are well worth it.
When we first started out as landlords, we thought we could save some money by using left over paint from our flips or new construction projects.
Initially, it seemed like a no-brainer. The old paint was just sitting there collecting dust anyhow.
The problem occurred when the tenant moved out and we tried to repaint using a color that matched what we had used previously. Despite our best efforts, we could never get the color quite right.
Since then, we’ve chosen one interior and two exterior paint colors (one for the body, one for the trim) that we use on all of our rentals. That way, when we need to touch thing up we know exactly what color we used. Another piece of advice: always opt for high-quality paint. Our go-to is Sherwin Williams because it paints on easily, doesn’t streak, and it’s easy to wipe down if need be.
It’s funny when I look back on it: my husband used to keep boxes of locks and piles of keys so he could swap out locks on our rental properties whenever tenants left.
We thought he was so clever doing this—we never had to buy new locks or remember to label the keys!
But over time, this method became too complicated and inevitably, we would forget to re-label some of the keys. We wound up with more mismatched lock sets than I’d care to admit!
We’ve since switched over to KwikSet locks where we just need to change the key of the lock itself. This is SO. MUCH. EASIER.
We’ve also installed a contractor lock box on the outside of every property with at least one key in the event that the tenants lock themselves out or if we’re out of town and a contractor needs access. All we need to do is give them the code to the lockbox, which can be easily changed for security purposes.
There’s no getting around it: tenants are going to cause damage to your units over time. But we’ve learned there are a number of ways that tenant proofing your rentals will pay off down the road. It may cost more on the front end, but learn from our mistakes and eat those costs now to save time and money over the long run.