Tag Archives: rental properties

How to Submit a Helpful Maintenance Request

Problems happen. The dishwasher leaks, the heater doesn’t heat, or the air conditioner only makes noise. A maintenance request helps ensure that your landlord (or the building’s management company) does something about the issue in your rental unit.

To make sure the issue is addressed properly and in a timely fashion, your maintenance request should contain useful information and be thorough. The more helpful and specific the information, the more likely your maintenance request receives an appropriate resolution.

1. Call As Soon As Possible

Call your landlord or property manager shortly after you’ve noticed an issue. Read your rental agreement to ensure you call the right party. Calling an out-of-town landlord is far less efficient than calling a maintenance person or site manager within minutes of your rental.

If the situation is an emergency, such as a broken pipe causing a flooded bathroom, look for an emergency maintenance phone number on your rental agreement, and call it immediately.  

If it’s not an emergency, let the landlord or site manager know whether the maintenance crew can enter your apartment while you’re away. If you prefer to be home when the work takes place, offer a block of several hours in which the work can take place.

2. Follow Up in Writing

If you request is addressed within two days (or within the time the landlord or manager said it would be handled) — great — your work is done!

If not, or if you left a message via voicemail and haven’t heard back within 24 hours, it’s time to put your request in writing. The Cleveland Tenants Organization offers a simple notice to correct conditions. A more formal request form is available through the Tenants Union of Washington State. Here’s what to do:

  • Fill out all the required information and spell out in specific detail exactly what needs repaired in your apartment.
  • Include written notice of when you first placed a call requesting repairs.
  • Mail (or drop off) the notice to the landlord or property manager (whomever is indicated in your original rental agreement).
  • Send the notice via certified mail, or take the letter to the post office and pay for postage directly with a postal clerk. That way, you can get a receipt that has tracking information. (A stamped letter dropped into a mailbox isn’t trackable. You’ll have no proof that the other party received the letter.)
  • Have the person sign a piece of paper stating that they received the letter. This applies if you dropped the letter off directly to the person in charge of handling your request. (Prepare this in advance and take it, along with a pen.)
  • Keep written records and proof of all maintenance requests and communications regarding the maintenance issue.

3. Wait the Proper Amount of Time

In many cases, maintenance issues are taken care of within 48 hours, but the legally required time frame varies by state. For instance, in Washington State, serious issues such as no hot water or electricity must be dealt with within 24 hours. But 72 hours is acceptable for a refrigerator or oven repair. If you’re concerned that repairs are not happening in a reasonable amount of time, look up your state’s laws here.

4. Consider Dealing With Minor Issues Yourself

Minor issues, such as a small hole in the carpet are not required to be fixed.

A landlord is legally required to keep the property in habitable condition. But minor repairs such as a dripping faucet or a small hole in the carpet are not required repairs, according to a tenant’s rights article on FindLaw. You may not be able to force the landlord to handle such repairs, but a well-written request pointing out the benefits of repair can greatly help your cause. For instance, spell out that a running toilet or dripping faucet wastes water, leading to an increasing water bill that wastes the landlord’s money.

Bottom Line

Even if you have a great relationship with the property manager, a written request matters more than a verbal request. This is true even when renting from an individual that you see nearly every day, such as a duplex owner that lives in the other unit of the duplex. A written and dated maintenance request leaves proof of the issue in case the responsible party takes a while before doing anything about it.

No matter what your reason for submitting the request, be sure to make it look as professional as possible. Consider typing it out instead of writing it out by hand so there’s no question of legibility. If you do all these things and submit the request to the proper party (as spelled out in your rental agreement), your maintenance issue should soon be resolved.

Credit to Kathy Adams

Kathy is an award-winning investigative journalist, not to mention a writer, brand blogger, decor/DIY expert, renter, commercial landlord. She also writes for brands such as Behr, Kroger, Canon and Black+Decker on topics pertaining to home and apartment decorating and maintenance.

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How to Handle Noise Complaints from Neighbors

If you rent out a house in the middle of nowhere, you can rent to the noisiest tenants imaginable. Why? Because no one can hear them.

But if you rent to tenants who will live in close proximity to other people, you hope they’ll respect their neighbors’ right to quiet.

If you rent to noisy tenants, a few things might happen. You might receive a formal complaint from a building manager, a nasty email from the neighborhood HOA, or a nuisance complaint from the city if a neighbor complains to the police. If you don’t do anything about the complaints, you could receive fines until you do something.

So what should you do if you get complaints that your tenants are so loud they’re disruptive?

Determine Whether the Complaint Is Valid

Before you confront your tenant, find out the nature of the noise complaint. Your tenant could very well be causing a disturbance, but it’s just as likely that the complainant isn’t warranted. Tenants are allowed to live their lives, and sometimes that includes making noise.

Your job is to determine whether your tenant is crossing the line by being excessively noisy.

If your jurisdiction places a limit on noise decibel levels, then your tenants should not exceed this level. If your rental property is subject to noise laws and you receive a complaint, ask the department that issued the complaint to come out and measure the noise levels to determine whether there is a valid reason for the complaint.

If you don’t have regulations, you can use some common sense measures to evaluate whether your tenants are the problem or whether the complaining neighbor is just being fussy.

Here are some examples:

  • Dinner Parties
    Having people over for a get together that ends by 11 p.m. is not complaint-worthy, but regular loud parties that go late into the night are a problem.
  • Noisy Feet
    Tenants walking around their own apartment, no matter what time of day or night, is not complaint-worthy from a downstairs neighbor, but if your tenant is jumping rope or acting out their own WrestleMania session at midnight, that’s valid.
  • Barking Dogs
    A dog that barks occasionally is not complaint-worthy, but a dog that barks incessantly all day or night is.
  • Loud Arguments
    Disagreements between partners are bound to happen, and an occasional argument is not complaint-worthy, but a nightly screaming match is.

If the Noise Complaint Isn’t Valid

Let the complaining party know that you have researched the noise complaint. Tell them what you did to determine whether your tenant is guilty of a noise violation or not. If you found out your tenant didn’t do anything wrong, let the complainant know that you didn’t find any evidence to suggest the complaint was warranted.

If the Noise Complaint Is Valid

If you’ve received multiple complaints from a variety of sources, your tenant is probably being too noisy. You might also wish to witness for yourself whether the complaints are valid by driving by your rental property and seeing for yourself.

You need to address this issue with your tenant immediately. If your tenant is being too noisy and interfering with the neighbors’ peace and quiet, you should tell your tenant to keep the noise at acceptable levels. Explain the problem and what you expect your tenant to do to resolve the problem.

Sometimes the resolution is easy. If a downstairs neighbor complains about noise coming from upstairs, for example, put down area rugs. If your tenant listens and stops the noisy behavior, problem solved. If not, and the complaints continue, you may need to evict.

Have a Clause in Your Lease

You can protect yourself from noise problems by including a noise, or quiet hours, clause in your lease. That way, if your tenant violates the noise clause, you can act based on the lease terms, such as fining them if you receive a valid noise complaint.

Here’s a sample of a noise clause from a lease, courtesy of the University of Rhode Island.

Note: This lease pertains to university students in the state of Rhode Island. You can, however, personalize your lease to meet your needs. Please consult a lawyer when preparing your lease.

Screen Tenants

The best way to ensure you’ll rent to tenants who won’t cause trouble is to screen them first. Run a background check and check references to determine whether potential tenants have a history of complaints against them. I use Cozy tenant screening, and I recommend it.

Bottom Line

If you get complaints about a noisy tenant, you need to do something about it. Don’t rush to judgment by automatically blaming your tenant. But don’t ignore the complaints, either. It’s best to come up with a compromise that everyone can live with.

Now, peace out everyone.

Please let us know in the comments your experience with noise and how you handled it!

Credit to Laura Agadoni

Laura is a landlord, journalist, and author of New Home Journal: Record All the Repairs, Upgrades and Home Improvements During Your Years at…. Her articles appear in various publications such as Trulia, The Houston Chronicle, The Motley Fool, SFGate, Zacks, The Penny Hoarder, and loanDepot.

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Most Consumers Are Wrong About Home Insurance

What’s Your Retirement Plan?

Learn what people are planning at various stages of their real estate careers.

You know how you go the extra mile for your clients—running a quick vacuum before a showing, bringing in flowers or even your own furniture to create that wow factor, wearing out your tire treads to find someone the perfect home. That’s because you’re taking your clients’ dreams seriously.

But even as you help your clients with their plans, are you thinking about yours? What about that ultimate plan-ahead task, your own retirement? Without an employer-based 401(k) or pension set up for you, your long-term financial wellness is fully on your shoulders—and it can be a daunting responsibility.

Financial planner Tad Cook, who specializes in serving real estate clients at @Financial in Chicago, says that a quick rule of thumb is to set aside 25 to 35 percent of your gross income for taxes; save 10 percent for retirement; and then base your working budget on the remaining 65 percent.

What plans are best for real estate professionals? Take a look at four retirement options for independent contractors.

But this is a key point to remember: Retirement plans are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. “It really all depends on the volume of business you have and how aggressively you want to pursue a program,” Cook says. “We have to look at the whole financial picture—and age comes into it.”

Here are stories of three individuals at different ages and stages of their careers. What you learn about their situations and solutions may help you come up with your own set of strategies.

How to face down inflation

Alison Parker, 36, a newly licensed practitioner with Keller Williams in Glen Ellyn, Ill., recently had her first closing. She loves real estate, is a mother of two toddlers, and is excited about how she can blend her budding career with the rigors of motherhood. Her husband, who works in IT, has a pension and 401(k) through his company. She does not. Parker knows she should save for retirement, but at the moment, she’s concentrating more on building her business and setting up college money for the kids.

The plan for the kids, in fact, is pretty well developed: Alison’s young family recently moved from Chicago to the suburbs, but instead of selling their condo when they bought their single-family home, they decided to refinance the condo on a 15-year note and turn it into a rental. It will be paid off when the kids are ready for college. The plan is to sell it at that time to generate funds for the children’s college. At least that’s the thinking so far.

Cook strongly endorses the Parker family’s decision to hold on to their first property, but instead of tapping it for college funding, that second property makes more sense as a retirement vehicle. “Income is so much the key to retirement,” says Cook, “and inflation is an issue.” Because the cost of living is always rising, you can expect living expenses to increase during your retirement. If all your assets are in a fund, you would need to take more money out to meet rising costs. “But with a rental,” Cook says, “you can raise the rent every year and fight inflation.” Cook says real estate agents who have investments in two or three homes have the easiest retirement planning, so there’s no time like the present to get something in place. And even while many practitioners are advising clients about investment opportunities in real estate, a majority haven’t heeded that wisdom themselves. Only about 30 percent of REALTORS® currently own investment property, according to the latest Member Profile by the National Association of REALTORS®.

If you’re looking to set aside money for college, Cook says investments in a 529 college savings plan are recommended since they grow tax-free, at an average of 6 percent, which may be more favorable than real estate values, which tend to increase at an average rate of 3 percent a year. Of course, as a caveat, he adds that performance of any asset can vary. Another cautionary note from Cook: Don’t pay for your kids’ education out of your retirement fund. “That doesn’t work well for anyone,” he says. Think about it: Most kids would rather pay off their student loans than support you in your old age. And, if for some reason you do have to take funds out of a 401(k), Cook advises that you replace it as soon as possible.

How to sock it away

Dave Mattes, 52, has been a real estate agent for most of the last 20 years, not including a five-year excursion into mortgage lending before returning to his passion. Now a sales associate at RE/MAX of Reading in Wyomissing, Pa., he and his wife Melanie, who is also an agent, are aggressively putting money into two Roth IRAs and a SEP IRA . “I’ve been slow to the party, like most people, unfortunately,” Mattes confesses. “It is truly ‘do as I say, not as I’ve done.’ You need to be socking money away starting at age 25 and never, ever, ever stop.”

The Matteses may have been late starters, but they made other investments along the way, now owning eight properties, most of them in the Reading area. “It’s perfect for self-employed agents to acquire properties with 10 percent down,” he says. Mattes purchased his properties with conventional 30-year mortgages, then gradually converted to 15- or 20-year notes. The properties will be paid off as the couple moves into their 60s. “Now I’ll have an asset sitting there that I could cash in, or will have rental income that should provide a decent quality of life.”

Mattes acknowledges that the advice to put money away for retirement was always out there, at the fringes of his awareness. “You know the whole time you need to do it,” he says. His brokerage even encouraged people to make retirement planning a priority by providing contacts and programs for agents and staff. “Our office is very proactive about making tools available to us. They bring people in from outside—accounting firms, financial advisers. They make it easy for us to put a percentage of our income into various accounts.”

Mattes himself now relies on his accountant and financial planner to guide him with his savings program. “They were referred to me by someone I trust,” he says.

But real estate pros should be sure they understand whose best interest their financial counselor is committed to. The Trump administration in February sought to delay the Obama-era “fiduciary rule” that was slated to take effect in April and would require investment advisers to disclose whether they had a commission-based payment structure that favored their own financial gain over their clients’ interests. Cook from @Financial says it’s important to inquire about how investment advisers are paid for their work with you. “First and foremost, ask about fees, which can involve commission, startup costs, ratios, percentages, or other management expenses,” he says. If you’re getting advice from stockbrokers paid on commission, their greater loyalty may be to their brokerage and its products rather than you. Independent financial planners are paid directly by clients, so their interests are not aligned with any particular investment product or brand.

The important point, Cook says, is that the earlier you start saving, the more you earn over the long term. In fact, when you start saving matters more than how much you save, because of the power of compound interest. Mattes finds he must now put away three times as much each month as he would have if he had started years ago. “So I’m taking the complete opposite approach with my son, who’s 26,” he says. Mattes is strongly encouraging his son to start putting money away in a retirement fund—and he is matching those contributions for him.

How to be a serial investor

Wayne Reuter, 62, and his wife, Teresa, 58, retired in 2016 and 2014 respectively, after lengthy careers. Wayne originally worked for the Union Oil Company of California, then 20 years ago joined Teresa’s real estate business RE/MAX Excels in Geneva, Ill., and they continued to build their practice together.

For decades, Wayne has been a religious tracker of the family’s income and expenses. He could tell you what he made and spent in any given year, going back to the 1990s. “In ninth grade, a Ouija board said I was going to live to 86,” he says wryly, “so that’s what I’m planning for.”

He and Teresa made many real estate investments, over the years. The first house they bought was in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1978. They paid $37,500 for it, and when they moved, instead of selling it, they decided to make it a rental. They finally sold the house for $185,000 in 2016—but more important than the appreciation was that in the interval, it generated more than $300,000 in income for them.

Over the years the Reuters bought and sold about 30 other properties in Illinois, owning usually about five at a time. They bought them, rented them, managed them, paid them off, then sold them.

“If you’re in real estate,” Wayne says, “you know what a good deal is.” His advice: “Get one investment property and see if you like being a landlord.” Some people find it a headache, but not the Reuters. “Managing a property and being a landlord is similar to managing people,” he says. They communicated carefully with their tenants, striving for flexibility and honesty. “And the good thing about being a landlord is that you can delegate tasks (for a fee).”

But real estate was not the Reuters’ only investment. They always saved. “You can start with saving 1 percent of each commission in year one and increase that amount in each subsequent year, but get in the habit of saving and every year putting money into your retirement accounts.”

Not everyone has this kind of discipline, and according to Cook, age 50 seems to be the magic number that kicks people into gear. “If a real estate professional has not done a lot of savings in their 20s, 30s, or 40s,” he says, “then in their 50s, that’s when people wake up to fact they need to be saving aggressively for retirement. At this point, the Solo 401(k) is often the vehicle that we use.” That’s because the higher contribution limits can help you do your best to make up for lost time. Or you can split your contributions between types of accounts, deductible and nondeductible. Find a certified public accountant or financial planner you trust who can advise you. The best retirement advice is to practice smart money management—the rules you’ve always heard about. Says Reuter, “Spend less than you make, pay off your credit card balance each month, try to keep three to six months of cash on hand for emergencies and the months you don’t make enough, plan your taxes ahead, and make your quarterly payments. And put away 10 percent every year.”

And own real estate. “Once you get your short-term expenses under control, you should have a property. There’s nothing like having someone else to pay the mortgage.”

Reuter makes it sound easy, and of course it isn’t for everyone. So if you feel overwhelmed at the prospect, it might help to remember that adage about how to get a big tree in your yard:

The best day to plant a tree is 20 years ago. But the second-best day is today.

Credit to Beth Franken
Beth Franken is a writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois.
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