Rental Property Maintenance for the Busy Landlord

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Rental and investment properties have grown in popularity, driven by rising property values and the utility of booking apps like Airbnb and Vrbo.

But rental properties require maintenance to maintain their value and to continue to be attractive to tenants. Some planning and pro-active maintenance work will save a landlord time and money over the long, and even the short term. 

In the Airbnb era, it’s easy to assume that a rental property is an easy, hands-off way to make money. 

While it’s true that a rental property can be a good income earner, any suggestion that it’s easy or that it won’t require an investment of time and money on the part of the owner is, well, let’s just say, not entirely accurate. 

Quite aside from the time invested in managing bookings and payment, rental properties require maintenance. Lots of maintenance. And any failure to stay on top of rental property maintenance is a sure-fire formula to erode the property’s value, chase away tenants, and defeat the purpose of acquiring the property in the first place. 

But how does a landlord stay on top of maintenance without incurring significant rental property expenses? How does a landlord keep the time commitment manageable? 

There are some strategies and rules of thumb. Let’s have a look. 

Top rental property maintenance strategies to follow 

1. Be proactive

It’s usually cheaper and less costly timewise to do regular maintenance than it is to let something fester and grow into a bigger problem. 

Here’s an example. Ensuring that your home’s water drainage system is in good repair is a vital part of homeownership. And it’s usually straightforward to keep eaves troughs and downspouts clean and in good repair. Let those repairs lag, however, and water begins to pool in the wrong places. Over time, water can erode foundations, cause flooding, and put the structural integrity of the entire property at risk. Repairing a foundation or doing flood mitigation is far more costly than ensuring a drainpipe is clean. 

2. Draw up a seasonal maintenance schedule 

Maintenance won’t seem as overwhelming if you have a plan. Create a seasonal rental property maintenance checklist of tasks that need to be completed without fail each season. In the fall, for instance, it’s necessary to unhook garden hoses and drain water from exterior pipes before the freezing temperatures settle in, otherwise, the water in the pipes will freeze, expand, and split the pipe, generating a big plumbing repair. In the spring, raking and garden care are necessary. In the summer, lawns need mowing. Winter snow must be removed from walkways and driveways. 

3. Do regular inspections 

If you own a rental property with a long-term tenant, arrange to see the property on an annual or semi-annual basis. Doing so will allow you to identify problems or issues that need immediate redress – holes in drywall, leaking plumbing or windows, or insect infestation, for instance. A regular inspection will also allow you to ensure the property isn’t being used for improper activities (large-scale marijuana cultivation, for example) or being abused in some fashion. 

Be sure to do a move-in inspection, so you can establish a baseline of the state of the property before a tenant takes up residence. Likewise, do a move-out inspection and compare it to the one done at move-in. The comparison should give you an idea of problems resulting from regular wear and tear and those for which the tenant should be held responsible and liable for redress through a damage deposit. 

Ideally, build permission to enter and inspect the premises into the lease. 

Some landlords additionally do drive-by inspections, which allows them to regularly observe the state of the property's exterior. 

Finally, don’t forget to inspect the roof at least once a year for leaks or missing shingles. 

4. Set aside funds 

One of the reasons landlords avoid doing regular property maintenance is they aren’t in a position to pay for the work due to a shortage of money. Each month, set aside a percentage of rental income as a hedge against repairs. The longer you own and operate the property, the better an idea you will have of the annual maintenance cost of a rental property. 

5. Communicate 

Make it clear in a lease who is responsible when maintenance is required. When a lightbulb burns out, will the tenant replace it or will the landlord? And while some landlords prefer to have tenants take charge when things go wrong, sometimes it’s better that they don’t – when a tenant is responsible, they may opt to do a repair on the cheap, or improperly, resulting in a bigger cost down the road. 

Regardless of whether the tenant or the landlord is responsible, keep handy a list of contractors and contacts in the event work needs doing, particularly emergency work.

6. Call in the pros 

Don’t tempt fate. Bad repairs usually create more headaches than they solve. Use a professional when things go wrong. Doing so might cost more upfront, but odds are it will be money well spent and will reduce the likelihood of a problem reoccurring or turning worse. 

Likewise, you might consider hiring a professional property management service. Professional property managers have years of experience and institutional knowledge about properties, what is likely to go wrong, and where to quickly find someone who can fix a problem; a property manager will certainly save you time, and might well save you money in the long-term, as well. 

And a property manager will buy you peace of mind: most are large enough to have people on staff 24/7, removing you from needing to be on call for tenant emergencies.

7. Use materials that are long-lasting 

Rental properties take a lot of abuse over time, particularly with frequent move-ins and move-outs. Using top quality, durable materials will ensure damage is kept to a minimum and will reduce the need for replacement, lowing operating costs. 

Trusscore, for example, makes a wall and ceiling product called Trusscore Wall&CeilingBoard that is a replacement for painted drywall, one that’s far more durable and long lasting than drywall. Unlike drywall, Trusscore Wall&CeilingBoard is impact resistant and won’t swell or expand when it gets wet. Trusscore Wall&CeilingBoard typically lasts longer than the buildings within which it’s installed, and it is easy to install – up to four times faster to install than drywall, which reduces installation costs. 

8.  Keep your tenants happy 

Happy tenants are less likely to move out and more likely to remain with you long term, which reduces the time you’ll spend looking for new tenants or dealing with move-in and move-out. 

Happy tenants are also more likely to take care of your property. In a related vein, time and money invested by you, the landlord, to create a smart, well-looked-after property, will likely induce your tenant to treat it equally well. Likewise, a property that is mistreated by a landlord isn’t likely to get as much love from a tenant. 

Fix it right 

A rental property, either of the Airbnb variety or a longer-term apartment-style rental, can pay big rewards financially. But a rental is not without responsibility, and it certainly will require an ongoing investment of time and money for maintenance. With some planning and thought, the time and money obligations of maintenance can be successfully managed.