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How to maintain a healthy relationship with your tenants

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Be communicative and respectful

Brett Bulthuis

Now that you have tenants to manage and a property to maintain, perhaps the most important thing to consider is how best to foster a positive tenant-landlord relationship. Curbed spoke with small property owners, the president of the National Apartment Association, and the founder of a landlord review site about what it takes to be a standout landlord. But before getting into the nitty-gritty details, remember that being communicative and respectful goes a long way.

Assemble the right team

As discussed in part one, decide your level of involvement from the start. This step will determine who you hire to help manage your property. If a hands-off approach is what you’re after, hire a building manager and superintendent to handle the day-to-day. If you’ll be taking on those roles yourself, assemble a team of on-call vendors like an exterminator, plumber, and handyman, for example, to assist with any issues that may arise.

Morgan Munsey, a landlord in Brooklyn, New York, recommends reaching out to your network and calling references in order to establish a reliable and experienced team. And for those 3 a.m. building emergencies that happen when you’re out of town, “You always want someone local,” he says.

Be communicative

Communication is key in the landlord and tenant relationship, says Ofo Ezeugwu, CEO of the landlord review site Whose Your Landlord: “The line of communication needs to be open to whoever is managing the property, whether it’s by email, text, or phone.”

Landlords should clearly establish a protocol of communication, letting tenants know the best way to contact them, what to do in the event of an emergency, and the kind of response time to expect. Ezeugwu adds that honesty is always the best policy—if the handyman is running late for an appointment, for example, the landlord is responsible for alerting the tenant. “We find renters are more understanding when their landlord passes along information as soon as it comes,” he says.

Determining the rent

Local building laws often determine how much rent you are permitted to charge on your specific property, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules and keep abreast of any changes in your city’s housing policies.

For establishing market-rate rents not dictated by housing laws, stay on top of the local market. Browsing online listing sites, which show the going rate for old versus new buildings in the neighborhood, is a great place to start. “I research local comps and keep track of what’s happening around the neighborhood,” Munsey says.

Be respectful about rent increases

When it comes to market-rate apartments, implementing rent increases is in the hands of the property owner. Whatever the change, give your tenant ample notice about a coming rent hike. Local laws often require a minimum of a 30- or 60-day notice. “With a 60-day notice, the tenant has time to evaluate what their options are,” Pinnegar says. This is also where communication comes into play: If you explain why you’re increasing the rent, the tenant is likely to be more understanding. And if your tenant is someone you’d like to keep, be open to negotiating a rate that works within their budget.

Keep track of building records

Managing a building means handling a lot of paperwork, from the rent roll to the maintenance bills. “Always have your records together,” recommends Munsey. Solid bookkeeping includes keeping track of tenants’ lease terms and their monthly payments and all building costs, from the heating bill to the exterminator’s rate. By carefully accounting for each rental income and expense, you’ll make life easier for your accountant come tax time.

Handling eviction

There are two types of evictions: one based on a breach in the lease agreement and the other based on non-payment of rent. The process is never fun and will heavily depend on local housing laws. Moving forward with an eviction requires going to court, so be prepared. Pinnegar recommends hiring an attorney who specializes in tenant-landlord disputes to represent you in court but also to help file notices in a timely manner.

Show compassion

Ultimately, a landlord owns a building that someone else calls home. “Tenants may bring up stuff the landlord wouldn’t consider an issue, but [landlords] need to understand that this is where the renter lives, so the level of emotion is heightened and connected to that space,” Ezeugwu says. “Understanding that emotion will give landlords some space and leeway while communicating with tenants.” This doesn’t mean that you should be a pushover or become close friends with your tenants. Keep it professional, but take care in making their home a safe and healthy place to live. “I try to put myself in my tenants shoes if I can,” Munsey says. “You just want to have some compassion when dealing with people’s homes.”