Avoid Problems Now so they Don’t Need to be Solved Later
One of the challenges that all landlord and property managers have to face is the “nobody told me that” excuse that almost all tenants seem to embrace. The Georgia Association of Realtors (GAR) form lease is 12 pages long. You would think that a tenant would read a 12 page legal document before signing it, but they often don’t. While the agreement may be legally binding, your tenant doesn’t know what the “agreement” is. Before you judge them too harshly, you are probably just like them in that respect. Consider, when you fly out of town and rent a car at your destination, the rental car company presents you with a one page contact and says you need to initial and sign here to get the keys. Do you stop and read that one page agreement before initialing and signing, or do you just initial and sign where they indicate so you can get the keys you want and get going? Your tenant is not any different. They initial and sign where indicated in order to get the keys. Not having read the lease, they don’t know what is required of them
SOLUTION – at the move in appointment TELL THEM what is in the agreement and what is expected of them:
· Confirm when the rent is due, when the late fee is assessed, and the amount of the late fee. This is a good time to emphasize the benefits of signing up for paying the rent by auto-debit and explaining that the late fee is applied based on when you RECEIVE the rent, not when they put it in the mail. Any delays caused by mailing delays are the tenant's responsibility, not yours.
· Remind them of the end date of the lease and the amount of notice required if they don’t want to renew. We require a 60 day notice, sent by certified mail, and many tenants are used to a 30 day notice provision from some former apartment lease.
· Emphasize that no pets are allowed unless a specific pet addendum has been agreed to and signed. And inform them that they are not allowed to add pets without your permission just because there is a pet addendum in place.
· Make sure they understand that they are not allowed to smoke inside the premises (assuming your lease prohibits that – which I recommend). They have to smoke outside.
· Remind the tenant that they have to get the utilities turned on in their name. Once you approved their application you should have notified them which utility companies they needed to contact to establish service. Now, at the move in appointment, you are confirming they did that. Once you leave, order the utilities to be disconnected in the landlord’s name. If the tenant has still not established service in their name, the cold and the dark will remind them to do it. Otherwise you may find yourself dealing with utility bills in the landlord’s name and fighting with the tenant to get reimbursed.
· If your lease has an early termination provision, explain how that works to the tenant.
· Hopefully your lease has a “holdover rate” for the rent charged when the tenant does not move out as expected. The amount should be much more than the tenant would pay to stay in a motel. Some day this tenant will give notice to vacate. If you find a new tenant that is ready to move in shortly after this tenant is scheduled to be out, you don’t want your new move in canceled because the departing tenant’s new move in is delayed and now they do not move out when scheduled. Review this with them now.
· Make sure they understand that only the people listed on the lease are allowed to live there. Otherwise you may find that one of the unauthorized roommates is a registered sex offender.
· Review who is responsible for the lawn maintenance and what, exactly, is expected. If this is the first time your tenant has lived in a single family house, they may think all they need to do is cut the grass from time to time. You need to explain to them how pine straw and mulch deteriorate over time and that they are expected to replace that mulch as part of maintaining the property. Point out the height of the shrubs, and document with photos from your move in inspection, and explain how they are to keep the shrubs at that level. Explain that weed control is their responsibility and how it should be done. Show them any other lawn maintenance issues which may be relevant to this property such as how to use and maintain the irrigation system.
· Tell them about how pest control is handled. In the GAR lease the landlord is responsible for termites and rodents. All other insects are the responsibility of landlord or tenant as checked. With single family houses the tenant is usually responsible. Make sure they know that – and make sure they know “insects” includes spiders, ants, roaches, etc.
· If your lease provides for additional penalties for (these are in the lease we use)
o Landlord filing for or halting an eviction process
o Tenant denying landlord or landlord’s agents access to the property
o Unauthorized pets found at the property
o Unauthorized smoking inside the premises
o Disconnecting utilities prior to the move out inspection
Make sure you review these penalties with the tenant.
· If your lease calls for an automatic renewal at the end of the initial term, or if the lease converts to month to month, make sure to explain the details.
· Review with the tenant what you expect for them to do in “maintaining” the property. Do you expect them to change HVAC filters? Change light bulbs including fluorescent bulbs? Clear toilet clogs? If the property has a septic tank, make sure to emphasize that only human waste and toilet paper go down the toilet or drains. If the tenant puts anything else down the drain that clogs the septic tank, or ruins the septic field, the tenant could be charged several thousand dollars for the needed repairs. This is a good time to remind the tenant that any ABUSE or NEGLECT on their part that costs the landlord money will be charged back to the tenant.
Covering all of these points in advance will reduce the chance of a misunderstanding later and increase the probability that you have fewer problems to address during the lease. Many apartment complexes spoil tenants with on site maintenance staff that handle almost every issue the tenant may have. You don’t have a maintenance guy living in the attic ready to pop downstairs every time something goes wrong and then jump back up to the attic until the next problem shows up. Make sure your tenant understands that in advance.
CONCLUSION: A thorough briefing at the move in appointment will mean reduced expenses and a better cash flow for the landlord.