14 Safety Tips for Rental Property Owners & Tenants

If you’re a landlord who lives in and/or manages rental property in Portland or elsewhere in Southern Maine, keep yourself and your tenants safe by following these 14 safety guidelines.

FIRST is Compliance;

Make sure your rental property meets basic life safety and Portland Maine building code requirements. For properties not in Portland, ME, this information can still serve as a general guide and as a good starting point. The City of Portland Fire Department has adopted the rules of the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) to create the Life Safety Codes for the residents of Portland, ME.

1. Be sure the house and or apartment address is clearly visible for emergency services.

There must be clearly visible numbers on the outside of the building as well as on all the doors of each unit. This can be the difference between life and death when EMTs are responding to a 911 call.

2. Have working smoke alarms and carbon dioxide detectors as required by Federal, State and Local law.

There are specific Portland, ME code requirements for locating working smoke alarms and CO2 detectors throughout your rental property.  Make sure your tenants understand that they share with the landlord responsibility for fire safety. In general, it is illegal for a tenant to disconnect or intentionally damage smoke alarms or carbon dioxide detectors or to remove the batteries without immediately replacing them with working batteries. Upon move-in, both parties should sign a disclosure that includes the above language,  and also confirms the number of alarms/detectors, and that they are in working condition.  For more tips, check out the Southern Maine Landlord Association’s fire safety resources.

3. Maintain two exits from each unit.

In most cases 2 exits are required from each dwelling unit and egress windows are required from each sleeping room.  If a window is the exit, it must meet building code requirements for window egress. External doors must be easy to access and lead safely downstairs.

4. Be sure halls, exits and common areas are free from stuff.

This means trash, appliances, sports equipment, bicycles, laundry bags, storage units – you name it. You’re required to ensure a clear path from every exit door.

NEXT, Basic Safety 101 – Don’t be comlacent when it comes to safety;

You have to be reasonably cautious when you’re seeking new tenants. This protects you, as well as other tenants in the building. Remember, prospects are strangers after all.

5. Don’t include the property address when you advertise your unit for rent.

This is just common sense – you don’t want people to know exactly where there’s an empty apartment. Don’t show street signs or house numbers in photos of the outside of the building.

6. If a tenant is living in the unit you’re advertising, don’t show their personal items in photos.

You don’t want anyone checking out their valuables.

7. Do provide basic contact info – but don’t give out any personal info.

Provide your email and cell phone number, but don’t say when you’re home, where and when you work – anything that would help someone break in or monitor your comings and goings. You could set up a separate email specifically for the listing to keep your email inbox from getting clogged up.

8. Beware of Craigslist scams.

Advertising your listing on Craigslist may be necessary, but it carries some risks. When you advertise, you may receive an email from someone offering you more than your rental price, if you accept their check or money order, and refund them some portion. While this may seem an obvious ploy, there are several variations, so be smart when dealing with people on the Internet.  You may also receive a call from someone claiming they saw your same listing, but for less rent. This too is a scam. All you can do is flag that listing as a fraud.

9. Be cautious when you meet with prospective tenants.

Most of the people you’ll meet are genuinely interested in finding a good place to live – but, unfortunately, some people use rental ads to find vulnerable people and residences. When someone contacts you, do full interviews on the phone, so you can get a sense of who they are.

Don’t just rely on email. Feel free to ask plenty of questions. Tell them they’ll need to show ID before you show them the apartment.

10. Use the buddy system.

Give a friend or family member the name and contact info for the person you’re showing the apartment to and the time of the showing. Let them know you’ll text them after the showing.

11. Be alert and aware.

Show apartments only during daylight hours. Don’t give out too much information at first. They don’t need to know if you live there. Have your phone with you and be sure it’s fully charged!

12. Protect the privacy of current tenants.

If you’re showing an apartment that’s  occupied, ask the current tenants to secure their personal items, including mail, photographs and any medications. Stay close to the prospective tenant throughout the showing. Don’t let them go into any rooms by themselves, including the bathroom.

13. Do a thorough screening and background check.

Once you have interested prospects, you will want to have them fill out a rental application. Even if the applicants are married, each person over 18 in the household should be screened. The process should be comprehensive and include both credit and criminal checks and be on a national basis. This protects your current tenants and yourself, and ensures you are in compliance with Fair Housing Laws.

AND FINALLY;

You’ll want to use a solid, well-written lease that protects the rights of both the tenant and the property owner.  Enlisting the services of a rental agent or an attorney to process the lease, is well worth the investment.

14. Make sure your lease covers Maine Tenant/Landlord Laws.

Make your policy on smoking, parking, pets, service animals, and other areas of concern clear from the beginning. A strong lease is the best way to help avoid problems down the road.

These basic tips can help keep you and your tenants safe. As a landlord, you’re responsible for keeping up-to-date with changing building code requirements and life safety developments.

Your commitment to “safety first” will protect your investment as well as your tenants.  If you would like to use our lease or other management services, Please contact Linda at 207.899.3845 or email aquarius@aquariuspm.com.