New Year’s Plan for Landlords – Best Practices for a Successful 2018

A new year brings new goals. To start the year off right, we want to be sure that 2018 is successful for landlords throughout Maine’s rental community. As your trusted Greater Portland leasing expert it is our mission to provide you with the resources you need every step of the way, so we’ve compiled a list of our top New Year resolutions for landlords to consider and help you to start planning.

Get organized and prepare now for expiring leases. 

1. Update your lease and related documents: Don’t wait until it’s time to sign with a new tenant or renew the current tenant’s lease. The rental laws are ever changing and last year’s lease may not be current. Hiring an attorney or a property manager to prepare your lease documents will help to ensure your lease is enforceable. Whatever you do, NEVER use a lease from the internet.

2. Be informed: Take the time to read through and perform a thorough review of your lease to be sure it is current and complies with federal, state and local laws. As the landlord, be sure you understand all the conditions of the lease, since you are the one who will need to enforce the terms should anything come up.

3. Understand the law: Brush up on Maine State Tenant and Landlord LawsFair Housing Laws, and local rental property ordinances. Many municipalities have specific ordinances that apply to tenant housing rights, rental property code requirements, and zoning. For example, late in 2016, Portland passed an ordinance requiring all leases to include a document titled Rental Housing Rights in the City of Portland & State of Maine. If you are a Portland landlord, you and your tenants need to sign this document as part of the lease.

4. Communicate early with tenants about an expiring lease: If you have a good tenant that you want to retain, having a conversation with the tenant 60-90 days prior to the lease expiration can be helpful to both you and the tenant. They generally know what their plans are in advance.

5. Perform a market analysis of expiring leases: Understand ahead of time what the going rent is for properties comparable to yours. Be sure the properties you select to compare to your property match closely, including amenities like parking or a washer/dryer in unit vs coin-op onsite. Knowing this ahead of time will help you to maximize your rental income potential and speed up the process of securing a new tenant if necessary.

6. Know your customer: Today’s renters are sophisticated and are willing to pay more for certain amenities. Consider adding enhancements that will attract the right tenant and improve overall tenant satisfaction. Replacing locks with keyless entry locks is an easy and inexpensive upgrade that sends a positive message to prospective tenants.

Protect your investment property.

1. Visit your property regularly but not routinely: Frequently checking on your property is not only prudent but sometimes the only way you will know if something is amiss. You may find that an exterior door is being left open, tenants are not taking out the trash on time, or a non-registered vehicle is parked in the driveway many nights in a row, which could indicate a new occupant who’s not on the lease. Switch up the days and times of visits so that tenants do not know when to expect you.

2. Perform inspections throughout the term of the lease: As the owner, you should know the condition of the property when a tenant moves in and moves out. Additionally, you should perform a mid-term inspection. Document the condition with a written report and pictures. Be sure the tenant receives a copy as well. While this may seem like overkill, it may be your only proof if there are damages caused by the tenant.

3. Process security deposit according to the law: One misstep in this process can not only prevent you from being able to collect for damages, but you could also end up having to pay the tenant. Proper notification, timeliness, and documentation are critical to protect your rights as a landlord and ensure your ability to cover the cost of repairs.

4. Take advantage of new technology: This could be the year you’d like to consider introducing new technology into your rental property. Perhaps you’ve thought about installing solar panels or heard of those Nest thermostats, Ring wireless doorbells, or smart locks, and are ready to try them out. Whatever it is, incorporating new technology can help rental efficiency and desirability.

5. Make improvements: Complete a long-overdue project. Ready to finally tackle that leaky roof or basement pipe freeze? Start crossing the big projects off of your list by committing to one large-scale project this year.

6. Start a maintenance checklist: To avoid an unmanageable list of repair pile-up, consider upgrades and repairs anticipated down the line. Being proactive with your property’s maintenance will give you time for research, hiring a good contractor, and to save money.

7. Schedule all annual maintenance and service appointments now: Even book the ones that are done in the fall. Proactively get them locked in and booked into your calendar to avoid future delays.

Protect yourself and your tenants.

1. Review and update your insurance policy: A suitable landlord insurance policy is necessary to protect your rental investment. It is important to compare insurance policies and quotes to ensure your coverage is not only inclusive but also competitively priced.

2. Confirm property meets basic life safety and building code requirements: Most towns have adopted the rules of the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) to create their Life Safety Codes. Following these codes will provide a starting point. You can also refer to a comprehensive list of safety tips that we’ve compiled to keep you and your tenants safe.

3. Perform a background and credit check on every occupant over the age of 18: A tenant background check can provide insight into a tenant’s credit, employment, and payment history. It is important to acquire this data along with other screening methods to determine the risk of new rental applicants.

4. Know your rights and the rights of the tenant: Understand the key laws every Maine landlord and tenant needs to know.

5. Get involved with a local landlord organization: Southern Maine Landlord Association (SMLA) is a great resource for rental property owners. The organization serves to promote communication and cooperation among owners and managers of investment rental property.

6. Consider hiring a property manager: A trusted property management company can become your greatest asset by taking on the responsibilities of lightening your load and minimizing your liability. As rental experts, they will make critical decisions on your behalf. Be sure to do your homework in hiring a property manager since offerings and level of services vary from company to company.