In this episode, Seamus and Krista discuss maintenance requests, how to handle them, and how they can benefit the landlord-tenant relationship.
Host: Welcome, everyone! I’m Krista and we’re here to make you a better landlord. Krista, one of the most intimidating parts of being a landlord is dealing with maintenance requests and repairs. I know from personal experience that by dealing with them really well and acting with a lot of urgency, you can actually come out of them in a much better place than going into them, with a better relationship with your tenant and your tenant actually being really grateful for the way in which you’ve handled it. So, I’d love to dig in and get some tips from you about how to deal with a repair really well.
Krista: Absolutely. So, first, let’s start with the two types of repairs. They’re going to be non-critical repairs and critical repairs. Could you guess what the differences are between them?
Host: All right, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say critical repairs make it so you can’t live in the property anymore, and non-critical repairs are, I don’t know, inconveniences.
Krista: That’s exactly it. So, there are two different timelines you have to follow depending on the type of repair. Non-critical repairs can usually be fixed within 30 days of being notified. That’s going to be things like the screen door ripping or perhaps a minor appliance has gone out, there’s an outlet that’s not working, that kind of thing. It still needs to be addressed, but it won’t stop the tenant from living there. Versus a critical repair, which is going to be something like a bed bug infestation or the ceiling falling in, things that make the property unlivable. You have a significantly shorter timeline. Once again, this is going to vary by your state, but typically landlords have between three and seven days to fix critical repairs.
Host: All right, next, let’s talk about the next steps. I know that the sooner, the better. So, you get that notification that there is an issue with your property, either critical or non-critical. What are the next steps you should take in communicating with your tenant and getting this repaired?
Krista: Yeah, so the first thing you’re going to want to do is thank them for letting you know. That lets them know that you are on it and that they haven’t just shouted into a void. So, as you thank them for letting you know, you should also start to communicate anything that you need from them. Whether that’s videos or pictures to validate the concern or pass that along to your contractor, information that you might need. So, asking more questions. And then, of course, once you have everything gathered, you can start to let them know the timeline. You could say, “Okay, thank you for all this info. I’m going to call Chuck at Contractors R Us by end of day today. I will follow up with you by lunchtime tomorrow and let you know next steps.” And it’s very important that you guide them along this process because that’s what’s really going to contribute to this coming through as a strengthening opportunity rather than something that frustrates both of you. Yeah, and if you just empathize a little bit with your tenant in this situation, they’re kind of powerless to make the fix at that given time, right? They’re completely relying on you. And so, couldn’t agree more that setting expectations is key to make sure that what is a problem with your property doesn’t become a problem with your tenant.
Host: Absolutely. All right, so let’s talk about critical repairs. Right, the property is uninhabitable from that standpoint. What responsibility do you as the landlord have to find a place for your tenants to live, and what suggestions would you give?
Krista: Sure. So, if the property is unlivable, there are a couple of different things you need to consider. In some states, that kind of situation means that the tenant does not have to pay rent until the situation’s resolved. So again, check your landlord-tenant laws in your states to be sure that you’re not falling into something like that. But regardless, whether your state dictates it or not, you should encourage the tenant to find somewhere safe to live. So, that could be asking them if they have friends or family in the area that they could stay with for a given period of time. Make sure you communicate what you expect that to be. If they don’t, look for a hotel nearby or something else that can fulfill their needs. Maybe it’s an Airbnb. But you really want them to be safe, and so you should put them up in that space for the amount of time it takes to make the fix. And that will surely get you inspired to make that fix sooner rather than later.
Host: Absolutely. And I think as a landlord, whenever I think about funding a repair, I first go to, “Okay, I’ve got this security deposit that I collected in the very beginning. Can I use that money for the repair?” If I’m in the Middle East, how should I think about that?
Krista: Yeah, common misconception there. So, you should not try and use the security deposit funds during the middle of the lease. Instead, there should be other language in your lease that dictates who’s responsible in the case of repairs, maintenance, etc. So common verbiage might be, you know, for repairs under fifty dollars, they’re the responsibility of the tenant. If it’s over fifty dollars, it’s the responsibility of the landlord. Lean on whatever you have there, but just try and keep in mind that security deposit funds really aren’t yours at any point. When the tenant moves out, you can then assess any tenant-caused damages and subtract the repairs for that from the security deposit. But really, you’re just a shepherd of that money, and it’s not yours to touch until such a time as the lease is over and there are things to be fixed.
Host: All right, so you’ve gone through the process. Your service provider or maybe even you have gone and made the fixes. What should you do to communicate back to the tenant that it’s done? What do you kind of suggest to make sure that on the exit of doing this repair, things are better than they started?
Krista: Yeah, so always, always follow up with your tenant. Following up with a contractor is nice, of course, but you really want to hear from the person who first reported the issue that it’s resolved. So, touch base with them, ask them their opinion on how things went, if everything is working as they’re expecting. This gives you a chance to mitigate any issues if the fix isn’t completed but the contractor thought it was. From there, just make sure that you’re conducting regular inspections. I would suggest quarterly, but at least yearly, so that you can see if any other kinds of issues pop up that you can try and nip in the bud before they get bigger and costlier.
Host: Absolutely. And one of the things we’ve tried to do within TurboTenant, when a tenant submits a maintenance request, that’s going to come right to you within your TurboTenant platform. Not only that, but once you say that it’s resolved, it is going to go back to the tenant, and they’re going to be able to confirm that it is indeed resolved. And there’s a couple of reasons that this has been a very important and beloved feature within TurboTenant. The first is, it gives that check-in, that final check-in automatically. The second is, it provides documentation. It provides documentation that you actually did the repair, not only that, but that the tenant said the repair was successfully resolved. Therefore, if months later you’re into a situation with a tenant where, unfortunately, they’re saying that something was not fixed, you have a little bit of an audit trail.
Krista: Exactly, exactly. Documentation is key. And once again, checking in with that tenant is going to strengthen your relationship because I don’t know about you, but I’m sure you’ve had issues where something needed to be repaired and you’re just in the dark about what’s going on. So having that final opportunity to say, “Hey, I want to make sure I’m concerned about how everything’s going. I want you to be comfortable. How did the repair go?” It really just strengthens that bond and encourages them to continue letting you know when things pop up.
Host: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you sharing this with me today. It’s been very helpful to me, and I’m sure the rest of our community. If you have repairs that you want to share or ask questions about, or maybe your renter has made a couple repairs where they did more harm than good, please sound off in the comments and let us know.
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