Throw it Out?

When confronted with a stove that looks like this, many landlords would pick up the phone and just get a new one delivered:

BeforeBut not this landlord!  My tenant at this rental went down quickly.  She’d been with me almost a year and had been fine, but within a couple months, her baby got deathly ill, her car needed major repair and she got laid off.  Everything caved in on her at once, and she followed suit … stopped cleaning and stopped paying rent.

So, she was gone, but the baked-on grease and grime on the stove top remained.  Ugh!

But this is no challenge for the likes of Easy-Off (or the generic equivalent) oven cleaner.  I use the fume-free type, spray it on and let it sit for at least a couple hours, while I do other chores at the rental.  Then I use my small putty knife to scrape off the crusty stuff.  Follow that with a healthy spray of Krud Kutter or Awesome! (I’ve done separate posts on each of these products because they’re so effective.)

A little final scrub and you’re done.  Whenever I scrub something, I use the dark green scrubber pads made by Scotch Brite.  They’re sturdy and get the job done quickly.  And the finished product looks brand new, right?

AfterI’m all about saving/making money.  That’s why I do a lot of my own work.  Why pay someone else to do what I can do?  Of course, since this is my full-time work (along with Realtor stuff and my property management company), I’m able to devote the time.  Those who have a full-time job and try to own/manage rentals on the side have time constraints and by necessity, hire out much more.

Within a couple days, this duplex apartment was ready to rent again.  All it took was some cleaning, carpet shampoo, touch-up paint here and there, and a couple of minor repairs.

My new tenant loves the unit and is treating it well.  Of course, things can change quickly in this business but for now, all is well …

Onward and upward!

Protect Your Investment!

When you own a property, your hope is that it will increase in value over the years.  This is true whether you live in it or use it as a rental.  It’s easier to maintain your own residence because you’re there every day and tend to notice the items that need attention, like a leaky sink or roof, a cracked window, peeling paint, etc.

But when that home is a rental, you have to make a concerted effort to get inside and take a look … for maintenance issues, and tenant cleanliness issues as well.

For my Indianapolis rental properties, I try to do apartment checks after we’ve had a good soaking rain.  Here are some things I always check:

  • Smoke alarms
  • Furnace filters (they should be changed every three months)
  • Ceilings (for leaks)
  • Under every sink (again, for leaks)
  • Floors around toilets and tubs (are they soft? If so, there’s a water leak somewhere)
  • All rooms for cleanliness

I do the same for all of the rentals I manage for other people.  It’s important that your tenants see your face from time to time.  When they know you care, they’re more likely to care!  And of course, there’s a clause in my lease allowing me to evict if they don’t maintain the property.

At some point down the road, whether it’s your own home or a rental, you’ll want to sell.  If you protect that investment now, your efforts will be rewarded in the end, when you plan your exit strategy.

Happy investing!   🙂

Just Say NO to Slobs

I hear countless owners talk about how tenants have trashed their rental properties.  And I’ve had it happen to me as well.  So what do you do to prevent this from happening?

There are several things you can do BEFORE you allow these potential slobs into your rental properties.  I’ve talked about a few of them before on this blog but I thought this subject was worth devoting an entire piece to it.  I got burned several times early on … Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years:

  • What do they look like, physically?  Are they clean?  Have their clothes been washed or are they a filthy, wrinkled mess?
  • What about the car they drive?  Is it well maintained, inside and out?
  • Do they have children?  If so, are they clean, well-behaved?
  • Where do they live?  Drive by, first, and assess the outside.  Have they been attentive to it?
  • Plan a visit to that home where they live, if possible.  (You could stop by to pick up the application.)  Is it a mess inside?  Are there countless neighbors, friends, cousins, little kids running around?  If so, that’s a total red flag.
  • Are they living with relatives or friends?  If so, they may have been evicted recently.  Run a credit check on them.  (I use National Tenant Network.  For $20, you can run credit, criminal history, etc.  It’s an excellent resource.)
  • Does the applicant “bad mouth” the current landlord?  If so, you may be the next victim of that behavior.
  • Does the applicant have a bad attitude in general?  If so, you can deny tenancy based on that issue.

Renting to a slob who doesn’t take care of your rental will end up costing you a ton of money down the road.You can save yourself a lot of headaches by following these simple quidelines BEFORE you accept a tenant.

Don’t be in such a rush to fill that vacancy … attention to detail will save you — emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially.  It’s worth it to take your time when you look at prospective tenants.

Otherwise, you may learn the hard way … like I did!

Onward and upward!  🙂

Trash, or Treasure??

When tenants move out — planned or not — they often leave a few items behind.  Here’s an example:

003The tenant took all of their clothing and personal items from this bedroom, but left the mattress and dirty linens and some boxes and other trash.  They’re obviously not coming back for this stuff!  But how about the contents of this next photo, taken from the same house?

001

The shelving units in both rooms were not in good shape, but I suppose they could be used in another rental.  The stuff on the sheves — electronics, knick-knacks, etc. — was either broken or just plain trash.  So as a landlord, what do you do?  Can you throw it out?  Or will your tenant come back on you several months later, claiming you threw away some precious family heirlooms?

Here’s what I do … on my application, I always get the names and addresses of two contacts — family and/or friends — as emergency contacts.  In these cases, if I cannot reach my tenant and I don’t have a forwarding address, I call these people and try to find my tenant through them.  I let them know the situation, and tell them I need to clear out the rental for my next tenant.  Sometimes they come and clear out the house, sometimes the tenant does, and sometimes the emergency contact says the tenant doesn’t want the rest of the contents.  I get this in writing, take pictures of the junk left behind, and put it out for the trash man.  Simple.

When you’ve made all efforts to find your tenant and contacted the appropriate people, to no avail, you can — by law — label the stuff they left behind as “abandoned property.”  The law is purposely vague about this, and I’ve never, in 17 years, had an issue with throwing people’s junk away.

What’s that saying?  “One man’s trash, another man’s treasure?”  No, it’s “One man’s trash, another man’s trash!”  So don’t keep it, throw it out!  And know that you’ll find a better tenant next time!

Onward and upward!  🙂

Liars and Cheats

It’s unavoidable.  In every business, you encounter people who lie, cheat or steal.  In my rental property business, I try to weed out the scammers quickly.  Case in point:

Sienna moved in a month ago, paying $260 bi-weekly.  She paid her deposit and first two weeks of rent to get in, and that was the last time I saw money from her.  When I didn’t get the second payment in the mail — I give all my tenants pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes — I called to see if she’d sent it.  When she said yes, I asked to see her money order receipt.  When she couldn’t produce it, I told her she’d have to pay up or I’d be filing eviction.

Her court date was yesterday and I was shocked to see her there.  Usually, my tenants don’t show up.  Many times, they leave when they see the writing on the wall.  And then I realized her motive.  She had the audacity to tell the judge that she didn’t pay the rent because I was a slumlord and wouldn’t fix anything.  “I had a ceiling leak and I called her and she didn’t call me back.”  She lied under oath!

Wow … I was shocked.  She was partially correct.  She did have a leak, but I returned her call immediately and got it fixed the same day.  So now, I’ll have to attend another hearing, in July, to discuss this issue.  She probably won’t show, but she should’ve known that a leaky ceiling doesn’t release you from paying the rent.  Sigh ….

Fortunately, the judge ordered her out in the usual time frame, five days.  I just can’t wait to see the condition of the apartment.  She was a slob, so I’ll take pictures to document everything.

In my 18 years in the business, this is the first time someone has tried this trick.  I’ve had several tenants try to scam me, but my bottom line remains the same.  I’m in this to make income, and if you don’t pay, you can’t stay.

Yes, there are cheaters and liars in every business.  It’s part of life.  But I don’t have to put up with it, and I won’t.  Sienna will be out Monday, and I’ll whip her place into shape and find someone who will treat it — and me — better!  Onward and upward, right?

Meet LouLou . . .

This is LouLou, actually, Louise.  I bought the duplex she and her husband Warren lived in, back in 2000.  It was in less than stellar condition but I got it for a song ($19,000) and knew it had potential.  The rents were ridiculously low but I was going to raise them quickly.  Well, it didn’t work out so well . . .

As I got to know them, I learned they’d been in that home for 23 years, were on a fixed income and Warren was dying of cancer.  They were dear, sweet people, and I just couldn’t do it.  Just couldn’t.  I kept the home for a couple years, drawing ever closer to LouLou as she and the hospice people cared for Warren until he passed away.  I was unable to attend the funeral, much to her dismay.  Her comment:  “George’s people don’t like white people, but I think you woulda done okay.  I woulda had you in the family row…”  (Yikes!)

I sold the home and — surprisingly — made a profit.  The next owner did a poor job of managing it and paying the mortgage, and went into foreclosure.  I continued to visit throughout this time, and was relieved when LouLou found a senior living facility (a renovated old school).   She’s lived there for the past several years and I’ve continued to visit.

She’s a fun, feisty old girl — loves B.B King and the blues, and when I get off the elevator, I often hear the music cranked up loud, coming from her apartment.  She gets many visitors: her son and daughter and various grandkids, nieces and nephews, great grandkids, etc.  They drift in and out on a daily basis.

Sadly, she was diagnosed with colon cancer a few years back and has declined.  Initially, she told me, “I think it’s down there in my utica (uterus).”  One operation was all her body could handle, and now her 5’6″ frame is down to about 80 lbs.  She had a bad episode a month ago and has been in a rehab facility since.

Her daughter calls me with updates and I visit her often, but LouLou’s 81 years may be drawing to a close.  My job as a landlord has enabled me to meet some extraordinary people, and LouLou is one of those.  I’m proud and honored to have known her all these years, and will hope for the best in the coming weeks.

May God bless her . . .

Keeping Good Tenants

Many investors shy away from owning rental properties because they’re afraid of being landlords.  They don’t know how to find good tenants, they’re fearful about tenants trashing the rental, leaving in the night, running meth labs out of the unit, etc. etc.  In reality, these things don’t happen very often!  The horror stories are few and far between.

If you advertise wisely (See “Finding That Perfect Tenant”) you’re likely to attract decent applicants.  But once you get them in, how do you keep them?    First of all, before you get them in make sure the unit is spotless and everything is in working order.  Check the drains and faucets to see there are no leaks and the water pressure is good.  Do the toilets flush well?   Are the shower heads in great condition?  This stuff should’ve been taken care of before you showed the place, but it’s always a good idea to double check before your tenant moves in.  First impressions are huge.

The most important thing you can do to keep your good tenant is to return his calls, texts or emails promptly.  And promptly doesn’t mean the next day.  When I talk to applicants, I’m always conversational with them, and the biggest complaint I hear about former landlords is this:

“He/she never returned my calls . . . I had to call about repairs two or three times before I got a call back.  And then, it would take three or four days or more for him/her to get someone out to fix the problem.  He/she didn’t care about us.”

Which leads me to the second item . . . take care of repair issues immediately!  My tenants are sooo appreciative of this.  Sometimes a problem can’t be fixed in a day, but when the tenant knows I’m on it, they’re much more willing to be patient with it.

Another thing I always do is announce ahead of time when I’m going to be stopping by.  I inspect my apartments occasionally, to ensure my tenants are taking care of them, and I always let them know ahead of time.  (After tenants have been with you a while, you know which ones need to be visited and which ones don’t, as far as cleanliness issues.)

And lastly — this is common sense but needs to be mentioned anyway — I always treat my tenants with kindness and respect.  When they have guests over, I greet them with a smile, etc. (hey, they could be future tenants).  Landlords who are abrupt and/or present a threatening presence to their tenants get no cooperation in return.

As I get to know my best tenants, I’ll give them little perks from time to time, i.e. small gifts at Christmas, or a gift card to somewhere they like to shop, or an upgrade in their unit I know they’ll appreciate.  Remember, they are your best advertisement . . . and they will build your reputation.

Attracting and keeping great tenants is one of the keys to being a happy landlord!

Your Sewage Soup is Served!

 

A Few Days of Dinner

Bon Appetit.

So, I’d been out of town on vacation.  (Yes, landlords can and do get away.)  There was no need to let my tenants know I was gone, because I can always be reached on my cell.

In the “old days” when I had a pager as well as a cell phone, I didn’t give out my cell number to my tenants.  I was afraid they’d abuse the privilege and call me when they broke a fingernail.  I’d have them page me when needed, and I’d call them back.

If I went out of town (and out of reach of my pager) I was forced to let them know I was leaving.  In that case, I’d have them page my maintenance guy, for emergencies only.  But it always seemed like “stuff” went down when I was gone.  “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.”  Or the mice will not send in their rent.  And will leave without notice.  And let me clean up the junk they didn’t feel like taking with them.  Or will get in fights with their neighbors, resulting in a call to the police.  Etc. etc.

When I pitched the pager and went solo on the cell, I realized my worries about tenants bugging me constantly were unfounded.  Yeah, there are a few people who call about minor details and are long-winded, but I always have the option of letting the call go to voicemail, and my phone cuts them off when it’s had enough.  Anyway, I digress…

Before I recount these events, let me first say these types of incidents are few and far between.

I got home from a great trip, and went to check on a place where I had a girl moving out.  I knocked and after no answer, I let myself in.  The smell hit me.  I traced it easily to the bathroom shower floor.  In my absence, the sewer main had backed up into the shower with enough force that it blew the center drain cap right off!  There was blackish brown “matter” all over the shower floor, about 1 1/2″ thick.  It consisted of partially decomposed toilet paper, poop, and enough urine to make it slightly soupy.  “Poop du jour.”

It was time to call in the cleaning crew.  (That would be me.)  My equipment consisted of a plastic bag, a wide-blade putty knife, my trusty spray bottle of Krud Kutter and rubber gloves.  I tried hard to breathe through my mouth.  The shower floor cleaned up well, after some scraping and scrubbing. 

When I finished that project, I ventured over to another rental to check on my tenant who had moved out a couple days earlier.  He’d told the people on the other side of the house that his apt. smelled bad.  (Uh-oh.)

When I let myself in, I thought, “OHMYGOD, did somebody die in here?”  This was almost worse than the other place.  I tracked it down to the bath tub, which had about a foot of water in it.  There was a plunger standing in the middle of the pool.  Evidently, my tenant decided to move instead of calling to tell me he had a plumbing problem!  Go figure.

It’s rare that I come across people who are afraid to call me with problems.  I don’t understand why this happens, other than I think they may feel they’ll be blamed or charged for it.

Sewage

This is NOT a Toilet.

After I called and got the issue taken care of, I found out this wasn’t a sewer problem.  This guy had been letting food go down his kitchen sink drain.  There was no garbage disposal.  The drain had actually backed up into his tub!  It was filled with water, mixed with a healthy dose of grease, rancid meat particles, slimy greens, and I think I saw a little corn in there too.  Another putty knife job.  But the tub wouldn’t even scrub clean.  It was well beyond saving and I had to have it resurfaced.  The cost was $300, which is much cheaper than replacing the tub.

Glad I have a strong stomach, and I think my gag reflex is non-existent.

Should You Carry a Gun?

Gun violence is always an issue in the inner city.  It doesn’t matter where you’re landlording, be it Boston, LA, Chicago or Indianapolis.  Having been born and raised in Gary, IN, I’m comfortable in neighborhoods filled with families of various racial/ethnic/socioeconomic backgrounds.  However, the inner city areas are often riddled with gang activity and drug dealers, and gun crimes are common within these groups.

Although I’ve been threatened by a few tenants who were in the process of being evicted, I’m a non-aggressive, laid back person and have never been fearful about visiting and working in my 29 units.  Friends and family have given me pepper spray throughout the years, and it sits in my glove compartment.  They’ve suggested getting a gun for self-protection, and after I saw one of my rentals on the evening news (my tenant had a psychotic break, was brandishing a machete, his fiancee called 911, and he ended up being shot by the police in the ensuing drama) I finally decided to ask a few policemen for their input.

I asked three different cops who all work in my rental neighborhood.  They wanted to know the addresses of my rentals; they were impressed with a few of the locations and disturbed with others.  All three came up with the same conclusion…

“Barb, you’ve been working down here for 15 years.  People know who you are, they know your car, and they know you work alone most of the time.  And, they assume you have money on you, even if you don’t.  If a crackhead breaks into one of your rentals and attacks you, what are you going to do?  Ask him nicely to go away?  You’re an excellent candidate for a gun.  And you need to carry it on you at all times.”

So, I broke down and got my permit to carry, which wasn’t difficult.  I had to go to my county Sherriff’s office and fill out paperwork, and that was it.  The permit cost me $70 and arrived in the mail a couple months later.

The policemen had told me where a reputable gun shop was, and I’m now the owner of a 38 special.  I’ve been to a shooting range and know how to use it, and I carry it with me when I’m working.  So now I’m a pistol-packin’ mama.  I took this picture in jest and sent it to my family — some were amused and some were downright frightened — but I do understand the very serious responsibility behind owning this weapon.

It’s an overwhelming responsibility to be carrying such a powerful weapon, and I pray I”ll never have to use it.  But if my life is threatened, I know I’ll be able to protect myself and use it, and I’m okay with that.