5 Best Practices for Landlords: Communication Helps Reduce Tenant Turnover

Vacancies in your building can cost you hundreds, even thousands of dollars a month. No landlord wants to deal with a half vacant building.

But even worse than vacancies are tenants who actively make your life (and the lives of their neighbors) miserable. It’s essential to set your renters up for success by taking a few steps toward a clear rental agreement and due diligence before you handover the keys. Reduce tenant turnover with a crystal-clear rental lease.

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Every landlord has heard the excuse, “I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed in the lease.” Usually, it’s when you’re dealing with a significant renter issue like a broken pipe, a flooded neighbor, or ruined carpeting. There are plenty of times when you’re left wondering how much you really need to do and say before renting out an apartment? Aren’t some things assumed?

If you want to reduce tenant turnover, assume NOTHING. Put everything in writing and do your due diligence upfront. Assuming, like most great landlords, you want to earn money, reduce hassles, and provide people with a safe and comfortable living space, communication is an essential step.

Always remember that in many cases, the law favors renters. You must have any changes to your rental agreements or policies reviewed by a legal professional. It may seem like an added expense and pain upfront, but laws and ordinances are always changing. Even the most current internet article or landlord resource might not apply to your situation or area.

So if you want to reduce tenant turnover, start upfront with these 5 best practices.

1. Get Legal Advice

As stated above, no internet resource, no matter how reputable, can keep up with all the changing and differing landlord and renter laws. If you own a building with multiple units, it’s well worth the investment to hire a good attorney. Draft up your best attempt at a lease agreement and have your legal advisor review it and sign off on it.

A landlord or building owner’s strongest protection is the law (but laws are also there to protect renters). Make sure you’re completely covered by getting legal advice throughout the process.

Once you have a standard rental agreement in place, it’s important to have it reviewed annually (at least) to make sure you’re keeping up with changing laws and ordinances. For example, in emergencies and natural disasters, laws can quickly change and may not revert after the recovery. You need to make sure you’re still covered.

2. When in Doubt, Spell it Out

Your lease agreement should follow the rule of “assume NOTHING.” You may think that people know better than to create an ice rink in the kitchen, adopt a flock of indoor chickens, or paint the windows black. You would be wrong. People can come up with some extremely strange ideas on how to “improve” their living space. They are also very good at finding loopholes in your rental agreement.

Make the rules very clear about any issues that could detract from the apartment’s value (or cost more to reverse than the security deposit). For example:

  • Outline rules about any alterations to the walls (including holes) like painting or wallpapering.
  • Go over the expectations on doors, windows, flooring, appliances, countertops, and fixtures—what can be changed and what shouldn’t be touched?
  • Are pets allowed? If so, what are the guidelines, numbers, expectations?
  • Include details about trash removal.
  • Limit the nights that overnight guests are allowed before they should be included in the lease agreement.
  • Explain all rules about subletting the apartment.
  • Include the expectation for breaking the lease—how much notice is required, and what constitutes notice? Is this agreement month-to-month? Annual? What happens after the year passes?
  • Make the rental due date crystal clear. Is there a penalty for late payment? Is there a grace period? How will you handle bounced checks?
  • Outline all rules for shared spaces. This is especially important if you have a pool, rec room, or elevator.
  • Explain the parking and how you’ll handle violations.
  • Offer emergency procedures and what to constitutes an emergency.
  • Which utilities are covered as part of the rent, and which aren’t? For example, if you have a boiler and radiator system, is that covered in the rental cost?
  • Explicitly state that there is no illegal activity allowed in your building, including drug use.
  • What is your policy on smoking?
  • What about a key replacement—who covers the cost? What if the locks must be changed too?

There are many resources to help you craft a lease agreement that will ensure you’re covered and that you aren’t accidentally including any discriminatory language. You must be careful when you outline policies; for example, you can’t discriminate against renters based on religion, race, age, gender, sexual preference, familial status, ability, and other factors. Be very cautious that you don’t include language in your agreement that could lead to legal concerns.

3. Don’t Skip the Background Check

You need to run a background check on potential renters. Even if they seem friendly and forthcoming, and even if they have a connection to you or your staff. If you state that you run a background check before renting, then skipping it could be discriminatory and legally problematic. Plus, it keeps any unpleasant surprises from popping up.

A tenant background check usually includes criminal history and credit history. You may want to request proof of employment and even ask for references. At a minimum, a credit history will give you a strong financial picture of your potential renter and help you avoid tenant turnover.

Similarly, as for rental history–if you notice that they’ve skipped out on several rentals after a short time, you may want to rethink the agreement. Again, this is a spot to get legal advice, but if you’re hoping to avoid tenant turnover, renting to good, reliable tenants are your best line of defense.

4. Do Your Job to Make the Building a Comfortable Place

Landlords who want to avoid tenant turnover need to reinvest in their building. That means both money and sweat equity. Make sure that your building is well-maintained and that any repairs or concerns are addressed quickly and efficiently.

When you create your lease agreement, outline when and how you will perform scheduled maintenance on the units. If there is a non-emergency repair, how much notice will you give, and how will you handle it. Some situations can’t be avoided, like a broken water main or a power outage. Those aren’t your fault, and while it’s crucial they’re addressed, the timeline is often out of your hands (but keep in mind, you may still be responsible for providing an alternative shelter, depending on your local renter protection laws).

When a renter makes a repair request, your prompt response will show them that you value them as a tenant. If you want to avoid tenant turnover, remember that the little issues add up quickly. What seems like a minor inconvenience for you can be a major hassle for a renter who faces a broken faucet or a broken doorknob every day. Even cosmetic repairs can be frustrating if renters feel you’re ignoring them for too long.

Make regular improvements to the shared areas of your building too. Keep the lobby and the entry area clean and tidy. Elevators, rec rooms, pools, and other shared spaces should be very well kept and welcoming. When tenants feel like their building is beautiful and welcoming, they’ll be more likely to stick around for the long haul.

5. Think of the Neighbors—They Want to Avoid Tenant Turnover Too!

The other residents in your building likely want to avoid tenant turnover almost as much as you do. When you have good, happy tenants, they will often stay in place for years. When you’re meeting their needs with a safe, well-kept place to live, they’ll meet your needs by continuing to pay the rent on time and care for their property.

One bad tenant can start to run others out of the building. When there’s a loud, messy, or worse—violent neighbor, it becomes a danger to the whole building. Other renters may feel unsafe, and they will start to seek a new, better place to live.

If you want to cut back on renter turnover, keep the best renters happy and satisfied. If there are complaints in the building, do your best to address the issue and fix the concern. No one likes to deal with bad neighbors, and as the building owner, you may need to get involved.

Document every interaction, especially when it’s a dispute between you and a tenant or two tenants within your building. This documentation can protect you in court should the situation escalate. Don’t tolerate any dangerous confrontations, either. Unfortunately, there are some disputes that even the coolest heads can’t resolve.

As a building or property owner, many situations will come your way, and there’s a lot on your plate. Stay protected and keep tenants satisfied and happy by providing clear lease agreements. Straightforward, open communication will help you reduce confusion and ensure you avoid tenant turnover. A happy tenant can be a great asset for years to come!