If you’re just starting out as a landlord, there can be a lot of different concepts to take in.
Depending on where you’re operating your business, local laws dictate all sorts of things in relation to your job as a property manager, from how long a lease you can rent your unit for to regulations that affect how you collect and store security deposits.
Of all of the advice that you get as a landlord, though, one of the most important takeaways is to “always get it in writing”. Read on to learn why this should always be considered landlord rule number one.
Contracts protect you and your business
The first reason to always get things in writing from tenants is because it helps protect you from legal action. Even if you’ve thoroughly vetted a tenant with background checks, you may not realize that they have a litigious streak.
If you aren’t prepared to provide evidence to substantiate your side of the story, it can be a tedious battle of he said/she said, and depending on the state you work in, it may even cost you thousands of dollars in fines. The city of Chicago, Illinois, for example, is one of the hardest cities when it comes to winning cases as a landlord.
However, if you have signed, written proof of an addendum to the lease or any other alteration to the lease, you will be protected in a court of law. Using free landlord software like Turbo Tenant can help you set up comprehensive contracts and other lease-related documents, and it even allows for online signing.
Verbal isn’t good enough
A common interaction between a tenant and a landlord involves a phone call from a tenant during an emergency. Perhaps there’s a radiator from the floor above leaking into the apartment, or you’ve had multiple calls to complain about raucous noise from one of your tenant’s neighbors.
In these situations, while a phone call is one of the most immediate ways to relay information between both tenant and landlord, it doesn’t leave a written record. This can be a problem if you’re ever taken to court, since that makes it hard to establish an objective view of the situation.
One thing you can do to remedy this situation is to send an email to your tenant after you hang up the phone, reiterating what was discussed and any timeline you gave for action to be taken. An email is the perfect medium for this sort of interaction for a few reasons.
For starters, it is a time-stamped medium, meaning that the tenant can’t claim that you haven’t resolved their issue within the timeframe you agreed upon over the phone. Secondly, an email is a written record and emails can be used as evidence in a court of law. Finally, having an email leaves the window for communication open. If a tenant disagrees or misunderstood something you said on the phone, they can respond to your email to further discuss the problem, continuing a paper trail.
As you can see, it’s vital that you get things in writing when you’re communicating with your tenants. Doing so doesn’t just ensure that you both understand what you’re agreeing to; it also protects you if you’re ever taking to trial by an angry tenant. By protecting yourself, you are also protecting your business and your investments, ensuring that you can continue working as a property manager for many years to come.