real estate

A Tenant's Advice on How to Be a Better Landlord

To find your best tenants ever, you need to be the best landlord ever.

If you’ve been thinking about buying a rental house, then today’s story will be of special interest as it is advice from a tenant on how to be a better landlord.

Motion Graphics Artist Andrew Benninghoff, 34, and his two roommates live in North Hollywood, Calif., renting a lovely 2,500 square-foot home from one of our clients who grew up in the house and later inherited it from his parents.

After hearing for years about the respect and care these tenants had for the property, I asked my client to put me in touch with them, and this story is the result.

‘Incredible Landlords’ Are Willing to Do More

“Your clients have been incredible landlords!” was the first thing that Benninghoff said to me. “They go the extra mile to see to it that problems are dealt with immediately. And that is such an important quality a good landlord must have: willingness to do more than just the bare minimum. I have been renting for 13 years, from seven different landlords, none like these people.

“We once had a rodent problem, but when the first pest control company wasn't getting the job done, they immediately found another one that did. In my experience, few landlords would ever make the effort to remedy a problem as fast as they did, or continue to check in as often, monitoring until it was solved,” he said.

Caring Builds Loyalty, So Don’t View Your Tenants as a Cash Register

The landlord/tenant dynamic is truly a special legal relationship, where property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is entrusted to tenants who have the ability to protect it or destroy it.

In my law practice, I’ve met wealthy landlords who own several apartment houses, yet seem incapable of thinking, “These people just want to live their lives in a comfortable, properly maintained dwelling, and I have the legal obligation to fix what’s wrong promptly. And, if I do, they will become my best tenants ever.”

Instead, tenants are nothing but cash cows to these money-obsessed landlords, who openly wonder, “Why can’t I find good tenants?”

Benninghoff sees a good landlord as, “Wanting happy tenants living in the rental, and should radiate a positive, friendly and helpful attitude towards tenants. When you are fair and show that you care about their welfare, tenants think, ‘I’ve never had such nice landlord. You bet I am paying the rent on time!’”

Involve Your Tenant in Problem Solving

In a perfect world, if a problem arose in a rental unit, the tenant would phone the owner or property manager and the matter would be addressed in a timely manner.

But that doesn’t always happen, and part of the reason is that tenants are often afraid of rocking the boat—complaining--for fear of being evicted for issues dealing with habitability, even though that is illegal. Benninghoff has a recommendation for tenants and landlords both when one of these situations arises:

“If the landlord doesn’t know of the problem, it can’t be fixed. The tenant has to take the initiative to call attention to the matter. Countless people would simply sit on it until it is unbearable rather than act more quickly. If it is something serious, like heating or plumbing, keep calling every few hours until you get the right person on the line! Don’t be shy! Remember, laziness spells disaster for either side.”

Do Your Homework - Don’t Be Too Eager!

If you ask any lawyer who handles landlord/tenant matters what drives them insane, you’ll probably hear: “Clients who say, ‘It was late on a Friday, these people just showed up at our house, had lots of cash for deposits, and since the rental had been vacant for two months, I let them move in right then and there. But it has been months and they refuse to make any rent payments! What should I do?’”

“Especially in a city like Los Angeles,” Benninghoff observes, “where there are flakes and phonies everywhere, sizing a person up can be very difficult. You could have a great conversation, find the person to be charismatic, and have a positive impression only to later find out that they are lazy when it comes to actually doing anything, like paying the rent!

“So, my advice for beginning landlords is to realize that you are in business and must protect your investment. Check out anyone wanting to rent from you and do not get blinded by the color of money, allowing really awful tenants to occupy the property.”

And his concluding advice to would-be landlords?

“Are you willing to put in the time it takes? Becoming a competent landlord takes more time and dedication than people initially think. I would never want a landlord who thinks the job will be easy and won't require much effort.”

About the Author

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.

Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift." 

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