May 20, 2014 – Ventura County Star
In this day of materialism and the media focus on super ads and impulse buying, there are many good reasons for landlords or their managers to regularly visit their rental properties.
We learned some of our management strategies the hard way. It is easy to think because the rent is paid on time and the neighbors aren’t complaining that all is well with the tenants and the home.
There is just no substitute for a regular visit to the property and there are many reasons why. Most tenants prefer to avoid inspections and some will be insulted by the suggestion.
Unchecked leaking faucets or hose bids set up conditions for mold, let alone wasted water.
There are a number of signs that a visit may be needed sooner than later. One is where cars are consistently parked in the driveway and not parked in the garage. It could be that there is an inordinate collection of “stuff” in the garage or people are living there.
Too much “stuff” creates fire dangers and too many people create many hazards particularly in condos when a fire caused by electric overloads immediately impacts adjoining units and innocent parties.
If someone is living in the garage, there is usually a refrigerator, a microwave and a heater of some kind.
Landlords who restrict renters to those who do not smoke in the unit might find them smoking in the back yard. Carelessly tossed cigarettes amid too much stuff, particularly in dry weather and unwatered yards are known to start fires.
Cluttered rental units pose a number of threats to health and safety.
Poor housekeeping should alarm every owner. It can range from unpleasant and unsightly conditions to those that are clearly unhealthy.
Food improperly discarded can be buried by dirty dishes, newspapers and boxes. Such conditions also make it hard to clean in corners, cupboards and dark places such as closets.
There are few worse nightmares than a unit overrun by cockroaches. Landlords who hire service companies to spray must require they be notified immediately when tenants do not allow entry or are not prepared for the treatments.
Most companies charge for the service whether entry is granted or not.
Cockroaches can destroy a unit and their presence is beyond disgusting. They love the dark places and end up in appliances which before long become unusable. It is even hard to find someone to discard such an appliance because cockroaches stay imbedded and travel with it.
In reality, an overcrowding situation is hard to catch because notice of a pending inspection is often sufficient time for the tenants to hide the evidence of multiple occupants.
In a recent fire in the County, there were 11 adults and 7 children living in a four bedroom apartment. The adjacent unit had 9 adults and three children. No one was injured and one unit was saved by the local fire department.
The landlord may not have known about the high occupancy. However, the possibility of multiple deaths in a situation like that is extremely high.
One obvious warning sign is two doorbells at the front door of a single family unit.
Another area of concern is when tenants rent rooms to families who bring in refrigerators and tap into electrical and cable tv services. In a current situation, a family of two adults and three small children were renting a room when the water was shut off for an unpaid bill. The sub-renters gave the primary tenant $500 but the money was not used to pay the water bill.
Shortly after, the bed bugs arrived and the children were covered with bites. Fortunately one the parents became employed and they left behind everything they owned to not take the bugs with them.
The owner resides in a distant city and had not seen the unit for two years. She was appalled at what she found and the remedy is incredibly expensive on top of the lost rent.
Excessive occupancy is hard on plumbing. Water bills caused by heavy use of the showers can run very high and create situations for mold . This is particularly true during colder weather when windows are not left open.
Over-crowding also means extra furniture, and the potential for mold build-up between the wall and the furniture is great. Extra moisture is in a room where there are lots of people and ventilation is inhibited. This occurs when bedroom doors are individually keyed and families live behind locked doors.
A recommended safeguard is to put a statement into each rental agreement that landlords will inspect the unit with proper notice. It is best to not state how often because it may become evident that more frequent inspections are appropriate.
If the tenant protests, assure them it is your way of being a conscientious landlord and manager. If they don’t agree, let them be someone else’s tenant.
Above all, be sure to check references and verify employment. Credit checks aren’t as important as they used to be, in my opinion, but reports from previous landlords are. Be sure to compare phone numbers on the application. It’s happened where the phone number of the previous landlord was instead that of a relative of the applicant who pretended to be the previous landlord. We knew because the person couldn’t answer the questions of how long they had resided at the property and what was the previous rent and deposit amount.
Verify all written information and follow the laws that prevent discrimination of any kind. It’s okay to be generous and give someone the benefit of any doubt.
When in doubt it is best to consult an attorney with real estate and property management experience.
Wisdom is necessary to protect yourself from grief and your property from neglect and abuse.
Kay Wilson-Bolton is a real estate broker and property manager since 1976.