What I’ve learned from being a landlord

As of December 1, Kyle and I officially became the ecstatic owners of only one mortgage.

Back in October, the tenant in our townhouse informed us that her and her husband had purchased a house and would be moving in November. We understood; she was expecting their 2nd child to arrive at the end of November and space was limited. She gave us plenty of notice, and even though they took possession of their new house in mid-November, she paid the full month’s rent for that month to give her plenty of time to move and clean.

Our tenant’s decision to move out left Kyle and I with plenty of decisions to make. Do we rent out the unit again? Should we sell it? Do we temporarily move into it, selling our current home and find a bigger house? Every option was thrown out there and every angle was discussed, with much passion and frustration.

Ultimately, we opted to list the townhouse for sale. While we weren’t overly optimistic to sell it (there were 3 other units for sale that hadn’t budged for quite some time), we figured we’d give it a go and if it didn’t sell by the time the listing expired, we’d just rent it out again until the spring.

Low and behold, we had a couple of viewings and after one offer and a counter-offer, we had sold our townhouse!

No longer being a landlord and only having one property to worry about has lifted such a huge weight off of our shoulders. (Kyle’s more than mine.) We don’t have to worry about things like hot water tanks failing, appliances dying, or anything like that. With your own house it’s not so bad, but everything doubles when you own more than one property. It was especially stressful because we don’t necessarily have the finances to deal with something huge like a broken hot water tank too.

So, while we only rented out our property for 3 years, we still learned a lot. I thought I’d share some of those things with you:

I’ll first just put it out there that our tenant was awesome, and that helped in so many ways. We never received complaints from the strata board, her rent was always right on time, and the place was always tidy whenever we had to stop by. So, lesson #1 is to make sure you have an awesome tenant. (Easier said than done, I know, but it helps to have a husband who’s a good judge of character.) We provided her with a copy of the strata rules and along with our own personal restrictions (like no smoking and no cats), we never had an issue.

Lesson #2 is to not be invasive. We only ever stopped by to “check” on things twice a year – once in the spring to turn on the outside water and change the furnace filter, and once again in the fall to turn the outside water off. Of course, because of the Residential Tenancy Act, landlords must give 24hrs notice before entering their rental unit, but we never felt that we needed to pop in on our tenant. (A perk of having stellar tenants.) We also kept our “relationship” professional; while we were pretty close in age, we never became friends. Besides giving her son a couple of Nerf guns that we had lying around the house, we never sent Christmas cards or became “friends” on Facebook. There’s lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and I tried my best not to do so.

Another lesson (#3) is to hear your tenant out when then have a suggestion. Our unit had no dishwasher, while some of the other units in the complex did. While Kyle and I made it work (two people don’t use a lot of dishes), our tenant had asked us if we would consider having one installed. She also had mentioned that she was looking at other rentals that did have dishwashers, and since we didn’t want to lose her as a renter we said we’d look into it. As it turned out, it was going to cost us less than $1200 to have an apartment-sized dishwasher put in. Sure, we didn’t HAVE to have one installed, but it saved us from having to find new tenants. Kyle and I essentially bought the washer, dropped it off, arranged for the work to be done (which included millwork, electrical, and plumbing), and our tenant has happy. (A bonus is that the dishwasher also made it more appealing than the other units that were for sale at the same time).

Finally, I firmly believe that you should treat others the way you yourself would want to be treated, so lesson #4 is to be an excellent landlord. I’ve heard many cases where something has gone wrong at a rental property, such as a furnace breaking down, and landlords take their sweet time resolving the issue. I’ve never actually been a tenant, but it frustrates me when I hear about these things happening to people. There were a couple of instances when something had gone wrong (the washing machine died at one point, and the hot water tank stopped providing hot water at another), and instead of saying that we’d get to it when we could, we rectified the issues right away. (New washing machine, and the hot water tank was a simple call to our awesome plumber). Our tenant also had sent me a message saying that the neighbours next door were constantly having loud parties and keeping her 4-year old son awake at night, so I immediately contacted our strata president with the complain and advised her to do the same. The parties quickly stopped, especially since it was a complaint I had made when we lived in the unit. Instead of telling her to just talk to the neighbours, I just took it to the next level to make sure it was resolved. (I also told her to call the RCMP if she felt the need to and that I’d back her on that.)

In the end, I think Kyle and I would be landlords again in the future, but no time soon. One day, if we ever we have a little bit of disposable income, we may look into an investment property, but for where we are currently in our lives, we’ve ended that chapter. We’re now able to spend a little more on our own house, doing improvements here and there, without having to worry about something potentially going wrong at our rental unit. In the meantime, we can say we’ve “been there, done that,” but I don’t think we’d go as far to say “never again.”

Have you ever rented out a property? What were the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a landlord?
If you’ve been a renter, what should landlords know right off the bat?

 

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4 thoughts on “What I’ve learned from being a landlord

  1. We’ve been thinking about renting out our condo next year but after reading your post, I think I’ve changed my mind! If we can sell without losing a lot (because we’re definitely not going to make anything!) it might be best to go that route. I rented for years before we bought our place when we got married, and I agree very strongly with your #2. I had one landlord that had some sort of cubbyhole passageway from her house into the basement (where apartment was) and sometimes I’d be studying and hear a noise and there she’d be, crawling out of the wall! She also had a locked glass case around our thermostat so we couldn’t control the heat – it was horrible! I think another important thing is to keep up the property. I lived in another basement apartment that had serious mold issues. The landlords (who lived upstairs) were an elderly couple and I think maybe they just didn’t understand how bad it was? Congrats on selling your townhouse :)

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    • Renting can definitely be a hit or miss adventure. A lot of people have said they ask for criminal record checks when renting to people. Makes sense, in a way. And that’s crazy about the thermostat being locked up! I mean, it’s one thing to tell your tenants to take it easy on the heat if utilities are included in the rent, but a locked case? Crazy!

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  2. Great tips Kara! We have an excellent, excellent tennant right now so renting is virtually stress free- but I agree so much with the keeping your relationship professional- always a good practice :)

    Congrats on selling! That’s super impressive this time of year.

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  3. These are great tips! We hope to rent out our current townhouse in the next 2-4 years and we are also considering that when we upgrade to a house it will be one with a basement suite to help cover the mortgage costs on a larger house so I really enjoyed reading these tips! I rented for many years before buying and an awesome landlord definitely makes all the difference.

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