Podcast 351: Where to Draw the Line with Tenants' Guests

Whether it’s a tenant who has a guest over every single day since they moved in or are hoping to have some friends over for a party. Podcast Host, Andrew Schultz, discusses where and when you should draw the line when it comes to your tenant’s guests.

Spring is here! Are your rental property lawns intact? Find out how to button up an agreement with tenants to ensure your lawn stays maintained.

Last, but not least, what happens when rodents chew out your tenant’s car wires? Discover if the responsibility falls on you or your tenant.

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Show Transcription:

Andrew Schultz: (00:00)
Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. This is episode number 351. And I’m your host, Andrew Schultz. On today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about what to do when a tenant wants to have guest lawn maintenance agreements in leases and pest control for rentals. Where do you draw the line? We’ll get to all that right after this.

Voice Over: (00:23)
Welcome to the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. Now your host Andrew Schultz.

Andrew Schultz: (00:27)
Before we jump into today’s episode, don’t forget to check out the Rent Prep for Landlords Facebook group. It’s a great free resource for you to network with housing providers from around the country. And if you have a question or a situation that you’ve never dealt with with over 12,200 members, chances are someone in the group has been there before and can lend a helping hand if you haven’t checked it out yet, do it today over at facebook.com/groups/rentprep. And don’t forget to mention the podcast when answering the questions. So we know how you found us

Voice Over: (00:54)
Water cooler wisdom, expert advice from real estate pros.

Andrew Schultz: (01:02)
We’re going to go ahead and start off with water cooler wisdom this week. This is a pretty interesting one and it comes to us via the landlording subreddit. Let’s go ahead and jump right in here. We have a basement apartment in a private home on long Island that we will be letting someone rent. We ran into an issue recently where the prospective tenant a couple asked us if their parents can stay in the apartment for one week, twice per year, when visiting our initial reaction here was no, the space is really not set up for four people, and we worry about what the neighbors will think as well. So there’s actually a couple of different things that I want to analyze here. And the first is the basement apartment. I want to mention that if you’re planning on running out a basement apartment, you need to ensure that that apartment is legal.

Andrew Schultz: (01:42)
At a minimum here in the state of New York, you’re going to need to have proper egress from the basement. There’s also going to be other code and zoning concerns that are going to need to be addressed. As a matter of fact, we’re working on a project like this right now, where we’re doing a basement remodel, adding a bedroom, adding a full bathroom and laundry room to go along with a, a family room that’s already in place in a basement, not for a rental property, but for a single-family home and the drawings and things like that, that we’ve had to have done. You know, you have to go to the town and show them that you have the plans for the egress window or the, the egress door. If that’s the route that you’re going, whatever the case may be, they’re checking to make sure that you have the correct number of smoking CO2 detectors in place in the building.

Andrew Schultz: (02:22)
They’re checking to make sure that the electrical meets code, that the plumbing meets code. You know, there’s a reason that these procedures exist and it’s to make sure that people remain safe in their homes. I typically don’t love working through municipal red tape when it comes to dealing with, you know, any kind of a project. Nobody wants to go to the town and ask for permission to do something on land that you already own. I certainly understand that when you’re dealing with a basement type situation, when you’re talking about putting a, you know, a livable apartment in a basement, you need to make sure that you’re doing it the right way, and you need to make sure that you’re doing a decode. There’s certainly just a ton of risk if you don’t. So the unit isn’t 100% legal, you’re certainly putting your tenants at risk their life, as well as, you know, just in general, you’re putting them at risk and you’re also putting yourself at tremendous risk.

Andrew Schultz: (03:10)
And at the end of the day, it’s not worth it to screw around with other people’s lives. If you’re going to have a basement apartment, make sure that the basement apartment is legal, you know, all the way from beginning to end, don’t cut corners, make sure that it’s done the right way, make sure that it’s done legal. So that if you, you know, find yourself in a situation where something happens and there’s a fire in the house, your tenants can actually get out if they need to. So don’t screw around with other people’s lives. If you’re going to have a basement apartment, do it the right way. I know there are a lot of areas where illegal basement apartments are incredibly common. Toronto comes to mind as a better effect. I know that there’s a lot of people who will rent out a basement unit in Toronto, completely illegally, and they just create such a tremendous risk to themselves by not doing it right.

Andrew Schultz: (03:52)
And not making sure that you have the property grasses and things like that. At the end of the day, I would never want to put myself or a tenant in a situation where I knew that there was going to be the potential for harm. And that’s certainly one of those situations, you know, keep in mind, at least here in Western New York, where we operate, most buildings have basements, and that’s where your fuel-fired appliances are. Your furnace, your hot water tank, things of that nature. So there is a risk of carbon monoxide and there’s a lot of risk. Like I can sit here and beat on this horse all day if I really want to do, there’s just a lot of risk and you need to make sure that you’re doing what’s appropriate to mitigate that risk. So, first and foremost, before we even get into talking about the visitors, we need to make sure that the unit is actually legal.

Andrew Schultz: (04:32)
So that’s where I would start when it comes to the actual guests, you’re going to hear me say the same thing. I say all the time, check your state laws as to when guests becomes a tenant, there’s likely going to be some point in their presence over a period of time where they would actually convert from guest to tenant just by being there at the property. There’s probably going to be different considerations for immediate family versus a friend. Other things that could impact the situation would be if the tenant is receiving some sort of a housing voucher or section eight, something like that, they’re going to be more restricted on being able to have people move in with them because their voucher is based on the number of people living in the household. So if these are going to be longer-term guests, you’re definitely going to be, want to be on top of this.

Andrew Schultz: (05:13)
So it doesn’t turn into a tendency situation. In some areas. It even depends on if the guest has made a rent payment to you or something along those lines and created sort of an ad hoc tendency, a verbal tendency, if you will, or a month-to-month tenancy. So those are all things that you definitely want to consider when it comes to, you know, how long before a guest becomes a tenant. So going back to the original question here, I don’t think that that’s going to be a major concern. You’re basically talking about a one-week stay twice per year. I don’t think that that’s going to be enough to create a tenancy situation in pretty much any state. I mean, obviously check your, your state laws, your local statutes, things of that nature to double-check. But if you’re talking about once a week, twice a year, I don’t think that that’s going to be enough to create a tenancy situation, as far as it creating other situations for you, you know, overcrowding or something like that.

Andrew Schultz: (06:01)
That’s a very, very real possibility. If you want to get super technical here, you could get into the occupancy standards as issued by either HUD or your local building code office, to make sure that you aren’t creating some sort of an overcrowding situation in your unit. And obviously, that’s something that you’re going to want to avoid as well. So as far as being able to limit the number or the frequency with which guests come to visit your tenant, again, that’s something you’re definitely going to want to check your state laws on and see if you number one could even place a restriction on that. And number two, if you can, what are the allowable restrictions and what is a bridge too far, if you will, the bottom line here is that tenants do have rights when it comes to guests, but the housing provider does as well to ensure that they can operate the property safely and without undue burden, no, the laws in your area and operate within them. That’s always the best advice that we can give you on any situation. This one in particular, when you’re talking about guests, you don’t want them to become, you know, a tenant just by lieu of being in the unit for an extended period of time. So it is something that you’re definitely going to want to monitor in your units, as you are renting them out

Voice Over: (07:07)
Forum quorum, where we scour the internet for ridiculous posts from landlords and tenants.

Andrew Schultz: (07:15)
So we have two really good forum quorums for you this week. The first one comes to us again via the landlording subreddit. And we’re going to go ahead and jump right into this one, or at least specified that the tenants were supposed to maintain the lawn. But I also realized that most tenants probably do neglect the lawn. The grass looks dead in many places, replaced by weeds, definitely the worst lawn on the block, but not the worst I’ve seen in the neighborhood. The tenants are moving out soon. And I don’t know if I should fix the lawn for the next tenants, just for it to look like hell again, eventually. But I’m also worried that the next tenants might get fined by the homeowners association if the lawn gets worse. So this is a good question because it’s one of those situations that where if you have a vague lease, a lease, that’s not really specific in what it says and how it says it.

Andrew Schultz: (07:55)
This is one of those things that could really turn around to bite you. And it sounds like that’s kind of the case here. So if lawn maintenance is specified in the lease, then the tenant would be responsible for the lawn. If there’s damages to the lawn, as a result of the tenant, not taking care of it, then yes, those damages would be deductible from their security deposit in accordance with state law. That being said, how well does your lease actually specify what needs to be done to maintain the lawn? If it’s vague, it might be time to beef that section up before you sign a lease with the next tenant, generally maintaining the lawn would be keeping it at or above the condition it was received in which it sounds like didn’t happen here. But my question is, does your lease actually specify what tenants are required to do?

Andrew Schultz: (08:40)
You know, in some leases it says tenants are responsible for making sure that the lawn is mowed. Okay, that’s fine. But mowing the lawn is only one small part of lawn care. You have weeding, you have hedge trimming. You have, you know maybe washing the sidewalks or something like that. There’s a multitude of things that go along with, you know, lawns and landscape maintenance. And it really needs to be specified if you’re going to have the tenant responsible for those items, just what they’re responsible for doing. For instance, I don’t know too many tenants unless they’re living in a high-value single-family home that are going to want to screw around and, you know, throw fresh mulch every year and make sure that everything is neat and tidy. Most tenants, you know, at least here in Western New York, most tenants that I’ve come across don’t particularly care to have to deal with lawn maintenance.

Andrew Schultz: (09:25)
I know that when I was a tenant, I certainly wanted nothing to do with lawn maintenance. And I would specifically look for places that lawn maintenance was included, which kind of leads me to my next point, which is, have you thought about not making the tenant responsible for the lawn going forward, hiring a service, and including it in the rent as some sort of a value add. As I mentioned, I hate lawn work. It’s one of my least favorite activities and I will absolutely hire out lawn work rather than do it. I just hate lawn work. It’s not my favorite thing to do. And even when I was a tenant, it was, it was the same way. So if you can include lawn service, then you get to control how it’s maintained and in the fashion that you want, it might create a little extra work for your part on managing the vendor and making sure the bill is paid.

Andrew Schultz: (10:08)
But if the lawn is of high importance to you, or you live in a neighborhood where you have an HOA and they’re going to turn around and find you for having a lawn that doesn’t meet standards, or you live in a neighborhood where it’s, everybody keeps their lawns very, very nice. That’s something that, you know, that might be the best route to go having a service, come out, to take care of it, taking it off of the tenants’ plate entirely and adding it to the rent as a value add. And it’s one less thing the tenant has to worry about. I know that when I was a tenant, every single time, I would look for a place that the lawn work was included so that it wasn’t something that I had to worry about. So that’s something to consider as well. Either way, yes, I would go ahead and correct the lawn.

Andrew Schultz: (10:47)
If it’s that bad, the next tenant should not have to deal with damages done by the current tenant. That’s the same reason that we patch holes in walls, why we clean off gross appliances, you know, any of any of a number of things that could go wrong that you have to deal with between a turnover. This is just one more of those things that you would deal with as part of that turnover, at least in my opinion, it goes right along with everything else that you would do as part of the turnover. And it’s something that as a tenant I would think would be expected, Oh, I’m going to move into a place and it’s going to be ready for me to move into the lawn is going to be ready and whatever the case may be, but kind of taking a step back to what we were talking about at the beginning, with the original question or at least my initial statement of make sure that your lease is very specific as to what is required.

Andrew Schultz: (11:29)
If you’re going to make a tenant responsible for lawn maintenance, make sure that you specify that the lawn has to be cut. The weeds have to be pulled. The mulch needs to be fresh and up the hedges need to be trimmed. Whatever the case may be, make sure that your lease is specific about what your requirements are. And when that tenant goes and moves in, get photos of what the lawn looks like at moving so that you have comparison photos for move out that way. If you do have to pursue this in, you at least have some evidence as to this is the way the lawn looked at the onset. This is what the lease said. The tenant was responsible for doing this was the way the lawn was left. When the tenant moved out, they did not follow the lease to the way it was written.

Andrew Schultz: (12:06)
That’s why we’ve deducted these damages from their security deposit. Make sure to protect yourself by documenting the situation is thoroughly as you possibly can. And ultimately that will help to protect you in the long run. And by the way, everything that I had just mentioned about how to specify in the lease, what the tenants responsible for doing. If you’re hiring a service, you should be making sure that that stuff is specified in the contract as well. It’s very, very easy to just sign something vague because somebody says, Oh yeah, we’re going to do X, Y, and Z. Make sure it’s in writing. Make sure that if you hire a service that all of your expectations are in writing, and if they’re not meeting your expectations, it gives you a contract that you can point back to just the same as you could point back to a lease.

Andrew Schultz: (12:46)
If a tenant’s not maintaining the lawn and say, Hey, this is not what I’m expecting. I need this to be brought up to my specifications, but at least you have something in writing on paper in agreement that both parties have signed saying, this is how we’re going to proceed forward. So, you know, what’s good for the goose is good for the Gander in this situation. I suppose if it’s if it’s good enough to put into a tenants’ lease, it’s good enough to make sure that it’s in your landscaping contract as well. Just making sure that you cover your bases. Anything that’s left vague is always open for interpretation. So whenever possible, if you’re able to spell something out a little bit without going full attorney and, and everything else, you know, just making sure to cover your basis 99% of the time, that’s going to be enough to cover you.

Andrew Schultz: (13:28)
So something to keep in mind as you are proceeding this next forum quorum is actually really interesting. This is probably one of the more interesting questions that has come across our desk. Recently, this one does come to us via the landlording subreddit as well over on reddit.com. This one is pretty interesting. My tenants want me to pay for damage to their car. Apparently, rats have eaten the wires. I’ve paid for pest control to take care of the rats, but now they want me to pay for their car damages. Are the landlords responsible for the tenants’ car? So I’m going to start this off by saying, I’m not an attorney. I’m not an insurance adjuster. Take this for what you will, and certainly talk to your insurance company because obviously they’re probably going to have a lot better answer for you than what I would.

Andrew Schultz: (14:09)
My thoughts on this would be no, you don’t control the rats outside the building. There’s nothing to prove that these raps came from your building or that they were even rats. We’ve seen squirrels eat wires in cars. We’ve seen squirrels use cars as places to build nests, places to store food for winter. Things like that. Any place that doesn’t have wind is a little bit warm. It’s a great place for any sort of a critter to crawl into and try to try to set up shop for the winter. So it sounds like what you’re doing is attempting to mitigate the rat problem in and around the house by having an exterminator come out, which is near, as I can tell, would meet the standard for what you’re required to do here, their car. Isn’t your concern. This is why they have auto insurance or possibly even renter’s insurance.

Andrew Schultz: (14:54)
Do I don’t know if renter’s insurance would cover a tenant for a situation like this? I would think it would have to be auto insurance and I’m not even sure if auto insurance would cover. It’s just a very, very weird situation, but the property belongs to the tenant, not to you and you don’t control wildlife. So I don’t see any way that this could really come back to be your problem. We had a similar situation at one of our rentals several years ago, where there was a ton of ice buildup on a gutter due to a very intense winter storm. And it actually pulled the gutter off of one of the houses. The gutter landed on the tenant’s car and it caused quite a bit of damage. My initial thought was that the homeowner’s insurance policy would likely cover that because it was a gutter that fell off the house and onto somebody else’s property, the homeowner’s insurance policy actually did not cover it.

Andrew Schultz: (15:39)
Because in this instance it was considered, I believe an act of God due to the storm and the tenant had to claim it on their car insurance. I thought that was pretty crazy at the time. Apparently, that’s how insurance works, just deny, deny, deny, and let the consumer fight it. It’s certainly not the way that I think most of us would like to operate our businesses. But again, if there’s a way for an insurance company to find that they’re not at not at fault for a claim, they’re certainly going to be looking at every angle to try to find that going back to the original question though, as near as I can tell you don’t have any real obligation here. You don’t control the rats outside, you don’t control wildlife, at least to the best of my knowledge. Maybe you have some sort of a superpower that you didn’t specify in your, in your question.

Andrew Schultz: (16:21)
But no, I don’t see any situation where this could be your problem. Something that would come back to you as a landlord. I think that this is one of those things where it just kind of falls under yeah. That happened and yeah, it’s not great, but it certainly isn’t anybody’s fault. With the exception of whatever rodent was in the car and eating the wires and things like that. So that’s probably where I would go with it. I would talk to the tenants and let them know that they need to contact their auto insurance or the renter’s insurance carrier to see if they have any coverage that way. And then proceed as necessary as I’m sitting here, kind of giving it some more thought while I’m recording the podcast, something had kind of popped into my head here, and it kind of goes along the same lines as you know, if someone had broken into the tenants’ car, if somebody broke into the tenants’ car, but it was parked at your property.

Andrew Schultz: (17:07)
It’s not as though you, as a landlord would be responsible for that. Another comparison that could be made here would be, let’s say there was a fire in the building and the tenants lost all their, all their belongings if they lost all their things, which certainly a tragic situation. But it’s another situation where your landlord insurance policy doesn’t cover tenant belongings. This is again, kind of right in that same vein. So I guess it makes sense that the tenants’ car would not be covered in either one of the scenarios that I presented, where you had the gutter that fell onto the car or where you have the outside influence, the rodent, the rat, whatever squirrel going through an eating the wires, you know, in either one of those instances, the landlord’s policy protects the landlord and the landlord’s property, their asset, but it does not protect the tenant or the tenant’s asset.

Andrew Schultz: (17:53)
So again, this is just one more reason why it’s important to specify to tenants that they have proper insurances. You know, again, I mentioned, I don’t know if renter’s insurance would cover something like this, but it’s always a good idea to have a renter’s insurance policy. And then obviously an auto insurance policy is always a good idea. Even if you do live in a state that doesn’t require one, which is insane to me have an auto insurance policy because something like this would probably be covered under something like that. Rent Prep recently released its landlord guide on how to deal with tenants that are complaining about you or your rental property online. Is it considered defamation find out in our latest guide over at rentprep.com/blog. So that pretty much wraps things up for this episode of the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. Thank you all so much for listening.

Andrew Schultz: (18:38)
We truly do appreciate it. Our goal with the podcast is to help as many people as possible make educated decisions when it comes to real estate and you can help us to reach our goal. If you heard anything in this week’s episode or any of our other episodes that will help someone, you know, please do us a favor and share this with them. If you’re looking to get in contact with me, I can be reached over at whatsdrewupto.com from there, you’ll find links to everything going on with me over at own Buffalo, as well as other projects that we’re working on. In addition to the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast, I also host a weekly show called ask a property manager. You’ll find the link to my YouTube page, right at the top of whatsdrewupto.com. And from there you can access the growing catalog of 60 plus episodes.

Andrew Schultz: (19:18)
Take a look and don’t forget to subscribe. If you’re looking for top-tier tenant screening services, head on over to rentprep.com, there are multiple products to choose from including a tenant-paid option. And if you’re over 50 doors, ask about the enterprise level programs and pricing. I’ve been an enterprise user of Rent Prep for years now, and it’s definitely changed the way that we screen our tenants. Check that out today, over at rentprep.com. Again, thank you all so much for listening. We’ll be back in two weeks with an all-new episode that you won’t want to miss until then. I’m Andrew Schultz with ownedbuffalo.com for rentprep.com. And we’ll talk to you soon.