In this week’s episode, Podcast Host, Property Manager & Business Owner, Andrew Schultz, chats about replacing rental appliances. How many times should you repair an appliance before kicking it to the curb?
Sometimes, tenants want to treat your rental as if it’s their own home by doing things like mowing the yard. As a landlord, should you allow it and, on top of that, allow the tenant to use your mower?
Last, but not least, your tenant is moving out, but you’re unsure if the utilities were shut off for the rental. Is there a form that you receive as a landlord before utilities are shut off? Find out in this latest episode.
Andrew Schultz: (00:00)
Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. This is episode number 410 and I’m your host, Andrew Schultz. On today’s episode, we’re gonna be talking about lending lawnmowers to your tenants. How often should you replace the appliances in your rental property and getting proof of utility shutoffs from your tenants? We’ll get to all that right after this.
Voice Over: (00:26)
Welcome to the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. Now, your host, Andrew Schultz.
Andrew Schultz: (00:32)
Have you joined the free Rent Prep for Landlords Facebook group? Our group members get access to our Sherwin Williams and PPG paint discount programs can ask questions in our monthly AMA sessions and if you have a question or a situation that you’ve never encountered before or just need to bounce an idea off of a group of over 13,000 housing providers, this is the place. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do it today over at facebook.com/groups/rentprep. Don’t forget to mention the podcast when answering the questions so we know how you found us
Voice Over: (01:07)
Forum quorum, where we scour the internet for ridiculous posts from landlords and tenants.
Andrew Schultz: (01:15)
We’re starting things off this week with our forum quorum segment. All of our segments this week come to us via the Rent Prep for Landlords Facebook group, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t already. Let’s go ahead and jump into this one. I have a single-family home on two acres. A family that wants to rent does not have access to a mower capable of cutting that much grass. I have a mower that I can include, but to replace it would cost me nearly four to $5,000. Any recommendations on a good way to either include it or do a rent-to-own situation? And again, this one comes to us from the Rent Prep for Landlords Facebook group. So we actually have a pretty strict policy written into our leases that tenants are not to work on the property without our express written permission and that exists because we don’t want them doing things like swapping out light fixtures or faucets or something like that as a favor or as a courtesy to us rather than calling us when something breaks.
Andrew Schultz: (02:10)
That said, we do allow tenants to cut their own lawns on single-family properties and we also require tenants to handle their own snow on single-family and duplex properties. We’ve talked before about the landlord-tenant relationship as well as the employee-employer relationship and how something can get skewed when you start asking a tenant to repair things for you or do work around the property on your behalf. I’m not gonna sit and rehash all of that now, but you really have to be careful as to what you have tenants do for you and how you pay them. You could be unwillingly setting yourself up for an employee-employer relationship while you just thought that you were getting some cheap labor at your rental property. And remember, if someone’s doing work for you out at the property and there’s money being exchanged, that person could even be considered an independent contractor at that point.
Andrew Schultz: (02:56)
Now you have someone working at the property that doesn’t have proper insurances. Anyway, let’s move on to lawn mowing. We’re kind of getting outside the scope. What we’re looking to talk about here on the single-family properties where we have the tenants handle their own lawn care, we essentially give them two different options. They can handle the lawn care and the landscaping, or we can handle the lawn care and the landscaping and add it to their rent as a monthly charge. Some of our single-family tenants don’t wanna spend time on evenings and weekends taking care of lawns and flower beds, so they’re glad to pay the monthly charge just so they don’t have to deal with it. Other tenants prefer to cut them themselves and are very particular about their flower gardens, so they prefer to take the work on themselves. Whenever you get into a situation where there’s hardscape work that needs to be done or a tree that needs to come down or something of that nature, even when tenants are handling the landscaping at the property, that’s not something that we ask them to take on.
Andrew Schultz: (03:49)
If a tree comes down in the backyard, we don’t expect the tenant to handle that, even if they’re responsible for the lawn, we use a professional tree service to come out and handle that. Someone with insurance just in case something goes wrong with a chainsaw, someone falls off the tree, whatever the case may be. Before we begin managing a property, we require that the landlord remove all personal property from the home and that would include any sort of lawnmowers or weed eaters or landscaping tools, shovels, anything along those lines. Not just that, but any other personal property that they have in the home. We’ve had situations in the past where our landlords have left something behind and it either winds up lost or broken during the tenancy and then the property owner is mad that their personal property is missing after the tenancy ends. This is why we tell them to remove all of their personal property from the home before we take over the management of it.
Andrew Schultz: (04:39)
We don’t wanna be responsible for their personal stuff and we really don’t want tenants playing around with it either. Removing all personal property removes that risk altogether, so why is it bad to leave a lawnmower behind for a tenant to use? Well, there’s a few different reasons that come to mind and the first thing that comes to my mind at least is injury. If a tenant doesn’t know how to use a lawnmower correctly, or if some component of the lawnmower fails and causes an injury and you were the one who supplied the lawnmower, you could be held liable for that injury. If it’s determined that you did not maintain the machine adequately or if there was a safety guard on the machine that was removed at some point, something along those lines, you could find yourself in line for a lawsuit. And by the way, it doesn’t matter if you were the root cause of the injury or if you supplied a brand new lawnmower, you’re still going to wind up being named in the lawsuit and you’re still going to have to pay to defend yourself even if you’re not at fault.
Andrew Schultz: (05:32)
Moving on from injury, let’s talk about repairs for just a moment. Anytime you supply something at a rental property, you are responsible for the repair of that item. So if it’s a situation where you supply a refrigerator and the icemaker breaks, you should be fixing that ice maker. The same would apply to a lawnmower or a weed eater. If the lawnmower stops working or the blades dull or a tire goes flat, you are the one that should be paying for that repair. If you are supplying the lawnmower, the easiest way to avoid all of those costs don’t supply lawn care tools. Let’s talk about a few other options. You had mentioned that the possibility of selling the lawnmower to the tenant or possibly doing a rent-to-own situation may be, you know, something that’s a possibility. I think that selling the unit might be a good idea, but I would try to avoid selling it to the tenant again, even if the transaction is completely and totally separate from your lease if you sold them a lawnmower and you are also requiring them to keep the lawn cut and something happens that either the tenant or the lawnmower, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re going to try to blame you for it.
Andrew Schultz: (06:34)
Even if you sell the lawnmower in as-is condition, if it dies two weeks after you sell it, that tenant is not gonna be happy about the situation. I have a buddy that owns a small buy here, pay here car lot and without fail every single time a car breaks after he sells it, if they’re on a buy here, pay here plan, they expect him to come in and handle all of the repairs outta his pocket. Obviously, we understand that’s not how it works and that shouldn’t be how it works in the lawnmower situation here either, but it’s just one more thing that you may need to potentially deal with. Another option could be to hire a lawn service with two acres requiring lawn care. This probably won’t be the cheapest option out there, but it is an option. Hiring a lawn service takes the liability off of you and off of the tenant and puts it on the landscaping company, but it comes at a price.
Andrew Schultz: (07:22)
Either you or the tenant need to write a check in this scenario in order to get the work completed. We’ve done it both ways. If a tenant wants to have their own lawn service come in, we just require that the tenant provide us with a copy of the insurance for the lawn vendor. We’ve also done it such that we put the lawn care into the lease and increase the rent by however much the lawn care costs. Both of these are solid options. If the tenant’s going to handle it on there and just make sure that the work is actually getting done and that the lawn’s not getting overgrown, the final option would be to just tell the tenant to figure it out. If they’re in a situation where they truly wanna rent a home, they’ll come up with a scenario that works for them that gets them in the property.
Andrew Schultz: (08:01)
If lawn care is the tenant’s responsibility and they don’t wanna cut the lawn, ultimately it’s gonna fall to the tenant to figure out how to get that work done. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You just need to be crystal clear in your lease documents as to who’s responsible for the lawn and who’s responsible for the landscaping. But I might shoulda mentioned this earlier in the segment, but lawn cutting and landscaping are very different things. I would make sure that your lease specifies who’s responsible for both lawn care and landscaping separately as well as snow. If you live in a cold weather climate, good luck. Review your lease and go from there.
Voice Over: (08:37)
Water cooler wisdom, expert advice from Real Estate Pros.
Andrew Schultz: (08:45)
We have two water cooler wisdom segments for you this week. We’re gonna go ahead and jump into our first one that deals all about appliances. Let’s go ahead and take a look here. A new tenant just moved in. Andrews reporting that the dishwasher is leaking at over 18 years old. The dishwasher certainly lived its life and it’s well beyond its Amateurization period. Uh, I think they might have meant their depreciation period there. The other kitchen appliances are the same age. Is it worth changing everything now or would it be better to wait until the need is met? Go ahead and take a look at this one here. I would fix what’s broken and I would leave the rest until the appliances either fail or until you’re at a point where you’re turning the unit over and trying to get a higher rent price. If you’re in a situation where you have some components of an appliance that aren’t working any longer, you need to repair that appliance or replace that appliance.
Andrew Schultz: (09:36)
I use the common example above of ice makers and freezers. In fact, I think I mentioned it in the previous segment. Even for whatever reason, ice makers and freezers tend to fail and no one ever wants to repair them when they do. The problem is if you rented an apartment or a home and that appliance had a working ice maker, more often than not you’re gonna be required to repair that appliance back to the level it was at at the time of move-in. So if you’re in a situation where you need to replace an appliance, it does make sense to consider your future appliance purchases as well, even if you’re not making those appliance purchases right this second. It’s a good idea to think about the type of appliances and the finish of the appliances. For instance, you may have a white stove, refrigerator and dishwasher in the unit right now.
Andrew Schultz: (10:21)
However, you may wanna convert everything over to stainless steel moving forward. So shop for a stainless steel dishwasher now and when it’s time to replace the stove and fridge, look for stainless steel replacement options as well. On the flip side, if you just bought the refrigerator a couple of years ago and it’s white, you’re probably gonna wanna get a dishwasher that matches the fridge as the goal is to keep your finishes matching over the course of time. When talking about the type of appliance, you’re going to wanna consider what features are on the appliance that are currently in place. For instance, if you have a tenant in place and they initially rented a home that has a refrigerator with an ice maker, you’re likely going to wind up having to replace that refrigerator with one that has an ice maker in it. Basically, you’re making a like-for-like swap, and when you’re choosing new appliances, it’s worth looking at the various features included on the appliance to see if something is going to have a high or low cost of maintenance.
Andrew Schultz: (11:13)
The more features an appliance has, the more things that can go wrong with it. We tend to lean more towards basic but durable appliances in our rental properties for that exact reason. Do you really need a dryer that has a steam press option built into it and requires a waterline to be run to it or is a normal dryer just fine? Let’s talk a little bit about appliance brands. Everybody has different recommendations for what brands to stick with and what brands to avoid, and honestly, more often than not, it’s gonna be based on the personal experiences of the person offering up the recommendation. And that’s basically what you’re gonna get here. I’m giving you my personal recommendations based on over a decade in the property management industry dealing with a variety of different appliance brands in different scenarios. It’s also worth noting that many of these appliance brands are owned by the same company.
Andrew Schultz: (12:01)
For instance, Whirlpool owns Maytag, Amana Roper, KitchenAid, and Gen Air. Electrolux tried to buy GE back in the mid 2010s, I believe. Uh, but they failed as it was blocked by the government as they felt that it would create a monopoly. GE currently owns Hot Point Cafe profile and Monogram Brands. Samsung also owns Decor. LG is largely a solo player and on the luxury end, subzero owns Wolf as well as Cove for Stoves. We’ve had GE and Whirlpool units in many homes over the years without issue. We have a mixture of both gas and electric stoves throughout our portfolio. I don’t know as though one requires repair more often than the other does. The one thing I will mention is that I do know one landlord that pulled all of his gas stoves out of his units and switched everything over to electric simply because he didn’t want tenants cooking over open flame and accidentally starting a fire.
Andrew Schultz: (12:56)
I used to think that that was a little bit much until we had a fire at a property because a tenant set a plastic dish on top of a lit stove burner. Not to say that that same thing wouldn’t happen on an electric range, but I guess his concern was at least a little bit justified. In addition, some states are beginning to restrict the sale of gas ranges and over time you may find it harder to find new or used gas appliances or parts. Again, I don’t think that this is a short-term issue, but it is something worth looking at as more and more states start to push to eliminate fossil fuel usage for dishwashers, we usually pick whatever matches the finish we’re looking for and clocks in at the cheapest as long as it’s a major brand. We’ve installed some Frigidaire, some Maytag, and some GE dishwashers and I can’t think of any major issues that we’ve had with any of them over the course of time.
Andrew Schultz: (13:45)
I will say that we had an LG dishwasher that failed within the first year that it was installed, so maybe avoid LG for dishwashers. On the fridge side of things, Frigidaire has done really, really well for us. They make an 18 cubic foot refrigerator and we have a ton of them out there. They seem to be durable overall and parts are readily available. LG and Samsung seem to be problematic when it comes to refrigerators and other appliances as well. Actually, I had a Samsung washer and dryer that both failed right after the warranty period expired and it was actually cheaper to replace the entire unit than it was to uh, repair it. If you’re installing laundry in your units, Maytag and Speed Queen are the best brands out there, in my opinion for washers and dryers. And this is actually the same brand that many laundromats use, you can actually buy the commercial units without coin-op capabilities to install into a building.
Andrew Schultz: (14:36)
If that’s something that you’re looking to do, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re running a laundry in a larger building where there’s going to be a lot of use, especially the speed Queen units seem to stand up to the abuse a lot better than the more consumer-grade type items would be. Last but not least, I do wanna mention that the date of manufacturer obviously matters and normally we think of older appliances as being longer lasting than the stuff that’s being produced newer, uh, the more recently built appliances, and I do wanna make mention of the fact that appliances that were built during the Covid timeframe seemed to have a lot more reliability issues than appliances that were built either before or after. And I don’t know if there’s any sort of actual proof to that. It could just be things that I’ve noticed over the course of time or whatever, but I can tell you that we did have a couple of appliances that were built during Covid that have already failed, and I honestly think it’s just due to quality concerns during that timeframe.
Andrew Schultz: (15:34)
A lot of people weren’t necessarily focused as much on work even when they were at work, and I think that it shows in the quality of some of the appliances and things like that that came out during that timeframe. So check your manufacture dates. If you’re looking at something that was manufactured in 2020 through 2022, you may want to consider a different appliance. This episode’s actually gonna come out after Memorial Day, but it’ll come out prior to Labor Day for sure. So I would say be sure to check around, uh, especially Memorial Day and Labor Day seem to be when most companies run their appliance sales. So you do have a couple of opportunities to try to save on appliances as well. That said, don’t go buying appliances just because you think it might be nice to have one sitting around. The only time we’ve ever done that is on refrigerators so that we can swap a fridge in in the event that one of our supplied fridges goes bad and we’re waiting for repair.
Andrew Schultz: (16:27)
But other than that, I do not recommend keeping a large inventory of appliances just sitting around waiting for something to require replacement and moving right along to our second water cooler wisdom segment this week. This one again comes to us via the Rent Prep for Landlords Facebook group. I have a tenant moving out. Do I need to ask for proof of utilities that were shut off at the units? And again, that comes from the Rent Prep for Landlords Facebook group. So this is gonna depend on the utility company where you live and what they provide when someone shuts off a utility. So here in Western New York, we have a few different utility companies that we work with for gas and electric. The nice thing is that all of the companies offer what’s called a leaf-on for landlord account. And essentially what that means is that when a tenant calls in to disconnect their service because they’re moving out, the service automatically rolls into our name as the landlord.
Andrew Schultz: (17:20)
This is nice because we don’t wind up with utility lapse and when you live in Buffalo or any other cold weather climate, a utility lapse can be a real challenge in the wintertime if you wind up in a situation where you don’t have heat going into a building. The nice thing about the Le Bond for Landlord program is that if a tenant is shut off for nonpayment, the service does not automatically roll into the landlord’s name. The service just gets shut off at that point and the meter gets locked. And talking about cold weather climates, this can definitely be an issue if your tenant is sitting in a unit that doesn’t have heat. But if the tenant is required to have the utilities on for the entire duration of their tenancy, then you need to enforce that clause in your lease and that’s a totally separate topic for another day.
Andrew Schultz: (18:02)
When the service rolls into our name, the utility companies will send us a letter letting us know that the account has been reestablished in our name under the Levon for Landlord program, and it also provides us with the account number and the date that the service began. And based on that, we know that the tenant has called in and turned off their service as a result of their move-out. When we complete our move-out inspections, we also make sure to get photos of the gas and electric as well as the water meters so that we have current readings for all of those as well. That way when we call on a meter reading right after the tenant vacates so that they get a correct final utility bill, we don’t wind up paying for tenant utility usage due to an estimated bill. It’s also worth noting that if we call the gas or electric companies and ask to establish new service at an address, it automatically disconnects the service for the previous account holder.
Andrew Schultz: (18:50)
So if I call into turn service on at 123 Main Street because Timmy Tenet moved out and Timmy Tenet hasn’t called in to disconnect his service yet, it’ll automatically disconnect out of his name and into our name when I call in to make my service connection in our area, gas, and electric bills stay with the account holder and not with the property. So if a tenant was to rack up a large electric bill and then move out, they would be responsible for that electric bill, not us. It’s nice because we can then turn the electric back on in our name and not have to deal with that previous balance. It’s on the utility company to go after the past tenant to recover those funds. Water on the other hand, stays with the property. And for this reason, even in our single-family homes where we bill the tenants for water usage, we keep the water bill in the property owner’s name and have the bill sent to our office.
Andrew Schultz: (19:39)
We then add the charge onto the tenant’s ledger and have them pay it with their next monthly rent payment. Unpaid water bills eventually become a lien against the property, and we’ve seen properties go to tax foreclosure because of an unpaid water bill. So for that reason, we keep a tight watch on the water bills. Depending on what utilities the tenant’s responsible for, and if the bill lives with the tenant or the property, you may need to hold a portion of their security deposit until the final bills come through so that you can ensure that those bills are paid. Check your state law on this as many states have timeline requirements as to when deposits must be returned. At the end of all that, the best way to answer this question is to call your utility company and ask them how they operate. Then you’re getting the answers directly, and they may be able to help you with something like a Levon for Landlord account as well.
Andrew Schultz: (20:27)
What are the questions you legally cannot ask a tenant? Rent Prep’s latest guide goes over the top 12 questions that landlords should not be asking tenants at any point. Find out what they are by visiting the blog today at rentprep.com/blog. That pretty much wraps up this episode of the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. Thank you all so much for listening. 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 other episode that will help someone you know, please do us a favor and share it with them. If you’re looking to get in contact with me, I can be reached over at whatsdrewupto.com.
Andrew Schultz: (21:10)
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. Grab a copy of our free deal analysis tool today over at whatsdrewupto.com. There’s no obligation and it comes with a companion video showing you how to use it. 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 us about the enterprise-level programs and pricing. I’ve been an enterprise user of Rent Prep for over a decade 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 wanna miss. Until then, I’m Andrew Schultz with ownbuffalo.com for rentprep.com, and we’ll talk to you soon.
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