Rental Maintenance Tools

The grill is hot and the burgers are almost done, thank goodness, because your friends are hungry. Then, your phone vibrates. It’s a text from your tenant, “Hot water heater is broken.” Well, here comes a thousand dollar expense I wasn’t planning on… unless I can do the maintenance myself?

If you can do the repairs yourself, you can save boatloads of money. On the other hand, what if you get in over your head and make things worse? Then you’ve wasted your time, angered your tenant, and you could be out of a lot of money. How do you know if you can, or even should tackle repairs yourself?

Before you get overconfident and try to build a new water heater from scratch, or just as bad, think you can’t even re-ignite a spark, answer these five questions.

We’ll help you determine, with these five questions, which repairs you can handle on your own and which repairs need the expertise of an outside contractor or qualified repair service.

Question 1: Do I Have the Time?

How urgent is the issue?

We know many of our landlords are busy. Some are part-time landlords and full-time professionals elsewhere. Others are full-time landlords with dozens of units. Depending on the nature of the repair, time could be a critical component. Is your tenant’s toilet completely not working? Are you at your day job and can’t get around to looking at the problem in the next 8 hours? Probably better that you call a plumber so the problem can get resolved fast. It would be bit inhumane to expect your tenant to not have a toilet that long.

Is your tenant’s toilet completely not working? Are you at your day job and can’t get around to looking at the problem in the next eight hours? Probably better that you call a plumber so the problem can get resolved fast. It would be bit inhumane to expect your tenant to not have a toilet that long. First, assess whether the problem needs to be dealt with that same day or even within a couple hours. Determine if you can actually resolve the issue in that time period on your own. If you’re 50 miles away, have to sit in traffic, it likely doesn’t make sense for an urgent issue. If

First, assess whether the problem needs to be dealt with that same day or even within a couple hours. Determine if you can actually resolve the issue in that time period on your own. If you’re 50 miles away, have to sit in traffic, it likely doesn’t make sense for an urgent issue. If

If a pipe bursts and water is draining into the apartment, don’t spend extra time trying to get onsite and do it yourself. The extra damage will certainly cost you more than hiring a professional who can get there quickly and turn off the water.

Will this be your first time?

There is no getting around the fact that most first-time do-it-yourself projects will take a long time. For instance, if you are a novice at caulking bathroom shower tiles, then you could be looking at fourteen hours of work and numerous trips to the hardware store. A project like this should take about an hour and a half by someone with experience. With each repair, you should consider the value of that task, the cost to you in terms of time as well as the cost to the tenant of not having

With each repair, you should consider the value of that task, the cost to you in terms of time, as well as the cost to the tenant of not having the utility.

If it’s a repair or maintenance issue that will be repeated again soon or needs to be addressed in multiple units then it might make sense to go ahead and spend some extra time learning how to do it so that you can do it again, faster and not have to hire someone.

However, if its something you don’t expect to encounter again in the future, there’s likely not much value in you spending time learning how to do it.

For a first-time DIY project, establish a limit upfront on how much time and money you’re willing to invest before deciding a repair is overwhelming and discouraging.

What is your time worth?

Ultimately, it is up to you, the landlord, to decide how much your time is worth and how much value you get from each new challenging repair. But be honest with yourself about how much an hour of your time is worth, how many hours it will take to make a repair, and what the opportunity cost would ultimately be. If you’re not an experienced handyman, you’ll likely find that when you compare the cost of your time to a professional, it’s cheaper to go with the professional. We didn’t even mention that the professional is more likely to provide superior quality.

It’s not urgent. You have the time.

Great, then we recommend moving on to our second question.

Question 2: Is a Certification Required?

A frequently asked question is whether a particular repair needs to be addressed by someone with a license. There are many repairs that a landlord should not attempt to make on his own unless he has the necessary training, qualifications, or experience.

There are also legal requirements that require certified and insured workers to perform some maintenance. For example, many do-it-yourself landlords will do light electrical work and replace a defective wall plug outlet on their own. That’s fine, but if your tenant has been complaining about a flickering light or consistently thrown circuit breakers, then a competent electrician should be brought in.

Does the repair legally need to be done by a licensed professional?

Before you start any work, just do a quick google and find out whether a license is physically required. Certifications are often required when you’re responsible for the habitability for another individual and there could be health or hazard risks involved. The most common issues that require licenses are around electricity, plumbing, and environmental hazards.

How Risky is the Work?

If you find you don’t need a license, you should still apply some common sense to how risky the project is. If there’s a chance that the work could result in electrical hazards, fires, gas leaks, water leaks, exposure to asbestos or mold, its time to consider a licensed professional. Most professionals go through extensive training to handle risky work and are also insured in the event something goes wrong. You may just feel better with the risk on their shoulders rather than yours.

When to call a licensed electrician?

If it’s a high-voltage project or there’s potential for severe injury or fire, then get a professional. Examples include:

  • RUNNING NEW WIRES: Working with running wires requires a professional.
  • FLICKERING LIGHTS: If your lights are flickering then the electrical current is not meeting the demand for the task. This issue could be caused by factors such as having too many appliances plugged into various outlets that are utilizing an abundance of electricity, improper wiring, or even a lack of available power current from the electrical company. A professional electrician will be able to test and provide an accurate solution to the issue of flickering lights.
  • DIMMING LIGHTS: If the lights dim then there could be a problem with an appliance pulling or utilizing too much current to cause a drop in voltage. There could be an issue with a circuit or possibly the wiring of the dwelling.
  • A NON-WORKING OUTLET: An outlet not working when you plug in different items: It could be a tripped circuit breaker, or a loose wire or another problem. It could be a complicated issue, which needs a trusted electrician for an evaluation.
When to Call a Licensed Plumber?

Many plumbing projects are ideal for the DIY especially with all the tutorials and guides online. However, there are times when calling in a professional plumber is the best option. Permits are required for things like bathroom remodels, moving existing plumbing, or adding a new gas line for a BBQ. A professional will also know when a permit is required.

You will need a professional licensed plumber when there is:

  • MAIN LINE STOPPAGE: Anytime the toilets back up into the tubs or showers the problem is most likely the main line. This usually requires special equipment that most landlords don’t have.
  • SHOWER VALVE REPLACEMENT: This can be a complex and time-consuming project. An expert can help you pick out the right valve for your shower. It can be terribly confusing and there is also the possibility of damaging the shower walls in the process. A professional will know how to change the valve with the least amount of damage (if any) to the walls.
  • WATER HEATERS: It is not recommended to work on your own water heater without experience or proper guidance. There are a lot of things that can go wrong during a water heater repair. An apparently simple adjustment may end up making a leak worse or causing more damage.
  • TUB REPLACEMENT: This is a big job even for a professional plumber.
When to Call a Professional HVAC Specialist?

As a landlord, you know how important is it that your tenant be comfortable during their lease, by ensuring that the heating and air conditioning units are in peak performance. Clogged filters, dirty thermostats, sooty flues, leaky ductwork and unlubricated fan motors can reduce efficiency by 25 percent.

Some of these maintenance tasks are simple, while others require a trained professional. An annual service call by a licensed technician will check belts and filters and replace them as needed. He or she will also oil moving parts and inspect the wiring.

A professional also needs to check the heat exchanger, flue and ducts and adjust the burner every other year. Oil-fired burners require adjustment of the jets. Although air conditioners are less maintenance, a professional will still need to replace the filters, vacuum out the unit and lubricate the motor. If the unit is not working properly a technician will have to check the pressure level of the refrigerant.

If you didn’t understand any of the above, get a professional.

When to Call A Licensed Professional to Remove Environmental Hazards?

Always. Period.

As the landlord, you are responsible for the habitability of the rental. Although most sources say that surface mold can easily be removed with a bit of soap and water, you’re better having a licensed professional handle this. Not because you can’t do it yourself, but because you’re too much on the hook if you assess the issue incorrectly, and it was a more serious mold problem.

The same goes true with other environmental hazards, including asbestos removal, lead paint removal, etc. These are hazards that very seriously affect someone’s health.

When to Call a Professional for Pests?

If a pest problem arises, identify the pest and the extent of the infestation. Some pests can be kept out by blocking points of entry. Quality sealant or knitted copper mesh can be used along baseboards, pipes, drains and other access points to seal cracks and repair holes. The earlier you respond to a pest situation, the less invasive any remedies will need to be. If

The earlier you respond to a pest situation, the less invasive any remedies will need to be. If it’s already late into the game and the pests are rampant through the house, you’ll likely need chemicals to remove them. At that point, call in a professional. You need to be licensed to handle volatile chemicals.

A License isn’t Required?

Cool, check out question three.

Question 3: Can I Ask the Tenant to do the Repairs?

Can I answer Affirmatively for the Two Above Questions on The Tenants Behalf?

Pretty simple. The tenant also needs to have time to tackle urgent repairs. And if a license is required, its unlikely the tenant has one.

Can I Encourage the Tenant More?

Give your tenants some motivation and remove some easy obstacles, and you’ll find that they’re not only willing to help with repairs, but eager to do so. If you’ve assessed that it would cost you 4 hours to do something or $500 to have a professional do it, it could be a win-win to offer your tenant $250 off their rent if they want to handle the repair themselves (assuming they can). You could be surprised by how your tenants jump on this opportunity. It’s truly a win-win.

If you further provide a basic toolkit to your tenant, you’ll be removing some obstacles that otherwise prevent tenants from doing even simple repairs, like tightening loose door knobs. Having the right tools available and on hand for simple projects will mean that your tenant can make small repairs without bothering you. Offer to pay for the hardware or replacement items when given a receipt. This could get your tenant to make a habit of doing repairs themselves and also instill a sense of pride about the rental.

Offer to pay for the hardware or replacement items when given a receipt. This could get your tenant to make a habit of doing repairs themselves and also instill a sense of pride about the rental.

Tenant doesn’t want to do it?

Ok, go on to question four.

Question 4: Are There Resources Available to Guide Me?

It can be extremely confusing and a real challenge for someone who is not in the profession of being a full-time handyman to undertake even the simplest of repairs. Because of this, you have to weigh the cost of every repair in order to access whether it is worth your time and effort, or if you have the knowledge to do it in a reasonable amount of time, or whether it is time to haul in the professionals. If there are resources, how to guides, and even videos, that could make a big difference in improving your ability to handle something yourself and timely.

If there are resources, how-to guides, and even videos, that could make a big difference in improving your ability to handle something yourself and timely.

Obviously, there are tons of videos on YouTube explaining every little thing. If you’re looking for more general and hands-on learning, consider a Home Improvement Class, typically offered by a local hardware store.

If you are struggling to find online resources, or you can’t quite understand the resources you are finding, probably a good bet to not attempt it yourself.

There are tons of resources?

Move on to question 5.

Question 5: Can I Follow this Formula?

Now that you have presumably determined whether you have the time, the skills needed to learn a particular repair, the resource to assist you, and if you are willing to turn over the work to your tenant, it’s time now to see if you can follow a simple formula when dealing with repairs.

  1. Don’t panic: Try to be calm and relaxed. Panicking is no good.
  2. Act quickly: Don’t put off repairs.
  3. Use a reference: Google is your friend. YouTube is your friend.
  4. Work methodically: Be orderly. Follow instructions. Measure twice, cut once. These sorts of careful steps make repair work run smoothly.
  5. Test assumptions: What you think may be the cause of a problem, may be a symptom of a larger issue.
  6. Pay attention: Watch the details. How many screws were there? Was it a two-or-three pronged outlet?
  7. Be safe: Some tasks are dangerous. Electricity can kill you. So can a chainsaw.
  8. Know when to call in an expert: Not everyone can fix every problem.

Not sure you can calmly go through the process? Don’t try it then.

About Rentalutions:
Rentalutions helps do-it-yourself landlords find tenants with syndicated listings, screen tenants with direct access to TransUnion credit and background checks, sign digital leases, and allow tenants to pay their rent online.

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