Property Maintenance Checklist

If you have an investment property you do not live in, often little things will be needing maintenance which your tenant may not even notice until it becomes a problem.  If you are even a little bit handy, here is an annual Property Maintenance Checklist you could do which might save you some tradie service calls ….

 

Outside your Property

  1. Check the approach to your property – are there any hazards?
  2. Check paving and pathways and driveways around the property, are they clean and not a trip/slip hazard? Is drainage OK, or is pooling water likely to be an issue?
  3. Check the vegetation around your property – are there any trees dropping leaves into your gutters or that are likely to have roots that will damage your property? Have any new ‘nuisance’ trees sprouted (birds drop seeds etc and another Chinese elm can be there quite quickly!).  Prune anything that needs pruning.
  4. Check your garden beds – are they weeded and mulched?
  5. Check that there is no build up or debris close to the sides of the property which might let termites in. Learn to identify termite mud tunnels and check for them – if they are there, do not disturb them, but call a professional.
  6. Check your hot water system for any leaks – release the pressure relief valve.
  7. Check your mains water supply – does the tap turn on and off easily. If not, call your utilities provider to come and service it (no cost to you).  If the house is vacant, you might want to take note of the reading, then do not run any water for 15 minutes then recheck it. If the meter has moved, you might have a leak.
  8. Check there is clear and easy access to your electricity, gas and water meters. Check that your safety switch on your electricity meter works properly.
  9. Look up, and check your gutters – are any holes or can you see that things are growing in your gutters – you may need to get a professional repair or clean. Look at the roof, does it still look in good repair?
  10. Check your downpipes – where do they discharge – are they discharging onto the ground and eroding your foundations? If so, you may need to change the point of discharge.
  11. Check for any cracks in the walls or foundations and take a photo and measurements so that you can tell if it is changing over time. Seek services of a structural engineer if you are concerned.
  12. Check fencing – if metal fencing is going rusty, you may need to treat and repaint before the problem gets away from you. Wooden fencing may require re-screwing or new palings or posts.
  13. Check pool fencing is compliant and ensure you have a current pool safety certificate. Do any pool pump maintenance that is recommended.

Inside your Property

  1. Doors – Test your locks – do you have keys for each lock, and do they turn easily? If not, some silicone spray or WD40 will help most modern locks.  Check the doors open and close smoothly and are not ‘sticking’ – if they are you may need to plane them slightly.
  2. Windows – check your windows open and close. If they require child safety barriers, ensure that these are compliant and secure.
  3. Smoke alarms – by law, smoke alarms must be cleaned and tested before each new lease or lease renewal so ensure this is done by you or by a professional. Ensure your property is fully compliant with the latest legislation.
  4. Taps – Test all the taps in the house – do they turn on and off easily? If not, you may need to change the washer and re-seat the tap (this is pretty easy with the right tools and parts you can get from any Bunnings).
  5. Sinks – Run water in the sinks. Check the drainage and check that there is nothing leaking underneath the sinks (a small leak can go unnoticed and cause major cabinetry damage and attract termites).
  6. Shower and bath – Check if the shower head needs a little CLR to clean it up and unclog it. Run water in the shower and bath – does it drain properly?  If not, you might need to get a bit of coat-hanger wire and pull out clumps of hair etc..  a bit gross, but saves you the cost of a plumber.  If you have access to under the house, check underneath all ‘wet areas’ to ensure there is no leaking happening in the walls.
    Check the silicone and grout in the shower and around the basin and bath.  If it is loose, water may get behind your wall and rot sets in.  Arrange to re-silicone or re-grout as needed.
  7. Toilets – Check around the back of the toilet, the taps and the hoses for any leakage. Also check the toilet is still firmly attached to the floor and not ‘rocking’. If the seat is looking worse for wear, it is cheap and easy to replace it with a new one.
  8. Mould – check the house carefully for mould. If mould is found, check if the mould is likely to be a result of poor ventilation, or some kind of leak.  You may need to address the cause.  If the mould is not severe you can usually treat it easily with a bucket, a couple of microfibre cloths, and vinegar (diluted a little with water).  Use one cloth to do the first sweep, and rinse it thoroughly.  Use the second clean microfibre cloth, soaked in fresh vinegar and water to go over the area again to take off any remaining mould spores.  If the mould is in something porous like carpet or curtains, you probably need to replace these.
  9. Kitchen and bathroom cabinetry – check if the hinges need adjusting or tightening and that the drawers operate freely. Check the silicone in the kitchen area also and re-silicone if needed.
  10. Appliances – if electricity is connected, check your hotplates, stove, oven lamps, dishwasher, air conditioners etc. Take the opportunity to change batteries in air con remotes and give the air con filters a clean.  Check your ceiling fans also.
  11. Power points – check if powerpoints are still securely attached and not loose. If electricity is connected, check if they work.
  12. Lights – if electricity is connected, check if all the lights work. If not, replace light bulbs.
  13. Garage – check your garage door opens and closes smoothly and quietly. If not, it may need a service.  Replace batteries in any garage remote.  Is there any slip hazard of oil in the garage?  If so, this will need to be soaked up and treated.
  14. Check your insect screens – replace damaged ones, ensure they are clean and the tracks are clean
  15. Check sliding doors and windows – clean tracks and spray silicone spray.
  16. Check your stairs and flooring for uneven areas, loose tiles or other hazards.

 

Let us know if you can think of other things we should add to our annual property maintenance checklist!

Emergency Repairs in a Tenanted Property – Who is Responsible?

What are the rights and responsibilities of Queensland tenants in an emergency situation?

First, you must determine if the situation actually is an emergency or if it is just inconvenient.   There are clear guidelines on what is considered an emergency and what is not (see full list below).

It is worth applying your common sense to the situation – especially if the situation occurs after-hours or on the weekend when high call-out fees are charged by the repairers.  For example, if one toilet blocks in the property at midnight, but there is another toilet, you may be able to wait until the next working day to call the plumber.  Or if a flexi-hose bursts, and you know how to turn off the water at the mains, you may be able to go back to bed and call the agent or plumber in the morning.

Emergency repairs are needed when there is likely to be immediate, significant, damage to the property, or where your safety is at risk, or where there is a breakdown in basic services to the property.

Tenants should try to minimise the risk and/or damage  if it is safe to do so, and if they know how.  For example, turning off the water, gas, or electricity at the mains to the property can prevent further damage and reduce the safety risk to occupants.

The list of what constitutes an emergency has been determined by the Queensland Residential Tenancies Authority.

Emergency repairs are:

  • a burst water service or a serious water service leak
  • a blocked or broken toilet
  • a serious roof leak
  • a gas leak
  • a dangerous electrical fault
  • flooding or serious flood damage
  • serious storm, fire or impact damage
  • a failure or breakdown of the gas, electricity or water supply
  • a failure or breakdown of an essential service or appliance on the property for hot water, cooking or heating
  • a fault or damage that makes the property unsafe or insecure
  • a fault or damage likely to injure a person, damage property or unduly inconvenience a tenant
  • a serious fault in a staircase, lift or other common area of the property that unduly inconveniences a tenant in gaining access to, or using, the property.

All other repairs are considered routine repairs.

As a first step, always try to contact the agent who is managing the property (or the landlord if they do not use an agent).  If you cannot contact them, then you can phone the emergency contacts which are listed on your lease to carry out emergency repairs up to the value of 2 weeks rent.

If you cannot contact either the landlord/agent or the nominated repairer on your lease, you may engage another qualified person to carry out the repairs up to the value of 2 weeks rent.

If the emergency repair was caused by tenant fault, then you should pay for this repair.  If you authorise a repair which is not on the emergency repair list (above), you may be liable for all or part of the cost of this repair.  It is important to understand that you cannot arrange for any routine repairs without written permission.

If the emergency repair is not your fault, then you can either pay the repairer and be reimbursed by your landlord/agent within 7 days, or you can request the repairer to invoice the property manager/landlord directly.  If you do not receive the payment within 7 days, you can make a complaint to the Residential Tenancies Authority who will help you to recover your money.

 

The Truth about Landlord Insurance

Insurance companies are always happy to accept your premiums – but when things go wrong, many property owners find that their policy does not cover them in the way they thought it would. This article will help you to ask questions of your insurer to ensure the premium you are paying is worth it.

In my personal opinion, it is usually better to insure with companies that specialise in Landlord insurance, rather than more general insurers such as banks etc. But companies and policies do change, so it still pays to shop around. However, do not shop on price as this can be false economy, shop on content. After all, you want a policy that will actually pay if worst comes to worst. The devil is in the fine print.

 

Legal Liability

To me, this is one of the most important reasons for having landlord insurance. Ensure your policy will defend and pay any liability claims made against you and to what limit. First check WHO is covered. A good policy should defend law suits against you by anyone (who is not your family or your employee) who comes onto your property – regardless if they are invited and authorised, or not. For example, a neighbour’s child may jump the fence without your tenant’s permission to collect a ball, but be injured and you could still face a potential law suit.

Also, if you are considering doing renovations, many policies will not cover injury if the value of the work is above a certain limit.

Loss of Rent

This is one of the most common claims, when a tenant defaults on the rent or breaks lease – but many insurers do not pay much in these circumstances. Sometimes it is worth downloading a ‘claim form’ from the company’s website so you can see what would be required if your tenant defaulted. You will find in your Product Disclosure Statement the terms and conditions where ‘loss of rent’ can be claimed.

If a fixed term lease is not in place or has expired, this classes as a ‘periodic agreement’ which is when the tenant pays ‘periodically’ without an official lease. Insurers usually pay out less for periodic agreements (two weeks rent is usual – minus your excess). Even if there is a lease in place, you are often not covered for the full loss of rent until you find another tenant, some companies cap it at 4 weeks or 6 weeks rent after the tenant moves out and you are able to advertise the property again. Companies often advertise 52 weeks ‘loss of rent’ – but this usually only applies if there has been some type of major event which makes your home uninhabitable.

Remember, that the number of weeks rent paid by the insurance company will take the bond into consideration. So if you have 4 weeks bond, and you need to pay a certain amount out of that bond for cleaning or rubbish removal or repairs, any remaining amount will come off the amount the insurance company will pay.

Inspection clause

Many insurance companies require minimum inspection periods. Ensure you instruct your property manager to put together an inspection schedule which will at least meet these requirements. If you have not received an inspection report, chase them up as your insurance could be reduced or voided.

Damage

Find out what your insurer will replace ‘new for old’ or if they will only repair to the condition the item was in. Often insurers will offer a mixed option. For example, a stove may be ‘new for old’, but your carpet will be calculated using a depreciation calculation that the insurer sets. Also check if payment will occur if it is not your tenant which causes it, but an invited or uninvited person.

Excess

Check your insurance company’s PDS on excess. If your property is left with holes in the walls, some damaged carpet, a broken window, and a broken garage door – each of these things may potentially be charged as a separate ‘event’ and therefore each subject to a separate excess which will reduce your claimable amount considerably.

Cleaning

Most policies will not cover you for cleaning and rubbish removal if the tenant leaves a mess, this must be taken out of the bond.

Sub-letting

Many insurance companies will not insure you if you allow your tenant to sub-let the property to people not on the lease. If your agent becomes aware of this occurring, it is important that there is a paper trail which shows all efforts to prevent tenants from doing this.

Vacancy

If your property is vacant for more than a certain period of time (consult your PDS), your insurer must be notified and a higher excess may be charged to allow your cover to continue.

Vermin and Termites

Most policies will not cover for damage caused by vermin, termites or other insect and wildlife, so it is important to keep up regular termite checks and vermin control. Discuss this with your property manager so that routine inspections are held annually.

Renovation, structural defects, poor maintenance

Most policies will not cover you if the claim is due to a lack of maintenance, a renovation that you undertook, or a structural defect that you know about. Therefore it is important to keep your property properly maintained.

Trees

Most policies will not cover you for damage caused by tree roots.

Swimming pools

Cover around swimming pools varies greatly between insurers – you may find that a pool liner is not covered, but a pool pump is, and the pool tiles are not, but the pool fence is etc.. If you have a pool, I suggest you speak to a claims expert at your insurance company to find out what is covered, and in what circumstances.

6 Common Mistakes Property Managers make that Cost YOU Money!

While many investors ‘shop’ property managers based on their management fee,  this can be false economy as choosing a poor property manager can cost you a lot of time and money.   In this article we examine some common mistakes which end up costing owners more than they bargained for and provide some tips to help you to choose your property manager wisely.

 

  1. Poor tenant selection.  Not all agencies have rigorous processes around tenant selection.  In a difficult market, it can be tempting to accept anyone.  But a bad tenant can cause owners enormous expenses – whether it be unpaid rent or damage to the property.  It is common practice now for agencies to allocate only 10 minutes to ‘open homes’ for rental properties, often attended by a junior person.   This provides insufficient time to talk with these potential renters so tenant assessment is based only on the application form.  If at all possible, choose an agency where the same person who ‘shows’ the property, is the same person who does the reference checking.  Ensure they also check your applicants against a national tenancy database.
  1. Poor inspections.  It is good practice to do an initial inspection within the first three months of a new tenancy as this allows the agent to assess the general state of the property and can alert them to any potential issues early.  Tenants that present well on their application form are not always the best tenant.   The inspection is also a good time to inquire about any maintenance issues that have arisen.  A good inspection is an opportunity for your agent to examine your property with a critical eye – noting not only whether the tenant is caring for your property, but if there are other likely issues to arise that may need owner attention.  For example, if a stair is unsafe, or your smoke alarms are not compliant, you may find that your insurance is void should an incident arise.  A good inspection will highlight these issues so that you can make an informed decision.  A few dollars in preventative maintenance can often save you money in the long run.  You also have the right to go with your agent to inspect your property if you wish to.
  1. Tenant annoyance. When you find a good tenant for your property, it pays to keep them happy.  The longer they stay, the more quickly you pay off your investment property.  Agencies who do not respond in a timely manner to maintenance issues, or otherwise annoy your tenant can be a liability and cost you weeks of vacancy.
  1. Poor rent arrears processes. While you may think that every agency will know if your tenant has paid their rent, and will chase them if it is not paid, unfortunately this is not always the case.  Look for an agency with a process around rent arrears, so that non-payment is followed up in a timely way.  At the end of each financial year, do a quick calculation

                (Weekly rent   x   number of weeks the property was actually rented)

    If the amount of rental income shown on your statement differs from this calculation, you have missing rent.

  1. Poor lease management processes. When a lease is up for renewal three things should happen at least 2-3 months prior to end of lease.First, a new rental appraisal should be conducted to see how the current rent compares to the current market.  If a rental increase is due, then your tenant must be notified at least 2 months prior to the end of their lease.Second, your agent should be contacting you to ask whether you wish to renew the lease and to seek agreement on the rent which is to be set.Third, your agent should be asking your tenant about their intentions.  If they plan on leaving at the end of the lease, then steps need to be taken to start marketing your property prior to the end of the lease.  Your agent should also inquire whether there are any tasks that you would like undertaken if the tenant moves out (e.g. if the inside of the house needs paint) and who will seek quotes and supervise  these works.Many agencies leave these tasks until when the lease has actually expired, meaning that you are more likely to face a vacant property.  If your agency has not contacted you within two months of the end of lease, it may be time to find a new agency.
  1. Poorly trained and/or overworked staff. Most real estate agencies focus on house sales, rather than property management.  Property management is a difficult job with a very high turnover (the average property manager lasting only 9 months).   Often agencies will employ inexperienced people at a minimum wage and throw them into a role where they need to manage over 100 properties.  It is no wonder mistakes are made.  Choose an agency where their property managers are valued and have a realistic portfolio size.  Smaller portfolios mean that the property manager will have time to be proactive with your property.You may pay a little more for the service of a good property manager, but it is unlikely to be a difference of more than one to two weeks rent.A good property manager will save you that rent money many times over and provide you with piece of mind so you do not have to worry about your investment.

Welcome to RealSmarter

RealSmarter is a Brisbane based property management company.  Our aim is to help our clients achieve their wealth goals by ensuring that their investment properties,  and the tenants occupying them, are cared for to a high standard.

Under ‘Articles’ we discuss some of the common issues that come up when we manage rental properties.  We invite you to comment, or ask any questions, and we will provide you with up-to-date, accurate, information.

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Shared accomodation – when you want to move out, but your housemates want to stay

When You Want To Move Out of Shared Accomodation

When two or more people share a rental property and one wants to move out, what should be done?

Firstly, if there is a lease in place, it is important to understand that all people listed on the lease are ‘jointly and severally’ responsible for paying that the rent on this shared accommodation, as well as paying for any damages. This means that anyone listed on the lease can be held responsible for the rent. You cannot just ‘give notice’ and move out without getting signed agreement from ALL parties (i.e. your flatmates and the landlord/agent) or you may still be held accountable for rent.

What you should do?

Step 1.

    1. Discuss with your household that you wish to move out and ask them if they would like to remove you from the lease and take over the responsibility themselves, or if they need a new housemate to replace you.  If they need a new housemate, agree on a timeframe for when your room will be available, who will take responsibility for finding a new housemate, and how this will be done.  Get agreement to this in writing.

Step 2.

    1. Discuss the situation with your landlord or agent. Supply them with a copy of what has been agreed with the housemates.
    1. Your landlord or agent cannot ‘unreasonably’ deny you their consent to transfer the responsibility to the remaining tenants, or to allow you to seek a new housemate. Reasons they could withhold consent would be similar to reasons they would refuse a normal application (e.g. if the remaining flatmates had insufficient income to be able to pay the rent on their own, or the proposed replacement person had poor rental references etc.)

Step 3.

    1. Agree with your housemates (in writing) how any existing bills such as electricity, gas, water, phone, internet, pay tv will be finalised and paid. Also agree on what you will do as far as cleaning the property when you vacate, and perhaps some part-payment towards things such as carpet cleaning which may not be due until the end of the lease. Remember that you may need to remove your name from various utility bills so you do not retain responsibility for them after you vacate the premises.

Step 4.

    1. If a replacement tenant is found, it is a good idea to ask the agent or landlord to inspect the property to ensure there are no outstanding bond issues that you might be held responsible for. This also means that your bond can be simply ‘transferred’ to the new person. If there are bond issues, it is up to the landlord/agent and you and your existing housemates to agree on how this will be handled. (Who will fix it, and at what cost). It may be that a portion of your bond may be withheld to contribute towards damage to the property.

For more information, go to the Residential Tenancy Authority (Queensland).