Life as a landlord tends to send us curve balls such as a roof leak, hot water tanks burst, or a furnace crapping out in the middle of winter. You try and figure out the situations as they come up and scramble to get something fixed. Don't be reactive, be proactive and have a plan to handle these situation.
Steps for Handling Maintenance Requests
- Communication Received
- Screen for Emergencies
- Determine the Root Cause
- Who is Solving the Problem?
- Follow Up
A call, text, or email comes in with a request for maintenance. How you field the calls is determined by your system. If you own a few properties you may answer yourself or have a maintenance division if a large property management company. Define who will field this call and how the information is documented and relayed to the proper channels. Important numbers to call should be provided to the tenants at lease signing and also on their fridge for reference. Maintain communication with that tenant through the whole situation. A landlord is in the housing provider business and responsiveness is an asset.
Screen for Emergencies
Is the call life threatening or a threat to safety and habitability of the property? If so refer to your local emergency services such as 911, Fire Department, or Police Departments.
Determine the Root Cause
Technology is a wonderful thing and use it to your advantage. Tenants can show a video or take photos of the problem at hand. Use video chat and talk through the problem with the tenant while asking questions to pinpoint the issue. A ceiling leak could be the toilet from the 2nd floor or a roofing leak so get as much information as possible.
This step is limited to the ability of the tenant and the individual fielding the calls to have knowledge of maintenance and repairs. Many times smaller problems can be sorted out without sending a contractor which saves on maintenance costs. Troubleshooting is typically left to simple tasks for the tenant to resolve such as replacing batteries, flipping a breaker, or resetting a GFCI in the bathroom.
Who is solving the problem?
Now that you have identified the problem and narrowed down the issue as much as possible via video, photos and discussion with the tenant, determine who will complete the repairs whether it be the handyman, electrician, or yourself. Have a list of dependable contractors you can contact at a moments notice as you cannot do everything. Remember to not rely on just one plumber or just one handyman as they likely have other jobs they may be working on and cannot get to your problem in a reasonable amount of time. Open a work order to keep track of the repair for documentation.
Follow up after work is completed
Verification from both the tenant and the contractor is a must for the best quality and service. Have the contractor send multiple photos once the job is completed and always confirm with the tenant that everything is satisfactory. Only then after the repairs have been confirmed by both parties should the work order be closed and contractor(s) paid.
When handling maintenance requests, define what is considered normal and routine with the tenants to set expectations regarding scheduling and completion. These requests are not urgent and have no threat on safety or health of the tenants or the property and likely handled during normal business hours. Outline a number of examples in a welcome packet or other document outlining expectations with the tenants prior to moving in.
After Hours Maintenance
As a landlord you need to set your hours of operation. Outside of these hours someone needs to field these calls/texts to define the problem and contact the appropriate individual to schedule the work. Non-urgent or requests can wait until the next day to respond or at the availability of the handyman if they want to schedule it that day (example: loose door knob).
If an issue can lead to injury, death, or property damage that requires immediate action, then it would be considered an emergency. Some major examples are:
- No heat in winter / No AC in summer
- Broken water line causing major leak
- Sewer backup
- Natural gas Leak (CO detectors going off)
- Electrical Issues / power outage
- Fire or Smoke
- Leaking roof
- Criminal activity
- Frozen water pipes
A landlord must have multiple contacts for emergencies as not everything can be handled by a handyman. Providing a contact list for the tenants is crucial to making sure things are handled in a quick and safe manner.
After Hours Emergency Maintenance
When requests come in the middle of the night, a plan of action is necessary when dealing with the safety of the occupants and property is at stake. Let's look at the list of contacts to provide to the tenants.
Our first line of defense is our trusted Fire Department which can should be the first to call for natural gas leaks or fires. This department can also handle situations where they need to shut off the water incase of a late night plumbing leak. The Local Utility Company is the second line to call when there may be a natural gas or electrical emergency. 911 and the Police Department are obvious contacts for handling criminal and other emergencies.
Electricians, Plumbers, Handymen, Roofers, HVAC, etc. For the emergencies that affect the safety and habitability of the property, keep contacts for trades that can handle late night or 24/7 calls. They are not cheap but are worth the cost when you have no one else to solve the issue at hand.
As a landlord, we must be proactive in setting up systems to handle issues that pop up. We are housing providers and it is our responsibility to maintain safe and sound properties. Are there other tips and tools available that can help out with your management?