Owning a rental can be a good investment but only if the property is well-maintained. Having an annual maintenance checklist can increase value while also securing your tenant pool. Because believe it or not, tenants don’t like asking you to repair something anymore than you like getting the “it’s broken” call in the middle of the night. Being proactive in the care of your rental property can save you the expense and hassle of having to replace things that were not properly maintained. Investing a little money upfront for upkeep might save you big money down the road. A common school of thought is to budget 1% of the property value every year, but this figure can fluctuate. Pete Evering of Utopia Management claims their ongoing maintenance checks are part of the reason owners hire property managers; professionals learn over time which items are prone to breakdowns, and what to do to prevent problems. Here are 8 things that you should absolutely not neglect during annual routine maintenance of your rental.
Functioning appliances are worth their weight in gold. Broken ones, not so much. And if you aren’t a DIY person, a repairman can cost an arm and a leg especially if you need one on the fly. The reality is that most serious repairs cost more than actually buying another appliance so it’s best to perform routine maintenance to avoid this.
- Refrigerators need the coils cleaned regularly and the door seals checked for leaks and mold. If it’s a newer model fridge, filter replacement is necessary, but this is usually a tenant responsibility. However, since the filter helps the fridge run efficiently, you may want to add it to your “to do” list.
- Dishwashers should have the holes in the spray arm rinsed in a vinegar solution to loosen up water and soap debris. The trap (that big circular grid in the center of the basin) must be cleaned for food particles and don’t forget to check gaskets and seals on a regular basis to prevent any kind of flooding, which could be devastating to the floor and cause mold issues in the walls and floorboards. There are several inexpensive dishwasher maintenance and repair kits out there if you need a little help.
- Washer/Dryer maintenance is a little more involved but worth it in the long run. Inspect washer hoses for cracks or damage and replace if necessary as this is a major cause of flooding. While in there, tighten any loose fittings. Also, clean rubber gaskets and drums on BOTH washers and Dryers. On front-loading washers, check and clean the drain pump filter. Dryer upkeep is imperative as well because according to FEMA, 2,900 house fires occur yearly from faulty dryers. Hopefully, this will make you hyper alert in regards to how necessary appliance maintenance is. You should also soak the dryer lint filter in detergent at least once a year if not more. The most important element of maintaining the dryer is unclogging the exhaust duct line as this is the cause of most fires.
Smoke alarms, extinguishers, and CO2 detectors
These must be checked regularly. Some owners maintain these quarterly because these devices can save lives and limit property damage so it’s imperative that they are kept up.
- Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. It’s also a good idea to remove the dust that builds up both in them an on them. Always check batteries even though this would likely fall under tenant responsibility. Just remember, if there’s a fire, it will become your responsibility. Especially if someone is injured or worse, killed.
- Fire extinguishers believe it or not have a shelf life. Check to make sure the pressure needle is in the green zone. Make sure the pin has not been dislodged and the safety seal, if present, is intact. After a number of years, extinguishers need to be pressure tested to make sure they are operative. Used extinguishers must be recharged to be effective.
- CO2 detectors detect the carbon monoxide levels in the home. The more modern units are now combined with the smoke alarm, and are powered by the same battery, and require the same battery change and de-dusting. If you have a stand-alone unit they last about 5 years. Both smoke alarms and CO2 detectors should be tested more often than not. The risk is too great.
Carpeting needs to be steam cleaned annually even if there is no new tenant turnover. Wood floors might need patched and/or resealed and stained. Many tenants will have the carpets cleaned when they are moving in order to insure the return of their deposit but not always.
There’s a fine line between who is responsible for plumbing issues, the tenant or the owner. This is one of the benefits of a rental agreement. Checking commode seals and making sure pipes are clear of debris are components of regular maintenance by either the tenant or the owner as defined by the lease. However septic tanks are generally the full responsibility of the owner and need to be inspected.
Electrical fires account for 51,000 fires yearly. It’s the owner’s responsibility to insure that the wiring and electric panel are up-to-date and functional in the rental unit. This should mean a yearly inspection by a professional if the owner is not a licensed electrician. Even the most current wiring can be affected by rodents, which increases the fire hazard greatly. The only part the tenant is responsible for is changing the bulbs and fuses.
Door and window upkeep is a great benefit for the tenant to keep utility bills down and conserve energy. However, it can become your concern in regards to flooding, mold, and pests. This is why you may want to add them to your annual maintenance checklist.
Some of the newer windows have drains that allow rainwater to drain. Make sure those are not clogged by debris. Older single-pane windows have a glazing that holds the glass in place. After time, it tends to wear off and may need re-glazed to prevent moisture from collecting in the frame and rotting the wood. Inspect caulking if present, seals, frames, and sills as well.
Exterior doors are relatively easy to maintain unless they are wood. The caulking, seals and frames, like windows, should be inspected for rot or termite damage. Also weather stripping should be replaced if no longer effective. Tal Hassid of ETO Doors suggests sealing wood doors with a UV-blocking varnish to protect them from the elements and make them last longer, but this need only be done once in most cases (unless you are refinishing). The majority of door warranties are from 5-10 years so if the door starts splitting or has other issues before the warranty wears out, you might be able to have it replaced at no or little cost.
Most importantly, with the HVAC is that you need to change the filters regularly. You also should pressure-wash the unit to remove build-up and keep it running smoothly. Another key task is to flush and clean the condensate drain. Also, check refrigerant levels and/or fuel lines. Unclog, if necessary, all exhaust outlets. If you do not know how to do any of this, you will need to hire a professional because the HVAC can be thousands of dollars to replace if it breaks.
Besides adding insulation and setting the temperature, which only has to be done once upon installation, yearly maintenance on a water heater involves checking the anode rod and testing the TPR or temperature pressure-release valve. There is plenty of online instruction out there on how to perform these things and it’s fairly easy to do even for a novice. You may also considering draining the tank on occasion to wash out any sediment that accumulates and keeps the water heater from functioning properly.
Being a responsible owner isn’t just about collecting the rent check every month. Owning a rental involves necessary maintenance and being proactive in this sense will save you money later on. Something you might want to think about, especially if the appliances in your rental are not new (and even if they are) is to invest in some type of appliance insurance, which covers what conventional homeowner’s insurance does not. Things like washers and dryers, refrigerators, dishwasher, hot water tanks and such. Keep in mind that investing money in your rental unit, both time-wise and monetarily, will only increase the longevity and the value.