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How To Be A Landlord: Tips From My First Year

Sept. 4, 2013
5 mins
An older woman leans toward an older man and points to something on the laptop screen

Earlier this month I celebrated my one year anniversary as a landlord and homeowner. Homeownership has always been a personal dream. Ever since an early age I knew I wanted to pay my own mortgage, and not someone else’s by renting instead of buying.

When I decided to purchase a house in Toronto, one of Canada’s most expensive cities, I had to make a tough decision. I could go the less costly route and purchase a condo, or I could be more ambitious and purchase a house, but with a slight catch – I would have to rent out the upstairs. After thinking long and hard, I decided homeownership was the right choice. Not only did I become a first-time home buyer, but in one fell swoop I also became a first-time landlord – no small feat. Wondering how to be a landlord? Now that I have a year under my belt, here are some of my top tips for others considering the addition of tenants.

Treat Your Tenants Right

Buying a house is no small accomplishment. You’ve worked hard to purchase a house in a nice neighbourhood and you want your tenants to treat your property with the same respect. It’s important to start the landlord-tenant relationship off on the right foot (there’s nothing like a bottle of wine to welcome your new tenants).

Let’s face it - even the best tenants will get on your nerves - but it's important to pick your battles. Rather than complaining about the slightest annoyance, I’ve learned it’s a good idea to leave your tenants alone and only bother them when it’s absolutely necessary. Is it really worth upsetting your tenants the one time they have guests over who block the driveway? By all means, if your tenants are constantly noisy and damage your property speak up, but by complaining too much you can drive good tenants away.

Advertising your Rental Property

My tenants recently gave their 60 days notice, so I’ve had to start my search for their replancements. If you’re busy and don’t feel like renting out your own property, realtors will gladly rent out your property for a month’s rent. However, with some time and effort you can rent out your own property and save yourself a bundle.

One of the traditionally most-used methods of advertising a property is the newspaper - and while this can be a great source of tenants, you'll want to further fine tune your approach to attract the right type of renter for your property. For example, if you want to rent to students, you should post advertisements at the nearby university campus.

Although there are free websites out there like Kijiji and Craigslist, these will attract tenants from all walks of life that you'll have to weed through. If you’re looking to attract a tenant that pays their rent on time and respects your property, paid websites like ViewIt.ca, which charge a listing fee, are worth the money. $65 may seem like a steep price to pay, but it’s a lot better than renting to a tenant who doesn’t pay their rent and damages your property.

How To Screen Tenants

When advertising your rental property, you’ll receive phone calls from total strangers, so it’s important to ask the right questions. Before you set up an appointment for a showing, it’s a good idea to have a few pre-screening questions ready to make sure you’re a good landlord-tenant fit. Even though it may be spelled out clearly in your ad, it’s a good idea to confirm basic details like the desired move in date, your policy regarding pets, and if the tenant is willing to sign a year lease. Tenants often apply to dozens of properties, so they can easily overlook minor details.

How To Show Your Property To Tenants

Before showing your property, it’s important to know the key selling features of your home. If you put together an advertisement, you should be able to recite them by heart. When you meet prospective tenants, like a detective on Law & Order, you should listen to every word they say to help sell them on your property and see if it’s the right fit. For example, if they have kids, you can talk about the great schools and parks nearby. For me, finding tenants who are quiet is important, as I’m renting out the upstairs of my house and I don’t want people who are noisy and will keep me up all night.

First impressions are everything, so it’s important to make sure your property is looking its finest. That means sprucing up your front garden, mowing your lawn and watering your trees and plants. Not only is it courteous and required to provide your current tenants with 24 hours’ notice before showings, it gives them time to clean up their apartment to make sure shows its best.

Run A Background Check

When you find a tenant you’re interested in renting to, it’s a good idea to do your homework before signing the lease. Have the tenant complete an application form (you can obtain them from your province’s real estate board) and do a full background check. You’ll want to phone the tenant’s two previous landlords, their employer and references. You’ll also want to do a credit check so see if they are responsible when it comes to debt.

If all looks good, it's time to meet with your new tenant to sign the lease and collect first and last month’s rent. Congrats, your journey as a landlord has just begun!

Helpful Links for Landlords:

Looking for more renting resources? Check out the CMHC For Landlords knowledge section for a number of helpful links.  

Sean Cooper

Sean Cooper is the author of the new book, Burn Your Mortgage. He bought his first house when he was only 27 in Toronto and paid off his mortgage in just 3 years by age 30. An in-demand Personal Financial Journalist, Speaker and Money Coach, his articles and blogs have been featured in publications such as The Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Financial Post, Tangerine: Forward Thinking blog and TheDot. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanCooperWrite.

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