Taking Care of an Empty House

Often we have listings of homes for sale or lease that are vacant for a few months.  Sitting vacant is probably one of the worst things that can happen to a house.  I make sure I or the owner visit empty listings at least once a week.  Here are some things to be sure to check.

Run the water: Every time I show the home or am checking the home, I run the water in the bathrooms, kitchen, laundry room, etc. and flush all the toilets.  If this is not done sewer gases will accumulate in the drains and when someone occupies the house and starts using the shower or toilet, a very foul odor will permeate throughout the house.

Run the garbage disposal: Some garbage disposals tend to freeze up when not used; run the disposal when you turn on the kitchen faucet.

Toilet lids: Another thing to be aware of is that if the lids on the toilets are closed, mildew accumulates in the toilet bowls and is unsightly for a prospective buyer or lessee.  Put the seats down but leave the lids up is my advice.

Air out the house: Open windows and doors periodically to get rid of that vacant house smell.

Check the smoke detectors: If you hear a chirping noise it is probably one of the smoke detectors needing new batteries; this is an aggravation for people viewing the house as well as being a possible breach of safety.

Be sure to lock all doors: One of my worst fears is that someone will move into a vacant home; it can take years to get them out.  Plus, think of how scary it would be to enter a house and find someone there.

Check the yard: Sometimes, the sprinklers get out of whack and some parts of the yard are not getting any water.  This leaves dead grass areas that are unsightly.

Check the gutters: Take a look at the rain gutters to make sure they are not full of leaves and other debris.  If the gutters are full and there is a rain storm, water will flow over to the edge of the roof and can cause a lot of damage.

Check around the front door: Remove any free newspapers, magazines or door hangers that have been delivered since your last visit.

Check the lights: Most showings are during the day, but some are after dark, and it can be pretty creepy for the agents and their clients if there are some lights that do not operate.  Usually, a light bulb just needs replacing.



Taking care of your empty house will likely bring a higher price in a shorter time.


Landlord-Tenant Relationships: Landlord’s Right to Entry

Note:  This post is intended to provide answers to general questions and the information was provided by our legal department.  Individuals should always seek the advice of an attorney regarding their specific situations.

According to the California Association of Realtors Residential Lease or Month-to-Month Rental Agreement, landlords are permitted to enter a tenant’s residential premises only under certain conditions, some of which require written or oral notice to the tenant and other obligations.  A tenant cannot waive any of the rights outlined below.

A landlord has the right to enter a dwelling under the following circumstances:

(1)  An emergency on the property

(2)  To make necessary/agreed upon repairs

(3)  To show the property to prospective or actual purchasers, tenants, lenders, appraisers or contractors

(4)  When the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the property

(5)  Pursuant to court order

Entry During Normal Business Hours: A landlord may only enter the premises during “normal business hours”- typically excluding evenings and weekends, with the exception of emergencies, abandonment or surrender by the tenant or a tenant’s consent at the time of entry.

Reasonable Notice: The default notice of entry requirement is 48-hour written notice.  Notice of entry by a landlord must be submitted, in writing, prior to entry.  A written notice should include the date, approximate time and purpose of entry.  However, if the landlord and tenant orally agree, that will be sufficient to permit entry for the purpose of agreed repairs/services, provided that they agree on the date and time of entry and that entry occurs within one week of the agreement.

Notice may be personally delivered to the tenant, mailed to the tenant six days prior to the intended entry, left with someone of “suitable age and discretion” at the property or left on, near, or under the entry door in such a manner that it could be discovered by a reasonable person.

24 Hour Notice: The landlord or landlord’s agent may show the tenant’s unit to a prospective or actual purchaser with 24 hour oral notice for 120 days after the landlord or his agent has provided the tenant with written notification that the property is for sale.  At the time of entry, the landlord or agent must leave a written confirmation of entry inside the premises.

Notice is NOT required in the following circumstances:

(1)  An emergency on the property

(2)  The tenant is present and consents to the entry at the time of entry

(3)  The tenant has abandoned or surrendered the unit

A Few Tips for Leasing Your Property

Having owned my own rental properties and having helped many clients rent theirs, I have had some experiences and suggestions that I’d like to share.  A few years back I was screening a tenant for a client who had a lot of investment property.  When I ran the credit report, I discovered that the prospective renter had no credit at all, which surprised me because he was in his forties and was not a foreign national or anything.  I told the landlord, “Al, I don’t think you should rent to this person because having no credit is as bad as having bad credit.”  He said the tenant was in the carpet business and he was going to re-carpet the unit at no cost.  He rented the unit out to the man and his family; they did pay the rent, but guess what?  The carpet he installed was a horrible bright blue color and when they moved out, the landlord had to replace it.  The moral to this story is when a tenant tries to con you, he is probably not the right person to rent your place and also, it is unwise to rent to someone who has no credit.

Another experience was with my own property.  My husband was in charge of making repairs and interfacing with the tenant.  One day when he was over fixing something, the tenant apologized for the stains on the carpet.  My husband said, “Don’t worry about the carpet.  We’re going to replace it when you move out.”  When we went to do the inspection of the property when the tenant was moving out, the carpet was filthy.  I was furious at my husband but mostly at the tenant who said, “So I spilled a cup of tea, so sue me.”  I said to her, “Did you spill a cup of tea all over the condo?”  She said, “Your husband said it was okay because you are replacing it anyway.”  The moral of this story is don’t ever say the condition of the property does not matter; it does.  We found numerous other problems as well but luckily we had enough deposit money to cover most of the damage.  My advice is to always require a security deposit that is two times the amount of the rent or the maximum that is legal in your state.  That way, if they don’t pay the rent and damage the property as well, you might have enough to make repairs.

Speaking of rent, I used to think that putting a late fee of 6% of the rent was a good idea, but now I’m leaning toward not requiring a late fee.  That way, if the rent is not paid when due, the tenant knows they can be served with a 3- day-pay-or-quit notice the day after the rent is due.  Whether there is a late fee or not, always call the tenant if you do not receive the rent on the due date.  That way he will know you care about receiving it on time.  (Many tenants, unfortunately, think landlords are rich.)

If you say you do not allow pets and you become aware of their having a pet, immediately serve the tenant with a 3-day-notice-to-perform-covenant-or quit.  I like pets and I have two cats, but frankly, I do not know how well other people take care of theirs.  If the rental market is decent I would not accept a tenant with pets.

I recommend using caution when renting to a tenant who tries to pressure you into making a decision before you are able to investigate his credit.  I have heard things like, “I’ll pay you an extra $200 a month if I can move in tomorrow.”  It is tempting but always do the proper screening or you may be sorry.

I have shown some properties listed for lease on our Multiple Listing Service that have been left wide open with an open house sign and their is no one hosting the open house.  This could be perilous, because I have been told by my attorney that if a person squats in the property, it may take years to eject him.   My advice is to never leave access to a property when you or your agent is not present.

Another tip is do not get too chummy with tenant.  Renting your property to another is a business transaction and it should stay that way.  It is easier to not pay rent on time or damage a property if you think the landlord is such a good “friend” that he won’t do anything about it.

I want to add that I have had many, many good experiences with tenants and that most treat the property with respect and pay their rent on time.  I recommend working with a good real estate agent who has the connections to rent the property in a short period of time and who can stay at arm’s length and make decisions based on facts rather than emotions.

Real estate is the best!  What other investment can you live in?