Over the years we've learned it can be difficult to get simple answers to simple questions.
Like, who is responsible for cutting the grass or taking out the garbage. This week we seem to have gotten more than the usual amount of these directed our way so we'll take a stab at them.
Now, remember, we live in Ontario so our answers will have this bias. We're basing most of this off our own experience and various communication with the Tenant Board and a few other resources ... we'll share our favourite at the bottom of this.
Let's get down and dirty...
1. Grass cutting? Who's responsibility is it? - Well, as the owner of an investment property ... it's your responsibility. But! If you can get the tenant to agree to be responsible for grass (and snow) make sure you lay it out clearly in the rental agreement.
The buck stops with you though. So if they decide they're not going to cut the grass the city will send you a polite little letter asking you to fix the problem. Some towns are even so nice that they'll tap this request to the front door for all to see. It's wonderful 😉
By getting the tenant to agree to cut the grass or clear the snow, and putting it in writing, we've had experiences where the city/town will make their request to the tenant and even threaten a large fine if they don't take action. Bottom line: if there's any dispute on this it'll be a case-by-case decision if you go to the Tenant Board with it. The Tenancy Act is strangely vague with grass maintenance and snow removal.
2. Parking Spaces - Make sure you clearly call-out which parking spaces are included, which aren't, and which may require monthly fees to use. By laying that all out in the lease we've never had an issue.
In one property we failed to mention that we were going to rent out the garage to someone else and it caused a problem when the tenant bought a new car and began parking it in. Make sure the lease is clear.
3. Internet & Cable - Take a pass on both. We used to supply Internet and cable services to our properties until one property had a mysterious Internet problem that turned us into technical support. There's nothing like taking Internet problems from your tenant and then trying to resolve them with the Internet service provider remotely over the phone.
The Landlord and Tenant board doesn't get involved with unpaid fees for Internet and cable ... so if the tenant is paying for them it can be difficult to collect unpaid fees by the tenant if you keep these in your name.
We'd highly recommend getting the tenant to put these in their own name. We only have one property left where we're handling the Internet service and it's been getting shut down repeatedly because of nasty virus issues ... then we're trying to explain the issue to the tenant. Not fun.
4. Garbage and smelly stuff - specifically mention that it's the tenant's responsibility to take out the trash. This is pretty straightforward. If there are fees for going over any garbage limits make sure to include that in the lease.
5. Tenant Insurance - This is a big one. Recently we were working with an investor who had tenant's installing a water softener in their basement. The basement caught on fire and half the house burnt down. Because the tenant had their own tenant's insurance the landlord's insurance wasn't used for the repair - this keeps them in very good standing with their current insurer.
6. Yard Usage - If multiple tenants are sharing a yard we've found it useful to explain that in the lease. This avoids any confusion and having one tenant feel like they can dominate the space.
7. Collecting Unpaid Rent - If a tenant moves out and owes you some cash, here in Ontario, you'll have to file a claim in Small Claims Court ... you won't go through the Tenant Board. So it's a good idea to always keep an up to date record of the address of employment for your tenants that way if you have to get an order served you know where to find them. Checking in on this twice a year, when the clock's change time, is a good rule of thumb.
These little issues can chew up a lot of time. We often use our lawyer to get clarity on some issues but we also use a great resource here in Ontario called the Landlord Self-Help Centre. It's where we've gotten a lot of answers for the exact issues mentioned above.
It's a free service and you can check them out at www.LandlordSelfHelp.com. Emails are answered within 48hrs usually. Two thumbs up.
If you're not in Ontario there are likely similar non-profit type services for landlords available, start asking around.
We've found that being very clear in the lease can only help you ... so don't be scared to be super detail oriented with these points.
Until next time ... Your Life. Your Terms!