Tenant maintenance responsibilities do not start and end with reporting it to the landlord or property manager, but it is the most important step when it comes to saving money from your rental property.
This is because proactive maintenance is much, much cheaper than reactive maintenance and if you want to achieve this as a property owner then your best friend is your tenant.
To do this, landlords need to reframe how they view their tenants and start trusting them.
Here’s five strategies for reducing maintenance costs you can use to encourage tenants to help save you on maintenance expenses:
1. Encourage maintenance requests and get repairs done quickly
Your tenant is your eyes and ears on the ground to fix the problems that come up. Routine inspections may help identify issues, but it is not as immediate as your tenant who is living there day-to-day. Do not ignore or delay requests - even if you think it is a false alarm - as this can lead to much larger issues and costly repairs a year or so later. Give your tenant the power to ask for tenant rights maintenance. In fact, insist on it so that they identify problems early.
Be prompt and keep on top of the necessary repairs; that way your tenant will enjoy a good rental experience and be more likely to care for your property. If you show your tenant that you don’t care and start cutting costs, you may lose a premium tenant or your tenant may let your property fall into disrepair. Your tenant will feel respected if you respond in a timely fashion and within legislative requirements (as little as 14 days in Victoria for non-urgent repairs).
One you hear about far too often is a slow leaking tap that is left unreported. Eventually, the leaking tap which originally needed a $2 washer turns into a $2000 to $3000 kitchen replacement due to mould and cupboard rot. And depending on the terms and conditions of your insurance – none, part or all of the costs may be recoverable. That’s why even the smallest issues need to be immediately reported.
Unaddressed maintenance requests are a major frustration for tenants with 64 per cent concerned that their request would be ignored indefinitely and 69 per cent concerned their request would be delayed an unreasonable length of time. Poor maintenance is not worth losing your tenant over as re-letting and advertising fees will eat into your rental income. So it makes financial sense to get repairs done quickly and leaves you with a happy tenant and a well-maintained, protected investment. Think of it this way, for every $1 spent on maintenance, up to $100 of repairs are avoided. So don’t skimp on preventative maintenance and save up to 99 per cent on future repairs.
2. Incentivise and build a relationship
Little fixes are little wins to your maintenance budget. No one wants a tenant who calls your property manager to change a lightbulb. Ideally, your property manager has great tenant experience and communicates well with your tenant and holds up your end of the bargain, then you’ll find reasonable tenants will tend to take care of the minor things on their own.
On the other hand, a tenant who has had a poor experience with the property manager will request for every little thing to be done by a professional and as long as they are within their tenant repairs and maintenance rights, it can add up. So it is vital to get the relationship with your tenant off to a good start from the get-go.
Be on the front foot and provide your tenant with the tools they need to undertake smaller maintenance jobs. Before your tenant moves in, stock them with non-expensive yet essential items to save, save, save. If you’ve built a good rapport, many will be willing to give free labour for the no-hassle, convenience of getting things done and they may rent longer than previously anticipated.
Cost breakdown by giving your tenants incentives
Cost by professional
Lightbulb – everyday
Washer for taps
Drain unblocking chemical
$2.95 (two pack)
$15 (three pack)
$6.90 (assorted 30-pack)
$75 to $125/hr
$75 to $125/hr
$80 to $135/hr
$80 to $120/hr
$45 to $60/hr
If you know they are handy or a tradesperson, you could also strike a deal with them from the get-go. Offer a rental reduction for services; that way they’ll show a lot of pride for the property and look after it as their own. Or negotiate a reduced rate given there is no travel; this could save you up to $50 to $150 per job for a tradie’s call out fee. This could be risky, so make sure you’re comfortable with their level of experience or ask to see their license.
3. Knowing their tenant responsibilities to the property
Landlords usually blame their tenants for every little thing that goes wrong and vice versa; it doesn’t have to be this way and tenant maintenance responsibilities should be clear to avoid landlord and tenant maintenance disputes from arising. Cost-effective property maintenance starts with signing the lease and outlining the tenant maintenance responsibilities. Generally, tenants’ obligations for property maintenance include:
- Keep the premises ‘reasonably’ clean;
- Tell the landlord of any damage/disrepair as soon as possible;
- Leave the premises as near as possible to the condition they were in at the start of the tenancy, except for ‘fair wear and tear’;
- Not damage or permit damage to the premises deliberately or negligently – you are responsible for damage by anyone who you have allowed onto the premises; and
- Not add or remove any fixtures or do any renovations or alterations to the premises without the landlord’s written consent (unless permitted under the tenancy agreement).
This is where it is important to not only have a compliant tenant; but a good property manager who has attention to detail. Routine inspections are carried out to determine if there is any damage outside of normal wear and tear. It is during these inspections, your property manager should identify if a tenant has not met their tenant maintenance responsibilities. If this is missed especially on the outgoing condition report and the tenant’s bond has been returned, the landlord will incur the costs of repair. So ensuring the tenant knows their property maintenance responsibilities and is held accountable and charged for any damage beyond wear and tear will save you money.
Educating them on maintenance tips for tenants may also save callouts, especially on weekends. Take the time to show the common ‘do-it-yourself’ things that may occur, such as:
· No power – Show them where the fuse box is and how to reset the safety switch if that is the problem;
· No hot water – Teach them how to relight the pilot light on the hot water system; and
· Appliances not working - Teach them how to troubleshoot automatic shut off such as power surges (too many appliances on at once), make sure the washing machine lid is fully closed and empty the lint in your dryer’s filter.
These quick fixes are usually urgent and occur out of hours, costing you a hefty emergency call-out fee of more than $150 and two to three times the regular price, which you were not expecting.
4. Consider all tenant requests
Many ways tenants can reduce maintenance costs hinges on the tenant feeling a sense of ownership for where they live. This may be a hard pill for landlords to swallow, however, with State Government amendments to tenancy laws and regulations aimed at achieving this; now may just be the time to loosen the reins a little and trust tenants also have the best interest of your property at heart. By doing so, this may reduce unforeseen and unexpected costs for the landlord.
Before you say a flat “no”, consider requests such as painting a child’s room, having a family pet or planning a vegetable garden. A happy tenant with extra responsibilities will work harder to ensure the property is maintained correctly. The rules on disallowing modifications and pets has become stricter, especially in Victoria’s sweeping 2021 changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. And most changes have to be returned to original condition upon end of lease. That’s a win-win if you can save on maintenance costs such as fresh paint and the tenant gets what they asked for. Some alterations may even add value to your investment.
5. Long-term leases
Renters are almost twice as likely to move home compared to property owners, with 30 per cent indicating they moved within the past 12 months. These statistics make you wonder if you can keep a tenant in the long-term but once you achieve it, they’ll become one of your best advocates for reducing costs on maintenance. Less tenant turnover means less damage from move-in and move-outs, and subsequently, more maintenance costs for viewings and showings.
So renew leases early and consider offering a longer fixed-term lease. Yes, you may miss out on some rental adjustments but you also may gain a low maintenance tenant and property. The old adage, “Home is where the heart is” often isn’t felt by tenants in short-term leases. Tip number 4 is important here as minor alterations or allowing a pet may give the tenant the desire to stay longer.
There is no good guy or a bad guy when it comes to property maintenance – properties all suffer from wear and tear – but if you stay on top of the necessary repairs, your tenants are more likely to take better care of your property, and if you do it right it may even increase the value of your property in the long run.
A happy tenant will inform you of maintenance issues early and may even be inclined to fix minor repairs themselves.
Never underestimate the importance of your tenant as they have the potential to save you thousands of dollars.
So don’t let frivolous, unaddressed maintenance issues play on your tenants’ minds; instead fix it don’t risk it.
Why not utilise their knowledge and skills? Educate them about their tenant maintenance responsibilities and common things that tend to go wrong with your property? Provide them with tools to do it themselves as well as a sense of ownership and belonging? There’s nothing stopping you.
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