Fire Prevention Tips for a Property Manager

fire preventionFire is one of the biggest disasters that can destroy any property. Many aspects can increase the risk of fire on a property, and a property manager should be aware of such hazards and take proactive steps that can help prevent fires. Property management should also consider various measures the will help in minimizing the damage, in case a fire does happen. Here are important tips for fire safety.

 

Assessing Fire Risks on the Property

 

This is the most important step for preventing fires, and property manager should evaluate every unit for fire hazards and risks. Possible fire risks can include faulty or old wiring, faulty or old electrical equipment and appliances, and the type of tenants living in the unit.

 

For instance, units having toddlers are more at risk, since children are more likely to cause fire accidents. Secondly, units with old or disabled tenants are also high risk, since they may not be able to effectively prevent or control a fire if it does occur. Based on these risk factors, property management should take steps to educate all tenants about fire hazards, and install fire-warning devices.

 

Inspection of Equipments and Wiring

 

Periodic inspections of wiring, chimneys, heating equipment, and appliances should be carried out to spot fire hazards. Special attention should be given to these things while carrying out annual inspections of each unit. Heating equipment such as boilers can pose serious fire hazard when they have not been maintained properly. Inspections should be done by professional technicians, who will not only spot a fire hazard, but also conduct the required maintenance for maintaining outstanding efficiency of the equipment.

 

Secondly, chimneys should be cleaned periodically, as the build-up is a common cause of fire accidents. Lastly, do not ignore the wiring. Redoing old wiring is costly, but it is worth the investment, when you consider the loss it can cause if it is the reason a major fire erupts.

 

Fire Safety Policies

 

Certain fire safety policies can be included in the lease agreement. Such rules should be enforced and any violations should be dealt with strictly. One of the major causes of fires in apartments is smoking indoors. Hence, it would be wise to prohibit indoor smoking explicitly in the lease document, and post warning signs on the property.

 

If the property manager smells cigarette smoke inside any unit, he can immediately send a warning notice to the tenant. Another major cause of fire in apartments is unattended candles. This is a bit tricky, since you cannot ban the use of candles inside an apartment. However, property management can always discourage the use of candles indoors, and provide advisories about its dangers.

 

Evacuation Procedure in Case of Fire

 

Unfortunately, whatever preventive measures property management implements, fire accidents cannot be ruled out totally. Therefore, to minimize injuries and fatalities, effective evacuation procedures should be charted out, depending on the layout of the buildings. All tenants should be made aware of these procedures, and a mock drill can be held annually, to make sure nobody forgets crucial instructions. 

How Property Management can Expedite Evictions

In the eviction process, the main delay for property management is often caused in serving the tenant personally with the summons and complaint for unlawful detainer. Most occupants are aware of the legal process and they know that they need to be legally served for the court to take the next step in making the judgment for wrongful possession. When they know this legal process, they will usually try to lengthen the time of the eviction by a couple of weeks or more, by avoiding the person who serves the summons and complaints. If it is not possible to serve the tenant personally then the unlawful detainer can also be served to another person residing in the unit, or to the tenant's employer. Such a person should be 18 years old and of sound mind. If there is no substitute person who can be served the summons, then the court permits the server to affix the unlawful detainer document on the entrance door of the unit, and mail a copy of the same to the tenant by certified mail. This method of serving the summons is allowed only after the court has issued a signed order permitting this type of serving. The court will usually allow this method only when the process server has made at least three attempts to serve the summons on three consecutive days, at different timings, morning, afternoon, and evening. When the occupant is not served personally, then he gets 15 days for filing the response documents, instead of the usual five days. Hence, it is important for property manager to make it possible for the process server to serve the document personally, to avoid the delay. Property manager should provide the process server with more information about the occupant/s, so that he is personally able to serve the unlawful detainer successfully and quickly. Here are some ways property management can help the process server, and avoid delays in the eviction process. Best Timings Property management can notice when the occupant leaves the premises for work. For instance, if the occupant were working the late shift, then early mornings after he has returned would be an ideal or terrific time for the process server. Place of Work Address It is not so easy to avoid the process server at work, compared to home. Many occupants simply do not answer the door when the server knocks. However, they cannot escape the server at the work place. Hence, provide the server with the address/s where the occupant is working. Parking Space and License Space Number Property management should provide the process server with the description of the car, the license plate number, and the number of the parking space allotted to the occupant. If the stake out is going to be the only means of serving the notice personally, then the place where the car is parked would be a fantastic spot to wait. Providing Gate Code or Keys The property manager should provide the process server with the gate keys or codes, so that he does not have to wait until someone exits or enters the property to reach the occupant's unit.

Some Methods to Handle Clutter for Property Managers

Clutter is a challenging situation for property management, since the looks of the property play an important role in attracting new prospects. If applicants are confronted with units that are cluttered and messy, it leaves a poor impression. It is possible for the property manager to overlook the clutter that could be slowly accumulating on the balconies and patios of the units. It is therefore a prudent idea to take a round early in the morning, and view the property from the standpoint of a prospective tenant. A property manager is seldom lucky to see clean and neat balconies. Most often, balconies and patios are filled with old furniture and stacks of boxes in addition to the regular table and lawn chairs. This is a common problem for property management and here are a few tips to keep this in check. Be Clear from the Start Being clear from the start will save property manager many issues later. List the things that are specifically not permitted on patios and balconies, and this list could be included in the terms and conditions, or as a clause in the lease document. When tenants move in, they can be given a list of what items are acceptable. Include many things as possible, so that you do not appear very restrictive; however, make sure there are no items that would give the balcony a cluttered appearance. Enforce No Clutter Policy Unless you enforce the no clutter policy, tenants will not be inclined to follow it. There should be penalties or consequences if the anti-clutter rules are violated. Treat the violation as any infraction of the lease, and make the consequences more severe, if the tenant does not heed the warnings. Start the warnings with a notice of violation of the lease terms, and provide a period for the tenant to clear out the items, which are specifically not permitted. Fines and penalties can be levied if the tenant fails to take any action. Provide Incentives In the list of community activities and events, include a contest for the best patio or garden. You will find many tenants to be quite creative, and some might even manage to store things without the place appearing cluttered. You could allow such creativity, provided it does not include items that are specifically not permitted on patios and balconies. Offer Storage Solutions Many families have quite a bit of stuff, and they really might not have sufficient space, especially if the area of the unit is small. One option would be to provide smart storage solutions in the unit itself. If renovations are not possible, then property management can take a proactive stand and partner with some storage facilities in the area, which will help in providing tenants with a discounted rate. Rules against clutter can be quite difficult to enforce, and some tenants might not appreciate it. However, property management should make tenants understand the value of a good-looking property and that building such an image is beneficial for all.

Fair Housing Policies and Tenant Screening

Choosing a TenantAccording to Fair Housing Act of 1968, it is illegal for property owners and property management to refuse tenancy to an individual based on religion, sex, race, national origin, disability, or family status. However, a property manager has to consider the prospective tenant's finances and ability to pay the rent. Therefore, property management should have strict policies based on consistency and fairness, regarding screening of prospective tenants. Here are some important criteria that can be implemented into the screening process.

Establishing Income Level Requirement

This might involve extra work, but it will save a lot of time in the end for a property manager. When there are different types of properties, or different types of units on a single property, property management can work out the minimum income a prospect should be earning for renting the particular unit. For example, if there is a one-bedroom unit that has a monthly rent of $600, the minimum income requirement could be fixed at $1,800. All applicants for such a unit whose income is below the required level are to be declined without exceptions.

Policies for Reviewing Credit Report

A credit report is a strong indicator of the prospective tenant's finances. However, there are many ways to judge a credit report, especially when the economy is not doing well. Many property managers consider various aspects, apart from the figures shown in the credit report. Hence, if you are willing to accept a tenant with a low credit score, while considering other aspects, then you should consistently apply the same policy to all prospective tenants. Once a particular standard is fixed, it should be uniformly applied without any exceptions.

Rental History

Considering rental history of a prospective tenant is quite important, as it provides a picture of what type of tenant the person has been in the past. An application can be legitimately denied if the rental history shows, damaged homes, evictions, and/or consistent late payments of rents. Again, if you are basing your policies on rental history, then they should be consistently applied for all, and not be biased towards a specific group.

Employment History

Job stability is an important factor to consider while screening prospective tenants. Evaluating employment history of the individual will provide information about how long the person is able to hold on to a job. However, it is difficult to frame an exact policy about reviewing job history, as many factors can come into play regarding job changes. Individuals, who are just starting out on their career might have to change jobs to find better opportunities according to the experience they have gained.

Secondly, a person who has recently moved into the area might not have enough time in a particular job, which might indicate instability. Hence, it is important to carefully chart out all types of exceptions and apply them uniformly.

While screening tenants it is important not to take cultural background, disability, familial status, sex, or race into consideration. Secondly, whatever standards are adopted for screening various other aspects, they should be uniformly applied to all.

Occupied Unit Inspections in Property Management

Occupied Unit Inspections

Apart from regular inspection of the common areas, a property manager has to carry out inspection of each unit at least once a year. Having magnificent long-term tenants, who correctly renew their leases each year, is definitely a boon. However, property management will never have a chance to inspect such units when they are vacant, and hence it becomes imperative to carry out inspections when these units are occupied.

Property inspections are unavoidable because property manager must have a salient idea about the condition of the unit, so that repairs and maintenance can be carried out wherever required. However, inspection of occupied units is usually not appreciated by tenants, and must be handled carefully.

Provide Prior Notice of the Inspection

The lease should have a clear clause stating that property management will be carrying out annual inspection of the unit. Even with such a clause, the property manager will have to provide prior notice before inspecting the unit. Surprise inspections are to be avoided, unless there is suspicion of the tenant violating the lease agreement or general restrictions. Even in such cases, one has to be careful, as the law requires you to provide advance notice before inspection.

Make Tenants Understand the Importance of Inspection

Proper functioning of appliances, electrical systems, and structural integrity is important for the tenant and for property management as well. From a small thing like a tile chipped in the bathroom, to a maintenance check of the HVAC system, all issues can be sorted out efficiently by annual inspections. Hence, make the tenant understand that the inspection will prove to be mutually beneficial, and there is no need to be opposed to the process.

Tenant should be Present During an Inspection

 Make sure at least one of the tenants occupying the particular unit is present when the inspection is being carried out. This will not only prevent any accusations later about theft and so on, but also you will have the chance of inquiring about any potential issues or complaints the tenant might have with systems, appliances, plumbing, and structural integrity of the unit. Most tenants are happy about the inspection, since they acquire a chance to air their grievances or suggestions.

Do not Photograph Personal Items

Property manager might want to take a photo of the bent windowpane or of the chipped flooring, to show it to the maintenance staff. This is fine, provided the photo does not include any of the personal items of the tenant. According to rules, property manager is not permitted to take photos of personal items such as valuables, family photos, pets, computers, and even pictures of the tenants.  

 

Avoid Confrontations

During inspection, the property manager might come across units that are very badly kept or the tenant might even have caused considerable damage. However, it is not a terrific idea to confront the tenant about such issues face to face, but rather send a written notice. The manager will have to document and enumerate each issue clearly during the inspection, and then put it all in a letter, stating the terms and conditions of the lease agreement that are being violated. 

Protecting the Privacy of Your Tenants

Protecting the privacy of your tenants

With improved technology and advanced online applications, the task of protecting privacy and personal information of residents has become more challenging for property management. The task of securing online personal data is in itself a major worry, and there is no foolproof way of ensuring privacy. However, by implementing proper policies the data of your tenants can be protected for the most part.

A Noble Campaign

Marketing strategies for the property are now mainly aimed at creating a brand image and in creating a personalized experience. This translates into happier tenants, lower vacancies, and a better retention of fantastic tenants. To implement the marketing strategies, a property manager will have to design advanced techniques for collecting information and generate effective mobile campaigns. This will not only help in retaining old tenants but also help in finding new prospects.

As if it was Your Own

Property management gains immensely by integrating collection of data and developing personalized strategies. However, along with the advantages of such techniques, the risk of personal data being breached also increases tremendously. Even though these risks exist, most of it can be mitigated by providing proper training to the staff and effectively managing information collecting techniques.

Property management can include some effective strategies such as:

  1. oDesign strict internal policies to ensure protection of tenant privacy.
  2. oRestrict access of employees to sensitive paper as well as electronic information. Routing of information should take place in a way, where private information is available only to select designated personnel.
  3. oRoutinely change PIN numbers and passwords once a month, and especially when a key staff member is terminated, retired, or transferred.
  4. oAll digital information should be protected by passwords and online data should be protected by specialized software that prevents spying and hacking.
  5. oDigital storage media and printed documents should always be secured in locked cabinets, and access should be restricted to few responsible staff members.
  6. oIt is best to have a shredder in the office for disposing outdated documents.
  7. oDevise safe policies for social media engagement and the information routed through these channels.

Apart from digital and online security, property management should not ignore the advantages of having a separate space that is designated mainly for meeting with tenants and prospects. Conversations taking place between property manager and tenants should be kept private and therefore having a separate office space or meeting area is critical.

Non-Verbal Communication

Leasing or renting procedures, especially applications and renewals will generate lot of personal information. Employees should be trained to protect this sensitive information, and when separate space is not available employees should be instructed not to state social security numbers, phone numbers, and other types of sensitive information aloud, but rather point it out on the document.

While training employees for protecting personal information, property management should focus on how the employees should respond to information requests from:

  1. Other employees
  2. Tenants
  3. Law enforcement agencies
  4. In case of emergencies

Protecting privacy and personal information will require proper planning and a coordinated effort of the whole property management team.

The Importance of Establishing an Annual Inventory in Property Management

Importance of Establishing an Annual Inventory in Property Management

Taking regular inventory is critical for having proper control over assets. This also holds true for property management, who not only have to keep track of inventory but also need to implement strategies for maintaining a respectable return from their assets. Properties should have a policy of conducting an annual inventory, which will provide the property manager adequate information to review and control the assets. Here are the main advantages of the annual property inventory.

Estimating Replacement and Insurance Costs

Inventory will provide detailed information about assets that includes supplies, fixtures, and furnishings. This information will help the property manager in making a decision about the type of insurance required and the coverage limits. Secondly, for taking insurance itself, you need to provide an accurate inventory of the assets to the insurance company. Failure to accept the proper coverage will mean increased risks, while paying for coverage on nonexistent assets will be a waste.

Reviewing each unit annually for the inventory will also help the property manager in detecting potential issues early, and repairs can be done immediately to prevent expensive breakdowns. For instance, timely cleaning of the HVAC unit could mitigate costly damages and replacements. While taking inventory, the usual checklist for units should include:

  • §Furniture
  • §Appliances
  • §HVAC
  • §Bathroom fixtures
  • §Window treatments

If the units are fully furnished, then convenience items like dishes and linens will also be included.

Preserving the Image of the Property

Appliances and property tend to become damaged, succumb to time and decay, or they simply seem to disappear over time, especially in the high frequent areas. This will make the property look quite shabby as years go by. Regular inventory will help property management detect items that are missing or damaged. Replacement of damaged or old items such as trash receptacles, flowerpots, and decorative fixtures can improve the image of the property substantially. With regular inventories, the property manager can figure out items that require frequent replacements and repairs. Such items can be replaced with things that are more durable, or they could be shifted to places where the traffic is not heavy.

Control over the Budget

Annual inventory covering the whole property will provide critical information that can be used for maintaining better control over spending and overall budget for the next year. Costly items such as digital devices, maintenance tools, and office equipment should be tagged with identification codes that will help in monitoring and tracking them more closely. Regular inventory will also promote a better program for asset management, which will be able to identify wasteful spending. Inventory will also help property management to record losses while filing tax returns and valuable data will be available for making more accurate budget estimates.

Forming a policy and introducing an effective system for taking inventory every year has many advantages for property management. The property manager will be able to exercise tighter control over the budget, and reduce wasteful spending which in this recession, could be the difference of creating strong financial health or insolvency. Damaged and old stuff can be repaired or replaced in time to avoid and more expenditures and to avoid a reputational hit, while the image of the property can remain unblemished. 

Handling Security Deposits for Property Managers

Handling security deposits for property managers

Almost all property owners like to have a security deposit from their tenants. This deposit is used for repairs if the unit is damaged by the tenant. The money is kept in a separate account and returned at the end of the tenant's lease. However, the security deposit has always been a contentious issue between tenants and property management or property owners.

In certain instances, where the property owner has not returned the deposit, the court has awarded twice the amount of the deposit as damages to the tenant. Therefore, the property management has to be very careful while handling matters concerning security deposits and here are some pointers that can make this task easier.

Know State Laws

Property management should be clear about the state laws regarding following aspects:

  • §How much amount can be collected as a security deposit
  • §After receiving such a deposit, how fast it should be deposited in the required account
  • §Whether any interest has to be paid to the tenant, and how such payment should be made
  • §Whether any reports need to be generated regarding the deposits

When it is a residential property, all state laws are clear about equal treatment, and being nondiscriminatory in charging these deposits.

Do not Categorize it as a Type of Rent

Security deposits have to be returned to the tenants at the end of their lease provided they have not caused any damage. Therefore, they should be treated as a deposit and not categorized under rent.

Charging Less is not a Marvelous Idea

Some property managers think of charging a lesser security deposit than what is legally allowed, in order to attract more tenants. However, this is a big risk, and it can cause many issues in the end, which can cause more loss compared to having lesser tenants. By charging an adequate security deposit, property management can:

  1. Weed out prospective tenants who are financially unstable
  2. Create a hedge against default in rents
  3. Create a protection against unannounced departure of tenants

Open Separate Trust Account

The bank where the amount is deposited, should know the money is for escrow or trust funds. Such funds are not forfeited, even when the property owner or property management is encountering legal problems. Secondly, even when the state laws permit mixing the security deposit amount with a rent account, it is always better to open a separate account, since that will keep the amount safe from accidental spending.

Record it on Video

A security deposit is the most contested issue, and therefore it would be wise to take a video recording of the condition of the unit when the tenant is moving in, since this provides strong evidence if the tenant takes the matter to court. In fact, the tenant can be provided a copy of the recording or a link to the video, which will help in resolving any issues, even before they start.

Inform the Property Owner about Policies

The property managers should inform the property owner about the policies adopted regarding security deposits, since there should not be any inconsistencies in this regard, when issues arise. And they most certainly will!

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