I often hear from frustrated landlords and tenants, and the cold weather across the country has many people facing unusual situations. Here are some excerpts from letters I've gotten in the last few weeks:
"We own a rental property in North Carolina, and I can't get in touch with my tenants to make sure they are taking steps to be sure that pipes don't burst. I'm so frustrated! What do I do?"
"We rent a house in Jacksonville, Florida, and the heat isn't keeping up with this cold weather. Our property manager says that there is nothing that can be done. Can we go to a hotel and deduct the cost from our rent?"
"Our tenants told me that our gutters are full of leaves, and they seem to expect that I'm going have them cleaned. That's their responsibility."
"My tenants want to move out early because they bought a house. Can they do that?"
There's a common thread in each of these questions: expectation management. If you're not familiar with the concept, expectation management is the idea that both parties have the same understanding of the situation. In the bigger world, this might include deadlines, goals, tasks, or other concepts. When it comes to landlords, tenants, and property managers, expectation management generally means a clear understanding of the product (house) being offered, the role of each individual in the process, and the responsibilities of each party.
In a rental property situation, the time to manage expectations is before the tenant moves in, and the place to manage expectations is in the lease.
Before the lease is signed, the landlord or property manager is responsible for presenting the property accurately, and the tenant is responsible for making sure that the property fits their needs before they move in.
The lease should clearly define each party's responsibilities, including all manner of contingencies. This includes who is responsible for what maintenance and repairs (including things like draining outdoor faucets and cleaning gutters), how and when the lease can be broken before the end of the lease term, and what happens in the event of an emergency.
Now, some of this stuff may also be covered by state, local, or federal law, but it is always better to also have it in black and white of the lease. Then, when questions arise, it's easy for all the parties to refer to the lease to resolve any confusion or disputes.
Expectation management is important in any relationship, whether between spouses, a work team, or any other folks who have to work together. Using those same skills with your landlord-tenant relationship will prevent a lot of frustration.