How a Property Manager Can Be Prepared When They Get Sued

Withholding of a tenant’s security deposit is probably the number one reason a property manager can end up on the other end of a lawsuit or even in court. There are many precautions and procedures which a prudent management company or manager can implement which will help prevent this situation from occurring. Moreover, a property management course or continuing education in the nuances of proper statutory procedures can go a long way in preventing a lawsuit and subsequent lost time, energy and even money. Finally, an owner is responsible for the acts of a property manager and could find themselves in court as well if the manager has violated the law, has not properly counseled the owner or properly handled the tenant’s security deposit.

Implement Minimal Procedures to be Prepared

A prudent property manager has been educated to take the necessary precautions and follow the statutory guidelines for tenant’s issues like the return of security deposits. The necessary property inspections, the data collection of the condition of the property, the amount of money a manager is allowed to deduct, the statutory procedure for deductions, and the proper method of communicating all of these steps to the vacating tenant is tantamount to a successful defense against tenant lawsuits. If a property manager has done all of these things with diligence there is a very good chance that they will have the ultimate preparation in the unfortunate occasion when they get sued.

Pre-Tenancy Property Inspections Help Prevent Post-Tenancy Problems

Prudent property managers walk-through the property with the new tenant while there is no furniture or obstacles in the unit. The property manager takes photos, logs inspection data about each and every room in the unit, details the exterior of the property including any issues that exist and gets the new tenant to sign off or agree to the condition report. This same report is used at the end of the tenancy to compare and contrast the pre and post condition status. With photos and a signed inspection report it is difficult for a tenant to claim that conditions that exist now weren’t there when the tenancy began. Moreover, in some states notice of a pre-inspection at the end of the tenancy is given to tenants such that they are allowed to take advantage of the pre-inspection to repair or clean the unit which would otherwise be a deduction against their security deposit. This procedure, if properly conducted, actually prevents a lot of post tenancy issues as the tenant is fully aware of any conditions which might result in a deposit deduction, and they are given ample time and opportunity to correct the issues.

Pre-Tenancy Property Inspections Help Prepare Property Managers for Court

In the unfortunate event that a tenant disputes a property manager’s security deposit deduction and actually files a lawsuit the manager who has taken the time to takes photos and log inspection data will be amply prepared for the litigation. The manager should prepare their file in chronological order, should print out each and every photograph and date and label each condition. Importantly, each person who witnessed any conditions at the property like the gardener, the painter, the cleaner should all be contacted and asked for a witness statement. It is easy to get a statement via a sworn affidavit and at the same time ask these people to make themselves available to be witnesses in court. To be clear each property manager should have the following in preparation of any hearing:

1) A complete property file in chronological order including photos, invoices, and paid receipts;

2) A complete history of the written communications with the tenants included in the property file;

3) A list of witnesses with contact information;

4) Sworn affidavits from each witness; and

5) A thorough review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the issues, facts and tenant complaints by the staff members who dealt with the tenant.

Preparation is Powerful and Usually Successful

Professional property managers who take the time, energy and effort to adequately keep records of their properties and tenants will find that this preparation is worth its weight in gold come litigation time. Once a tenant becomes familiar with an adequately prepared opponent they may think twice about their attempts to sue. The best defense for managers or management companies is educating themselves in the proper procedures and record-keeping that will help them prepare for this process. If the manager has followed the law, has followed a detailed record-keeping system, prepares and presents an immaculate file to the hearing judge or court then the likelihood of success of defending one of these lawsuits is much higher than if they had not.

An Owner May be Liable for the Acts of its Agent

Both statutory and common law principals state that a hirer or principal of an agent may be liable for the acts of the agent. Property management companies who fail to follow the statutory guidelines regarding landlord tenants laws may find themselves in court on occasion. If a manager has attempted to take advantage of a tenant (not uncommon) or has committed statutory violations that could lead to liabilities for the unsuspecting owner. Even though the owner would ultimately have a remedy against the property manager this would be a very unfortunate situation for the owner. The owner can file a cross-complaint against the manager, but in either case the owner gets dragged into a suit because the manager was negligent or careless. Needless to say an owner or property manager doesn’t want to be in this situation in the first place, thus, it is important that the manager follow statutory guidelines and proper inspection procedures.

A Real Estate Attorney on Staff is Ideal and Can Keep Owners Out of Trouble

Professional property management companies who have a real estate attorney on staff have an advantage in these circumstances. A real estate attorney has the training, expertise, and procedural knowledge to help prevent these situations before they get out of hand. Moreover, in the event that these cases escalate an attorney will be able to prepare and handle the situation much better than someone without those type skills.

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11 Questions Landlords Should Ask When Interviewing a Potential Property Management Company

Owning investment real estate is a great option for those looking to make a longterm commitment as opposed as a shortterm speculation. The management of such investment should always be trusted to professionals who are dedicated and committed to the industry and know how to deal with complex situations that are otherwise commonly ignored by inexperienced landlords.

It is of the utmost importance that property owners know how to select and interview the property management company that best seems to specialize in the kind of investment that they are looking to have managed.

If you are unsure what to ask your potential property manager before you sign a long term agreement with them, here are some questions that you can use as a guideline.

1. What kind of property management experience do you have? You need to know for how long they have managed property and whether they have enough back up from the rest of their group.

2. How many properties do you currently manage? Hiring a property manager that handles several thousand units could be somewhat risky as your property might end up lost in an ocean of other properties.

3. How often do you inspect occupied and vacant units? It is important to know the frequency of inspections in occupied units. The reasons why you need to know this information is because you need to be assured that there will be a comprehensive assessment of potential damage to occupied units that has been caused by tenants. You also need to know the frequency of inspection though vacant units to prevent any potential risk of fire or other casualties. Trust me, I have seen fires occur in vacant units.

4. What do you do with the information obtained from unit inspections? This is particularly important to ask because you need to make sure that the property management company has policies in place regarding the payment of damages to units caused by tenants or their guest. It would be of no benefit at all if they just report to you that all units were inspected, if they do not not have an aggressive plan of action based on unit inspections.

5. How important is preventative maintenance to you and how is this handled by your company? Extensive and costly deterioration can occur to properties if there isn’t a preventative maintenance plan in place. Your property manager should keep a preventative maintenance log showing all items inspected and addressed as well as the signature of the maintenance supervisor acknowledging completion of all required tasks.

6. How do you handle ongoing/daily maintenance? You need to know whether one or more dedicated maintenance technicians will be assigned to your property (based on the size of the property and number of units). It is also important to know the level of engagement of the maintenance supervisor (if any) and his role in ensuring that all maintenance issues are being addressed.

7. After hours emergency handling. Have the property manager explain their process for handling after hours emergencies such as water leaks, fire or any other casualties. Ask whether there is an after hours phone number which tenants would have access to.

8. Tenant Selection Plan. You need to know if the property manager has a Tenant Selection Plan that can be customized for your property. The TSP will help define the requirements that potential tenants would have to fulfill prior to renting a unit to them. You might also be want to be involved in the development of the rental criteria to ensure that only applicant who meet your requirements are approved. Keep in mind that you as well as your property manager are required to observe and conduct business based on Fair Housing Law. Your property manager should be absolutely familiar with what terms to use and which ones avoid when advertising your vacant units and when interviewing applicants.

9. Transparency. How can I have access to review accounts payables, delinquency reports, collections, etc. You as the property owner should define the frequency and types of reports that your property manager should make available to you.

10. Property Market Analysis. Does your management team shop comparable properties to keep up to date with local occupancy rates, average rent rates, amenities offered, specials, etc.? Please be aware that not all property management companies provide this service.

11. What is your area of specialty? It is important to keep in mind that there are several specialties within the property management industry. If you own commercial property, you should probably stay away from property managers that have experience managing only multifamily or condo properties. The most common areas of specialty in property management are: Single Family, Multifamily, Condo Associations, Cooperatives, Retail, Medical, Commercial and Industrial.

Management companies that specialize in the management of distressed and difficult-to-manage properties are usually capable of handling a broader spectrum of assets and engagement types, such as REO, Receiverships, and disputed assets.

Retaining the right property manager can enhance the value of your investment property while making your life easier as you don’t have to deal with the headaches that this activity often represents. If you have plans to expand your real estate investment portfolio it is definitely worth having a strong property management company on your side.

Triton IRES is a full service Property Management company specialized in turning around highly challenged property and sites that are difficult to manage by traditional management approach.

Our experienced real estate advisors act quickly when stabilizing an underperforming property. We identify critical issues and develop a list of priorities that must be addressed immediately. These actions halt the downward performance trend and protect the underlying value of the property.

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Property Management Services – A Real Estate Investor’s Best Friend

Do you own an investment property that you’re renting out, and you’re currently handling all of the chores of being a landlord yourself?

Are you thinking about investing in rental properties, but you’re not sure if you’re up for the task of being a landlord?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, whether you are holding onto or considering investing in a single-family rental (SFR), duplex, or triplex, you should think about engaging a professional property management firm to take the work off your shoulders.

Let’s take a look at what property management is, what a professional management company handles, and how to decide not only if it’s time to hire one but also how to hire the right property management firm.

What is Property Management?

Let’s start off with getting an understanding of what a property management firm does and doesn’t do. There are several critical tasks a property manager can help you with.

Setting the right rental rate: You can always ballpark this by looking through the classifieds, but a good property management company actually conducts thorough market studies to set a rental price for your property. This makes sure you have a great balance between maximizing your monthly income and keeping a low vacancy rate.

Collecting the rent: One of the most difficult aspects of being a landlord is collecting the rent. Property management firms have efficient, tried-and-true systems that will do a great job of collecting the rent and maintaining on-time payments.

Marketing and advertising your rental unit: When vacancies occur, you want the rental unit occupied as quickly as possible. A professional property management firm has experience that helps it market your property in just the rate way to make sure someone moves in quickly.

Finding and managing tenants: The property management firm will take the work out of finding and managing tenants for you. This means screening new tenants for criminal and credit checks, collecting references, and getting the lease signed. Once the home is occupied, handling routine and emergency maintenance and inspections are part of what a professional management company will do for you.

Managing relationships with contractors and other vendors: Do you have deep-seated relationships with all of the maintenance workers, tradesmen, contractors, suppliers, and vendors needed to properly manage your rental? Probably not. But a property management firm does and can get you the best work for the best price, while handling the burden of overseeing necessary maintenance projects for you.

Keeping you in compliance with the laws Housing regulations and property laws are complicated and confusing when you’re renting and maintaining your rental property. These can include local, state, and federal regulations, along with fair housing regulations like the Americans with Disabilities Act. A property manager can keep you out of hot water by keeping your property up-to-date and in compliance with all of these regulations.

Allowing you to invest from afar: If you’ve moved to a place where investing in rental units don’t make sense, you might think that investing in SFRs or other rental properties isn’t possible. With a good property management company by your side, you won’t be so limited in your investment opportunities.

I only have one property; so why do I need a property manager?

If just reading through all of the tasks that a property manager can handle for you isn’t convincing enough, consider this: do you want to be able to go on vacation without interruption? Do you really enjoy phone calls about backed up plumbing at 3:30 in the morning?

Chances are, you want the freedom to leave town for vacation or just have uninterrupted time with family for the holidays. You don’t relish the task of dealing with emergency maintenance chores in the middle of the night, and you probably dread the thought of trying to find a good tenant when your existing ones move out.

Even if you only have a single investment property that you’re renting out, you can benefit strongly from hiring a property management service. They have decades of experience that you’d be hard-pressed to match yourself, and can ensure your property is maintained impeccably while still maximizing your profit.

Okay, I’m convinced, but how do I know who to hire?

The best way to find out about quality management companies is based on the experience of others. If you are local to your rental property, attend your regional real estate investment association meetings to get recommendations from other landlords.

You want to make sure you find out how many units the company is managing, and how many employees they have doing the work. A trained employee with the right tools and proven processes can successfully manage between 30 and 40 units, as long as they’re not also playing accountant.

When you’re interviewing different qualified property management firms, here are the questions you should get answers to:

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