By: Eveline Brownstein (c)
Do your tenants know how to operate the dishwasher? Do your tenants know where the circuit breakers are? Do your tenants know who to call in an emergency? Do your tenants know what days to put the trash out?
These and many other questions can be answered by referring to a Home Handbook that you maintain on the home, and which is given to a tenant upon move-in. Newly acquired tenants generally have lots of questions when they move into a property and property managers must answer many of the same questions, repeatedly, with each new tenant. Not all of these questions come up during the walk-through and property managers tend to field a lot of new tenant questions about “how to” and “what if” more than actual service, maintenance and rent payment issues.
In order to alleviate this, a few years ago I prepared a Home Handbook for each rental property. If you have been a diligent manager or home owner, you likely already have most of the items that will go into this handbook. My handbooks are large binders with plastic sleeves inside so that I can easily change the contents as the information changes. These are the items I place into the binder:
Appliance Manuals. Appliance manuals fit neatly into the plastic sleeves. If the manuals are only available online (a practice being followed by some appliance manufacturers) I print it out so that I have a hard copy. If you rely upon your tenant to refer to an online manual, you might be erring. Giving your tenants access to the operation manuals for each of the appliances in the rental unit will likely save a service call or the need for you to demonstrate how to use the appliance. It will also help to alleviate any misuse damage, for example: if you have a high-efficiency washing machine and it requires the use of high-efficiency detergent. If any of the appliances are still under warranty, a copy of the warranty information should be in the handbook. This will be useful when the appliance needs to be repaired under warranty. Having a copy of the warranty at the home means that the tenant has it on hand when the repair professional makes an appointment to undertake the repair or when the property manager needs to meet the repair professional at the property to supervise the repair.
Emergency Phone Numbers. I generally place a list of emergency phone numbers in the very front of the home handbook. Besides the obvious 911, the list includes the local police department phone number, the fire department, the nearest hospital and of course, my 24 hour phone number.
City Policies. If there is a curfew policy in your city, it’s a good idea to tell the tenant. Other policies that may require your tenant to behave in particular ways should be written in the home handbook, for example: if there is a policy regarding noise after certain hours; parking restrictions; traffic ordinances peculiar to your city, etc.
City Council Information. Even tenant residents of a city are entitled to representation by their local city council and a voice in what happens in their community. Knowing who is who in the local city council and when meetings are held is information a tenant should have. People who feel that their issues are of concern to their local legislators feel more connected to the community in which they live and become positive partners for the betterment of neighborhoods. Encouraging your tenants to become involved in the local community is a good idea.
Rent Payment Options. I always add a page into the handbook with the rent payment options available to my tenants. This includes: a way they can pay their rent directly into the bank account by walking a payment into the bank; the address to where payments can be mailed, and the forms of payment that I will take.
Trash Pick Up Procedures and Policies. Does the city recycle? Do they use separating bins? What is the pickup schedule? What is the policy with regards to bulk pickup and yard waste? The answer to all of these questions should be in the home handbook. Even if you go over this as part of your move-in/getting acquainted walk-through, expecting a tenant to remember all of these policies is unrealistic and having the information handy is one less phone call a tenant has to make.
Approved vendors for repairs and maintenance. If you have a policy that tenants can call service or maintenance companies directly, the numbers of those approved service people should be in the handbook. If you prefer the tenant call you first, then add a page in the handbook that directs a tenant to call you if there are maintenance or repair issues that need to be taken care of. I also add the same text that is in my lease which says that the tenant may not repair or engage the services of any repair professionals without my prior consent.
There are lots of useful items you can put into your home handbook, but do not forget to have your tenants sign for their receipt of the book. Also, do not forget to make sure that a tenant who is moving does not accidentally pack it with other belongings when moving out. The book should always stay with the home and be updated on a regular basis.
Finally, make the first page your welcome page. Welcome your new tenant to the property and let the tenant know you are happy the tenant decided to rent your home or the home you mange. There is nothing more heartwarming than moving into a new home, sitting down to read the home manual and being greeted with a warm welcome when you turn to the first page.