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6 Sure Ways To Never Be The Bearer Of That “Worst Tenant” Story

by Tom Sylvester on May 28, 2014 · 31 comments

  
Tenant-Proofing

When landlords get together, they typically trade stories of the worst tenant and/or other landlord horror stories.

Today I am going to walk through 6 strategies that we use when renovating our properties, to avoid some of those horror stories.

Related: (Real Life) Real Estate Investing Horror Stories

1. Use Standard Materials

This was one of the decisions that we made early in our investing career.

We decided on the paint scheme for our properties (Hilton Head Cream for the walls and High Gloss White for doors/trim).  We use the same trim, lights, door handles, etc. in every rental property that we own.  The result?

  1. We never waste materials.  Whatever is left over from one property can be used on the next.
  2. Our properties all look the same.  This makes it easy for tenants to look at one property and general know what other properties will look like.
  3. When purchasing supplies we spend less time trying to make cosmetic decisions since we have our standard list of materials.

2. Tile or Laminate Flooring

I’m amazed when I see landlords putting carpet into their rentals.

Carpet is expensive, difficult to install, gets dirty easily and holds in smells.  After purchasing our first rental property which had old/smelly carpet that just would not come clean, we decided to remove all carpet and never install it in a rental.

Instead we now install tile in bathrooms (and sometimes kitchens) and laminate flooring in the remainder of the property.  Tile is very durable, easy to clean and looks nice.

Laminate wood floor is cheap, easy to install and is a big selling point for our tenants.  Depending on your area you want to use different materials, but avoid carpet and look for low maintenance flooring.

3. Pex Piping

For any new plumbing work, we use Pex piping instead of copper.  Below are the benefits that we see.

  • Pex comes in red and blue colors (hot and cold).  It makes it easy to identify which line you are working with.
  • Pex is cheaper, both in terms of material and also in terms of labor costs.
  • Pex is flexible.
  • Pex is durable and is resistant to extreme temperatures.
  • People are not breaking into houses to steal Pex.

Related: Copper Theft: How to Protect Your Property from Vandalism

4. Metal Roof

We invest in the NorthEast United States, which means that our properties experience all four seasons.

When we need to replace a roof, we go with metal instead of the traditional asphalt.  Not only is this a trend in our region (so we fit in), but metal roofing has twice the life of asphalt roofing (at ~50 years).

5. Separate Utilities and/or Install Submeters

The goal of buying and holding properties is to generate a profit.

Every bill, especially variable ones such as utilities, can cut into that profit.  As a result, we always split the utilities and have the tenants cover that expense.  In our area the landlord must pay the water utilities, so we install water submeters and bill the tenants for their individual water usage.

6. Replace Over Fixing Appliances (Energy Efficient)

If you need a company to come and take a look at an appliance such as a furnace, hot water heater, refrigerator or a stove, they will charge a standard service fee just for making the trip.

This charge can range from $50-$150 depending on the area.  And that charge is just for the trip out, not even for the materials or time required to fix the issue.  So after a few trips out, the cost of repairing an appliance is more expensive than purchasing a new one.

Therefore an appliances get older or once they experience 2 issues within a short amount of time, we will typically scrap them and install a new appliance.  This avoids service calls and usually allows us to upgrade to a more energy efficient appliance.

Landlords… what are your favorite strategies for “tenant-proofing” your properties?

Be sure to leave your comments below!

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

James May 28, 2014 at 8:22 am

Tom, good article.

Question: You mentioned removing carpet. I have found that in colder climates tenants like carpet AND it is a noise barrier. Most of my lower units have hardwood floors, but the upper units have carpet (over hardwood floors). What are your thoughts on the noise from upper units especially when there isn’t carpet? Noise from other tenants is the BIGGEST complaint and I am not talking about out of control parties, but rather footsteps, squeaking noises, tenants getting intimate etc. I have heard it all. Seems to me that laminate flooring would increase noise transfer.

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Tom Sylvester May 28, 2014 at 4:52 pm

James – To me, the benefits of carpet do not outweigh the cons. Although it may be a slight noise barrier, I don’t find a great improvement. For a noise barrier, we typically will use blown-in insulation in the floor. When we are doing a full renovation, this is part of the rehab. If not, we can still cut into the floor, blow it in, then replace the pieces we cut and put laminate over it. We also put a waterproof cushion between the sub-floor and the laminate. If there are creaks or other issues, I would seek out the source and tighten it up (if possible).

Our properties are in NY, so we also experience the cold. We recommend that tenants purchase throw rugs if they want carpet. They protect the floor, are paid for by the tenant and help with keeping the room warmer and absorbing some sound.

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Lisa Phillips May 28, 2014 at 8:26 am

Hi Tom, great analysis! I have rentals in lower income neighborhoods, and the same rules apply, even the carpet one (it costs way more to get it cleaned each year).
And, for the standard paint, I use a beautiful soft brown that makes it very homey and cozy (I have pics in the gallery section of my blog if anyone wants to see what that looks like), but its completely consistent in every property: If it ain’t broke…

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Tom Sylvester May 28, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Awesome Lisa. I agree with the paint color and the effect that it can have. We rarely even have people ask if they can paint anymore since most love the color.

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Vania May 28, 2014 at 10:48 am

Hi Tom,

Great advise!!!!

Thank you for taking the time to write about this very simple, but important (and sometimes confusing) topic, as you go to HomeDepot and the choices are endless.

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Tom Sylvester May 29, 2014 at 4:45 am

Vania- You are welcome. It is amazing how much time we save not having to think about materials as well as being able to reuse them.

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Joann Miller May 28, 2014 at 10:54 am

we only now install laminate– it is easy to repair– carpet & pad retains odors and some stains cannot be removed, especially if you rent to children.(crayons, kool aid etc) In addition since installing laminate we have a addendum in our leases that when a tenant vacates any plank that has to be removed due to scrapes, water damage, etc. is billed at $25 PER plank, plus labor–it makes them really careful about moving furniture —- you can really decrease your costs without carpeting & generally the first thing a new tenant asks when viewing a rental is “are you changing the carpet?” we are sold on laminate!

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Tom Sylvester May 29, 2014 at 4:49 am

Joann – Great idea about the addendum about the planks. Just out if curiosity, how do you guys go about replacing individual planks?

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Joann Miller May 29, 2014 at 9:28 am

when they move in & sign everything, we stress how expensive the labor will be for just one or two planks–the plank is one cost, the labor and re-so and re-install is another cost– if they chose to ruin it, they pay for it with the damage security deduction–

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Tom Sylvester May 30, 2014 at 4:11 am

Joann – Specifically, how do you go about replacing a plank in the middle of the floor? Are you removing all of the other planks to get to it, then putting it back together, hence why the labor is so costly?

Dennis May 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm

No carpets ever! In Philly we are now required to test for lead if a child of 6 years old will be in residence. No way will a unit pass a lead inspection with carpet.

All flooring is laminate for main areas, and a strip vinyl product called Allure. Not cheap for the Allure, but very thick and can be loose laid on uneven surfaces with no underlayment plywood. If a section is damaged (not sure how) it can be peeled up and replaced. I might even switch from laminate to completely Allure flooring through out on the next project. Almost no skills needed to install. I am also looking at a paint product which will give a stone finish and can be applied over just about any surface, including vinyl. This same company makes a stone coating paint for counter tops, I have used that with great success.

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Tom Sylvester May 29, 2014 at 4:51 am

Dennis – That is a great point about lead. Carpet traps everything.

I am also thinking about trying Allure on our next project. I personally believe laminate looks better (and is cheaper), but Allure seems very durable.

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Mike June 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I am a little curious about this Allure product. I found some very negative reviews on it online, but for the most part the reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

I took a stroll to Home Depot to check it out. In my area the Allure is the cheapest flooring you can get. I think the cheap laminate starts at the same price and goes up from there. I also wouldn’t call it thick. It was the thinnest flooring they had on display, with some of the higher end laminate being almost an inch thick (the allure seemed to be about 1/8″ thick). I am not sure how well it would hold up to the abuse in a rental. I like that it does not require a subfloor and is waterproof, but I also read in several reviews not to use it on concrete floor in the basement. Anyone have experience with this? And the person at Home Depot told me it is a floating floor (hence can be installed without underlayment), but that this caused it to shift and wear faster/not as durable. Would this really matter for durability?

I also wonder about this laminate floor theory in general. I keep a portion of the security deposit to pay for carpet cleaning. If the carpet is damaged beyond what a cleaning will fix (has not happened to me yet), I would withhold an additional amount to fix it. So I really don’t end up paying for the carpet unless/until it needs replaced. I can see how that would likely happen more often than with laminate, but it is cheaper to install than laminate. If the tenant pays for cleaning or damage either way, how is laminate an advantage over carpet in this regard? I really want to know because I am interested in going that route, but when I run the numbers carpet still seems cheaper to me.

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Kimberly H. June 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I hope someone who uses Allure responds, I have a problem tenant moving out after having an unaurhorized cat so we may need to take out the carpet and since everyone says don’t do carpet, I was thinking going with maybe Allure since so many landlords like it. I wonder if the quality of it has recently been reduced?? Labor costs are important to me since I will be paying someone else to do it

Mike June 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

From the comments I found online the quality has improved if anything. It is now a click and lock style installation instead of a glue-based, which is much easier and better. I don’t have personal experience with it I am just going on what I have read online, so hopefully some actual users will respond, but I have also heard it is very easy to install.

From the comments/reviews on Home Depot it sounds like my grandma could install the stuff, so it is likely you can do this yourself easily assuming you are physically able and are close enough to the property to make sense of you going there.

Kimberly H. June 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Thanks, Mike. That’s good to know. Hopefully some people who have used it recently will respond.

russ May 28, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Dennis,
Which company makes the “stone coating paint”? I am interested in that.
Also, which wood looking product is better, Laminate or Vinyl?

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Dennis May 28, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I was not sure Bigger Pockets would allow me to add a link, but the company is Daich coatings so if the link does not load search online for the name directly.
http://www.daichcoatings.com/daich-diy-homepage.html

The above mentioned company’s coatings work and last just as they describe, they have many gleaming reviews.

All of my rentals are low and moderate income tenants, high end finishes are not necessary to attract tenant, however I want my rentals to look and last longer then my competitors units.

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Robert May 28, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Great article! All of these are great points and suggestions. I think systematizing finishes is the way to go and will do that when I get my first rental unit. I’m a K&B designer so I get to be incredibly creative with my clients projects. I will feel no need to do that with my rental units. Keep it simple & consistent. No need to reinvent the wheel every time.

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Tom Sylvester May 29, 2014 at 4:53 am

Great to hear Robert. I choose to utilize m creative side on my own house, not on each one of my rentals. :O)

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Dennis May 29, 2014 at 6:07 am

Yes, I would love to know how one changes a laminate board from the middle of the floor? I have a tenant who spilled a bottle of Jack Daniels, this swelled the floor causing it to flake away. This is in the middle of a 32 foot long family room/ kitchen. When this fellow move out he is going to pay for an entire redo with Allure.

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Tom Sylvester May 30, 2014 at 4:13 am

Dennis – I asked the question above so we can await the response. It sounds like it might be a case of pulling the floor apart in order to replace the damaged plank. I will be trying Allure on my next project as well.

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Mike June 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm

You can cut out the board and carefully work a new one in. I have never done it, but just YouTubed it and found a good 5 minute tutorial. A good floor installer should be able to handle that without a problem.

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Kimberly H. May 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Nice article, but what does this have to do with avoiding the worst tenants?

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Tom Sylvester May 30, 2014 at 4:16 am

Thanks Kimberly. It’s not about avoiding the worst tenants, but the worst tenant story. To your point, avoiding the worst tenant comes with proper screening. Worst tenant stories typically include damage to the properties and expensive fixes (ex. roof leaking but tenant not informing landlord which leads to damage, copper piping getting stolen from a property, tenants ruining carpet, etc). There are obviously many more ways to “tenant proof” your property, but these are just a few ideas.

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Deanna June 1, 2014 at 1:12 am

a) Legoto carpet tile – post-it type adhesive tiles — I had the tenant DO THE REPLACEMENT THEMSELVES when one of the kids drew on the floor with a green marker. Pull one tile up, put the new one down, pull any threads up that got caught, vacuum, done. 15 mins.
b) Vinyl stick-down tiles. The top-of-the-line groutable ones from HD are about 1.50/sq foot, look like ceramic, can be replaced individually if damaged, AND work on a flexible floor (unlike ceramic). They do take about as long as ceramic to install, so that’s the downside.
c) Laminate – so far I haven’t had water issues, but when I do I plan to take those areas to the vinyl tile
d) Allure — have seen this in action, mixed review. Don’t care for the rosewood or bamboo pattern – they are much trickier to install than billed and seem to get/show damage more easily. The tile-patterned matte surface Allure seems to be a winner though — seems to be durable, and was easier to install. Be aware that you are instructed not to use ANY cleaner other than water, water+vinegar, or “allure” cleaner. Simple Green will make this stuff slick as ice.

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Dennis June 1, 2014 at 6:46 am

No worry about tenants clean Allure, as they never clean anymore then sweeping. In all the units past where carpet existed never saw a vacuum in residence. We have one in the office where for a totally refundable deposit of $30 it can be borrowed, no one in 10 years ever took me up on the deal. Always wondered why some entrepreneurial tenant didn’t borrow it and create a vacuuming business, I know I would have.

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Kimberly H. June 1, 2014 at 9:09 am

Thanks for posting this info Deanna!

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Mike June 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm

For those that have gone away from carpet to the laminate flooring route, what do you do on stairs and vertical surfaces?

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Jeff August 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm

In Nebraska, not only do we experience all 4 seasons, we also experience some of the worst hailstorms you can imagine. Golf ball hail can be seen regularly. I can imagine a metal roof would give some extra protection over a standard asphalt roof but may not stay esthetically pleasing over time.

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Ben T. Ami August 15, 2014 at 4:47 am

Great Article! I have read this article and it is very informative about laminate flooring. It is the best way of home improvements. There are so many companies that offer these home improvements services. It is important to find the best service provider that gives us fully satisfactory work.

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