Landlording & Rental Properties

8 Reasons Tenants Move On—And What Landlords Can Do About It

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If you’re losing a good tenant, you might want to encourage them to stay. But you can’t do that unless you know why they’re moving out. There are a number of reasons tenants leave—and here are the most common explanations.

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Related: How Much to Charge for Rent in 2021: A Landlord’s Guide

1. Expensive rent and more options in the market

Housing costs, especially rents, have been rising for the last five years. Some markets have reached the point where it makes more sense to move somewhere cheaper. There, your renters can get more bang for their buck. Sometimes, simply moving to a new neighborhood adjusts the relationship between their rent expense and quality of life.

And sometimes, you’ve just overpriced your unit or raised the rent too dramatically.

Pay attention to local trends

Market rents change over time. Regardless if a rental property is at full capacity, staying in tune with local trends is good business practice. If neighboring properties are leasing for 30% less, that could become an issue.

Even if you’re simply keeping up local rents, many tenants hate the idea of paying more rent for the same property. They would rather switch properties and pay more. Psychologically, a new place (and maybe better or different amenities or location) may justify the price increase.

If a rate increase is necessary, tell renters well in advance to give them time to process and prepare for the changes.

Raising rent by more than 10% is a surefire way to lose even the most loyal renters. Raise rent over time—raising rent 2% or 3% percent here and there will have a much less noticeable effect.

2. Problems with neighbors

No one likes scary or abusive neighbors. Bad neighbors can make for a miserable housing experience. Nobody wants loud, intrusive neighbors! If no one’s dealing with tenant complaints about annoying residents, it should be no surprise when they take a hike.

Deal with tenant problems early

Keep lines of communication open and to listen to these complaints. If there are problem tenants in neighboring units, renters probably will not renew their leases. If the disruptive neighbors belong to another landlord, preempt issues by contacting the other landlord.

Related: The 4 Types of Horrible Tenants (& How to Deal With Their Shenanigans)

3. Unkept promises

It is important to establish trust and rapport with tenants—they need to feel like they can be upfront and honest. A professional attitude by being reliable, responsive, and respectful will go a long way in terms of goodwill, and tenants will likely return the favor.

Keep lines of communication open

This includes answering the phone or returning calls within 12 to 24 hours. The worst feeling for tenants is feeling like the landlord’s only purpose is making money. Tenants deserve your respect and transparency.

It's important that your tenants know your phone number (or your property manager's, if you're not self managing). This ensures that they can reach out when needed when something goes wrong.

4. Ignored repair needs

Sometimes tenants simply despise dealing with a landowner or property manager’s lack of attentiveness. Issues happen—but renters want to see an effort to correct them.

For example, if the air conditioning goes out on a Friday afternoon in July, they want the repairman to arrive within the day. Waiting until Monday and forcing them to suffer through the miserable heat will not win any bonus points.

Some apartment dwellers may hesitate to complain about “small” issues. For instance a loud (but not broken) dishwasher or a window in need of weather-stripping.

These issues may not necessarily incite a repair request, but do wear on a tenant’s nerves, and prompts them to start to look for better, nicer places.

Pay attention to problems (big and small!)

When it comes to rentals, taking care of any needed repairs without delay shows tenants that they are important. If it's an emergency, send a maintenance person to the property ASAP.

And those small issues? Check in with your tenants frequently. Are they having any minor problems or dealing with annoyances? Not only will fixing them make your tenants happy, but it may uncover big problems that need immediate remedy. A tenant mentioning a dripping sink could save you thousands of dollars in water damage!

Related: You Can Avoid After-Hours Phone Calls From Tenants—Here’s How

5. Unexpected life changes

A tenant’s personal situation may simply change. Maybe they changed jobs, expanded their family, or are moving away to be close to a significant other. There’s nothing you can do about these highly personal situations, which often sneak up with very little warning.

6. Fear

Sometimes tenants leave just because they are afraid. Not necessarily of their neighbors, or even something tangible.

They may worry about how rents might increase. They could be afraid of eviction because they have fallen a few days behind on rent a couple of times. Or it could be that a tough new property manager is causing panic in the renters.

Establish expectations early

Set clear expectations by getting feedback from loyal, long-term renters you trust. This is especially important when you bring in new management. Connect with them about renewing leases early and maintain property upkeep to show tenants you are a caring landlord, not a slumlord.

7. More space

Between a growing number of multigenerational households and Millennials’ growing families, many simply need more space today.

A lot of people jumped on the minimalist lifestyle after 2008, but now, years later, they are tired of living so tight and cramped. In fact, a survey shows that this is driving far more Millennials and Boomers to choose single-family homes in the suburbs over homes in dense urban centers or condos.

Offer flexibility

Single-family home investors may not have much leverage here, but multifamily buildings provide some options. If you're worried about losing a good tenant, consider offering them a larger unit.

8. Ready for home ownership

With rents more expensive than mortgages in many areas, interest rates low, and credit scores recovering, many are ready to buy a home. Mortgage costs seem like a good deal—and having their own slice of equity feels exciting. This is one of the biggest reasons good tenants leave their current rental situation, and unfortunately, there's not a lot the landlord can do to prevent them from moving.

Make the best of it—or offer up their home

If it is unavoidable, the landlord can make the best of it. Ensure a good exit service, return security deposits promptly, and ask for a review on the spot.

Another option: See if they’re interested in buying the condo or house instead of moving away.

What else can landlords do to avoid these issues?

We’ve discussed how you can address each issue after the fact—but there are things you can do to preempt renters leaving long before they even have a reason.

1. Make sure the rental is in good condition

Many landlords warn against overimproving the property, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure tenants have a fantastic living space.

Here’s why:

  • Treatment: Tenants are more likely to treat a property well if the property is in good condition.
  • Turnover: The number of small, minor inconveniences that tenants won’t complain about, but will move out as a result of, will decrease.

2. Send out a survey

Many large apartment complexes and multi-unit properties send out surveys to acquire anonymous feedback from their residents.

Surveys that cover resident satisfaction, maintenance satisfaction, and move in follow-up surveys provide the landlord and property manager with the feedback that they need in order to have happy residents.

For small-scale, mom-and-pop landlords, consider something like Survey Monkey or even just a Google Form to gather residents’ feedback. It may be hard to guarantee anonymity this way, but it can be an effective tool for acquiring feedback.

Related: Secrets of Successful Landlords: 8 Things Profitable Landlords Do Differently

3. Send periodic emails

Occasionally email your tenants to check-in and ask about their unit. This opens up communication and allows residents to ask any questions or bring up problems that need to be addressed.

Sometimes the tenant may not take the initiative to voice a problem or concern. If you begin the conversation, they may feel more comfortable speaking out.

There are a number of reasons good tenants leave rentals, even if they like their unit. Smart landlords will get out in front of these issues to minimize negative effects and find ways to keep those tenants in their property to avoid turnover costs.

After all, turnover can be the biggest killer of cash flow. All the processes and costs involved in moving a tenant out of an apartment, fixing it up, and moving another tenant in add up. These include administrative costs, advertising, showing the property, application costs, repair expenses, and, of course, lost income.

While landlords cannot keep 100 percent of their tenants, being aware of the common causes of turnover can help you lower your vacancy rate and improve your cash flow.

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Sterling is an multifamily investor specializing in value-add apartments in Indianapolis and other Midwestern markets. With just under a decade of experience in the real estate industry, Sterling was involved with the management of over $10MM in capital, which is deployed across a $18.9MM real estate portfolio made up of multifamily apartments. Through the company he founded Sonder Investment Group, he owns just under 400 units. Sterling was featured on the BiggerPockets Podcast and has been contributing content to BiggerPockets since 2014, with over 200 posts on topics ranging from single family investing and apartment investing to wholesaling and scaling a business.
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Apart from moving to take a job in another community or buying a home, most tenants leave a rental because 1) The condition and lack of timely maintenance of the rental itself 2) Unreasonableness or experiencing disdain from the landlord 3) Landlord raising the rent too high too fast, or landlord thinking that replacing worn out stuff is a “remodel” that justifies raising rent. Corollary: landlords who seem to think raising the rent is always justified even though wages are NOT increasing, and thus they disqualify their own tenants from making more than the required 3 times the rent.
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I had a tenant move 3 months prior to the end of the lease once when I told them I would be selling the property after their lease was up. Caught me by surprise but I ended up selling right after they left anyway.
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I do not blame your tenants one bit. Being an inherited tenant is as difficult as inheriting one. If your community is like mine, it could take all of three months to find a new place.
    Eric Petersen Rental Property Investor from Lehi, UT
    Replied over 3 years ago
    The younger and more independent people you rent to the more likely they is to move more often. I have two properties I rent to single, young professional / student men in their early 20s to early 30s. This group moves a lot! They are great because you can rent a single family home by the room, thus increasing rents, however they almost are guaranteed to move at the end of the lease because they want to try something new. Some strategies I have noticed to keep people like this is to 1) make the lease 1 year at least 2) keep the rent just a little bit lower than the competing units near by 3) maintain the property accordingly as these tenants have been in houses where they are basically falling apart and the extra effort helps them appreciate what you are doing for them and 4) try to rent to a group of friends as they will most likely stick around longer because they feel they have a great thing going.
    Pamela H Kinzey
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Mine almost always leave because they’re broke, or because someone is trying to find them. And that’s usually because they’re broke. They lost their job. They had a medical bill. They got injured. They’re sick. Their relatives need their money. They bought a lemon used car. They got docked for credit card debt. Fines from the law. Fees from the lawyer.
    LuAnn Miller Rental Property Investor from Sigourney, IA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Pamela – sounds to me that you need a better system of background check for your properties. Have you thought of using the MySmartMove website recommended by Bigger Pockets? It has been amazing for us so far. The prospective tenants pay the processing fee and if they balk at that, they may not make enough to sustain and the background check will bring this to light. Try it out.
    Replied over 3 years ago
    First how much is the processing fee? Second, whatever the fee is, some tenants may balk because they do not like giving out so much personal financial info to a property manager. Given the staffing turnover, it is not at all clear whether the information is secure or not. Considering that IRS refund thieves get the info necessary from somewhere to file a return before the real person, it is not an idle concern.
    Jon Schmidt Investor from Sacramento, California
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hi Katie, I recently set up an account as a Landlord with MySmartMove (a TransUnion service). I then elected to send a request to the tenant applicant (you enter their email address into the website) to complete a MySmartMove application. You specify whether you will pay the fee or have the tenant do so. I found the service to be very easy to use and useful information. The tenant enters sensitive information into the site and you never see it. After I accepted their application and approved them as tenants we met to sign the lease and I collected SSN and DL# to have in the case of an eviction. I hope that helps.
    Karl B. Rental Property Investor from Columbia, MO
    Replied over 3 years ago
    6. Repairs aren’t done or aren’t done in a timely fashion.