How do you "harden" your rentals?

380 Replies

Dear Pocketers,

How do you harden / bullet-proof your rentals?

While I've never had anyone utterly trash a rental of mine, I've seen the damage they can do first hand (typically when buying the rental and seeing what the previous occupants did to it). Here are a few of the things I do:

One of my favorites, and easiest to do, is that I "frame" all wire racks, their support rods, towel holders, toilet paper holders, etc. using backer wood that is mounted to studs. If it's very visible, we'll route the edges and paint it like trim. If it's in a closet, it just gets wall color. This way, if the kids hang off the coat racks or someone abuses the towel holders, they may yank the hardware down, but it doesn't leave holes in the wall. It's also much harder to destroy them in the first place. Note the towel holder mounting:

When first buying a property, if it's easily accessible, I'll replace copper with Pex (plastic) plumbing from the get go, even if the copper is OK. I don't have to worry about it freezing and it's not a crime target.

We cage all of our A/C units now using custom fabricated 2 inch square tube, typically mounting them into the wall so the bolts have to be released from inside. I also lock exterior A/C circuit boxes and label the units, cage and circuit box with A/C specific alarm stickers that I had made up.

I will frequently install an inexpensive alarm system (not monitored) which gives me peace of mind between tenants and acts as a selling point when showing the units.

I've doubled up on door stops (to prevent doorknobs from going into walls). While I use the standard springy ones that mount into baseboard still, they tend to be targets for kids and end up missing, so I back these up with the plastic circles that affix to the wall where the handle would hit. (These are also great for just covering a previously made hole where the door knob hit the wall) They're expensive though, so I've started buying large, bulk packages of plastic, foam-backed pads that you set furniture on, and simply using double sided tape behind these. These cost maybe 30 cents apiece where the purpose built ones cost $3 apiece.

If I have to renovate a bathroom, I no longer use the plastic/fiberglass shower inserts. I've seen people put holes into both the tubs and crack the walls of these. For just a couple hundred more I'll have an iron tub installed and we'll tile the shower. It's a lot more attractive and seems to be a lot more durable in the long run.

What tricks have you learned to "harden" your own rentals?

- Chuck

These are all really good ideas. Other things I like to do:
Rarely use carpet if you can avoid it. Laminate floors, ceramic tile, wood, etc. Carpet just stains too easily and needs replacing to often.

I also use darker paints for the walls and skip the whites and creams. They hide dirt much better and need repainting less often.

These are great ideas Chuck. Maybe not quite related, but while we are preparing a property for rental or if it is vacant we put up paper blinds in all of the windows, put a beware of dog sign up, and install a couple lamps on timers. This tends to keep any potential "pests" from messing with our property while it is vacant.

I got a question for you Chuck:

Do you have a strategy for putting up curtain rods and/or blinds? This has cost me $$ in the past.

btw, yes great topic post. I LOVE the towel bar idea.

@Patrick - I couldn't agree more. Carpet is a waste of time and money. Wish I'd learned that lesson sooner.

@Kathy - Thank you, thank you! The towel "backer" bar (and wire rack wood backers, toilet paper holders, etc.) came to me only after repairing the fifth hole where some of these had been pulled from the drywall, leaving a nasty spot to patch.

I do put up those plastic blinds or curtain rods in every place I rent. Mainly because I don't want the tenant attempting it themselves (big mistake) and because they're so incredibly cheap. I also want all the windows covered between tenants so no one can peek in. I typically buy the cheapy plastic blinds from home-depot that come in fixed widths but you adjust them yourself for the proper height.

I've also discovered that sometimes buying decorative cloth shower curtains are cheaper than curtains and they work great for tall windows. I even cut one in half, down the middle, not long ago to cover two narrow windows. I'm so cheap, but the end result looked pretty good! (This sort of stuff is fine for Section 8 rentals)

- C


These are great tips on hardening your rentals. The rentals that i have are mostly in the lower end areas. I was wondering what you recommend for your kitchen. Do you have all electric appliances and what appliances do you provide? Do you recommend ceramic title floors throughout the entire house and do you prefer fans or light fixtures in the bedrooms? Thanks

One thing i've been doing for our section 8 clients and on the buildings i'm in the process of purchasing is going metal door jams. Less likely to be kicked in while vacant.

Avoid carpet wherever possible. I have begun using allure flooring. It's attractive and allegedly very durable, a 25 year floor. It's floating and waterproof.

Yard: Make as much as possible, mower maintainable. Limit / remove trees and shrubs whenever possible.

Plumbing fixtures: Use shedule 40 drain pipes under bathroom and kitchen sinks with a wye cleanout. I have had so many leaks with the screw together pipe over the years.

Bathroom remodels: Remove any bathroom windows that reside inside a shower enclosure. They can be a massive maintenance headache. Install a fart fan to bring it up to code.

Gas lines: remove all unused fuel runs. Run electric for dryer and stove if electric not present.

Security: 4 inch screws in the latches of all exterior doors. Makes it a little tougher for them to get in and steal my copper.

Storm doors, if present: have chains installed so they can't whip wide open and trash the closers. Be clear with the tenant, they're on the hook for it if anything happens. It's best to remove them altogether.

Appliances: NEVER an icemaker. They make up 50% of appliance service calls. NO THANKS!

If having a furnace installed, pay the extra 10-25 and have a filter rack installed. Makes changing the filter much much easier.

Wish I learned these things on day 1.

Great information!! Thanks so much for posting. Ideas for A/C units? A big problem we run into is missing units. One property's unit was stolen the same weekend we closed and the insurance hadn't kicked in, yet. Perhaps, hiding the unit in the garage. Thoughts?

@Joey - I remove carpet when it's life is over and replace with linoleum, tile or hardwood. Or if I'm lucky, there's hardwood underneath that can just be refinished. You can do it yourself if you have the time. As for fans, if they're working, I leave them, when they stop working, it gets a simple light fixture. I also spend the extra money to put in CFL bulbs everywhere, because I don't like people messing with the light fixtures if possible.

@Ed - Great ideas! I couldn't agree more on the ice makers. I'll remove them from a fridge before putting a new fridge into a location. I don't know what Schedule 40 drains or WYE cleanouts are, but I'll look into those ideas. Thanks.

@Vanessa - I cage ours, costs $200 apiece, and then I bolt the cages into the wall where the bolts have to be removed from the inside of the house. I also lock the circuit breaker box and then I put "air conditioner alarm stickers" on everything outside. You can find them on If placing new ones, you might consider putting them on a roof if possible... Don't leave them shrouded by bushes or back in a corner with bad visibility. Make them very visible and harden them up. Make it harder or more risky than the next house and they'll choose the next house over yours, or so we all hope. Ha!

- C

Oh, and regarding appliances in general... I hate having to supply and maintain them. I charge a much higher security deposit if we have to supply appliances, and encourage folks to take the lower security deposit and get their own. This seems to work OK for houses, though I'm not sure it would work for apartments as you usually expect to see them included in those.

- C

i install a bath fan immediately. but i connect it to a timer, not the light, so they think it's cool if the fan stops on it's own 30 mins after they shower. always panasonic, nothing else.

i also change the galvanized pipes to pex.

chuck, the towel racks looks great, but HD has anchor bolts that hold up to 150lbs. i doubt that a kid would be pulling up on that.

Chuck, great ideas. I did notice one thing in your picture though. The toliet appears to be caulked around the base, this is not proper as if the wax ring fails the water will not be able to escapeout the side but rather rot the floor as it is trapped. by leaving it not caulked you notice the problem much quicker and then can fix it.

In the St. Louis market, they force me to caulk around the toilet.. it may vary from a regional standpoint, but I agree it's best not to.
As far as the sch 40 drains, I use sch 40 pipe and glue a wye out of the wall, so I can have a cleanout. The p trap is also glued, as well as more of the joints. Sch 40 pipe with glue joints is a little extra work and uncommon, but much more durable.

I also, in ALL vanities, have installed drains without pop-ups.
I simply provide a plastic drain plug. No one ever plugs their sinks in my market. What a waste of time to repair a damaged or disconnected pop up..

I find the best way to "harden" my rentals is to get a "gentle" tenant:D

Try showing up to an applicant's current residence unannounced. If they are treating their current place badly, you can expect the same for yours.

@GeorgeP - Is the timer so that the fan has a longer life?

@Kyle - You're correct, and this is possibly a bad practice on my part. I DO leave the rear un-caulked so that a leak will show up sooner, theoretically.

@EdO - I love it... I will plan on doing that for the next vanity.

@Chris Weller - No doubt! Scoping out the tenant is the best indicator of what's to follow. I always do drive-bys to see how their place looks, and pop-ins to see the interior if at all possible.

- Chuck

chuck, not really. i put a timer so that the humidity from the shower does not create mold in the bathroom. i just purchased a house that had wall paper in the bathroom and no fan. when i peeled the wall paper off, 100% of the area underneath had surface mold. when you put a timer, people tend to hit "20 mins" and in those 20 mins the moisture in the air is gone.

@GeorgeP - Gotcha... but I'm still curious why you don't wire this to the bathroom light? It seems like a timer would make the fan last longer, but I just wonder if it's worth the extra trouble for wiring?

- C

because when a person leaves the room they tend to turn the light off (if they are paying for the electricity). when the light is off and the fan is wired to the light, the fan stops. the moisture is still in the air and is absorbed by the drywall, thus mildew is created.

the way i make it is i entice them to turn the timer on and go to sleep. in 30 mins, it shuts itself off. no moisture in the air.

it is really easy to hook it up to the GFCI outlet's load side. 3 of the houses i have have basements, so it's super easy if i have to run another circuit.

good question. i have to survey the tenants and see if they use it. will report back. :)

i use mine all the time. in fact, it's on right now. i can go to bed not worried that the paint will peel off overnight. lol