Avoid These Costly Landlord Mistakes

Advice from a Landlord with 35+ Years of Experience

Whether you are considering becoming a landlord, brand new to the landlord lifestyle or you have had years of experience you want to learn from other’s mistakes. Getting advice from experienced landlords can greatly improve the processes you put in place with your tenant and your property.

Below is an open letter from a very experienced, 35+ years, landlord from Massachusetts that will tell you some of the issues she has dealt with and how she has learned from them. Heed this advice and hopefully avoid making the same mistakes.

“We have been small residential landlords since October 1983, when we purchased our first home, a 2-family. We wanted to purchase a home in Watertown at a time when there were few properties available, and when interests’ rates were at historic highs and home prices were also rising quickly, we thought a 2-family would be the best option for us financially.

Looking back at over 35+ years of dealing with tenants and home maintenance issues, here are some general thoughts and observations from our perspective:

Massachusetts is a great state for tenants, but not necessarily for landlords! At least not small landlords like us.

There are good tenants and bad ones. We have had the most amazingly thoughtful and kind tenants—always paid rent promptly, respected the property, never made unusual or burdensome demands, and were respectful with us, and neighbors, too. We are still in contact with some of these tenants from decades past, exchanging Christmas cards, etc.

We’ve also had to deal with tenants who took advantage of our general good nature.

About 25 years ago, when we were still living in there, we rented the downstairs apartment to a recently-married professional couple that seemed very nice, and whose references all checked out. About 10 months into their lease, they asked if we would be amenable to allowing the husband’s mother and 2 sisters from Lebanon live with them for a couple of months until they got on their feet here and were able to get their own place. We agreed, but, about 8 months after they arrived, and were still living in the apartment (5 adults in a small 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment!), we insisted they had to leave, and that we wouldn’t be renewing the lease. They all moved out…leaving the apartment in the worst shape it had ever been in! It appeared that in almost 2 years, no one had EVER cleaned anything!! When I stepped into the apartment after they left, I literally just started crying!

The most financially-impactful issue occurred for us when a couple we had rented to became pregnant about 2 years into their tenancy, and we then had to de-lead that apartment, at a cost of approx. $10,000. The timing was particularly difficult for us, as my husband’s company had shut down, and he’d been out of work for some time. We had to cash in an IRA, and pay a penalty, to access the necessary funds to do the work. Because we weren’t living in the house at that time, we didn’t qualify for an interest-free loan for the de-leading work….sigh!”

“Overall, here are the things that we now know are important if you are going to be a successful landlord (and are going to find and lease to tenants without the benefit of a property management company)”:

  • Always check references and credit reports
  • Always have an active lease
  • Never rent to friends
  • If you have a negative gut feeling about something…you’re probably right!
  • Be prepared financially for any expensive contingency
  • Don’t take things personally, and try hard to keep some professional distance, even if you really, really like your tenants, and want to be friends with them!

“The best thing landlords can do is to have an agency work in their interest and do good background checks to help find tenants that have excellent credit and no criminal history.”

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