Questions and Answers for July 2017

Adapted from our Message Boards, where members can ask questions and get answers. Practicing landlords and service providers answer questions, and we combine the best answers here.

Adapted from June 2015.

questions and answers

Q: My tenant used MY water for his car wash service. How do I prevent this?

This is terrible, but it's only one of a couple of kinds water abuses. Other problems include vindictive faucet running (if there's a dispute), filling kiddie pools, laundry services and illegal daycares. Be on your guard!

What can be done about car washes? Options, from cheapest to most expensive:

Buy a spigot lock off Amazon for $15.

Remove or cap external spigots. Removing them is fine if you never water your lawn or garden, and if you don't trust any tenants with any water ever.

Replace external spigots with non-standard fittings. Water heater purge valves have a quarter-turn toggle that shoots a sharp spray of water and prevents all uses except hoses. More creative fittings can be paired with adapters given to only certain individuals. No adapter, no hose.

Place the spigot inside a locked basement area or a lockbox and run a hose through the wall for summer lawn care needs. (This might be called into question depending on municipality. Use Teflon tape to eliminate moisture seepage, which can lead to mold. Take care to perform seasonal maintenance like removing the hose in November.)

Invest in sub-metering. As the landlord you are still on the hook for common water, but if you tell all prospective tenants that water is not included, they won’t think about the common water being separate. You will frighten any would-be abuser onto another landlord without sub-metering.

Q: My insurance premiums are skyrocketing. Is this normal?

There may be a material change to your property that's driving the adjustment. More probably it's a small company's way of telling you they no longer want your business. Older homes especially tend to be targeted for divestment. Ask local companies or find a large national carrier who is willing to take your particular risk. Pay attention to whether you're insuring to replacement cost, and if so, that the amount makes sense. Take care to address insurance risks by upgrading your electrical, installing hardwired smokes, or asking about other things that might reduce your premium.

Shopping for insurance can be daunting because a good quote requires brass tacks details, right down to the molding on the walls. Take the time and don't settle for sharply higher premiums without a good reason.

Q: I need to get into an apartment to show it to prospective renters. The current tenant refuses. The lease says I have the right. I called the police and showed them the lease but they won't help. What am I doing wrong?

The police are not able to litigate your rental agreement. It doesn't matter that there's a clause that says you can get in. You might have faked the whole thing, signatures and all, to get into someone else’s house. Even if they believe you, the police aren’t housing attorneys. They don't know whether you can or can't go in.

Think about it from the point of view of public safety. Would you want your neighbor to be able to get into your home with a document they crafted?

If you need to do something that the tenant refuses to allow, like fixing a leaking pipe, then go to court to get a temporary restraining order.

In the case of showing an apartment occupied by a recalcitrant tenant, we recommend you accept a month's vacancy as the cost of doing business. If the tenant won't let you in, it probably won’t show well. Better to bide your time, clean up once they leave, and only show it after.

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