LAYING DOWN THE LAW – BEST PRACTICES FOR PROPERTY MANAGERS AND LANDLORDS
February 27, 2018
Christopher J. Charles, Esq.
Bryan L. Eastin, Esq.
PROVIDENT LAW® recently won a difficult landlord-tenant dispute following a two-day trial. Following are a few tips that will help owners and property managers minimize or eliminate some common problems that our clients have recently encountered.
First, owners should have a solid lease agreement. The goal of well-drafted agreements is not to win disputes – instead, the goal is to avoid misunderstandings and disputes in the first place. The written lease should clearly identify all relevant terms and conditions. Don’t be cheap. Get this done right. A thoughtful and thorough lease will protect the landlord (and property manager) and inform the tenant about their obligations. A well-drafted lease establishes clear boundaries. It is an old axiom that makes sense here as well – “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Always do a walk through of the rental property with the tenant at the beginning of the tenancy and at the conclusion. Be diligent about documenting this and obtaining acknowledgments from the tenant in writing of any pre-existing conditions and any conditions existing at the conclusion of the tenancy. Photograph and/or video the entire property before the tenant moves in. This even includes the landscaping. Make sure the photographs or video contain a date and time stamp. Do the same thing when the tenant moves out.
Make periodic viewings of the property after the tenant moves in. A.R.S. § 33-1343 permits the landlord to do this after appropriate written notice. This permits the landlord to confirm the general condition of the property, spot potential safety issues, and informs the tenant that the landlord is diligent in managing the property. In one recent case, the landlord discovered too late that the tenant was living in hoarder-type conditions. This is a huge safety and health concern and may even cause problems with insurance.
Be quick about making repairs and have qualified people do the work. Yes, the landlord is running on tight margins but the landlord is required under A.R.S. § 33-1324 to maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, etc. and to keep the premises in fit and habitable condition. For non-essential repairs, making the repairs in a timely manner will make for better landlord/tenant relationships, will help maintain the value of your property, and will avoid poor reviews.
Be mindful of the security deposit and the statutory rules regarding same. Any portion of the deposit that is refundable at the termination of the tenancy must be returned to the tenant within fourteen days. A.R.S. § 33-1321. If the owners fails to do this in time, the owner may be liable for double damages. If the owner retains a portion of the security deposit because of damages, be sure to clearly and expeditiously document the damages and send an itemization to the tenant within fourteen days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) after termination of the tenancy and demand by the tenant. A.R.S. § 33-1321. When the tenant terminates the lease and/or during the final walk through, be sure to obtain tenant’s new mailing address. The landlord needs this in order to return the security deposit or to provide any itemization for damages.
Keep good records. This includes rent payments (amount received, when received, how paid, etc), receipts, repairs and other related expenses, homeowner’s association payments, property taxes, insurance, and communications with the renter (i.e. correspondence, email, text messages, etc). When communicating with your tenants, be professional and courteous. Email makes for better records than text messages. Avoid responding emotionally and do not engage in any communication that could be deemed harassing. If repairs are required after the tenant moves out, keep clear records on which damages were caused by the tenant and the specific costs incurred for doing so.
Be fair with your tenants. They are often savvy about their rights and they can easily do searches on the internet to locate applicable statutes or any number of articles or posts explaining to them their rights. Moreover, with the advent of social media and various websites that track consumer complaints, one or more bad reviews can make it that much harder for you to find your next good tenant.
The Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (“Act”) has numerous other requirements not addressed here, and there are many other practical topics that landlords face. The limited comments here address only select topics and should not be considered legal advice for your particular situation. You should seek competent legal advice if you need assistance understanding your rights and remedies as a landlord.
If you or someone you know has questions regarding property management or any other real estate matter, please call our office today to schedule a consultation. For additional information, please visit Provident Law’s website at www.ProvidentLawyers.com.
Bryan L. Eastin is an Attorney with Provident Law® practicing in the areas of trust and estate administration and litigation, guardianships and conservatorships, and real estate. Bryan’s practice includes representation of private fiduciaries appointed by the court to serve as guardians, conservators, personal representatives and/or as trustees. Bryan is admitted to practice in Arizona’s state and federal courts, and he is currently a member of the Arizona State Bar Association and Maricopa County Bar Association. He can be reached via email at Bryan@ProvidentLawyers.com
Christopher J. Charles is the founder and Managing Partner of Provident Law®. He is a State Bar Certified Real Estate Specialist and a former “Broker Hotline Attorney” for the Arizona Association of REALTORS® (the “AAR”). Mr. Charles holds the AV® Preeminent Rating by the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings system which connotes the highest possible rating in both legal ability and ethical standards. He serves as an Arbitrator and Mediator for the AAR regarding real estate disputes; and he served on the State Bar of Arizona’s Civil Jury Instructions Committee where he helped draft the Agency Instructions and the Residential Landlord/Tenant Eviction Jury Instructions.
Christopher is a licensed real estate instructor and he teaches continuing education classes at the Arizona School of Real Estate and Business. He can be reached at Chris@ProvidentLawyers.com or at 480-388-3343.