As a landlord, a vacant rental unit is a bittersweet prospect: The unit will no longer bring in an income until it’s occupied again, but you have an opening to get going on needed updates, improvements, and repairs so you can get it back on the market in a better condition—and charge more rent.
What items should a landlord have on a vacant rental unit repair form or list?
A vacant rental unit provides an opportunity to complete any major renovations or updates that you couldn’t work on while the tenant was on the property. As you develop your list, consider the following categories of the repairs that keep the property in good working order, such as heating and cooling, plumbing, and electricity. Stay on top of safety checks for fire and carbon monoxide detectors before a new tenant moves into the property.
Here’s what you should include on your vacant rental unit repair list.
Check systems and structures to ensure they are in good working order:
It’s your responsibility as a landlord to keep your rentals safe and functional to ensure each property meets all applicable building codes and local housing standards. When the unit is vacant, you have an ideal opportunity to inspect the property's major systems. For example, check on the condition of the roof, windows, doors, deck, etc., and either make repairs proactively or note them for work likely needed in the future.
Inspect the roof - “Good working order” for the roof means the shingles are in good shape, and there is no water damage on the ceilings inside the rental unit. If there is water damage (flaking paint, discoloration, or a dried water ring) on the inside, the roof should be repaired. If asphalt shingles are missing or have missing coating, the asphalt shingles should be replaced. If the property has cedar shingles that are missing, cracked, or worn, the cedar shingles should also be replaced.
Check the furnace - As long as the furnace can maintain 68ºF, it is considered a habitable unit for tenants. According to most furnace manufacturers, the heating and cooling unit should have a clean filter installed each month. Tenants may have neglected this task, and you may also need to clean out any ducting to prevent a fire. There is no upper limit to how hot a rental unit can get, but if there is an air conditioner, the landlord must keep it in working order.
Test the plumbing - Plumbing leaks can cause a lot of damage. When the property is vacant, it’s an excellent time to check all visible pipes and fixtures for leaks. You can complete plumbing repairs and replacements more easily when you can turn off the water for the time needed to fix the damage. Check all plumbing fixtures for leaks and drips, also check toilets for continued cycling. You can then replace valves, rings, or floats and ensure the fixtures are quiet and dry for the next tenant.
Turn all the electrical fixtures on and off, and test outlets - All outlets, light switches, light fixtures, and breakers in the electrical panel must be in good working condition. Check outlets by plugging in a small alarm clock, night light, or cell phone charger to see if the outlet is working—if not, it should be repaired. If the unit has an older electrical system or the tenants had complained about any light switches hissing or sparking, this is a great time to hire an electrician to swap them out.
Ensure the safety of the property
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors - Your priority is to ensure the fire and carbon monoxide detectors work and have new batteries.
Locks and keys - Windows and doors must close securely and have functioning locks. Rekey locks to prevent access by previous tenants.
Structural soundness - Ensure no holes in the walls, flooring, or ceiling. If you find any holes, investigate further to determine the cause of the problem and make any necessary repairs or replacements to comply with building codes.
Clean and sanitary - Complete a thorough cleaning of the unit and all appliances.Deep-clean the inside of the refrigerator, stove, tub, and toilet. Scrub down walls and floors if you don’t plan to paint or replace them. Have an exterminator spray the interior and exterior of the property to prevent any issues during the tenancy. To ensure tenants can get rid of their trash, it’s your responsibility to provide outside trash receptacles.
Clean, intact caulking - Refresh or replace caulking in the bathroom and kitchen. After these areas have been thoroughly cleaned, check the caulking for the tub surround, shower, and kitchen backsplash for signs of deterioration and replace it if necessary. This will help keep the bathroom looking clean and prevent water damage.
Free of debris - Clean the gutters and tidy up the yard. Rain gutters fill up with leaves, sticks, and seeds over time, so keeping them clean can prevent flooding. By cleaning the gutters when the unit is vacant, you can ensure that when it rains, the water follows the gutter system and out to the designated drainage spot instead of flowing down your walls and seeping through the foundation.
Trim trees and bushes in the yard, especially any area close to the house walls, roof, or foundation. Falling branches can cause significant property damage. You’ll probably have to mow once or twice while the property is vacant. Once a tenant moves in, your lease will specify whether mowing is their responsibility or yours.
No sediment build-up - Flush sediment build-up out of the water heater. Water heaters build up limescale and sediment from holding water over long periods, which can eventually cause rust damage and eventually burn the unit out. Flushing the sediment will extend the water heater's lifespan and prevent an emergency call from your tenant if the hot water heater fails.
What is the return on investment (ROI) on upgrades and renovations?
Improvements and renovations will update your property and position you to charge higher rent. Before you tackle any updates or renovations, run a rent estimate report to see how your property compares with others in the area. If similar properties have new cabinets, flooring, freshly painted interiors, and new lighting and plumbing fixtures, you'll have to determine if those projects will give a similar return in rent.
If investing in improvements and renovations makes sense for the property, you can tackle regular cleaning and maintenance and capital improvement projects while the unit is vacant. If you take the time to make minor improvements that will benefit them, you can charge a little more in rent. If the market rents are more than what you've been charging, when you complete the items on your vacant rental unit repair list, you may still be able to boost rent by as much as 10-20%. Tenants are always looking for the best property within their price range.