A Little Glimpse Into Why We’re Doing This…

Two years ago, we all teamed up in Vancouver with two things. A revelation and an idea.

The revelation was that we knew that the web could make what we considered to be the thankless job of being a small landlord easier. We also knew that easier and simpler didn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The idea was to make a nifty web based software that actually achieved this fine balance. We were on our second tour of duty after having sold our first web based app- a little referral marketing product called Hello Referrals. We decided to use the proceeds from the acquisition of that product to develop what would eventually become Renting Well. There was a couple of months of us deciding over names. Rent Well. Rent Cloud. Renting Simple. Renting Easy….the list went on. Besides the fact that we couldn’t secure domain names for any of these, we felt the name Renting Well better suited the vibe of something active and didn’t fall into the dearth of other products that claimed to take years off of your life and seemed to also dwell with Lando Calrisian in cloud city.

One of the first considerations we had when building the app was how we could include less of everything. Less questions and set up. Less complication. Less of a wait to see important metrics. We felt the best course of action was something that you logged into, and essentially “got” within the first 2 minutes. We also knew that there was a necessity for the user to perform data entry in order to get those very things that we wanted quickly visible. Developing a flow to Renting Well that took this into consideration was also high on our list of priorities. Not an easy task. Some people prefer more complex analysis of what’s going on. Some people also aren’t jazzed about back data entry. As the old adage goes, you can’t please everyone – but we were still determined to get this off the ground in a broadly effective way.

We decided to focus on 3 core initial features.

  1. An easy to reference chronological logbook to track events, incidents, problems, and resolutions. 
  2. A bank statement accurate month to month, quarter to quarter, or year to year financial snapshot based on cash flow and profit and loss.
  3. Sexy listings to reduce to vacancies and get prospective tenants amped about renting a unit.

These core features are of course supported by other useful tools, but this made up the essence at the beginning. The reason we chose these cornerstones was because collectively, we knew what going to a board hearing was like without a detailed account of events. We knew how much of a pain in the ass it was to to do a year end with a shoebox full of receipts. We also just knew that landlords needed something to make available units for rent more attractive. We felt these were the most sore pain points.

So here it is – two year old hand drawn wire frames that sketched out what we saw as a simple solution for landlords and property managers – conceived on the table of a Kitsilano coffee bar, between 3 guys who couldn’t stand the variety of perplexing property management softwares that required you to have a masters degree in computer science. Managing income property is already complicated. In our minds, if you’re going to use something, you should want to use it and recognize it’s value.

The software is now actively tracking more than $85 million dollars worth of real estate and almost 2 million bucks worth of monthly expenses and monthly rental revenue. We’ve earned a healthy clip of paying customers so far and we’re getting ready to push out an updated version of the software in the next month.

Are we the biggest or the best property management solution for everyone? No. We’re a flavour in a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop full of other alternatives. We just happen to be simpler and less expensive than most of them. There’s nothing wrong with being the chocolate against the strawberry cheesecakes and caramel tiger tail swirls of the world. We’re landlords. We’ll take a scoop of simplicity.

Absolutely Insane Landlords from California Get Jail Time

Came across this compelling story from the ole’ Sunshine state of California.

Kip Macy and his wife, Nicole Macy, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of residential burglary, one felony count of stalking and one felony count of attempted grand theft. These two geniuses owned an apartment building in the gentrifying South of Market area of San Francisco. Their plan was to evict the tenants they had to renovate the apartments and then to sell them as individual units.

Nicole Macy sent fraudulent emails to the attorney of one of their tenants with whom they were involved in a civil case. In the emails, she pretended to be the victim and fired the victim’s lawyer. In another incident, she sent fraudulent emails to her own civil attorney in which she pretended to be the same victim. Then…wait for it…she threatened to “kidnap and dismember” the attorney’s children.

Together – Kip and Macy also cut the floor joists of an existing tenant’s unit in an attempt to make the floor cave in. Guess they really wanted to get rid of him or her.

Other crimes included purchasing a semi-automatic handgun and threatening to shoot the building manager, changing locks, cutting phone lines, shutting off utilities, removing a victims’ belongings from their apartment and destroying them, multiple burglaries and threatening letters to victims. All of these events took place between September 2005 to December 2007.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The couple were charged with felonies in 2008, but posted bail and escaped to Italy. They were taken into custody in Italy in May of 2012 and extradited back to the U.S. on May 17, 2013. Bail was set at $2 million for each of them. After pleading guilty to four felony counts on Tuesday, the couple are scheduled to be sentenced to four years and four months in state prison on Aug. 22.

Nuts. They need to be in jail.

 

Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Landlord?

The Globe and Mail published this great piece a few days ago entitled, “Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Landlord?”. It offers a sober look at the pros of being a landlord and the benefits of income property ownership. It’s a great counter piece to all of the discouraging things you might hear from people who’ve tried it and had it not work out. If you’re reading this, you know property ownership and property management are hard. This piece is refreshing because it paints an accurate picture of the situation with rental property ownership. In short – it’s a marathon, not a race.

Read the piece here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/mortgages/home-buying/do-you-have-what-it-takes-to-be-a-landlord/article11636234/

Why Tenant Screening Is Wickedly Important

Mistake #1 for landlords: renting on a hunch. It’s insane.

When we built Renting Well, we made it a quick priority to include access to background checking within the app. To make this happen we were fortunate to partner with BackCheck, Canada’s leading background checking service. One of the reasons we did this was because basic credit checks are just one piece of the pie. It’s good to have access to other background checking elements like employment verifications and a criminal background check. I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Iain Murray at BackCheck to discuss some interesting stats when it comes to landlords “checking” who they’re renting to:

  • 10% of Canadians have a criminal record. That’s over 3 million people. 
  • 28.5% of tenant applicants will have poor credit.
  • 12.1% of tenant applicants will lie about their employment.
  • Almost 25% of landlords would not recommend a former tenant to another landlord.
  • About 45% of BackCheck’s small landlord customers will request a criminal background check.

Conducting criminal background checks is more important than landlords might realize — an individual with a criminal history, who continues living a life of lawful offense, can have a great impact on a building and even an entire community. While a check is not exclusionary, it has the potential of reducing the number of thieves and violent ex-criminals who wish to neighbour among other tenants.

With that said, a criminal check can uncover any one of a number of offenses — not just violent crimes. People get charged with minor offenses like fraud and theft — things which most landlords would want to know before making a decision to rent to a tenant or not. There is no such thing as too much information for a landlord. Any kind of criminal background is something you should be aware of. Landlords have the right to refuse to a tenant because of their criminal history and ultimately the responsibility lies with you when it comes to introducing new tenants into your property. Check out this great info sheet published by Crime Prevention Ottawa in September 2009 that discusses how landlords can avoid and overcome the challenges of crime and disorder (such as drug dealing) on their property.

How Landlords Can Prevent Bursting Water Pipes in Cold Weather

Today in Ottawa it’s -38°C. It’s ridiculous. As a matter of fact, large portions of the United States and Canada are getting reamed with a cold weather snap. -20 celsius weather is being reported in places like Minnesota, Illinois, New York City, Toronto, and Montreal. It’s prime weather for water pipes to freeze and burst which can create a damage nightmare for small landlords and a more-than-minor inconvenience for tenants. This generally sucks. It’s a sneaking problem for many of us to deal with (especially those of us who aren’t renting all inclusive units and whose tenants are covering their own utilities) and it’s made even more painful when self-managing landlords have to deal with it during weather that makes Antarctica look like a beach vacation.

First… why do pipes freeze?

  • Poorly protected pipes which haven’t been sufficiently insulated
  • Exposure to icy draughts, usually as a result of cracks or gaps at the point where the pipe enters your home
  • Pipes located inside cupboards — warm air from inside your home may not reach these pipes if your cupboard doors are closed most of the time
  • Generally insufficient heat in units.

Secondly, what makes pipes burst?

  • Water freezes and expands inside household pipes
  • Continual freezing and expansion of water inside the pipe causes pressure to build up between the ice blockage and the closed faucet
  • As a result of repeated pressure on this section of pipe, the pipe eventually bursts

How can I prevent frozen and bursting water pipes?

  1. Let a thin stream of cold water run from a faucet. The stream should be a continuous flow, about the thickness of a pencil. This water can be caught in a bucket or pail to be recycled for another purpose later, if desired.
  2. Be sure pipes in unheated areas of a unit or crawlspace are insulated. Many hardware and home improvement stores carry foam insulation for this purpose.
  3. Leave interior cupboard doors under sinks open, especially if the water pipes are adjacent to an exterior wall. This will allow heat from the room access to the pipes.
  4. Plug drafty cracks and repair broken windows that could allow cold air to get inside where pipes are located.
  5. Shut off and drain pipes leading to outside faucets.
  6. Educate your tenants on the necessity to be mindful of cold weather snaps.

Have you ever dealt with freezing or bursting pipes? Share your stories with us.

 

Professional Tenants Create Pain For Landlords

Professional tenants aren’t a myth. The exist for real, and they’re creating major pains for small landlords all over Canada. Came across this interesting piece at CBC news today concerning small landlords getting burned in British Columbia. A few first time landlord missteps being counted on, and an intimate knowledge of the loopholes with the B.C. LTB’s process allows for free living arrangements for a long stretch on end for pros who know how to work the system.

The Federation of Rental Housing Owners of Ontario went on record stating that professional tenants can work up to 6 months of living for free on a landlord’s dime by simply exercising their right to appeals. “We’re probably dealing with anywhere between one and two per cent of the tenant population that is doing this [scam],” said the federation’s Vince Brescia. “The activity of the ‘pros’ is creeping up … it’s a growing phenomenon.”

Property management is about due diligence. Landlords should always ask for a certified check for first and last month’s rent – something clearable prior to the tenant moving in or handing over the keys. They should also be diligent about not only credit checks and other tenant screening, but with references from previous landlords. What do you think? Do you think provincial legislations in Canada are in need of tweaking?

Oh No! I Have A Marijuana Grow-Op In My Rental Property!

I don’t really, but what better way to get your attention?

As landlords, most of us have heard of that old urban myth. You know the one… a guy who knows a guy, who’s a landlord, who suddenly finds out that the perfectly nice couple who had been renting out the house were in fact running a marijuana grow-op. There are variations on the story as well, sometimes it’s a crack house, sometimes it’s a meth lab. This story — in all it’s incantations — has popped into our brains in some way, shape, or form at some point in time.

This is the reality…

The RCMP estimate that there are about 50,000 grow-ops in Canada. They’re in single family homes, basement apartments, and even in Toronto high rise condos. Most landlords are probably oblivious to this fact — and even more alarmingly — they’re often oblivious to the massive insurance pickle they’ll find themselves in if they end up renting to someone who decides to make their unit a reefer lab.

Read this great article by Ottawa lawyer Howard Yegendorf. Landlords need to be aware that the majority of liability insurance policies have a specific exclusion for damage caused by your tenant’s marijuana grow-op. That’s just the insurance problem. There’s also the criminal enterprise element. Seriously. Have you seen Oliver Stone’s Savages? Property management is hard enough. Having something comparable to a Breaking Bad season in real life is the absolute last thing you or any other tenants in the property need.

So what do you do? Well, here are some tips:

  • Perform tenant screenings. There’s a variety of other background checks your can perform as well, such as a criminal record check and an employment verification.
  • Have an airtight lease that clearly articulates the expectation of no criminal activity on the premises and that the tenant will provide reasonable access to the landlord.
  • Visit and inspect your property regularly. Remember – landlords are allowed to visit their units for routine inspections with proper notice given. You’d be surprised how many don’t do this. Get into this habit.
  • Talk to your tenants. Communicate with them. That’s always a good way to get a sense of what’s going on at the property. If you’re hearing about a lot of suspicious people coming and going constantly that could be a tip worth keeping in the front of your mind. Grow-ops have a tendency to have a lot of runners coming in and out of the place.

Here’s some tips on what to look out for:

  • Look out for any hydro alteration or electrical bypass. Things like holes in the foundation that weren’t there before should be treated as suspicious.
  • Did the renter spend a lot of time viewing the breaker-boxes, wiring and plumbing fixtures? Were they asking a lot of questions about power distribution in the property? Believe it or not, this happens. More often than not, illegal growers attempt to steal hydro by altering how it comes into the unit.
  • Be weary if tenants want to pay their rent in cash. Seriously. Who pays in cash? People who deal with a lot of cash, like servers, even have bank accounts.
  • If a tenant discloses that they plan to have the utilities registered under a different name, that’s weird.
  • Evasive answers and vague information on a rental application. This should set off a flag anyways.
  • Condensation or darkened windows in the unit. Cardboard and blacked out windows foster an effective grow environment. That’s not normal.
  • Tenant unloads copper and/or PVC pipe, soil, halogen lamps, large amounts of black plastic aluminum ducting, and fans.

Have you ever had a marijuana grow-op in one of your rental properties? Know anyone who has? Share your thoughts with us.

When To Consider Selling Your Rental Property

Came across this great piece in the Globe and Mail that talks about a couple who became landlords after keeping the previous residences they had prior to moving in with one another. Robert and Tara are an older couple, and had a financial advisor from RBC assess their goals and how their existing assets – namely two rental properties – fit into the equation taking into consideration a chronic illness that Robert has, a recent job change for Tara, as well as a lifestyle that the two enjoy and want to maintain as much as possible while they to retirement.  Besides the challenges associated with property management, the piece explains that the properties are barely breaking even, and that the eventual rise in interest rates leave the couple exposed to having their retirement plans altered.

Check out the piece in it’s entirety here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/retirement-rrsps/as-income-falls-landlords-rethink-retirement-strategy/article6968522/

 

Why You Should Be Insuring The Hell Out Of Your Rental Property

I came across this wicked article in the Globe and Mail courtesy of one of our founders, Steve Palmer, who recently purchased a new house in Vancouver. A house that has a basement suite. A lot of people in Vancouver have basement units that they rent out. Know why? Because living in Vancouver is friggin’ expensive. Like an arm and a leg expensive. Supplemental rental income is kind of a way of life out west.

Don Campbell, president of the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN) makes probably what is one of the best points when it comes to real estate investment. Get the appropriate insurance.

The article mentions a bit of an epidemic in Canada. A lot of untrained landlords are under-insuring their rental properties or in some cases, conveniently forgetting to disclose to their insurance companies that they have a tenant. In certain places, like Vancouver, where a large majority of homeowners rent out basement suites, this can spell disaster if the appropriate insurance isn’t in place. Check out this gem:

Last year Aviva Canada insurance company released statistics that show water damage is the leading home insurance claim, partly due to the high number of basements that are being finished to make livable. Nationwide, B.C. had the highest increase in average claim cost due to water damage, at 205 per cent. I’m guessing that increase reflects the fact that almost every homeowner in Vancouver depends on the income from a basement suite to get by. For Vancouverites, basement dwelling is a fact of life. We even forget that’s not the case for every city.

Imagine: The couple renting your basement suite gets hit with some water damage. Loses a bunch of stuff. If you haven’t disclosed to your insurance carrier that someone was “living” down there, you could have a serious problem. Even more, if your tenants didn’t have renter’s insurance, you could really be in a pickle.  There’s more than an awkward situation to be had here. Renting a secondary suite is considered a material change in risk, and it does have the potential to void your insurance policy without the acknowledgment of your insurance carrier. As a matter of fact, Campbell goes so far as to say that you should not only disclose that you have a rental unit and that your insurance company knows what time it is on your place, but that you should get it in writing like the 10 commandments on stone tablets (from your insurance company). In the event of an issue — and a refusal of claim — you can meet your broker for lunch and shove an email in his face.

I’m really summarizing the article here, but landlords need to get intimately acquainted with a few terms:

  • Guaranteed replacement cost
  • Tenants or renters insurance (something Campbell insists he wants to see before he hands the keys over to tenants), and
  • Rental revenue loss or rent loss insurance

In short — cheaping out to save a few bucks on your premium is one of the single worst ideas anyone who rents out a unit can have. Here’s a free tip from me as this is something I like to do once a year: have a meeting with your insurance broker or carrier, and make sure everything is on the up and up. Make sure they know everything, and ask them questions about worst case scenarios, like if there was a total loss on your property. Seriously. It doesn’t hurt.

You can read the full article on the Globe and Mail site.

What do you think? Do you insist on tenant’s insurance before handing over the keys? Do you review your insurance coverage on your property or properties every year? Share your comments and stories!

What To Do When You’re Not Getting Paid in Ontario: Serving an N4 and Submitting an L1

The business of owning rental property includes a very important element in the relationship between a landlord and their tenants. Getting paid the rent. 

You’re a landlord and your tenant’s check just bounced. This is the beginning of what could be a real pain. Believe it or not, many private residential landlords in Ontario aren’t that well equipped to handle the situation and don’t know the legal route to go about addressing it. Part of this is because the process is ridiculously complicated if you’re going the board route. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with this, but if you do, feel free to comment here. I’ve personally done this 3 times since becoming a landlord and came away from the first time feeling like learning how to fly a commercial airliner would be simpler. I wanted to put this together to simplify this process with the Ontario LTB for readers and users alike, because it doesn’t have to be this hard. I just think someone needs to boil it down. That’s why I had a great conversation today with The Terminator. No, not Arnold. I’m talking about April Stewart over at Landlord Legal.

http://landlordlegal.ca/terminator.html

April’s an expert when it comes to this kind of thing, and she’s seen a lot of small landlords in Ontario make a big mistake with the basics when you don’t get paid. Serving an N4 to a tenant in arrears and submitting an L1 to the Ontario LTB is not easy. If it were, she wouldn’t be in business. If you’re not familiar with April – you should be. She dropped some valuable tips through the course of writing this post and she’s a passionate advocate for landlord’s rights.

Ok – first things first. Bookmark this link. This is the page at the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board for termination notices. This is where you’re going to print and use the forms required to address an issue of non payment – not to mention a whole bunch of other stuff. We’re just focusing on what to do when you don’t get paid here though, for now.

1: Reaction and Preparedness with an N4

Whether you’ve received a post dated bum check (which can take up to a few days for you to realize with a bank) or whether the tenant pays you by an agreed date and simply has not given you the rent, it’s important that you’re always prepared. If a check bounces, you need to hop on this right away. If it’s 12:01 a.m. on the second day of the month, and you still don’t have money – you need to react. This is the single biggest mistake landlords will make. Not reacting quickly enough.  I’ll get into this in a little more detail further into this post. You need to fill out two of the N4 forms. One for the tenant, and one for you (for your records). Always fill out two. Here are the other important things you need to do.

  • Know the “termination date“. That’s the date you’ve indicated, according to the law, that acts as kind of a line in the sand. The termination date is: 14 days after the landlord gives you the notice, if you rent by the month or year, or days after the landlord gives you the notice, if you rent by the day or week. As an example. If they pay you on the first of the month, and at 12:01 a.m. on the 2nd of the month you still don’t have your rent, you would list the termination date as the 16th if they rent by the month or year, and the 9th if they rent by the day or the week. Ensuring that the termination date is correctly indicated is hugely important when filling out an N4. Make sure they’re correct.  If you get paid by post dated check, and the bank takes 3-5 days to show the check as NSF – your dates would need to fall in line with this. It’s not retroactive to the first of the month – it’s 14 or 7 days from the service of the notice. If you make an error with dates, the board reserves the right to consider the notice improperly served and you’re back at square one if that happens.
  • Don’t make a mistake with serving the notice. Taping a notice to the door of a unit will get you in trouble and can lead to a dismissal of your application. The best route with this, is to personally drop it off in a mailbox, and record the date of the service of the notice. One of the ways you can do this, is by using the Renting Well logbook (shameless plug) and plugging a scan of your copy into the logbook entry. Keep your copy of the notice as a duplicate. Have a timeline of events. Here’s another few tips courtesy of April Stewart. If the mailbox is shared by other tenants, don’t serve it that way. If the mailbox is only for newspapers and flyers and not Canada Post mail, don’t serve it that way either. You can serve under the door of a unit, as long as the envelope goes all the way into the unit – but whatever you do, don’t open the door and toss it in, as that’s illegal entry! For out of town landlords who can’t serve personally, hire a reputable process serving company, not a fly-by-nighter. If you must serve by regular mail or Express Post, add 5 days to the termination date – another common mistake that will deem your N4 defective if not done right! April recommends NEVER serving via Registered Mail – it’s outdated and tenants tend to refuse the delivery in any event.

At this point, the tenant has either 14 or 7 days to pay you. Let’s just assume they don’t pay you though. Booya. You need an L1.

2. The L1 form – Application to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent and to collect rent the tenant owes

This part kind of sucks, mainly because you need to file with the board and dish out $170 filing fee. The good news is that if you win, the tenant will have to pay that all back to you. Keep in mind, this is if you win a judgement.

The form is relatively straightforward, however, a couple of things to note:

  • You need to submit this application at the least the DAY AFTER the termination date as indicate in your N4. This is super important. If you do it before, you’re back to square one.
  • You need to include your copy of the N4 your served the tenant, as well as your certificate of service for the N4.
  • Make sure your dates are correct, your math is right, and that you’ve signed the form.

I always recommend visiting the LTB office in your city and filing the application personally. Do it in person. Know why? They’ll issue a hearing date and give you the essentials you’ll require to serve your tenant the same day. Otherwise, you’re waiting for it to be processed and then sent to you via the mail – and that’s just a whole bunch of extra days you don’t need tacked onto the whole thing. Here’s a list of the offices in all of Ontario. I’ve experienced the first hand pain in the butt of faxing it in, and then it not being received by the office for whatever reason. Do it in person if you can. If you fax it in, it could take a few days if not longer.

You’ll receive a hearing notice (for both you and the tenant), a receipt of your payment of the filing fee ($170), and a certificate of service – what you’ll need to provide the tenant at least 10 days before the hearing. This is another one of those things where I suggest ensuring the service has been done personally. If you can “give” it to the tenant in person – great. Don’t make a mistake with serving the notice of hearing. Taping a notice to the door of a unit will get you in trouble and can lead to a potential dismissal of your claim. Drop it in the mailbox if you can’t get them in person. Again, If the mailbox is only for newspapers and flyers and not Canada Post mail, don’t serve it that way either. You can serve under the door of a unit, as long as the envelope goes all the way into the unit – but whatever you do, don’t open the door and toss it in, as that’s illegal entry!

Again, the logbook in Renting Well is handy for things like this. Having a timeline of when the payment was late, the serving of the N4, the application of the L1, and ultimately the notice of hearing and the certificate of service in a nice little packet of chronological info with notes is helpful in organization when you do visit the board. Even saving scans of the documents ensures you’re all up to speed in one spot. You don’t have to go by memory, you don’t have to juggle paperwork, and it’s useful when referencing dates.

When the hearing date comes – and assuming your tenant shows up – one of two things is going to happen. You’re going to be offered mediation or you’re going to go into your hearing and sit in front of an adjudicator. If you’re at this point, you’ve followed the steps correctly.

Do you have any stories about an N4 and an L1 in Ontario? Share them!