How To Maintain Your Rental Property
When I purchased my first rental property (which I use for house hacking), all of my Google searches revolved around “how to maintain your rental property” and “how to fix ______”.
There’s always an endless supply of things to fix or improve when buying an older property. Some days you may replace an old corroded water shut-off valve, while other days you might run ductwork to stop the bathroom exhaust fan from dumping warm moist air into the attic like it’s been doing for the past 20 years.
The point I’m trying to make here is that there will probably be plenty of things in your rental property that could use maintenance/improvements to help extended its lifespan. Unless you purchase a great deal or have access to cheap labor, doing as much work as you can as a beginner will net you the best bang for your buck.
So in this post I’m going to list a few tips that will help you maintain your rental property long term.
Note: This post is an ongoing piece of work that I plan to expand on weekly until it reaches a point that it becomes an excellent, but simple “guide” for anyone new to maintaining a rental property.
Maintain your foundation
Inspecting your foundation is an important and hopefully uneventful part of maintaining your rental property. When looking at your foundation, look for any of the following foundation issues:
Inspecting your foundation in an unfinished basement
If you have an unfinished basement, inspecting your foundation becomes easier. Go into your basement and look at the walls. This will give you an idea of the condition of your foundation.
I say “idea” because you should be able to see a majority of the major damage or issues happening. However, it’s possible (and likely) that the outside portion of your foundation has cracks and imperfections that you can’t see on the inside. Signs of exterior foundation cracks and imperfections are leaks and moisture.
Inspecting your foundation in a finished basement
If you have a finished basement, inspecting your foundation will range from troublesome to practically impossible depending on how “finished” your basement is.
What to do if you have foundation issues?
Unless you have construction experience or can do advanced DIY work, you’re going to want to hire out all foundation work. Not because foundation work is too hard to DIY - the concept of a lot of foundation work is actually relatively simple. However, to DIY this work can be time-consuming and the downsides of doing something wrong is high.
Fix plumbing and water leaks ASAP
Water is the biggest enemy of your rental property. Left uncheck, water will damage everything in its path (and more). So periodically check and make sure you don’t have water going places it shouldn’t.
For some items on this list, you may not be able to check the plumbing directly. For example, if you have a second story bathroom, looking at plumbing underneath could mean tearing into the ceiling on your first floor. This makes checking the plumbing less practical.
However, the key places to look for leaks in plumbing overall are:
Check plumbing in bathroom
A bathroom is one of the most likely places in a house to experience water leaks. There are 3 common places for water to leak in the bathroom:
- bathroom sink
Another overlooked cause of water damage in a bathroom is high humidity. Every time you take a warm/hot shower, you’re introducing steam into the bathroom. As soon as that steam cools down, it turns into droplets. Overtime this will cause paint to peel and mold growth unless you exhaust it using an exhaust fan.
Check bathtub/shower for leaks
The first step to checking your bathtub/shower for leaks is to locate the access panel for your bathroom. Once you’ve found your access panel, look at your shut-off valves and make sure they’re not corroded. If you don't see them inside the access panel, they may be in the basement (or you may not have any).
If your shut-off valves are corroded, plan to replace them soon. Because it’s possible (and likely) that when you need to use them, they may not work.
The second place to look for leaks are at the joints and connections in your pipes. To test them, run your bathtub and shower. After a few seconds, rub your hand around the joints and connections and make sure they’re still dry. If not, replace the sections that are leaking ASAP before they become a bigger issue.
The third area to look for leaks are directly below your tub’s drain. Fill up your tub and then check the plumbing drain under it. Check to make sure there are no leaks where the pipe and tub meet. If there is no leak, move on.
Last, start letting the water drain and go back to look at the plumbing under the tub. Verify there are no leaks and then move on.
Check toilet for leaks
Checking the toilet for leaks involves checking 3 different places:
- Shut-off valve
- Connection to toilet
- Drain under toilet
Checking shut-off valve for leaks
First, for the shut-off valve, run your dry fingers around it and me sure it’s still dry. If so, move to the next step.
Checking the hose connection to toilet
Second, check the hose from the shut-off valve that connects to the toilet’s tank for leaks.
Checking the drain under the toilet
Third, flush the toilet and then look at the plumbing under the toilet for leaks.
Check bathroom sink for leaks
The last place to check for leaks in the bathroom is the bathroom sink. Fill the sink up with water and check under the sink for leaks. If there are no leaks, start draining the water and then check again for leaks until a few seconds after the water has drained completely.
Check plumbing in the kitchen for leaks
Similar to a bathroom, the kitchen is a common area for leaks to happen. The most common places to find leaks in a kitchen are:
- kitchen sink
- refrigerator (if there’s a water dispenser or ice maker installed)
Check kitchen sink for leaks
Checking for leaks at the kitchen sink is the same as checking for leaks at the bathroom sink:
- Fill the sink up with water
- Look underneath the sink and see if there are any leaks
- If there are no leaks, start draining the water in the sink
- while the water is draining in the sink, look underneath and check for leaks
Check your refrigerator for leaks
If your fridge has an ice maker or water dispenser installed and working, there’s a chance the water line connected to your fridge will leak. The water line and shut-off valve should be behind the fridge in the wall or coming out of the floor.
Pull the fridge out away from the wall and check the water connection and shut-off valve for leaks. If there aren’t any leaks, you’re good to go.
Check your dishwasher for leaks
When checking your dishwasher for leaks, the first and easiest place to check for leaks would be the dishwasher’s drain hose. This drain hose normally connects to the plumbing under your kitchen sink. To check for leaks, run your dishwasher and check the hose when your dishwasher is draining.
The next place to check for leaks is more work than just checking under the sink. You’re going to have to pull out the dishwasher and check the shut-off valve / water inlet hose for leaks.
Prevent water from pooling up against your foundation
Like I said in the beginning of this post, water is the biggest enemy of your rental property, both indoors and outdoors. If you don’t have high-quality waterproofing on your foundation and allow water to pool up against it - the water will slowly damage your foundation and seep into your home.
Here are a couple tips for keeping water away from your foundation:
- Grade the area around your foundation to keep water from pooling up.
- If grading isn’t an option, add swales or French drains to direct the water away from the property as far as possible.
Verify your exhaust fans work
If you’re fortunate to own a “newer” home or one that has been remodeled with longevity in mind, you should have at least two exhaust fans in your home:
- Exhaust fan for removing humidity from the bathroom
- Range hood for removing humidity, grease, and cooking pollution from the kitchen
Having both fans vent outdoors in your home will extend the longevity of your bathroom and kitchen. However, you need to verify that both fans have ductwork that vents outdoors. It’s not uncommon to see a bathroom fan or range hood installed that’s currently venting into a wall cavity or attic.
If your exhaust fans are venting into the attic or wall cavity, it’s going to cause you problems in the long run, such as
Test your smoke & carbon monoxide detectors
This section should be self-explanatory. Make sure they’re working and haven’t expired (yes, they can expire).
Keep your gutters clean
Gutters are a very important part of preventing roof water from pooling up against your foundation. I recommend cleaning your gutters twice a year; once in late fall and again in late spring/early summer.
Monitor your roof
There’s no straightforward way to accurately monitor your roof unless you’re on the roof. The next best alternatives include:
- Looking at your roof from the street to see if there’s any damage or missing shingles
- Looking underneath your roof from the attic to make sure there’s no damage or leaks.
- Looking at your ceiling and making sure there aren’t any water stains
As long as you don’t see any damage and there aren’t any water leaks, you’re good to go until your next check.
Keep branches away from your roof
In an ideal world, you would trim all the trees on your rental property. If that’s not possible, the next best thing is to keep trees near your property trimmed.
You want to avoid having branches on (or close to) your roof. Having branches close to your roof is not only a hassle for cleaning your gutters, but it can act as a “highway” for animals and insects to access your roof.
Change your furnace filter
As a landlord, it’s a smart idea to walk your tenant through changing the furnace filter. However, just because you show your tenant how to change the furnace filter doesn’t mean they’re going to do it.
So, besides only showing your tenant the process, it’s a good idea to inspect and change the furnace filter during your inspections if it looks like it needs it.
Drain your water heater every 6-12 months
Draining your water heater every 6 to 12 months is a good way to prolong its lifespan. When you drain your water heater, you flush out rust and minerals that become a problem once they’ve built up inside.
Thankfully, flushing your water heater is simple and quick. All you have to do is turn the water off that goes to the water heater, hook up a hose to the drain spigot on the bottom of the water heater, turn the knob (or wheel), and water should start draining.
It’s best to run your hose to a nearby drain. But, if you don’t have a nearby drain, you can use a condensate water pump to pump the water somewhere it can drain.
Now, if your water heater is old and you don’t know how it was maintained, you might not want to drain your water heater. Why? Well, if the water heater is old and hasn’t been maintained, it’s possible that the tank has rusted and has a buildup of rust and minerals helping that keep it from leaking. If you disturb that layer too much, it can cause the water heater to leak.
Another reason not to drain an old water heater that wasn’t maintained is to avoid breaking the drain spigot on your water heater. If the drain spigot hasn’t been used in a long time and is old, it’s possible for you to break it and cause it to continuously leak.
And if your water heater leaks, it’s time to replace it.