Tag Archives: DIY landlording

Quality Control Week #1: What Affects Building Quality?

You probably know that there are different grades of quality when it comes to food. The USDA has three different grades for poultry, eight for red meat, and hundreds for fruits and vegetables. Similarly, building materials come in four different official grades: building, quality, custom and ultra custom. I would add “commercial grade” to those standard four. As the quality goes up, so does the cost; in some cases it increases exponentially. Homeowners must always walk a fine line between material quality and cost, but many are unaware of the differences and how they affect the bottom line.

Condo boards also face tough decisions when it comes to major capital improvement projects. Expensive materials will last longer – in fact, they may well outlast the current residents’ tenure in the community. Convincing condo residents to take on large special assessments for maintenance that they won’t be around to use is a difficult task. (more…)

10 Mistakes Made by First Time Landlords

Last year I did two articles about mistakes made by first time renters and first time buyers. Today we’re going to look at errors made by first time landlords.

1. Setting Arbitrary Rent Rates

The price a tenant will pay has little or no bearing on your monthly costs. They will compare what’s available and, if your price is reasonable, they will rent your unit. If your price is too high, they won’t even look at it. If it’s too low, they will wonder what’s wrong with it or take you to be a sucker.

Apple can get away with pricing higher than anything else. You cannot.

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Celebrity Tenants

Between my current career as a Realtor and my prior career as a stage manager, I’ve been lucky enough to deal with several celebrities during my time in Chicago. Like anyone else, they have to live somewhere too. As a landlord, it’s very possible in Chicago that you’ll be contacted by a celebrity (or a member of their entourage) who is interested in renting your apartment. Here are some do’s and don’ts for dealing with the celebrity renter.

Don’t get so starstruck by a famous tenant that you lose your business sense.

Do: Remember that “famous” is very relative.

It might be a professional sports player, a celebrity chef, or a movie star. It could also be a local news anchor, car dealership owner, or even your child’s school principal. Or it could be someone you’ve never heard of, like the bass player from an 80′s hair band or a voice actress from one of your kids’ favorite cartoons. It could even be the author of your favorite real estate advice blog. 😉 (more…)

Can You Avoid a Landlord-Tenant Lawsuit? (A Quiz)

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Resolutions for Chicago Real Estate

So it’s 2013. Funny how that happened. World didn’t end, although for some of us we were wishing it might have done after the New Year’s Eve parties. I’m sure some of you already have resolutions that found you duking it out over a treadmill this morning. A few more never hurt, though. Here’s a few that you might want to consider if you’re thinking of moving or buying property this year.

For Renters:

Try communication before confrontation. It doesn’t matter if you talk with your landlord directly or with the office staff of a big property management corporation. It doesn’t matter how badly things escalated last year over assorted issues with your apartment. This is a new year and time to start over. If you’ve had big problems, schedule a time to sit down calmly with a decision-maker for the property and review how both sides can resolve problems in an efficient and effective way. Don’t go for the big guns like lawyers and unions until you’ve tried to talk it out first.

Seriously? Always around?

Seriously? Always around is the nicest thing on the list?

Likewise, make a point of warning your landlord if you know there are problems on the horizon. Whether it’s money problems or crowds of house guests, it’s better to notify ahead of time and work out a game plan than it is to sneak around and hope they don’t notice.

Remember, moving is more expensive than you think. (more…)

Beyond the CRLTO: Other Chicago Rental Laws

In the Chicago rental housing market the CRLTO (Chicago Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance) gets all the glory when it comes to laws. More and more landlords and tenants are aware of it, and this is probably for the best as the penalties for violations are quite steep. However, there are other laws that also pertain to rental housing in Chicago that should not be ignored. Here are some that you may not know about. There are certainly more laws that apply, but these are some of the most crucial.

Artistic interpretation of the Chicago code of laws governing rentals

Federal Laws

Lead Based Paint Disclosure. The law requiring the disclosure of lead based paint hazards to anyone buying or renting a home has been on the books for twenty years. If a property was built before 1978 the landlord must tell the tenant about any lead-based paint hazards that they know of before renting it out. They also must provide a copy of the EPA’s “Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home” pamphlet. Read more about the law.

State Laws (more…)

A Way to Remember the Essential Services

If you’re a Chicago landlord or tenant in an apartment covered by the CRLTO, you’ve got two levels of problems that can possibly arise. One type is your standard, run of the mill maintenance issue. For most of these, the landlord has 14 days from the time they are notified in writing of the problem to fix the issue before the tenant can invoke the law. Other problems are considered “essential services” and must be repaired within a much tighter timeframe: 72 hours.

True facts: “Aardvark” is the Afrikaans word for “Earth Pig.” This here is a baby aardvark. This will make sense momentarily.

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Holiday Gifts for the New Landlord

Do you have a new landlord in your life? Is there someone you know who recently made the plunge into investment property? Or maybe you did, and you’re looking to drop some subtle hints to your loved ones about your holiday wish list? Here are some ideas for gifts both large and small that any starting landlord would probably welcome.

General note – these are suggestions for friends and family of landlords. If you’re a tenant, it’s probably best to just stick with giving your landlord a nice greeting card. Maybe a fruit basket.

Top Shelf

Key Cutting Machine. A decent DIY key cutting machine plus a box of blank keys will run anywhere from $400-1300. However, if you figure that every time an apartment turns over you’re spending $10 plus gas money to copy key sets, not to mention keys for contractors, Realtors and maintenance staff, you’re looking at an investment that could pay for itself within 3 years for a 6-flat apartment building full of two-bedroom apartments.

Paint Sprayer. These run $100-250 for a basic unit to handle interior jobs, although Cadillac models can obviously be far more expensive. This is another one that will pay for itself rapidly. The first time you (or your landlord friend) don’t have to throw your back out roller-painting an apartment – or spend a full day painting – you will be so very grateful.

Salt Spreader. Any landlord worth his salt (pun intended) will own a snow blower in Chicago, but few will splurge on a salt spreader. It’s a worthwhile investment. Even though they run $200-600, it’s a one time purchase that will last for years if treated correctly. A preventative salting of the walks can save a lot of angry phone calls, not to mention personal injury lawsuits. This is another one that may save you a thrown out back, this time from shoveling heavy, iced-over snow. And really, would you rather stop by the evening before a storm to salt nice, dry, clean walks, or go out at 4am to break up ice the morning after?

All three of these top shelf items are available at your local hardware store. I’m not going to link to Amazon here – this is a nice big purchase that you can bring to a family-owned, mom & pop shop. Support your local business!

Show some love for the Crafty Beaver this holiday season.Hey, I almost typed that whole caption without giggling! Go me!

Medium Cost

Professional-Grade Drain Auger/Snake. These run $30 to $150 at a hardware store. Tenants don’t pay very close attention to what’s going down the drain. It’s inevitable that you’ll be called out to rod out the drains of accumulated gunk at least once a year. If the tenant has long hair or super fluffy pets that frequency goes up exponentially. Rodding out the drain yourself is far kinder than chemical agents like “Liquid Plumr,” and definitely more cost effective than calling a plumber every time. Avoid the cheap plastic versions – this is something you definitely don’t want going pear-shaped on you in the heat of the moment. Read the reviews and get something sturdy.

Landlord Locks. These are a specialty item found only at landlordlocks.com. They run about $25-42 each for the locks, $10-12 for replacement cylinders, $3 for a backup master. That’s about twice the cost of a standard deadbolt, but they make it up in cost per use, as they’re completely reusable. They’re designed so that you can pop out the tumbler and swap it for a replacement using a master key. Chicago now mandates that locks be changed between tenants. A system like this will allow the landlord to easily swap cylinders without drilling or damaging the door.

Label Printer. It’s amazing how many times you need to label stuff when you own an apartment building. Mailboxes. Buzzers. Circuit Breakers. Laundry Machines. Tools. Keys. A label maker is the kind of gift you never realize you needed until you have one. $25-40 at any office supply store.

I recommend you get a spare roll of label tape. The first day of owning a label printer may involve cutting labels off of dog after a downward spiral into printy, sticky compulsion.

Workplace Spanish for Real Estate. This has a considerable amount of language for landlords and leasing agents as well. The book is available used on Amazon for an exorbitant amount, but you can pick up a copy of the book & CD new from Workplace Spanish for about $30.

Stocking Stuffers

Dust masks. These are $10-20 for a multi-pack. The number of times you need these when working with investment property is astronomically high. Walking through damp basements. Scraping and painting apartments. Sanding down floors. Replacing moldy drywall. Not glamorous at all, but definitely useful and a way to show that you care.

Keychains. Prices vary for these. You can go all out crazy and get a logo printed on them, you can get a box of disposable cardboard keytags, or you can assemble a personalized collection of them in a variety of sizes and styles. They will be used. Oh yes they will.

Sonic Measuring Tool. This is my personal favorite. at $16-30 each plus the cost of a battery, I have one in every purse. Set the butt of it against one wall and it will bounce a sonic wave off of the opposite wall. I can take measurements of an entire apartment alone in about 5 minutes with mine. Most will automatically calculate square footage and volume, making them useful for contractors as well.

The sonic measuring tool is not to be confused with a sonic screwdriver.

Light Bulbs. It’s a curse of living in the modern, eco-friendly age that tenants now tend to take their expensive CFL light bulbs with them when they move out. A pack of soft white CFLs may not be romantic but it will definitely be appreciated.

Not Recommended

Credit Card Processor for the Cell Phone. You might think it would make life easier for the landlord to be able to collect rent via credit card. However, the processing companies take a percentage of the payment, and there are online rent payment companies that handle that kind of thing for far less. It really should be a matter of the landlord’s personal choice if he/she wants to spend that kind of money on processing fees.

Property Management Software. This is another one that really requires the input of the individual landlord and a lot of testing. Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to accounting and data entry.

Landlord Books. Unless you’re a landlord yourself with a lot of experience reading how-to manuals, I don’t recommend purchasing them for other landlords in your life. It’s very tough for someone outside the industry to figure out which books are telling the truth and which are completely useless, especially with the wide variety of regionally-specific laws. You don’t want your gift to be the reason why your buddy winds up getting sued by a tenant. Besides, the risk of accidentally insulting your friend is pretty high if you give him “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a Landlord.” Get a bookstore gift certificate if you must give literature.


Due to the high potential for spam on this article I’ve preemptively disable comments. If you would like to add a suggestion to this list, please use the general blog’s contact form. I’ll be back on Monday with a companion list of gifts for the renters in your life.

Could Your Property Pass a Section 8 Inspection?

If you’re involved in the rental business it won’t be long before you hear about Section 8. Chances are good that you’ve heard of it even if you aren’t involved with renting. It’s bandied about by NIMBY residents who don’t want poor people living in their neighborhood. You see, “Section 8” refers to a portion of the US Housing Act of 1937, which authorized the government to pay rent on behalf of residents who would not otherwise be able to afford it. While it generally is used by low income residents, it’s also used in some occasions to assist people who have lost their homes to natural disasters, as was the case after Hurricane Katrina.

In Chicago it’s administered by the Chicago Housing Authority and utilizes two main types of homes: those owned and managed by CHA, and privately owned apartment buildings throughout the city.

… Not that Section 8

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The Online Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them

Would you marry this person? No? Then why would you rent from a landlord if you couldn’t meet him nor see the apartment first?

Here’s a fable for you. You’re hunting for an apartment online. You have a budget that’s towards the lower end and are tired of looking in the bad neighborhoods, so you take a quick look over into a trendy, name brand area. Suddenly you spot it! A three bedroom house for rent for just $800, when all of the other listings are $2000! And it’s empty and move-in ready. The address is even in the listing so you’re pretty sure it’s legit.

You contact the landlord. They say they’re out of the country working with the Peace Corps in Africa, so they can’t meet you in person. However, they suggest that you go drive past and take a peek in the windows if you like. You might do so. Or maybe you think, “gosh, this landlord is so clueless keeping the rent so low! I should jump on this before he figures out what the real value of his listing is.” (more…)