By Colleen Tang
Every time the phone rings, property managers know it could be the next fire they have to put out. Whether it’s an air conditioning system that stopped working in the heat of summer or a pipe that burst in the dead of winter, landlords spend a lot of time tackling major repairs.
So wouldn’t it be nice to empower tenants to handle smaller tasks, such as replacing light bulbs or unclogging toilets? In theory, having tenants who can take care of these minor issues would make any property manager’s job easier. But a better approach is communicating with your tenants and implementing a system that allows them to report maintenance issues, ensuring projects are completed safely and effectively.
The first thing any property manager should do is create clear lines of communication with tenants. Marg Gordon, CEO of the British Columbia Apartment Owners & Managers Association, says buildings should implement a system that allows tenants to alert their managers when they have a problem.
"What I would suggest is there be some kind of communication strategy in place," Gordon says. "For example, a box or an email where tenants could let landlords know what needs fixing, and they can deal with it on an as-needed basis."
Keith McMullen, owner of Fireside Property Group and president of the Calgary Residential Rental Association, says there should be a protocol in place for buildings of all sizes, such as filling out a maintenance request form.
"Even with the smaller [buildings], you phone the property manager about the concern," he says. "In a larger building, generally there is a maintenance site form, which allows the landlord to contact either the site staff or contractor to go in without notice because you gave permission for it."
Consider the tenant-property manager relationship
In general, property managers should avoid having tenants work on the unit. However, some landlords have a strong enough relationship with their tenants to know they can handle minor tasks. Minor projects tenants could complete include painting, fixing cabinets or closet doors, landscaping and changing light bulbs.
The tenant and property manager can work out who purchases the supplies and how tenants will be reimbursed for anything they buy, McMullen says.
"It’s all about assessing what the issue is and communicating," he says.
One of the biggest issues related to tenants working on a property is liability. Some repairs might seem harmless, but managers should always consider injury risk. Plus, tenants can make a problem worse, which could cost the manager more money in the long run.
Before authorizing a tenant to make any type of repair, property managers and building owners should know what their insurance covers.
"The first thing I think you should do is pick up your phone and call your insurance company through WorkSafeBC to find out what you are or aren't covered for," Gordon says. "If it's something that somebody has to climb up on a ladder to fix, I don't like the idea of it because I don't want anybody getting hurt that isn't qualified to do it."
The bottom line: Address any questions regarding liability and insurance like you do other business issues you deal with on a daily basis.
"Like everything else, it’s a business you're running, so you need to ensure that you’re running your business in a compliant manner with all the different statutes," Gordon says.