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Thinking about becoming a landlord? You might be picturing yourself kicking up your heels while the rental income rolls in like easy money. While income from rental properties can certainly help you enjoy a more comfortable, leisurely life, managing a rental isn’t all roses — and it comes with costs you might not expect.
There’s a give-and-take between landlord and tenant, and in exchange for their monthly payments, you need to hold up your end of the bargain. That means maintaining a functional, safe, problem-free rental. All of that doesn’t come cheap. So let’s look at a few of the hidden costs of being a landlord.
1. Landlord insurance
First up, you need to make sure your rental property is properly insured. Insurance for landlords is not the same as typical homeowners’ insurance, so don’t assume you’re already covered.
“Landlord policies generally cost about 25 percent more than a standard homeowners policy, because landlords need more protection than a typical homeowner,” says Scott Holeman of the Insurance Information Institute. You’ll generally need this type of coverage if you plan to rent out a place for six months or longer, he says.
This type of policy can offer some important protections: “Most landlord policies provide coverage for loss of rental income in the event you’re not able to rent out the property while it’s being repaired or rebuilt due to damage from a covered loss,” Holeman says. “It also includes legal fees and liability protection if a tenant is injured on the property. Most policies cover the landlord’s legal fees should a tenant file suit, and would also pay out in the event of a judgment against a landlord, protecting their personal belongings and assets.” Some policies even cover medical payments if a tenant is injured.
Be sure to talk with your insurance agent before renting out your property. Holeman recommends requiring your tenants to carry renters insurance as well.
2. Maintenance and repairs
As the landlord, it’s your responsibility to maintain your property and keep everything in good working order. That includes ongoing maintenance, like lawn care, but also fixing anything that breaks. Leaky pipe? Clogged toilet? HVAC problems? All on you. You can hire a professional to tackle these things for you, of course, but you need to budget for that cost. It’s generally a good idea to set aside some money for unexpected repairs — you never know when they’ll come up.
Be prepared for your property to sit vacant for at least some amount of time. Good tenants take time to find, and it’s very challenging to keep a space leased continually, with no gaps. Even if you find amazing new tenants right after the previous ones move out, there will still likely be at least a few days of vacant time between when one clears out and the other arrives.
No matter how long the vacancy stretches for, though — even if it’s months — you, the owner, still need to keep paying the property’s mortgage. If you rely on incoming rent money to cover that cost, you’ll need to come up with the difference yourself anytime your rental is vacant.
Many states and municipalities have tax rules that favor those who live in their homes. For example, the homestead exemption, which allows homeowners who live in their property to reduce their taxes. These exemptions don’t apply to investment properties, so if you rent out a home you own instead of living in it, your taxes might climb.
In addition, if you decide to sell the rental property and haven’t lived in it yourself for at least two of the previous five years, you’ll likely have to pay hefty capital gains taxes on whatever profits you make.
What utilities does the landlord pay for, and what are the tenants required to pay for themselves? The answer varies widely, so it’s worth looking into what is standard in your area. Landlords are required to provide access to the basics, like electricity, water and heat, and many include those costs in the rent payment. After all, if the apartment is vacant for a while, you’ll want to have lights and heat when you show it to prospective tenants. Things that could be considered “extras,” like cable or internet, are often left up to the tenant to set up.
6. Marketing, administration and legal fees
To attract tenants, you’ll likely need to market your property. That might mean paying for advertisements and online listings, or working with a local real estate agent to find a tenant. It likely also means paying for a cleaning service and a pro photographer, so that you can present the home in its best light online. You’ll probably want to run background and credit checks on prospective tenants as well, both of which cost money.
Beyond that, as a landlord you should also work with a real estate attorney to ensure you have a solid rental agreement in place to protect yourself. In fact, you might need one on a regular basis if you run into problems with tenants — for example, late or unpaid rent, damaged property or illegal activity. And if you ever need to explore a possible eviction, you’ll want that lawyer on speed-dial.
If all of this sounds like too much work, you could opt to hire a property management company to handle it all for you. These services make being a landlord a whole lot easier, but of course, they come at a price. Most property managers charge somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the gross rent for their services.
Being a landlord can provide a steady income stream, but it’s not easy, and it’s not free. Make sure you understand the costs and expenses involved before you rent out any property you own. That way, you can factor them into what you charge for rent, preventing you from losing money on the deal.