How to Become a Landlord: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Our comprehensive guide outlines everything aspiring landlords need to know to successfully buy and manage investment properties.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
December 27, 2023
How to Become a Landlord: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Curious about how to become a landlord and what it takes to own a successful investment property?

As experienced rental property owners, we know firsthand the rewards and challenges of the job. Sure, earning passive income from appreciated real estate has its allure. But make no mistake — effectively managing tenants, maintenance issues, regulations, and more takes serious preparation and commitment.

In this guide compiled from our team's decades of experience owning rental properties, we’ll unpack everything involved in becoming a landlord, from financing rentals to resolving disputes and more. With candid insights from veteran property investors, you’ll feel equipped taking your first steps into this worthwhile endeavor.

What is a landlord?

A landlord is an individual that owns and leases out properties, such as apartments, houses, or commercial spaces, to tenants. As the rental property owner, the landlord has several key responsibilities. These include maintaining the property to ensure it's safe and habitable, abiding by housing and rental laws, managing tenant relationships, collecting rent, and overseeing lease agreements.

A landlord's role and responsibilities

Becoming a landlord involves more than just collecting checks every month. From keeping the plumbing flowing to maintaining harmony among tenants, landlords wear many hats. While duties may vary day-to-day, fundamental tasks include:

  • Property maintenance: This responsibility includes prompt and efficient repair management for both minor and major issues. It also involves conducting regular inspections to identify safety concerns and verify compliance with housing standards.
  • Tenant screening: Landlords screen tenants through background and credit checks. This process helps find reliable and responsible tenants and reduces the risk of future issues.
  • Tenant communication: Being tenants' primary point of contact means handling their concerns, requests, and complaints. It involves providing timely responses, resolving issues efficiently, and maintaining a positive landlord-tenant relationship. A good landlord is communicative, responsive, fair, and respectful.
  • Lease management: As a landlord, you will also handle lease agreements, renewals, and terminations. It includes drafting fair lease agreements and managing the various stages of a lease legally and ethically.
  • Rent collection: When it comes to rent payments, you're responsible for setting, collecting, and adjusting rent, as well as managing late payments. Consider online rent collection to streamline the process.
  • Legal compliance: Stay informed and compliant with local, state, and federal housing laws and regulations to avoid legal issues and make sure that landlords' and tenants' rights and responsibilities are respected.
  • Conflict resolution: Address and resolve any disputes or issues that arise with tenants. It can involve mediating conflicts, addressing complaints, and finding solutions that are fair and within legal boundaries.
  • Accurate financial record keeping: Keep detailed records of all financial transactions, including rent payments, maintenance costs, and security deposits. It also includes compliance records like annual registration fees, property tax, and other fees. These records help you track the property’s financial performance and remain compliant with tax regulations.

Pros and cons of becoming a landlord

If you're researching how to become a landlord, it's best to go into the process with eyes wide open. While renting out property can be profitable if you do it well, it has its headaches too. Be aware of the potential pitfalls ahead of time as part of the process so you can weigh them against the rewards.

Pros:

  1. Steady income stream: One main advantage of being a landlord is the potential to produce a consistent and reliable source of income through rent payments.
  2. Property value appreciation: Over time, real estate typically appreciates in value, which can result in significant financial gains if you sell the property in the future.
  3. Tax advantages: Landlords can often benefit from various tax deductions, including property depreciation, maintenance and repair costs, and mortgage interest.
  4. Building equity: As you pay down the mortgage on a rental property, you build equity, growing your net worth over time.
  5. Diversification of investments: Owning rental property can diversify your investment portfolio, spreading risk across different types of investments.

Cons:

  1. Tenant issues: Dealing with difficult tenants, late rent payments, or eviction processes can be demanding. You can help prevent these issues with thorough tenant screening, clear lease agreements, and understanding tenant-landlord laws.
  2. Maintenance and repairs: Unexpected repairs and regular maintenance can be costly and time-consuming. Setting aside a budget for repairs and regular property inspections can help address this challenge.
  3. Vacancy risks: Periods of vacancy mean no rental income. To mitigate this, maintain your property well, price the rent competitively, and market effectively to attract tenants.
  4. Legal and regulatory compliance: Understanding housing regulations and staying compliant can be an involved process. Educating yourself on your state's relevant landlord-tenant laws or hiring a property manager can be beneficial.
  5. Time commitment: Being a landlord can be time-consuming, especially if you manage the property yourself. Consider hiring a property manager if you aren't able to commit the time needed.

Preparing to become a landlord

Becoming a landlord requires you to understand real estate financing and budgeting. Knowing all of the potential costs can help you make the best choice for your investment goals.

Financial considerations

  1. Assessing initial investment costs: The first step involves evaluating the initial costs to purchase and prepare the property for tenants, including the purchase price, down payment, closing costs, and any immediate repairs or renovations.
  2. Understanding ongoing expenses: As a landlord, you'll encounter recurring costs, such as a monthly mortgage payment, taxes, landlord insurance premiums, maintenance costs, and potential property management fees. Accurately estimating these expenses is essential in providing financial stability to investment property.
  3. Planning for vacancies and emergencies: There may be periods when the property is vacant and not generating income. You can prepare for this by setting aside funds for emergency repairs or unforeseen expenses.

Legal and regulatory framework

When you become a landlord, you'll need to navigate legal and regulatory environments. This involves an understanding of landlord-tenant laws, an awareness of common legal issues, and knowing how to handle them effectively to be compliant and avoid disputes.

  1. State and local regulations: Landlord-tenant laws vary by state and jurisdiction. Protect yourself by understanding the specific laws and regulations in your area. These laws typically cover aspects like lease agreements, tenant rights, landlord responsibilities, eviction procedures, and rent control.
  2. Federal laws: Besides state laws, landlords must follow federal laws, such as the Fair Housing Act, which forbids discrimination in renting or selling properties.
  3. Lease agreements: You should understand how to draft a comprehensive lease agreement. The lease should define the terms of the tenancy, including rent, deposit requirements, maintenance responsibilities, and other important conditions.

Steps to purchase a rental property

Ready to buy your first income-generating property? Let's briefly walk through the sequence of key milestones landlords can expect when acquiring real estate rentals:

Step 1: Research and identify potential properties

Doing research early allows you to spot promising investment opportunities. Let's explore key analyses to assess each property's financial viability and local rental demand:

  • Market analysis: Start by looking at the real estate market. Review different neighborhoods and assess factors like crime rates, local amenities, schools, and public transport accessibility. These elements can significantly influence rental demand and property value.
  • Property type selection: Choose the type of property you prefer to invest in, such as single-family homes, multi-family units, or apartments. Each type has its own set of advantages and challenges.
  • Assessing rental market trends: Understand the local rental market trends. Investigate the average rent in the area, vacancy rates, and the potential tenant base. It will give you an idea of your expected income and the property's long-term profitability.
  • Return on investment (ROI) calculation: The ROI calculation is your annual profit from the property divided by your total investment (purchase price plus any renovation costs). You want a suitable property that provides a positive cash flow and meets your investment objectives.
  • The ROI formula is: Total investment/annual rental property income after expenses x 100
  • Example calculation: Let's say you buy a property for $200,000, spend $40,000 on renovations, and earn $24,000 annually after expenses, your ROI is 10% ($24,000 annual profit / $240,000 total investment).
  • A higher ROI indicates a more profitable investment. In real estate, an ROI of 5-10% is generally considered good, but this varies by location and property type.

Step 2: Secure financing

Explore different mortgage lenders and analyze interest rates, terms, and conditions from various lenders to find the best deal. Consider fixed-rate mortgages for stability in payments or adjustable-rate mortgages for potentially lower initial rates. Types of mortgages available include:

  1. FHA loans: These loans are ideal for new landlords, as they offer lower down payments and are easier to qualify for. However, FHA loans typically require you to live in one of the units of the property for at least one year.
  2. VA loans: VA loans are an interesting option for veterans and service members. They provide competitive interest rates and the possibility of more relaxed down payment requirements. Like FHA loans, VA loans have specific rules, including owner occupancy.
  3. Conventional mortgages: This mortgage loan type is another option for financing rental properties, typically requiring a higher down payment and offering various terms and rates.

Step 3: Conduct inspections

Inspections protect your investment by uncovering hidden issues before you buy the property. They include:

  • Property inspection: Hire a professional inspector to evaluate your potential investment property. Their analysis should cover the foundation, roof, electrical systems, plumbing, HVAC systems, and any potential pest issues.
  • Assessment of repairs and upgrades: Based on the inspection report, assess the need for repairs or upgrades. Factor these costs into your overall budget.
  • Environmental and zoning checks: Verify the property complies with local environmental regulations and zoning laws, especially if you plan on making significant changes or additions to the rental property.

Step 4: Close on the investment property

By now, you're in the finishing stretch! Here are final steps for a smooth closing and taking legal ownership of your rental property:

  • Offer and negotiation: Make a fair offer based on your research and the property's condition. Be prepared to talk with the seller to reach a mutually agreeable price.
  • Finalizing financing: Once your offer is accepted, finalize your mortgage with your lender.
  • Closing process: Work with a real estate attorney or a title company to handle the closing process. It includes signing the purchase agreement, transferring the title, and handling the closing costs.
  • Legal and financial compliance: Make sure all legal and financial requirements are met, including property taxes, insurance, and any other regulatory obligations.

Getting your property move-in ready

Now that you have a rental property, how do you get it ready for prospective tenants? Here are the steps to make sure your property is ready, safe and can attract renters.

Make repairs

  • Important repairs: Attend to any important repairs identified during the inspection process. It can range from fixing leaky faucets and plumbing issues to addressing any electrical hazards or structural damage.
  • Safety and functionality: Confirm that aspects of the property are safe and functional. Check the HVAC system, water heater, windows, doors, and roof for any issues that need addressing.

Update and renovate as needed

  • Cosmetic updates: Consider making cosmetic updates like a fresh coat of paint, new flooring, or updated lighting fixtures, which can greatly enhance the property's appeal.
  • Major renovations: For investment properties in need of more extensive work, consider remodeling key areas like the kitchen or bathrooms. These renovations can significantly increase property values, rental rates and draw a wider pool of prospective tenants.

Compliance with safety regulations

  • Safety codes and regulations: Verify that the property follows all local safety codes and regulations. You should plan to install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and confirm all appliances and systems are operational and up to code.
  • Accessibility compliance: Make sure that the property meets accessibility standards as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), especially in common areas and entryways.

Professional cleaning and landscaping

  • Deep cleaning: Invest in professional cleaning before showing the property or moving tenants in so that your space is spotless and inviting.
  • Landscaping and curb appeal: Enhance the exterior with basic landscaping, such as mowing the lawn, trimming hedges, and clearing any debris, to improve the property's curb appeal.

Final inspection and documentation

  • Pre-rental inspection: Conduct a final walk-through to verify everything is in order and the property is ready for tenants. Take note of the property's condition for future reference.
  • Photographic documentation: Document the property’s condition with detailed photographs before renting it out. This can help in addressing any future disputes regarding the property’s condition and security deposit deductions.

Marketing your rental property

Rental income hinges on keeping rental units filled with responsible tenants. To reach prospective tenants, consider the following marketing avenues:

Listing your property

  • Online platforms: Use well-known real estate websites and online rental platforms to reach a wide audience. Websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Zumper can be particularly effective.
  • Quality visuals and descriptions: Include high-quality photos and videos of your property. A virtual tour can be especially appealing. Make sure your listing has a detailed description, highlights unique features, amenities, and any recent upgrades or renovations.
  • Social media marketing: Leverage platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to advertise your property. It can expand your reach and engage potential tenants in a more interactive way.

Word of mouth and networking

  • Personal and professional networks: Inform your personal and professional circles about your available property. Sometimes, the best tenants can come from referrals by friends, family, or colleagues.
  • Real estate agents and property managers: Building relationships with real estate agents and property managers is a good approach. They can refer future tenants to your property and offer valuable insights about the local rental market.

Hosting open houses

  • Organizing viewings: Schedule open houses or individual showings to allow potential tenants to see the property first-hand. It helps them visualize living in the space and can be more effective than just viewing photos online.
  • Creating a welcoming atmosphere: Make sure the property is clean, well-lit, and inviting during viewings. Small touches like light refreshments can make a positive impression.
  • Interactive experience: Use open houses as an opportunity to engage with each prospective tenant, answer their questions, and highlight the benefits of living in your property.

Targeted advertising

  • Identify your audience: Tailor your marketing efforts to attract the type of tenant best suited for your property. For instance, you might target students if your property is near a university.
  • Use of flyers and local ads: In addition to online listings, consider using traditional methods like flyers in local businesses or ads in community newspapers, especially if your property is in a neighborhood with a strong local community.

Engaging marketing materials

  • Professional photography: Investing in professional photography can significantly enhance the appeal of your listing. High-quality visuals can make your property stand out in a crowded market.
  • Compelling copywriting: Write engaging and clear descriptions highlighting key features of your property, like a spacious backyard, modern appliances, any amenities, or proximity to public transport.

Screening and selecting tenants

You’ve prepped your rental, now who will call it home? How do you find good tenants who are responsible occupants and will respect your space as their own? Here are the key steps many landlords use when screening tenants:

  1. Application form: Use a standardized application form for every applicant, gathering important information like personal details, employment history, and past residencies. Make sure the form includes consent for a background and credit check, which is legally necessary.
  2. Credit and background checks: Conduct a credit history review to assess financial responsibility and a criminal background check for significant offenses. The credit report helps you evaluate the reliability and potential risks associated with the tenant.
  3. Employment verification and income check: Verify the tenant’s employment and income to make sure they can consistently afford the rent. The general rule is that an applicant's income should be at least three times the rent. Additionally, contact employers to confirm employment status and salary details.
  4. Reference checks: Contact previous landlords to ask about the tenant's rent payment history and property maintenance habits. Also, call personal references to gain insights into the tenant’s character and lifestyle.
  5. Interviewing tenants: Have a direct conversation with potential tenants to assess their reliability and suitability. This interaction is also an opportunity to discuss property rules, expectations, and any tenant concerns, helping to gauge their compatibility with your rental property.
  6. Compliance with fair housing laws: Ensure your tenant screening process adheres to the Fair Housing Act, avoiding discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
  7. Decision making: Based on a comprehensive assessment of all gathered information, including financial stability, rental history, and overall fit, make a decision on tenant selection.

Drawing up a lease

A rental agreement promotes accountability on both sides and keeps things running smoothly. Where should you start in outlining fair expectations around use of the property, payment terms, duration, and more? Here are key clauses you can use to help prevent disputes down the road:

  1. Duration of the lease: Clearly state the start and end dates of the lease. Decide whether it’s a fixed-term lease (e.g., one year) or a month-to-month arrangement, and include provisions for lease renewal if applicable.
  2. Rent details: Specify the rent amount, due date, and acceptable payment methods. Include details about late fees, grace periods, and any circumstances where the rent might increase.
  3. Security deposit: Define the amount of the security deposit, terms for its return, and conditions under which it can be withheld, such as property damage.
  4. Maintenance and repairs: Clarify responsibilities for maintenance and repairs. Detail what maintenance tasks are the tenant's responsibility versus those handled by the landlord.
  5. Property use guidelines: Outline acceptable and prohibited uses of the property. This includes policies on pets, smoking, noise levels, and guest stays.
  6. Rules and regulations: Incorporate rules regarding parking, common areas, and trash disposal. Include any homeowners’ association (HOA) limitations or community guidelines the tenant must follow.
  7. Termination and eviction terms: Describe the conditions under which either party can terminate the lease early. Outline the eviction process for lease violations or non-payment of rent by state laws.
  8. Legal clauses: Include clauses covering legal issues such as liability, insurance requirements, and compliance with local laws. Ensure that the lease adheres to local landlord-tenant laws and does not contain any discriminatory language or illegal questions.
  9. Signatures and dates: Confirm that all parties involved sign and date the lease. It legally binds everyone to the terms set forth in the document.
  10. Additional clauses: Consider any special provisions or addendums, such as policies on renovations, subletting, or specific agreements made with the tenant.

Operational assistance for landlords

Navigating the responsibilities of being a landlord can sometimes require professional assistance. Knowing which property management software to use, when to hire a property manager, and seeking help from legal and financial advisors can help you become a successful landlord.

Property management software

As any seasoned landlord knows, time is money. Administrative tasks like collecting rent, logging maintenance requests, and screening applicants can strain most landlords. But adopting property management technology can help recapture precious hours each week — hours better spent nurturing great tenant relationships or assessing new investments.

Cloud-based software like Azibo centralizes information, and you can access it from anywhere. Key features like embedded payment processing and mobile maintenance ticketing saves you time, and automated screening also vets prospective renters efficiently.

Additionally, Azibo's all-in-one platform incorporates layers of financial management, from accounting tools to insurance coverage, under one roof.

When to hire a property manager

Hiring a property manager can be a strategic decision, especially under certain circumstances such as:

  • Numerous or far-away properties: If you own multiple properties or properties that are far from your residence, a property manager can provide on-site presence and attention.
  • Limited time or interest: A property manager can take over responsibilities for landlords who have other full-time commitments or prefer not to deal with day-to-day management tasks.
  • Complex property management tasks: Rental properties with more complex management needs, such as those with high tenant turnover or properties that are part of an HOA, can benefit from a professional’s expertise.
  • Scalability: If you want to expand your rental property portfolio, a property management company can help manage the increased workload, allowing you to focus on growth and investment strategies.

When to hire legal and financial advisors

  1. Before purchasing property: Legal and financial advisors can provide important insights before making a property investment. A financial advisor can assist with analyzing the potential ROI, budgeting, and aligning the property investment with your overall financial goals. A legal advisor can help in navigating zoning laws, property rights, and potential legal risks associated with the property.
  2. During lease agreement preparation: Drafting a lease agreement is an area where legal advice is invaluable. Legal advisors can confirm that your lease complies with all local, state, and federal laws, including Fair Housing Act regulations.
  3. When setting up your business structure: Financial advisors can guide you in setting up the most beneficial business structure for your rental activity, such as an LLC to protect your personal assets. Legal advisors can assist in forming such entities and advise on the legal implications.
  4. For tax planning and compliance: Navigating property taxes, deductions, and other tax-related issues can be involved. Financial advisors can guide tax planning strategies to help you take advantage of all applicable tax benefits and remain compliant with tax laws.
  5. In case of legal disputes or evictions: A legal advisor is important if you face legal disputes with tenants or need to carry out an eviction. They can navigate the legal process and represent you in court if necessary.

Become a landlord

Becoming a landlord requires hustle across many areas — budgeting, maintenance, legal compliance, and tenant relations, just to name a few. But dedicating yourself to understanding the moving parts leads to stability and harmony.

Sure, unexpected headaches pop up and regulations shift. But by rolling with the punches, you position yourself to provide quality housing for years to come.

At its essence, a successful landlord supplies an essential need for communities. Though not without its headaches, approach the role as a long-term learning journey. Stay eager in your pursuit of excellence through preparation and diligence. The hard work pays off!

How do you become a landlord FAQs

Is it easy to make money as a landlord?

Landlords do have the opportunity to amass considerable profits, but it's not always easy. It requires careful investment choices, consistent property maintenance, and effective tenant management. Market conditions, location, and your ability to efficiently handle the responsibilities of property management also significantly impact your success.

How much do most landlords make?

The income of landlords varies widely, depending on factors like property location, rental rates, property size, and the number of properties owned. On average, landlords can make a profit after expenses, but exact figures vary significantly based on these variables.

What legal considerations are important for new landlords?

New landlords should understand landlord-tenant laws, including lease agreements, eviction processes, and tenant rights. It's best to seek legal advice to help you comply with local rules and fair housing laws.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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