How to Manage a Rental Property

Once an investor successfully seals the deal on a rental property, they are faced with a crucial choice: how to effectively handle property management. While certain property owners prefer to delegate all responsibilities to professional property managers, others take on the role of DIY landlords.

Despite the initial overwhelming impression, managing a rental property by oneself is indeed feasible. In this article, we will delve into the primary obligations of a DIY landlord and present a comprehensive six-step guide to successfully self-managing a rental property. 

Financial Management 

Real estate investors enter the rental property market with the objective of generating consistent profits. Consequently, financial management becomes a significant responsibility for DIY landlords, involving meticulous tracking of income and expenses.

Accurate recording of rent payments, late fees, and security deposits is crucial to ensuring proper allocation within the chart of accounts. Similarly, operating expenses like repairs, maintenance, insurance, property taxes, and utilities need to be diligently accounted for.

Even with a single rental property, there is a risk of underreporting income or overstating expenses. In the event of an audit, the discovery of an error, even unintentional, can result in fees, penalties, and interest charges.

Responsibilities of a Self-Managed Landlord 

Managing a rental property independently is a task that some landlords willingly take on. Prior to embarking on this journey, it is essential to understand the three key areas of responsibility for do-it-yourself landlords:

Tenant Management 

Effectively managing tenants requires exceptional interpersonal skills. Tenants naturally desire to feel that they are receiving value for their rental payments.

As a landlord, it is crucial to handle tenant complaints diplomatically while also setting boundaries when faced with unreasonable demands, such as late rent payments without a corresponding fee. Striking a balance between minimizing tenant turnover and maintaining a strong cash flow can sometimes be challenging.

Additionally, being well-versed in the notice requirements for property entry, understanding landlord-tenant laws specific to the state, and adhering to the Fair Housing Act are critical legal aspects associated with tenant management. Failure to comply with these regulations may lead to significant fines or even legal action initiated by the tenant.

Property Management 

Landlords are responsible for maintaining a safe and habitable environment for both tenants and the surrounding community.

Conducting regular property inspections can help identify minor issues before they escalate into costly repairs. For instance, servicing the heating and cooling systems seasonally and clearing gutters before the onset of rain and snow can prevent expensive damage.

Another important task in managing a rental property is completing a thorough move-in and move-out checklist with the tenant. This documentation process enables the differentiation between normal wear and tear and any excessive damage, ultimately assisting in determining the appropriate deductions from the security deposit. Depending on state laws, landlords may be entitled to retain a portion or the entire security deposit to cover tenant-caused damages.

Guide to Self-Management of a Rental Property

Now, let's delve into the process of how landlords can effectively manage their own rental properties. Once you have acquired a property and prepared it for renting, here are six crucial steps to follow for successful self-management:

Establish a Fair Market Rent 

Determining the appropriate rent is a delicate balance of art and science. Setting the rent too high may discourage potential tenants, while setting it too low can reduce your returns. Consider the following factors when determining rent:

Utilize online resources to identify rent comparisons and determine a fair asking rent based on current listings, rent comparables, and market trends.

Market the Vacant Property 

Numerous online platforms cater specifically to DIY landlords and property managers, offering rental listings and tenant screening services. Avail and Rentec Direct are examples of sites that enable landlords to:

Once a suitable tenant is selected and the lease is signed, collect the security deposit and initial rent payment, and arrange a meeting at the property to complete a move-in checklist.

Inspect and Maintain the Property 

The responsibilities of a landlord extend beyond the tenant's move-in. Maintenance and repair issues are bound to arise, and addressing them promptly enhances tenant satisfaction and increases the likelihood of lease renewals. Regularly drive by the property, without disturbing the tenant, to identify any exterior damage. Additionally, conduct routine inspections of the interior and exterior after providing the necessary notice to identify and address minor issues before they escalate.

Perform seasonal maintenance on the roof, heating and cooling systems, water heater, and appliances to prolong their lifespan and manage capital expenses within budget. To streamline repairs and promptly respond to maintenance requests, many DIY landlords:

As an investor, collecting rent in full and on time is crucial for generating profits. Rather than relying on traditional mail-based payments, many DIY landlords opt for online rent payment systems like Cozy and TenantCloud. These platforms enable same-day rent collection, with any processing fees borne by the tenant.

Online rent collection not only streamlines the process but also improves rent collection rates. According to an analysis by, tenants prefer the convenience of paying rent online and are more likely to do so promptly. In the event of late rent payments, landlords should be prepared to enforce any late fees stipulated in the lease agreement. Allowing habitual late payments without penalties can disrupt cash flow and potentially necessitate eviction. 

Evict Non-Paying Tenants 

Despite a thorough tenant screening process, eviction may occasionally become necessary. Residential evictions can be costly, ranging upwards of $3,500, and can take several weeks depending on the property's location and circumstances. During this period, landlords experience a loss of rental income and may have to address significant damages caused by the departing tenant.

Instead of investing further resources into an eviction process, some landlords adopt a pragmatic approach and offer a tenant a cash incentive in exchange for returning the keys and vacating the property. This "cash for keys" strategy helps avoid costly evictions and facilitates a swift return to positive cash flow.

Utilize Effective Rental Property Accounting 

A robust accounting system is vital for managing rental property finances, maintaining a paper trail, and generating accurate financial reports such as income statements and net cash flow reports. While some landlords resort to basic spreadsheets or off-the-shelf software, an increasing number of real estate investors are turning to online platforms. 

Online platforms provide a comprehensive solution for tracking real estate investments and automating income and expense tracking. By signing up for a free account and inputting property and banking information, DIY landlords can easily monitor property performance, track finances, and maintain an organized paper trail. Most online platforms allow investors to:

The aim is to provide powerful tools to the investor community at the lowest possible cost, offering basic services entirely for free. Optional premium services, such as market research, mortgage financing, and rent analysis, are usually available for a fee.

Final Thoughts

While being a DIY landlord may help save some money and provide hands-on learning, it's essential to recognize that landlords always have choices. These options include managing the property independently, paying for specific management services as needed, or hiring a full-time property manager.

Ultimately, the decision depends on the landlord's circumstances, preferences, and the level of involvement they desire in the day-to-day operations of their rental property.

Exploring Rental Property Management Options 

When it comes to managing rental properties, real estate investors have several options at their disposal. Let's explore three common strategies landlords can consider:

DIY Property Management

Some landlords choose to take on the responsibility of managing their rental property themselves, especially if they have ample time available and prefer to have direct control. DIY property management can be an attractive option for owners who are uncomfortable delegating tasks.

However, it's important to note that managing a property independently can become overwhelming. Landlords must be well-versed in landlord-tenant laws and Fair Housing regulations to avoid legal issues that could result in lawsuits.

À La Carte Management Services

Certain property management companies offer landlords the flexibility to select specific services to outsource. For instance, a "leasing only" plan may assist a DIY landlord in marketing the vacant property, conducting tenant screenings, and finalizing lease agreements.

While this pay-as-you-go approach to property management may work for some landlords, it can be challenging to effectively manage a rental property if the owner has a full-time job or resides in a different state.

Full-Time Property Manager

Another option is to hire a professional property manager who can handle the day-to-day tasks of property management. By entrusting tenant communication, maintenance and repairs, and legal matters to a competent local property manager, landlords can save time and effort.

Property management companies typically charge a monthly fee of approximately 8 percent of the monthly rent. Many landlords find this cost worthwhile as it frees them from the headaches associated with self-management.