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Repair Requests

You don’t need specialized software to have easy online management of repair requests. Spend 20 minutes setting up our system, and you will save LOTS of time later, and always have a paper trail if somebody lies about something. Interested?

It all starts with creating an online form in Google Forms or one of the other services that have free forms, if you don’t have a google account. You are limited in the number of forms and fields, but almost anybody’s free subscription should work for you. JotForm.com is one. There are many others.

The steps for creating forms are very easy and intuitive. These are the fields you need:

  • Tenant name (short text block, click setting to make entry required)
  • Address and unit number, if applicable (short text block, click setting to make entry required)
  • Cell phone number (short text block, make required)
  • How long has this problem been going on? (short text block, make required)
  • Describe the problem (long text block, make required)

The form generator will create the form for you, and assign a url (website address) to your form. Now you have to make it easy for your tenants to get to the place to use the form for a repair request.

The best way to make it easy for your tenants is to create a QR code for the url of your form. For some of you reading this, that sounded like Greek, didn’t it? QR codes are like the one at the left. If you have the free QR code app on your phone, you can open the app, click on the code as if you are taking a picture of it, and your phone will open a specific webpage for you. It can do lots of other things if you want, but for this article we want that code to take your tenant to the place where you have your online form for repair requests. BTW, the QR code at the left will take you to the Gulf Shores, Alabama, beach cam.

Once your tenant clicks on the code, the repair request form will open on their phone. They can complete the fields and then click on “send.” The system will them send you an email with all the information the tenant just entered on the form, plus the date and time. You can forward the email to a repair person, and add your own comments if you want. You can print it out and put it in the tenant’s file or on your stack of “To Do” items. You can do ANYTHING you could do after talking to a tenant or listening to a voice mail message and writing down notes of your conversation.

PLUS you have a paper trail so if a tenant claims it made a repair request (but did not) there is no form to back up his claim. If he claims he asked for something different, the paper trail does not back him up. If she claims she never gave you permission to enter her apartment and did not ask for any repairs, the paper trail saves your fanny. Because, if the tenant asks for repairs, you automatically have permission to enter, under the Alabama Residential Landlord Tenant Act.

How do you create the QR Code? Go to any one of the free QR code generator websites. One that I use is https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/ Select a static form. Those are usually free. Dynamic codes let you later change what happens when someone clicks on it. You don’t need that feature. When asked, enter the url for the form you created. The website will generate a QR code for you. Download it. Print it out. Put a copy inside one of the kitchen cabinets, with a label saying what it is.

When you sign up a new tenant, make sure they download the QR code app. Write something in your lease saying that repair requests MUST be via the online form. Be sure to mention this during the initial move-in walk-thru and inspection.

Sit back, and watch your life get a lot easier!

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City Inspections

Several months ago, somebody wrote to us about a new local law that required city inspections each time a residential rental property changed to a new tenant. Gadsden passed such a law in 2007. THIS IS COMING to other municipalities around the state. You might delay things, but you are not going to stop it. The best strategy is to manage it, so the result will protect tenants while at the same time not placing an undue burden on the good landlords who try to keep their properties in habitable condition.

The Gadsden ordinance requires current building code compliance. In other words, nothing is grandfathered in. When a rental becomes vacant, it must be inspected for code compliance. The cost is $50 for the initial inspection and one follow-up. Additional follow-ups cost more. Landlords may opt to use a licensed home inspector instead of a city inspector, which might be faster, albeit more expensive. If the dwelling passes, it will receive a certificate of occupancy. It is illegal to rent a “rental housing unit”that does not have a certificate of occupancy.

Scary language in paragraph (e) of the Gadsden law refers to “annual inspections” and says that if a property fails an annual inspection, the tenant will have to be relocated until the problems are fixed. There is no language requiring annual inspections, so I am not sure what is going on there.

We are working on drafting a model ordinance that will meet city concerns for tenant health and safety while also addressing landlord concerns about slow inspections and unreasonable demands by inspectors. When word reaches us that a city is planning an ordinance like the one in Gadsden, we can present them with a model law to copy. That way we increase the odds that we won’t get stuck with some poorly worded and onerous ordinances. Anyone who has any comments or suggestions should indicate them below, or send a private email on the “Contact” page.

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Smells, Noise, Allergies

Landlords of multi-family properties have an obligation to ensure that all tenants have the quiet enjoyment of their premises.  This includes the right to be free from strong odors, allergens and noise.  We all understand the part about noise, and have for years enforced rules about tenants and excessive noise from parties, music and arguments. 

Why are we afraid to enforce rules about cooking odors and pet noise/odors/allergens?  Because someone always hits us back with some explanation that contains the words “Fair Housing.”

There is no need to be afraid of this, though.  Tenants are not allowed to interfere with the quiet enjoyment of other tenants. This includes the intrusion of offensive or dangerous sounds or substances into the space of the innocent tenant, or into the common areas. In other words, tenants are not allowed to “over-share.” 

Not only CAN the landlord do something about over-sharing, he SHOULD do something about it. That is because of two legal principles called “quiet enjoyment” and “constructive eviction.”  If the innocent tenant claims his quiet enjoyment rights have been violated, and the landlord did not remedy the situation, the innocent tenant can claim a “constructive eviction,” cancel its lease, and sue the landlord for damages.

Do not let the offending tenant frame the issue. It is not one of national origin discrimination. The issue is not about disabilities and Fair Housing. The issue is one of the quiet enjoyment rights of other tenants.

Which one trumps the other? Quiet enjoyment trumps Fair Housing.

The Fair Housing rule that requires you to accept an emotional support animal, or a service animal, is called a Reasonable Accommodation Request. It is a reasonable request to modify the rules in order to accommodate a tenant with a disability.  We all seem to forget the “reasonable” part of that phrase.  While it might be reasonable to allow the animal, that does not include the unlimited right to do whatever the tenant wants in connection with the animal. The tenant cannot be cruel to the animal, it cannot allow the animal to damage the rental unit, it is liable if the animal injures someone else, and its animal is not allowed to intrude into other people’s living spaces either with its physical presence or its noise, odors or allergens.

The Fair Housing rule that prevents discrimination on the basis of national origin means you cannot refuse to rent to Hispanics or persons from the Middle East, as examples. You do not have to allow culturally important activities that create excessive noise. You are allowed to put occupancy limits related to the number of bedrooms, even though some cultures might routinely allow 5 or 6 people to occupy each bedroom.  And, you are allowed to prohibit over-sharing of cooking odors that other tenants find objectionable.

The landlord’s response in these situations should be, “I am not restricting your right to cook the foods of your heritage.[Or, I am not restricting your right to have an emotional support or service animal.]  I am restricting your over-sharing. You rented Unit 123. You are allowed to use Unit 123. You are not allowed to use other units. You are not allowed to invade other units with odors, noise, or allergens that adversely affect tenants in other units. You are not allowed to invade the common areas with odors, noise or allergens, to such a degree that the common areas cannot be peaceably enjoyed by all tenants.  You must take steps to control these things, or you will be subject to eviction and suit for damages.”

Of course, this all depends on having the right lease language to allow landlord enforcement. If you are not sure, you might want to have your attorney review your lease documents. To learn more, check out some of our classes listed below.