People are clumsy, dirty, accident-prone Tasmanian devils. That goes double for children, and says nothing of pets.

Homeowners are no better, but they have so much money invested in their property that they take more care not to damage it. But renters? Fuhget about it. Tornado inbound, chance of damage: 100%.

So how to protect your rental property, that you’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into?

Like everything else in rental management, an ounce of prevention is worth pounds upon pounds of cure. While screening tenants thoroughly (including an inspection of their current home) helps you weed out the dirtiest and least reliable tenants, you also need to armor your property to withstand the incoming horde.

From physical rental property improvements to protective lease clauses, here’s how to tenant-proof your property and prevent damage before it happens.


First Protection Priority: Landlord Insurance

First and foremost, landlords need insurance. Several types of landlord insurance policies, in fact.

You need a rental property insurance policy, of course. Lenders require these, if you have a rental property mortgage on the property. Double check exactly what your policy covers, and the policy exclusions. Try Sure as a reputable landlord insurance option.

You should also consider buying rent default insurance. If the tenants stop paying the rent, the insurance policy kicks in and pays it for them until they either catch it up or you complete the eviction process and sign a lease agreement with a new renter. Check out The Guarantors and Steady for reputable rent default insurers, to never worry about your tenants failing to pay rent again.

With The Guarantors, the tenant actually pays for the policy. It includes damage coverage, in lieu of collecting a security deposit. So the policy not only guarantees the tenant’s rents, but also protects against rental property damage.

Finally, require your tenants to buy renters  insurance. These policies provide some protection to landlords as well, such as putting up renters if the property becomes uninhabitable, and protecting against pet attacks. Sure offers renters insurance in addition to landlord insurance.


What’s Better than Tenant-Proofing? Tenant Screening

You can fortify your rental property all you want, but careless renters will still damage it. As much as you should try to make your investment property sturdier, the best protection lies in thorough tenant screening. 

Sure, you sure run tenant credit reports and criminal background checks. Go a step further and run eviction history reports, which get closer to the heart of the matter: have they violated other landlords’ lease contracts in the past?

But comprehensive tenant screening doesn’t end there. Get on the phone and contact not just their current landlord, but their former landlords. What kind of renter are they? Did they pay the rent on time every single month? More relevantly here, how did they treat the rental property? Remember, their current landlord has a vested interest to get rid of them if they’re a bad tenant, and might say anything to do just that. 

Likewise, contact their supervisor at work. What kind of worker are they? What kind of person are they? How reliable, respectful, and conscientious are they? 

Form as detailed a picture as you can about how they treat their belongings and responsibilities. Then go look for yourself if you can, by finding an excuse to meet them at their current home, perhaps to go over a few finer points in the lease agreement. While there, see as much of the property as you can, to get a sense for how they treat it. 

Spoiler alert: that’s exactly how they’ll treat your investment property, if you sign a lease with them. 

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Protecting Rental Property Walls

Face it: your walls are going to get screwed, hammered, dirty, and beaten up. Sounds like an R-rated movie, right?

Your tenants won’t be gentle, because as far as they’re concerned they’re just passing through. It’s on you to take precautions, both in the form of rental property improvements and protective lease clauses.


1. Go Glossy

Most people paint their walls with a flat finish paint. It’s a little cheaper, and it looks good… at first.

In six months, it shows every scuff of every shoe or hand or box that brushed by it.

Glossy paint, alternatively, can be wiped clean. Scuffs erase right off the wall. So yes, while the total material costs might add an extra $100 to your painting bill, you may well be able to get two extra tenancies out of that paintjob, rather than having to repaint between every single tenant.

You have to paint anyway, you might as well use longer-lasting paint.


2. Install Door Stoppers Behind Every Door

This is a no-brainer. Every single door needs a door stopper behind it. You can install them yourself, or if you’re not feeling handy-capable, grab a six-pack of beer and a pizza and invite your handy friend over to help you.

You know what happens otherwise: doorknob-shaped holes in the wall behind every door.

There’s a thin line between “damage” and “normal wear and tear,” when it comes time to deduct or refund the security deposit. But here’s the thing: you don’t want either. You can’t make your renters treat your property with kid gloves, but you can make your property harder to hurt.

Tenants are tough on properties, so it’s your job to make sure your properties are tougher than your tenants. And as rental property upgrades go, this one costs less than $50 and will save you countless hours of patching and repainting walls.

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3. Prohibit TV Mounting

Do you really want a bunch of holes drilled in your walls, just so your renters can mount their TV instead of using a TV stand?

Then there’s the more serious risk of them failing to screw the mounts properly into studs. What happens when their $2,500 TV falls off the wall, taking a huge chunk of wall with it?

Worse, what if a toddler is playing on the floor underneath it?

Nope. No TV mounting. Write a clause into your lease agreement and avoid a slew of drywall-related rental property repairs.  


4. Screw All Racks, Bars & Hooks into Studs

Similarly, you don’t want renters to yank a towel from the towel bar and have the bar pull right out of the wall. It gets even uglier when your tenants’ kids use the towel bar for pull-ups.

The same goes for coat racks and hooks, paper towel holders, and every other protrusions for hanging things on.

Invest $6.99 in a stud finder and use it before screwing any fixtures to the wall. For the cost of a few dollars and a half hour, you can dodge endless rental property repair calls at 10 PM.


Protecting Rental Property Floors

The other part of the house that takes a beating from your tenants are the floors.

Before continuing, it’s worth pointing out that replacement flooring counts as a rental property tax deduction. It takes the sting out paying for them… but not by much. Your goal as a landlord: preserve the flooring through as many tenancies as possible.

Here’s how you can achieve it.


5. Avoid Carpets and Hardwood Floors

Carpets are a disaster waiting to happen. When making flooring decisions, ask yourself “How will this flooring hold up to vomit and red wine?” That will jolt your train of thought in the right direction.

Faux wood, luxury vinyl tile (LVT), and bamboo flooring can all look spectacular, and in many cases look indistinguishable from hardwood floors. Speaking of which, hardwood is another disaster waiting to happen. Your renters will scratch it up every time, no exceptions.

The next time you need to replace the flooring, look to the three options above as tenant-proof rental property upgrades.


6. Require Felt Pads on All Furniture Feet

This might sound like splitting hairs, until you actually go out and spend the money to install the faux wood or bamboo floors.

Put a strongly-worded lease clause in your rental agreement, and have the renters initial it. The clause should include a line holding them responsible for any scratches to the floors, and the cost of replacement flooring sections will be deducted from their security deposit.

Lastly, spend $3.99 and give them a box or two of felt pads when you sign the lease agreement with them. Aww, what a thoughtful housewarming present!


7. If You Must Install Carpets, Spend More on Padding & Less on Carpeting

Carpets usually need to be replaced between nearly every tenancy. Padding does not.

But here’s the thing – thick, plush padding makes even lower-grade carpet feel rich and plush.

Don’t install carpets, but if you absolutely have to, invest more in the padding than the carpets themselves.


8. Put a Shoe Rack by the Front Door

People track in mud, dirt, gravel, pebbles, dog excrement and worse into your rental property. At least, they do if they leave their shoes on when they walk in the front door.

If you put a shoe rack by the front door and take off your shoes when you show the unit, it sends a strong message: This property is so nice that we take shoes off before entering. You can even include a lease clause requiring them to take off their shoes when they enter the unit.

While you can’t really enforce the shoe clause easily, they’ll be much more likely to comply if there’s a beautiful shoe rack just begging to be used. And like the other rental property upgrades on this list, it’s cheap.

investment property loansWhat do lenders charge for a rental property mortgage? What credit scores and down payments do they require?

How about fix-and-flip loans?

We compare the best purchase-rehab lenders and long-term landlord loans on LTV, interest rates, closing costs, income requirements and more.

How to Protect Everything Else in Your Rental Property

Floors and walls take the biggest beating, but that doesn’t mean the rest of your rental property is impervious. Here’s how to protect your rental property in all other areas.


9. Switch Screen Doors & Storm Doors to Plexiglass

Your renters’ kids will put their hands right through the screen door. Or worse, the glass in a storm door.

Nowadays you can buy strong, scratch-resistant plexiglass nearly as clear as glass. Cops use it to lock up violent felons – you can count on it to prevent your tenants’ kids from breaking it.

It’s also one of the cheapest rental property improvements on this list. Win-win.


10. Simple Landscaping Means Less to Mess Up

Ornate landscaping looks great. It also requires work to upkeep. Do you think your tenants are going to break their backs keeping up extensive landscaping?

At best, your renters might water a few plants and mow the yard. And those are more responsible people than the average slacker whose weekend is filled with cheap drinks and reruns of bad sitcoms.

As a general rule of thumb, the less work your tenants have to do to maintain the outside of your property, the more likely it is they’ll do anything at all.


11. Replace Light & Fan Pull Cords with Switches

Pull cords to turn on lights and fans aren’t the “cool,” or “vintage” type of old-fashioned. They’re just annoying, outdated, and fragile.

Besides constantly getting in the way and hitting people in the forehead, your tenants will inevitably yank them too hard one day and pull it out of the socket. Then they’ll call you saying “I don’t know what happened, it just fell out on its own!”

Get ahead of the issue by replacing them with this newfangled technology called a light switch. Spend an extra $5 per switch and install dimmer switches for a more luxurious feel.

And for the fans, you can buy plus/minus button switches to control fan speed. They’re not outrageously expensive either – two simple and affordable rental property updates for a modern vibe and less to break.


12. Install Window Blinds Yourself

I’ve heard a lot of landlords over the years say “If my tenants want blinds, they can install them on their own.”

That’s the wrong attitude. First, you want your unit to show in its best possible light (pun intended). Second, blinds are cheap.

Finally – and most relevantly here – if you install the window blinds, you know it will be done right.

The last thing you want to do is leave rental property improvements in the hands of your tenants. If you do, you can expect four-inch carpenter nails or screws going right into your beautiful window framing.

Take this responsibility on yourself, and if you want to go higher-end, buy wooden slats or even plantation shutters for a classic-elegance feel. And make it clear that damage to them will come out of the tenant’s security deposit.


13. Require Tenants to Replace the Air Filters

One lease clause you should definitely include is a requirement that the tenants replace the air filter every three months. Include the appropriate size, and even the best store nearby to buy them, or a URL where they can order them online.

Most tenants forget to do this, and it leads to exponential greater strain on your air conditioning condenser and furnace. Which, in turn, leads to drastically shorter lifespans for each, plus higher energy bills for your tenants.

Not every rental property improvement is done by you. But even this one requires your attention, as part of your semi-annual property inspection.


Alternative: Switch to Passive Investing

As an expat who spends much of the year overseas, I got sick of landlording a couple years ago. Sick of the tenant excuses, sick of damage to my investment properties, sick of hearing “check’s in the mail” and chasing down delinquent tenants and filing evictions. 

But I’ve built an entire career out of real estate investing. Besides, there’s a lot to love about real estate investments, from the ongoing passive income streams to rental property tax deductions to real estate leverage to diversification away from stocks. 

So I set out to find a way to get all the benefits of real estate investing without any of the headaches of being a landlord. What I found: real estate syndications. You get all the same tax benefits, the same passive streams of income, and even better returns, typically 15-30%. But real estate syndications are passive investments you just write a check.

No more 3 AM phone calls. No more investment property damage. And no more hounding miscreant tenants to pay their rent on time. 

Best of all, you can invest in syndication deals with less cash than it takes for a down payment on a rental property and closing costs. At least if you invest as part of a real estate investment club, that is. If you aren’t already a member in one, join ours!


Final Word: Inspect the Property Every 6 Months

Some tenants wreak havoc on their homes. Others are respectful and treat your property gently.

If you don’t inspect the property every six months, how can you know which type of tenant they are? That’s important information, which will help guide your decision about how much to raise the rent, whether to renew their lease agreement, or whether to start the eviction process immediately.

Checking on your properties regularly helps you verify that the tenants are complying with the lease agreement terms as well. Are they replacing the air filters? Keeping batteries in the smoke and CO detectors? Did a deadbeat boyfriend move in? Did they sneak in a pet?

It also sends a clear message to your tenants: I’m paying attention, and I care about this property. You should care about it too.


Have any horror stories about what tenants have done to your property? Or success stories of how you’ve protected your investments? Share them below! (And speaking of sharing, please pass this article along to other landlords who’d enjoy it!)


More Ways to Boost Your Rentals’ ROI

About the Author

G. Brian Davis is a real estate investor and cofounder of SparkRental who spends 10 months of the year in South America. His mission: to help 5,000 people reach financial independence with passive income from real estate. If you want to be one of them, join Brian and Deni for a free class on How to Earn 15-30% on Fractional Real Estate Investments.

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