Did you take that plunge and decided to become a Do It Yourself Landlord? If so, congratulations and most importantly, good luck! Bear in mind it's not all skittles and rainbows and you will definitely have some hard times ahead of you no matter how fair or by the book you try to be. In order to increase your chances of making this a generally positive experience, I suggest you follow a few of our guidelines below.
In my experience as a DIY Landlord, my main focus was to have documents and processes, as well as having the right mindset. That mindset should be set around treating this as a business. Don't be fooled to think otherwise: As soon as you become a Landlord, you have started a business. Never forget that.
Having the proper mindset in any business you start goes a long way. If you go in there with the sole thought of money money money, you will eventually make a bad decision and create a bad experience for yourself and for your tenant which may result in not making you as much money as you expected. To avoid this, you could write down a business mission and stick to it. Your mindset will then follow.
You should also be keeping a written record of everything, having an organized filing system and keeping communication lines open at all times. Don't be one of those landlords that just have verbal agreements with their tenants because I'm telling you, this never works out in the end.
Below I'll explain the important documents to have when screening and to have in general during the term of a tenancy that will help make this as good of an experience as possible. Bear with me because I'm going to throw a bunch of info at you.
Always make sure you get them to fill out an application. I had 2 types of applications: an Electronic Application (PDF document they could fill, save and send by email) and alternatively, a printable application they could fill with a pen and scan or take pictures with their phones to send.
Once you have an application that passes your screening criteria, it's time to call for references from current and past Landlords as well as current Employers. I had a Reference form which is basically just a list of questions I asked the Landlord(s) and Employer(s) when I called for a reference. I filled out the answers with what they said and then I saved this in the tenant's file (and yes, I had a file for each tenant and I also kept a general file for all the applications I received even if they weren't chosen).
For the Lease, (which is the most important document) you need to make sure this is iron clad and it needs to be specific to your local rental laws. Here in Ontario, the provincial government has a Standard Lease that every Landlord must use but it's specific to the renting laws of Ontario. If you're in Ontario, perfect! If not, you can either call your lawyer or a local property management company and ask them if they can send you a template. You may need to pay a fee for this but if it saves you in paralegal fees down the road for going to court, it may well be worth this initial fee. You could even your lawyer to write one written specific for your unit and ask how much they would charge for that. It would probably be a good investment because then you'll always have that copy for future tenancies and you'll have the piece of mind knowing it's as iron clad as possible.
Once you're ready to give them the keys to the unit, do a walk through of the property with them and have walk through papers with you to fill out. This is basically along the same lines of when you rent a car and the company makes you walk around the car to notice any preexisting scratches or bumps so you're not held liable (or that you ARE held liable if you bring it back with a new scratch that wasn't there before). It's the same thought process, it's there to protect your tenants just as much as it protects you and it will avoid unnecessary conflict. It doesn't have to be a very lengthy process either, I just filled it up before they get there so it's quicker and then I tell them to walk around and to tell me if they spot anything worth mentioning on the report. Tip: If you do notice something worth mentioning, take a picture! Then have them sign the papers, print a copy and send it to them by email along with any photos you may have taken and keep this document. File it in their tenant file so when they decide to move out, you can retrieve that same document and use the move out column. Don't forget that normal wear and tear is normal and expected. We are looking for actual damages here and a general idea of the state of the unit before and after their tenancy.
Now for my favorite document: the New Tenant Orientation guide. I leave that one on the kitchen counter when they move in and tell them to read through it when they get a chance so they can get an idea of how we function as a business. It's a 4 page document that basically outlines all our policies, what they are responsible for as a tenant so you don't get those calls for a clogged toilet at 2 am (hint: not your job), it also highlights how important it is that rent is always paid on time and what happens if it's not, as well as numerous other possible issues.
During the tenancy when you get a maintenance call, you could fill out a maintenance form and send it to them by email so you can clearly have a record of the things that were done in the unit in case you ever need to go to court for something. While we're talking legal, I would also strongly recommend to keep all communications via email unless of an emergency. That way you have a clear written record from beginning to end of the tenancy. I make this clear with all my tenants before they move in and never had any objections about it. It protects both parties.
My final advice to you is: always keep up to date with the local rental laws, know what you're allowed / not allowed to do as a Landlord, be patient and understanding with your tenants, be human, maintain a mutual respectful relationship and always treat it as a business. Don't ever make it personal. Leave the emotions at the door because there's no place for them in business. These are the only ways I know to make your job as a DIY Landlord easier.