2020’s Expenses and Activity

When people talk about having rental properties, usually the first thing we hear is, “I don’t want to hear about a clogged toilet at midnight.” Does your toilet clog at midnight? No. So why do people think that tenants have issues that you wouldn’t typically see in your own house? A tenant can’t expect service faster than you’d get on your own property.

Even when there’s a month that requires a lot of our attention to be on rental properties, it’s still always worth the income/expense ratio. 2020 was a year of big expenses. However, I kept the perspective that we had several properties that we didn’t even hear from, and this was just one year of 4 so far.

Here’s a look back at what happened with our rental properties in 2020.


House #7 required a roof replacement. We have dealt with leaks since we purchased the house, and the time finally came that the replacement was more cost effective. This house also required HVAC repairs and plumbing replacement. Since we purchased the house, we had issues with the upstairs bathroom sink not draining properly. After several attempts to unclog it, our plumber finally made the call – it wasn’t a matter of cleaning a clog, it was time to replace corroded copper pipes… from the second floor to the crawl space. And so we did that. We then had to pay someone else to repair the drywall. All together, this house cost us $7,600. However, about $4k of that was the roof, which has to be depreciated over 27.5 years, so we only claim about $75 of that cost this year.

House #1’s roof has also troubled us from the start, but it’s under HOA control. We had a leak that was bad enough to require the HOA’s attention. It was a multi-week process to get them to even acknowledge me, and I have no intention to ever own a townhome again. I like having more control over my property than being in a position to hound an HOA to address a water-related issue as I watch more rain in the forecast. In the end, they repaired it, but we’re responsible for the drywall repair, which was $76.

House #6 required the main sewer line from the street to the house to be replaced, which was $4k including the scoping trip to put a camera in the pipe and see how deteriorated it was.

We had quite a few HVAC issues this year, after only having 1 issue on all our houses (well 2, but that second one was someone driving over our unit and insurance covered it). We had House #3 require a new fan, which was $635. House #9 had an entire HVAC replacement at $5k, depreciated 27.5 years. House #12 required HVAC work at $500.

We had to replace a dishwasher, stove, washing machine, and refrigerator among the properties as well. These were the major purchases and don’t account for several smaller plumber and electrician trips that were needed among the properties.


On the positive side of things, we paid off one loan, paid $23,500 paid towards another, and refinanced a property (reducing our monthly payment by $104).


Of 12 properties, we had to turnover 3. Turnover is the most time consuming to us personally because it requires our attention to touch up paint, fix things, order appliances, and coordinate any other maintenance issues. Then we need to handle listing the property and showing it when we don’t have a property manager, which was the case for 2 of our properties.

In March, we had the tenant at House #11 request a renewal of their lease. A couple of weeks after signing the renewal, they requested to be released from the lease because they were moving to another state. We worked with them, for a fee, to be released from the lease, and they vacated the house as of April 30. I had to repaint, clean the bathrooms and kitchen, fix a few things, and clean the carpet (which was only a year old at this point). We listed the house, had several inquiries, and had it rented on May 7.

In September, we had the tenant at House #7 request to be released from her lease because she was buying a house to take advantage of low interest rates. The Fall isn’t a good time to be listed a house for rent, but it’s hard to not help someone help themselves like that! We agreed to release her from the lease for 2 months worth of rent. Shortly after that agreement, an old tenant of ours reached out asking if we had something coming available in October or November, and this house fit her request perfectly. I met her to show her the house and had a November 1st lease signed the next week. We asked the new tenant if she could move out before October 31st, and we would refund her for the days she left early. We spent two days touching up paint, fixing an old water leak patch (the roof had since been replaced by the drywall work in the laundry room hadn’t been addressed), and cleaning the house. Our paint touch up was far from perfect, but we didn’t have time to repaint the whole house. I offered the new tenant an incentive of $50 per room and $25 per paint can if she wanted to paint herself, and she actually did 3 rooms so far.

The final house that had turnover is managed by a property manager. Our house was the first the tenants had rented, and they didn’t quite understand all the details of having to give notice that they were leaving. We worked with them while they went back and forth deciding if they wanted to renew or leave. While our lease stipulates that we require 60 days notice if they plan to leave at the end of the lease, we wouldn’t typically post the house for rent more than 3 weeks out. They eventually decided they wanted to leave the house, but then at the last minute asked for more time. We had a lease lined up for two weeks after they were going to vacate, so we were able to give them an extra 10 days in the house. Once they left, we had the carpet and house professional cleaned, and I touched up some paint. The property manager handled the listing, showing, and background checks. The new tenants haven’t asked for anything since they moved in back in July.


We were not heavily impacted by the pandemic. We hadn’t realized it until the Spring, but nearly all our tenants work in health care, which is just an interesting coincidence. During 2020, we only had one tenant that we had to constantly keep up with regarding her employment and ability to pay rent. She didn’t always pay on time, but we would have all the month’s rent before the end of the month each time. Then we had a tenant here or there that needed another week or two to pay rent in full, which we had no problem allowing. We didn’t collect any late fees in 2020.


While a year of several big expenses can be overwhelming, it’s helpful to know that this has not been our norm and the issues were centralized to a few houses. It also helps that 5 of our houses have long term renters (renewed more than once). Having a tenant renew their lease saves us time and money.

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