Calendar icon February 6, 2023

How to Easily Improve A Home's Indoor Air Quality

Yes, yes, we know we keep harping on pollen. That's partly because so many people are affected by allergies and partly because, in the south, the pollen is terrible! Like really bad.

Allergy sufferers have two choices:

  1. Deal with the pollen and feel horrible for what seems like an eternity.
  2. Go inside already!

(Because we all know that antihistamines only do so much.)

pollen vs the Death Start. Any questions?

Since we all want to avoid the Death Star...er, we mean pollen, let's stick to staying inside when we can until the pollen has subsided.

durham sky is haunted by a cloud of pollen

Photo credit: Jeremy Gilchrist.

Not really a tip, but a fun fact. Lucasfilm (the people who make Star Wars films) doesn't own a trademark to Death Star—oh, the Death Star is...nevermind. Just watch the saga. However, Lucasfilm does have a registered trademark for "Tiny Death Star," aka pollen. You can blame your allergies on George Lucas.

Indoor Air Quality

Poor air quality has a significant impact on the comfort of your home and overall health. While some symptoms may seem mild, they can escalate into more complex health complications.

What's crazier than that? You probably had no idea, and it's pretty hard to notice.

We usually think of air pollution as being outdoors, but the air in your house or office could easily be just as polluted. It wasn’t always this way. Over the years, as homes became more air tights and more energy efficient, we let a lot less air inside. To make matters a little worse, over 2,000 chemicals are released into the market each year. Those chemicals are used to make things smaller, better, cleaner; you know the drill. If we're honest, not all chemicals in your home are dangerous, per se. But you should know that the air inside your home can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside. Maybe open up your windows once in a while. While indoor air pollution may only mildly irritate some, it can cause Sick Building Syndrome.

Exactly as it sounds, you get sick from the building you’re inside. World Health Organization has documented “mucous membrane irritation (eye, nose, and throat irritation), neurotoxic effects (headaches, fatigue, and irritability), asthma and asthma-like symptoms (chest tightness and wheezing), skin dryness and irritation, gastrointestinal complaints” as some of the symptoms.

Indoor Air Quality has become a buzzword of sorts, and you often hear about it referred to as IAQ. It’s not quite a public health issue, but it can be a concern when you throw poor outdoor air quality into the mix. The EPA uses its Air Quality Index (AQI) to measure outdoor pollution.

EPA's Air Quality Index chart

At the same time, even when AQI levels are within a healthy range, there are plenty of nasty Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) ready to make your life a lot less pleasant inside. VOCs come in all sorts of forms: paints contain things like aliphatic hydrocarbons, ethyl acetate, glycol ethers, and acetone; formaldehyde (yes, what they use to embalm bodies) can be found not only in paint but also in ceiling tiles and adhesives; benzene, a known carcinogen, can be found in cigarette smoke and smoke from a wood burning fire.

What's one to do?

As a home wellness company, we could just tell you to regularly replace your air filters with a subscription service (because they really do help). But we won't just leave it at that. There are three easy items to run through that you can do to improve your home's IAQ so you really can escape the pollen this Spring.

Deal with smoke

Smoke that can contribute to a lower IAQ is all around us. Even if you aren't a smoker, cooking produces smoke. So do candles and incense. If you have a fireplace, that produces smoke too.

To deal with smoke, here are some simple (and not-so-simple) tips:

  • Don't smoke: but if you must, smoke outside. Need we go on?
  • Cooking smoke: try using oils that have a lower smoke point. For example, Olive Oil has a relatively low smoke point: 320ºF. That's pretty easy to get to. Go for healthy and higher smoke point oils like Grapeseed oil (420ºF), Almond oil (420ºF), Hazelnut oil (430º), Ghee (485ºF and not actually oil), and the mother of all high smoke points, Avocado oil (520ºF). You can definitely sear a steak on some cast iron with some of that handy.
  • Candles: not all candles are "wicked"—get it? Vegetable oil-based candles (like soy) are quite alright. And so are beeswax. It's synthetic wax and animal-based wax that can produce indoor pollutants. More likely than not, you don't have candles at home made from animal lard, and yes that's what candles used to be made of. But most of us don't have soy-based candles either.

Let's talk about candles a bit

Most modern-day candles are made with paraffin. Remember those VOCs mentioned earlier on? When burned, paraffin releases VOCs like benzene and toluene. Since no one wants to get cancer from those carcinogens, just toss those. Be better than Yankee Candle.

Up to 8% of candle manufacturers still use lead in there wicks. Yes, lead. The same lead that gave Romans brain plaque because they used it to make their pipes. Know what happened to the Roman's? Exactly.

Also, keep in mind that most fragrances in candles are not great for you. Here's the general rule: burning produces some level of smoke that is bad to breathe in. Even incense (sorry yogis).

Here's a better idea: add some essential oils to your air filters to give your whole home a fresh, natural scent. You could use a diffuser, but then you wouldn't be able to take advantage of (shameless plug) a subscription home air filter delivery service.

If you do use essential oils in a diffuser, always be sure to use purified water. Using tap water can actually make the air you're breathing in pretty toxic as well.

Get a handle on VOCs

You've heard of people going "all natural" with their house, switching to safe cleaners and cosmetics. There's also been a significant rise in all natural, safe carpet cleaning and dry cleaning. Seems these people are onto something. According to the American Lung Association, VOCs can be found in products like:

  • Aerosol spray products, including health, beauty and cleaning products
  • Air fresheners
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Detergent and dishwashing liquid
  • Dry cleaning chemicals
  • Rug and upholstery cleaners
  • Furniture and floor polish
  • Oven cleaners

Of course, VOCs can be found in a lot of places, but finding VOC-free alternatives to these products will help to make your home a whole lot safer for you and your family. You may end up spending more, but health is worth it. For help finding healthy products, EWG is the closest thing you may find to an exhaustive guide.

Planning to embark on a home improvement project? Make sure the materials you or a contractor are using are non-VOC (free of VOCs). For example, paint can be a common VOC culprit.

Keep the pollen outside

The easiest thing to do (other than regularly replacing your air filters) is keeping the pollen outside.

Simple things like:

  • Keep your car in the garage, so it collects less pollen.
  • Wipe your feet off on a mat when you get inside. At the very least, take your shoes off when you get inside before tracking pollen inside. Your body (and floors) will thank you. If you have a mudroom, take advantage of that by taking your shoes off and leave them in there.
  • Clean up after being outside. Put your clothes in the washer and shower the pollen off you—your hair is an especially problematic pollen magnet! Men, it may be time to shave that beard.
  • Clean your pets as often as they'll let you. When they come inside, they are going to bring in A LOT of pollen (not to mention all their common allergens).
  • Use a bagless vacuum and use it often. Bagless or canister vacuums often have HEPA filters and are easy to empty outside, ensuring all the dust, dander, and pollen you collect is safely disposed of outside.
  • Keep your windows and doors closed. It's as simple as that.

Newer washers have allergen and sanitize functions. If you have allergies, you might want to use these if regular wash cycles don't do the trick.

We're not trying to give you a massive list of to-dos; instead, this should just give you options to choose from. In this busy, always-on world, adding one more to-do isn't worth it. So pick what works for you, and legitimately, use Second Nature to mark replacing your air filters off your to-do list forever. It's worth it for everyone, but especially allergy sufferers.

All that to say, remember that spring is still a beautiful time of year so enjoy it when you can. Stay sniffle-free, friends!

Keep learning

SFR Property Management Problems and Solutions

In recent years, the single-family residence (SFR) rental market has seen significant growth as more property owners recognize the potential for steady income and long-term appreciation. With this rise in popularity comes a unique set of challenges for the rental property managers (PMs) who are tasked with overseeing these properties. Unlike multi-family units, managing single-family homes can present a range of issues that require tailored solutions. Scattered-site properties also present a logistical challenge, as they are by nature harder to service and manage. From finding quality residents to handling unexpected maintenance emergencies, a strategic and proactive approach is required to ensure a smooth and profitable rental experience. Note that even though we here at Second Nature prefer the term "resident" over "tenant" in order to foster the human element, the word "tenant" may still be used occasionally due to its long-standing legal and real estate context. What Are the Most Common Property Management Challenges? The most common problems faced by SFR property managers generally fall into three buckets: finding quality residents; maintenance and repairs; and time management and communication. Let's explore each. #1 Finding Quality Residents One of the most critical aspects of managing SFRs is resident placement. Indeed, inadequate resident screening processes can significantly impact resident retention as well as profitability. That’s because poor screening can lead to high turnover rates (including evictions), increased property wear and tear, and ultimately, financial strain. Additionally, attracting responsible residents who will treat the property with care and adhere to lease agreements can be particularly challenging in competitive rental markets. #2 Maintenance and Repairs Unexpected maintenance issues are a common hassle for SFR property managers. From plumbing leaks to HVAC failures, emergencies can arise without warning, leading to unplanned expenses and logistical challenges. Finding reliable and responsive contractors who are able to address repairs promptly adds yet another layer of complexity. The inability to swiftly manage these issues can result in resident dissatisfaction as well as potential property damage. #3 Time Management and Communication Managing multiple single-family homes requires excellent time management skills. Balancing the diverse needs of residents, coordinating with vendors, and ensuring regular property inspections can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s essential to establish clear and timely communication channels to maintain good resident relationships and efficient operations. However, juggling these responsibilities can lead to lapses in communication, resulting in time-consuming misunderstandings and unresolved issues. Solutions for a Smoother SFR Rental Experience While the challenges of managing SFR rentals are significant, there are effective strategies and tools available to streamline operations and enhance resident satisfaction. Here are some solutions to common property management business problems. Strategic Resident Screening Implementing a robust resident screening process is crucial for minimizing vacancy rates and securing responsible residents. To this end, utilizing professional screening services can help identify prospective tenants by thoroughly evaluating their rental history, credit scores, and background checks. Clear lease terms and expectations should be established from the outset to ensure residents understand the responsibilities and obligations that occupancy brings. Learn more: Tenant Screening Tips for PMs 10 Steps to Onboard New Tenants Proactive Maintenance Proactive maintenance is key to preventing costly emergencies and maintaining the property’s condition. Scheduling regular preventative maintenance inspections allows property managers to identify and address potential issues before they escalate. Building relationships with reputable and responsive repair professionals ensures that maintenance tasks and requests are handled promptly. Consider leveraging technology that allows residents to conduct their own regular inspections to provide early detection of problems and streamline the property maintenance process (learn more). Vendor and Supplier Selection Choosing the right property management service providers and vendors is crucial to successful property management. Establishing relationships with reliable and responsive contractors ensures that maintenance and repair issues are addressed promptly, reducing downtime and inconvenience for renters. It’s essential to vet vendors thoroughly, checking their credentials, references, and reviews to ensure they meet the necessary quality and reliability standards. Building a network of trusted professionals can lead to better service rates, priority scheduling, and consistent adherence to due dates as well as work quality standards. Additionally, negotiating long-term contracts with preferred vendors can offer cost savings and a more streamlined management process. By prioritizing quality vendor and supplier selection, property managers can enhance the overall efficiency of their operations and maintain high tenant satisfaction. Technology and Automation Incorporating technology and automation into property management can significantly enhance efficiency and communication. For instance, online portals for collecting rent payments and addressing maintenance requests simplify transactions and ensure transparency. They can also facilitate incentives for prompt rent payment, follow up on late payments, and generally optimize rent collection with an eye to optimizing cash flow. Property management software can also streamline vendor and tenant communication, track maintenance schedules, and provide detailed financial reporting. These tools not only save time but also build trust and improve resident satisfaction by ensuring quick and effective responses to their needs. Naturally, you will need to conduct a due diligence process of technology selection and provider assessment that addresses pricing, customer support, and support for the features that are mission-critical for your organization. Second Nature’s Outlook Effective property management is essential for maximizing the profitability and longevity of single-family home rentals. By addressing common challenges with strategic solutions, property managers can enhance resident satisfaction, reduce vacancy rates, and maintain the property’s value. Embracing technology and proactive management practices are critical components of any successful SFR business strategy. Property managers are encouraged to explore these solutions and adopt the approaches that best suit their specific needs. Learn more about property management company best practices, marketing, and more in our Second Nature Community.

Calendar icon June 7, 2024

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How to Craft a Notice to Tenant to Clean Property [with Template]

Ensuring that rental properties are well-maintained is crucial for property managers and landlords, not only to protect the value of their real estate investment but also to provide safe and pleasant living environments for residents. One important tool for maintaining property standards is a "Notice to Tenant to Clean Property" letter that communicates concerns about cleanliness and outlines necessary actions for residents. In today’s post we’ll cover essential elements you should consider around transparency and effectiveness, as well as a sample letter you can use to craft your own notice. A note on language: Here at Second Nature, we prefer to use the terms "resident" and “residency” rather than “tenant” and “tenancy,” in order to emphasize the human element of property management work. However, there may be instances where terms such as "tenant" are used for legal or industry-standard purposes within documents or communications. In these cases, please understand that our intent remains the same – to provide clear, accurate, and meaningful information to all people involved in the business relationship. What to Do When Your Tenant is a Hoarder? Hoarding can present significant challenges for property managers. It not only poses health and safety risks but can also lead to severe property damage. Here are steps to take when dealing with a hoarding situation: Understand the issue Hoarding is often a complex psychological condition that requires sensitivity and understanding. It’s important to approach the situation with empathy and awareness of the resident’s potential mental health needs. This understanding can guide your interactions and help you manage the situation more effectively. Conduct thorough inspections Regular property inspections are crucial for identifying hoarding behaviors early. These inspections should be conducted in accordance with the lease agreement and local laws. Document any findings with photographs and detailed notes to provide a clear record of the condition of the property. Communicate clearly and compassionately When addressing the issue with the resident, clear and compassionate communication is key. Explain the concerns and the potential consequences if the situation is not addressed. Emphasize that the goal is to ensure a safe and habitable living environment. Provide a formal notice If the hoarding issue violates the lease agreement, a formal "Notice to Clean Property" may be necessary (more on this below). Collaborate with professionals In severe cases, it may be beneficial to involve professionals who specialize in hoarding disorder. This can include social workers, mental health professionals, or professional organizers who can provide the resident with the necessary support to address their hoarding behavior. Follow legal procedures Ensure all actions taken are in compliance with local and state laws. This includes providing the correct amount of notice, following proper eviction procedures if necessary, and respecting the resident’s rights throughout the process. Document all actions Keep thorough records of all communications, inspections, and notices related to the hoarding issue. This documentation can be crucial if legal action becomes necessary and helps protect you as the property manager. By addressing hoarding with a combination of empathy, clear communication, and adherence to legal requirements, property managers can manage these challenging situations more effectively while maintaining the safety and integrity of their properties. Identifying When a "Notice to Clean Property" Letter is Necessary A "Notice to Clean Property" letter becomes necessary under various circumstances. It's essential to recognize these situations in order to maintain the property's value and condition, and to ensure compliance with lease agreements. Routine inspections Routine inspections are an integral part of property management, allowing managers to identify issues early and address them before they escalate. If an inspection reveals unsanitary conditions, excessive clutter, hoarding, or neglect of cleanliness, a formal notice is warranted. This proactive measure helps maintain the property and encourages residents to uphold their end of the lease agreement. Failing to address these issues promptly can lead to severe problems such as mold growth, pest infestations, plumbing issues due to neglected maintenance, and increased costs associated with turnover when a property is vacated. Complaints Neighbor complaints regarding cleanliness issues, such as uncollected trash, odors, or visible clutter, can indicate a need for intervention. Addressing these complaints promptly with a notice demonstrates that management is responsive to concerns and committed to maintaining a harmonious living environment. Ignoring such complaints can exacerbate the problem, leading to pest infestations that can create an unhealthy living environment for residents. Lease violations Most lease agreements include clauses that outline residents' responsibilities for maintaining the property in a clean and sanitary condition. When these clauses are violated, issuing a notice is necessary to enforce the lease terms and remind residents of their obligations. Failing to act on these violations can result in significant property damage, including plumbing issues from unaddressed leaks or blockages, mold growth from damp conditions, and ultimately, costly repairs and renovations needed to restore the property for the next resident. This can also lead to increased turnover costs, as the property may need extensive cleaning and repairs before it can be re-leased. The Importance of Clear Communication Open and effective communication is vital in property management, especially when addressing cleanliness issues. A clear, well-crafted notice helps prevent minor issues from becoming major problems and sets the stage for resolution. Proactive approach Early intervention through timely communication can prevent minor cleanliness issues from escalating into significant problems. Addressing concerns as soon as they are identified shows residents that management is diligent and proactive. Setting expectations A well-crafted notice clarifies expectations for resident maintenance responsibilities. By explicitly stating what is required, renters understand their obligations and the standards of occupancy they must meet. Documentation The notice serves as a documented record of the identified issue and the steps taken to address it. This documentation is crucial for protecting the property manager's interests if further action is needed, such as additional fees or eviction proceedings. Note that property managers can proactively address cleanliness and maintenance issues by clearly setting expectations with new tenants from the outset. This can be achieved by including a detailed cleanliness clause in the lease agreement, conducting a thorough walkthrough of the rental unit at move-in, and providing a welcome packet to ensure each tenant knows their responsibilities. During the initial walkthrough, managers should highlight specific cleaning requirements and standards, demonstrating proper care for different areas of the property. Regular communication, such as periodic reminders and tips for maintaining the property, can further reinforce these expectations and prevent issues from arising, ensuring a smooth and mutually respectful resident-PM relationship. Crafting a Compelling and Effective Notice Creating an effective "Notice to Clean Property" involves several key elements that ensure clarity and encourage compliance. Introduction Begin the written notice with a clear statement of its purpose as a formal notification regarding the property's cleanliness and upkeep condition. Include the property address and the resident's name(s) to avoid any confusion. Specific observations Detail the cleanliness issues observed during the inspection or reported by others. Use clear, descriptive language to ensure there is no ambiguity about the concerns. For example, instead of saying "the property is dirty," specify "dirty dishes are piling up, attracting roaches/pests; or “an abundance of waste materials is creating a health hazard/fire hazard." This also helps differentiate the cleanliness issue from normal wear and tear. Reference to lease agreement (optional) If applicable, cite relevant clauses in the rental agreement that outline the resident’s responsibility for maintaining the property in a clean and sanitary condition. This reference reinforces the legal basis for the notice and the resident's obligations – and helps ensure that you are respecting applicable tenant rights and state laws. Outline of expectations Clearly define the expected level of cleanliness and specific actions required to rectify the situation. A timeframe for follow-up is useful for helping the resident to address the issues, such as a 7-day notice period to clean. This approach gives residents a clear understanding of what needs to be done and by when. Consequences for non-compliance (optional) Briefly outline potential consequences for failure to address the cleanliness concerns within the designated timeframe. This might include increased inspections, withholding of security deposits, or legal action, including a potential order to vacate/eviction notice. Note that although it may well become necessary to instigate an eviction process, it’s important to maintain a professional tone and avoid excessive threats to encourage cooperation. Additional Considerations for Specific Situations Different scenarios may require tailored approaches when issuing a proper notice to clean the property. Health and safety hazards If the cleanliness issue poses a potential health or safety hazard, such as mildew/mold growth, pest infestations, or overflowing sewage, prioritize immediate action. In such cases, involving relevant authorities might be necessary to ensure the issue is resolved promptly and safely. Chronic offenders For residents with a history of neglecting cleanliness standards, consider outlining a stricter course of action. This might include increased inspections or even potential lease termination if the behavior continues. Clear documentation and a consistent approach are essential when dealing with chronic offenses. Delivery Methods and Maintaining Records Ensuring that the notice is delivered and documented correctly is crucial for effective property management. Delivery methods Consider the following methods for delivering the notice: Hand-delivery with a signed receipt: This method ensures the resident receives the notice and acknowledges its receipt. Certified mail with return receipt requested: This provides documented proof that the notice was sent and received. Other methods with documented proof of delivery: Any method that provides verifiable proof of delivery is acceptable. Maintaining records Retain copies of the notice, delivery confirmation, and any relevant communication for your records. This documentation is crucial if further action is necessary and serves as evidence that the issue was addressed appropriately. Free “Notice to Tenant to Clean Property” Template Providing a template can simplify the process for property managers. However, it's essential to note that legal advice is recommended to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations. ``` [Your Name] [Your Address] [City, State, ZIP Code] [Date] [Resident's Name] [Property Address] [City, State, ZIP Code] Re: Notice to Clean Property Dear [Resident's Name], This letter serves as a formal notification regarding the cleanliness condition of the property located at [Property Address]. During a recent inspection conducted on [Date], the following issues were observed: - [Detail the specific cleanliness issues] As per the lease agreement, Section [Lease Section], you are required to maintain the property in a clean and sanitary condition. To rectify the situation, please take the following actions by [Specify Deadline, e.g., 14 days from the date of this letter]: - [List the specific actions required] Failure to address these concerns within the specified timeframe may result in [potential consequences, such as additional fees, increased inspections, or eviction proceedings]. We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. Please contact us at [Your Phone Number] if you have any questions or need further clarification. Sincerely, [Your Name] [Title] [Contact Information] ... Promoting a Culture of Responsibility Maintaining a clean and well-kept property is a shared responsibility between residents and property management. By promoting a culture of responsibility, property managers can create a positive living environment that benefits everyone involved. Encouraging residents to take pride in their living spaces and providing resources such as Second Nature’s Resident Benefits Package (RBP) can foster this culture. The RBP can include regular maintenance tips, access to cleaning services, or rewards for maintaining high standards of cleanliness. Ultimately, a collaborative approach leads to what we at Second Nature call a "triple win" — residents enjoy a pleasant living environment, owners maintain their investments, and PMs have an easier role to play in maintaining these thriving, beneficial relationships. Learn more about Second Nature’s RBP.

Calendar icon June 7, 2024

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