- Landlord special is a term that was coined on TikTok to describe shortcuts taken by unscrupulous landlords.
- These practices often result in poorly executed DIY fixes and repairs that rarely improve on the existing problem.
- Renters should see signs of a landlord special as a warning that the landlord or property manager may be slow to address other issues at the property.
If you've heard the phrase "the landlord special" thrown around on TikTok, you may be curious about what people are actually talking about. The term has become synonymous with everything from bad DIY repairs to undeniably unappealing cosmetic updates.
We talked to a few pros to find out exactly what constitutes a landlord special, and why you should keep an eye out for it when it comes time to sign a lease on a new home.
Video of the Day
What is a ‘Landlord Special?’
A landlord special is when the lessor (that's the landlord) decides to DIY a project or use an untested hack in an effort to save money, according to Jose C. Bordes, a real estate investor. "When you are preparing a condo, townhouse, or house for potential renters, you're basically on the clock to get it rented out as quickly as you can," he says, adding that any time a property is vacant it's cutting into the landlord's profit because there are no rent payments coming in.
To shorten that vacancy period some landlords will cut corners on work that needs to be done so that they can turn the rental around faster. "Paint jobs, floor baseboards, [and] laminate floors are some of the typical jobs a landlord will do or try to do themselves in order to save a few hundred dollars," he says. "Let's face it, the landlord still has to pay the mortgage whether the property is full or vacant. It might take 30-45 days to finalize background checks on a potential tenant, so you can see [why they are tempted] to DIY many things around the house."
What Does a ‘Landlord Special’ Look Like?
Sometimes these properties are easily identifiable thanks to some obvious issues, like the former rental property Marty Morrison, co-owner of Property Bridge Solutions, LLC purchased last year. "This landlord special I purchased was available because the owner couldn't sell it due to the condition it was in," Morrison said, adding that he knew he would have his work cut out for him thanks to some of the obvious issues he clocked as soon as he walked in the door.
"First thing we saw was window coverings that were all different," he said, adding that the kitchen appliances were also all mismatched, with some of them being stainless steel, white, and even almond. "We saw wall repairs that were poorly done — drywall patches that weren't sanded, smooth ceiling patches surrounded by popcorn ceilings," he continued. "We had walls painted the same color as the trim with paint splatters all over the floors. We walked on uneven floors where you had areas that were spongy and others that were raised a good inch or so."
Still, none of that prepared him for what he found once he bought the house and started rehabbing it. "I found drains with duct tape used to stop leaks, floors that were made of mismatched LVP, and a bathroom sink that had a garden hose ran to it to provide running water," he said, adding that he'd never take on another property like this again in the future.
Why Do Landlords Do This?
While not everyone paints over dirty window sills or uses garden hoses as cheap plumbing hookups, some people are guilty of unintentionally pulling off a landlord special. Don Chambers, owner of Double K Property Management, says sometimes it's about being overconfident in your abilities. When Chambers was first getting started as a landlord he decided to tackle a bathtub renovation project on his own.
While the paint job initially looked good and made the home more appealing for prospective renters, his DIY work didn't hold up. Just three months after he'd painted the bathtub, it was visibly chipped, cracked, and peeling in several places. It was a hard lesson for Chambers to learn, but one he says he definitely needed. "The house with the tub was my first rental house," he says. "I bought it in 2007 and sold it last year. I now have over 70 houses, and I never do anything myself. I encourage all landlords to hire professionals, even if they are an expert at work. It's not worth doing it yourself."
How to Recognize the Signs of a Landlord Special
As Morrison explained, sometimes you don't truly see the extent of the shoddy workmanship until you start digging into renovations, but there are a few red flags you should always be on the lookout for.
Leaking shower heads, paint smudges on the ceiling, or obvious signs of years of dirt buildup can all be indicators that the rental you're touring has landlord special written all over it. Tomas Satas, founder, and CEO at Windy City HomeBuyer, adds that there are a few other things you should keep an eye out for, like when the owner of a property paints over everything with off white paint, or fails to remove outlets or tape wall edges before painting.
In addition to failing to prep, landlords who have painted over cables, hinges, or other items to the point where they no longer have any functionality are also major warning signs. "This is what happens when landlords, or people that they hire, don't know how to paint or don't care," he says, adding that they're just looking to do it as cheaply as possible.
Why Landlord Specials Can Cost You In The Long Run
Even as renters, you still have property at stake when you're living in a rental. If corners were cut with plumbing repairs or electrical upgrades, your belongings could be in danger of getting destroyed by a leaking pipe or a fire.
Your peace of mind can also be on the line. Living in a home with a potential timebomb behind the walls can really weigh on a person. If you see any of these red flags while touring a possible rental you may want to say "thanks, but no thanks" and keep on searching for a better place to lay your head.