One of the most common goals in real estate investing is to generate as much income as you reasonably can. Even with one rental property, it can be difficult to make sure the rent is being collected on time without having to go through payment receipts or download a monthly bank statement.
A rent ledger is one of the most valuable reports that property owners can use to help increase cash flow and property value. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at how to use a rent ledger and provide resources for downloading a free rent ledger template and setting up a tenant rent ledger online.
- A rent ledger is one of the most versatile reports a real estate investor can use.
- A rent ledger shows key items, such as rent received, past due rent, lease expiration date, and security deposit amount.
- Investors, property managers, lenders, and tenants can all use a rent ledger.
- Benefits of using a good rent ledger include improving property financial performance and identifying opportunities to increase property value.
What Does a Rent Ledger Do?
A rent ledger is an important document that real estate investors and property managers use to tell at a glance the rent payment status of each tenant.
The ledger compiles key data such as the monthly rent, when the rent was received, and in what amount. Owners also use the rent ledger to see if there is an outstanding balance owed by a tenant and the late fee assessed, along with when the next rent payment is due.
A good way to think about a rent ledger is as a combined gross income statement and an accounts receivable report for a rental property. All businesses keep track of income received and outstanding payments due, in order to better manage cash flow.
Information on a Rent Ledger
In addition to providing real-time payment updates, a well-designed rent ledger also provides important information such as:
- Owner name
- Property address
- Type of property (single-family, multifamily, short-term rental)
- Lot size
- Zoning or use
- Address/Unit number (for multifamily buildings)
- Tenant name
- Square feet (of home or unit)
- Lease start date
- Lease end date
- Monthly rent
- Additional rent (such as pet, appliance, or roommate rent)
- Due date of rent
- Rent paid date
- Security deposit
- Notes (carpet due for replacement, offer tenant incentive for rent renewal, etc.)
Free Rental Ledger Template
We’ve put together a free, customizable rent ledger template in Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel that you can download for free:
Download for Google Sheets
Download for Microsoft Excel
Simply click on the appropriate link and download to your computing device. After you open the spreadsheet, save it by another name so that you always have the original document to go back to.
Instead of manually updating a spreadsheet, an even better way to keep track of tenant charges, payments, and balances is by signing up for a free Stessa account. The tenant ledger in Stessa automatically keeps track of outstanding tenant balances, partial months (such as prorated rent), and late charges.
The tenant ledger feature is designed to be as friction-free as possible. Generally speaking, neither monthly rent charges nor rent payments received need to be entered directly on the ledger.
How to Use a Rent Ledger
Now let’s take a look at how each stakeholder in a rental property typically uses a rent ledger.
Rental property investors can use a rent ledger to help anticipate problems with cash flow before they occur and to identify potential opportunities offered by a property.
By reviewing a property’s rent ledger over multiple years, an investor can learn if the overall gross rental income is growing, declining or staying the same.
For example, if the rental income the property generates is consistently going down year-over-year, that may indicate a problem with property management or with the property itself. When a home is older and not well maintained, it may take more time each year to find a new tenant, which increases the vacancy rate year-over-year.
On the other hand, if the tenants are “seasoned” and have been consistently renewing their lease every year, an investor may predict that tenant turnover will remain low. Gross rental income should stay the same or continue to grow, with the property generating consistent income.
The rent ledger can also reveal potential windows of opportunity to a savvy real estate investor.
If a rental property is generating a gross rental income lower than expected, oftentimes the reason is due to lack of interest from the current owner or a lot of deferred maintenance. By investing some money in updates and improving property management, a new owner may be able to attract better tenants willing to pay a fair market rent, which in turn can increase ROI.
Real estate investors hire a property manager to handle the day-to-day details of ownership, such as making sure the home is well maintained and that rental income is being maximized.
By reviewing the rent ledger, a property manager can quickly determine if a tenant is behind on the rent and immediately contact the tenant. A past-due tenant balance that appears on the rent ledger also indicates that a late fee needs to be charged and that a late rent notice must be prepared and sent.
A rent ledger is also a useful tool a property manager uses to help keep tenant turnover low.
When a manager sees that a tenant lease is coming up for renewal in the next few months, the property manager can proactively reach out to the tenant and extend the lease. The manager can also determine if the tenant is due for a rent increase by running updated rent comparables and comparing the tenant’s rent to the current fair market rent.
One of the many factors lenders look at when approving or denying a rental property loan is the net operating income (NOI) and debt service coverage ratio (DSCR) of the home.
NOI is the amount of cash left over after the rent has been collected and the normal property operating expenses have been paid, excluding the mortgage. For example, if a fully-occupied 3-unit multifamily property generates a gross monthly income of $3,600 and operating expenses are 50% of the rent collected, the NOI would be $1,800 per month.
The lender will review the rent ledger to see what the vacancy level of the property has historically been. If the vacancy rate for the property as a whole is averaging 10%, the lender may conclude that the amount of net operating income available to pay for the mortgage is actually $1,620 ($1,800 monthly NOI at 100% occupancy less 10% or $180 per month for a vacancy allowance).
After the lender reviews the rent ledger to help predict the actual NOI the property will generate, the debt service coverage ratio (DSCR) is calculated. The DSCR compares the monthly mortgage payment to the property’s NOI and is used to forecast how much extra cash flow is left over each month after the operating expenses and mortgage have been paid.
If a property is generating an NOI of $1,620 and the monthly mortgage payment is $1,200, the DSCR would be 1.35 ($1,620 NOI / $1,200 Mortgage payment = 1.35). Most lenders look for a debt service coverage ratio for a rental property loan of at least 1.20.
In this example, the property generates enough net operating income to cover and service the debt and pay for normal operating expenses, while still having extra money each month.
As part of the tenant screening process when applying to rent a new home, a tenant can use a copy of the rent ledger to help gain a competitive edge.
The rent ledger that shows the tenant has been paying the monthly rent as agreed to can be a powerful document to provide to a new landlord. A rent ledger can also help to speed up the approval process for a new tenant, in case a former property manager or owner is slow to respond to a rental history inquiry to verify the tenant’s occupancy and payment history.
Tenants can also use a rent ledger in the event there is a dispute about a late fee being charged or an eviction being started. By having access to the rent ledger, a tenant can make sure their monthly rent payment is posted correctly, and ask the landlord to make a correction if there is a mistake.
If a landlord processes an illegal eviction, the tenant can use the rent ledger in court to demonstrate to the judge that the eviction is unlawful. When an unlawful eviction occurs, many state landlord-tenant laws allow the tenant to be awarded damages.
Benefits to Having a Rent Ledger
The ability to generate income through recurring cash flow from rent payments is one of the main reasons for investing in real estate (along with potential appreciation in property value of the long-term and tax benefits).
Improved Financial Performance
By comparing the outstanding accounts payable – items such as invoices from vendors for repairs and a mortgage payment due – an investor is able to determine how quickly the property operating expenses can be paid, and any remaining profit.
When the time comes to refinance the property or purchase another rental home, lenders will look at the financial performance of the current property to help determine the risk of making an additional loan, and the interest rate and terms to offer.
Identify Windows of Opportunity
A rent ledger provides information on the cash flow the property is currently generating, and the rental income that remains unpaid. If a specific property or real estate investment portfolio isn’t generating the gross income expected, it may be due to poor property management or an indication that the tenant screening process needs to be improved.
The rent ledger also helps to reveal long-term property trends.
For example, if a single-family rental home consistently generates higher rents year after year, that may be a sign that the demand for the home is strong due to its location, upkeep, and management.
By contrast, assume that one unit in a small multifamily building consistently generates less rent than the others. While the property as a whole generates a good gross rental income, one unit consistently underperforms. Perhaps the flooring or appliances need to be updated, or the unit needs to be repainted.
After reviewing the property rent ledger, an investor may determine that by doing some minor renovations overall gross income from the building can be increased, creating a higher property value.
Document Tenant Performance
A rent ledger also provides backup if a tenant needs to be evicted and the case ends up going to court.
The rules to evict a tenant for not paying the rent vary based on the state landlord-tenant laws where the property is located. But something a landlord must always do is provide evidence that the tenant broke the rental agreement because the rent was not paid in full or on time.
Providing a copy of the rent ledger to the court is one of the key documents a judge will review to determine whether a landlord has the right to evict the tenant for non-payment of rent.
Questions a Rent Ledger Answers
Despite being a fairly simple document to put together, there are a surprising number of important questions a rent ledger can answer:
- How much gross rental income is the property currently generating?
- Will the future rental income remain the same, increase, or decrease?
- Are there opportunities to increase the gross rental income?
- Is the property manager performing as promised?
- Which tenants are paying their rent in full and on time?
- Are late fees being assessed and collected as required by the lease?
- What leases are due to expire and when?
- Is the security deposit sufficient to cover potential damage caused by the tenant?
- What is the rent payment history?
- How long has each tenant occupied the property?
- Is there enough cash flow remaining after the mortgage payment to pay for operating expenses?
- Are rent payments being correctly recorded by the landlord or property manager?
- Are late fees being fairly assessed?
A good rent ledger is one of the most powerful tools a real estate investor can use. Some of the many benefits of using a rent ledger include monitoring gross rental income collected, improving property NOI and cash flow, and identifying long-term financial performance trends.