Last modified on January 6th, 2017
By Elizabeth Millar
Free Wi-Fi is an attractive feature for tenants, but is it worth offering high-speed internet access in your properties, or will it just add another headache to your already difficult job? We’ll look at the pros and cons of offering free wireless internet access and give you some tips on how to implement it should you choose to do so.
Access to the internet is quickly being recognized as a basic human right, and while prospective renters don’t yet expect it to be available in the way they do electricity and water, there may soon come a time when basic internet access is something you’ll need to seriously consider. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if offering free Wi-Fi in your properties is worth it.
Is Wi-Fi an Easy Add-On?
Internet access is often bundled into cable television packages, so if you are already offering cable TV to your tenants, adding internet will be an inexpensive and easy upgrade. However, television can be quite a personal choice, and with many different options in most markets you may be limiting yourself by not allowing your tenants their choice of provider.
On the other hand, when it comes to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), you are getting essentially the same service, just with different levels of speed, so providing standalone free Wi-Fi is probably a better option. This shouldn’t preclude your tenants from installing their own service should they have the need to do so because they work from home, need to upload or download large files on a regular basis, or are intensive online gamers. As a free service, basic Wi-Fi throughout your properties is an attractive benefit for most tenants who just want to check email and stream the occasional Netflix movie at home.
Can You Maintain the Service?
Remember, anything provided in working order in a property when a tenant moves in is a landlord’s responsibility to keep that way. This means you become the service provider, putting you on the hook for middle-of-the-night calls when the internet goes down, or when someone can’t figure out how to connect their device.
Additionally, multiple users on one service can lead to one person “hogging” the bandwidth, say if they’re indulging in a Game of Thrones marathon in one room while their kids play Minecraft in the other. Consider investing in a Wi-Fi router that allows you to limit bandwidth on each device connected to it, so you can distribute the available resources fairly between your tenants.
What Is Your Rental Property Setup?
Multi-Family Units. For multi-family units where utilities such as electricity, water, and gas are already shared, it makes a lot of sense to install shared internet access. However, there’s a significant upfront equipment investment with this scenario, as each unit (or building) will need its own router or Wi-Fi- extender, and you may want to install the correct wiring to support a multi-unit network.
A system like this will also need regular maintenance, so it’s best to have an onsite manager who can deal with issues quickly, or hire a company to install and manage the system for you. Either way, be sure you set up the ISP account as a business account—not a personal one—to limit any liability issues for any fraudulent or illegal activity conducted on the account. To help mitigate this, you should consider blocking access to certain sites. You can use a software program such as OpenDNS to do this through your router.
Whatever your scenario, you should have your tenants sign an internet usage agreement, and make it clear that you would cooperate with the authorities on any investigation into illegal activities.
On-Site Units. If you have one or two on-site units (i.e. buildings where you also live), it’s relatively simple to create a “guest network” on your own wireless router and offer your Wi-Fi to your tenants without allowing them to access your personal network. Your router will determine if you can do this. Most offer a guest access option that is easy to set up and allows you to provide your tenants with their own “network” and password, keeping everything separate. You may need to invest in a Wi-Fi repeater to extend the signal far enough to get good service in these units, but there are no monthly costs associated with these devices.
Remember that the internet service is in your name in this scenario, so be sure to have your tenant sign an internet usage agreement and consider installing some of the safeguards mentioned above.
Single-Family Units. If you are renting a single-family home, it is probably simpler to let your tenants order their own internet service, as they do with other utilities. This keeps all the bills (and liability) in their name and lets you keep your costs down and your rents lower.
[If you’re not sure where to start, you can find most of the Wi-Fi router options mentioned in this article at your nearest Home Depot.]
You could include internet access as a separate charge to your tenants, but a “complimentary” service is a lot more attractive to potential renters. Plus, by not charging for it you are limiting your role as a service provider, so if it goes down for a period, you won’t be on the hook for any rebates. If you are looking to cover the costs of the service more fully, you could consider charging an upgrade fee to allow tenants to get extra bandwidth, if your equipment supports it.
If there is a lot of competition for tenants in your area, or if you are marketing your property as a high-end “business professional” unit, offering free high-speed internet will make you stand out from the crowd. The associated costs are relatively small, but maintenance and support for the system will take up some time and resources. If you don’t have trouble filling your units without free internet, you may want to hold off until market pressures compel you to do so. But you likely won’t be waiting for long!
Jennifer Tuohy provides advice on technology and gadgets, including info about providing Wi-Fi access and extending your Wi-Fi signal.