We all have some understanding of the environmental impact of the printed page but converting to a paperless office in an industry surrounded by documents may seem impossible. Although it will take some planning to go green, taming the paper tiger isn’t as difficult as you might think with these helpful tips for a paperless office. 

Why Go Paperless?

  1. Saves Money
    Think of how much money you could save if you stopped paying for paper, liquid gold (also known as printer ink or toner), maintenance or replacement of machines, storage, and the wages for someone to sift, shuffle, sort, and store these documents.
  2. Better Organization
    Anywhere access to documents can make life easier for the busy landlord. Having anywhere document access also makes vacations possible and maybe even enjoyable. 
  3. Competitive Advantage
    Not only does it attract the next generations of tenants and owners when you go green for environmental reasons, but they also benefit as you do by staying organized and connected. Standing out to owners is a great way to grow your business
  4. Better than a Filing Cabinet
    It’s much more difficult for a criminal or curious employee to access documents through a protected software than a locked filing cabinet. The storage of printed documents is limited by the availability of physical space.

Perhaps you are already on your way to a paperless office and enjoy the benefits of going paperless in the office or this might be a new concept completely. Wherever you find yourself, the following suggestions might help you get closer to your goal. 

Electronic Signatures for Contracts

How binding are electronic signature? It’s been almost twenty years since the federal ESIGN Act established an electronic signature as a viable option for legally binding contracts. Although the act establishes the option to capture an electronic signature in lieu of a written one, at the state level, be sure to check with your attorney to see if your document qualifies. 

As a previous property manager, I recall the dozens of printed pages for every inspection, lease, contract, etc. And it didn’t stop there. After every party signed the documents we would then print a copy to file in-house and another to give to the resident; mailing off the original to the corporate office. 

In today’s world, those electronically signed documents can be stored as a .pdf on a tenant portal for access as well as within a property management software file folder eliminating the need to print altogether. 

Communication Online

It’s hard to believe how much the rental property management industry relied on faxing in the olden days. Seemed it was often used to verify rental and employment information as it was a secure way to send sensitive data. If you find yourself still relying on a fax machine, there are secure electronic options to try such as an encrypted password-protected document. Most online word processing tools allow you to create either a secure sharable link to a document or create a password for document access. There are so many options to communicate electronically and with the future demands towards more technology in the rental industry should foster innovations to consider. 

Property Management Reports

To move towards a paperless office, reviewing documents on-screen when possible will cut down on printing. It may require you to download viewing software or apps such as Adobe Reader. 

It takes some getting used to, especially when handling accounting tasks such as reconciling. Typically online reports are available to download in .csv format which allows you to open in a spreadsheet using a word processing tool. From there the information can be merged with other data, sorted, arranged, and searched with ease. You could also use your spreadsheet tools to create additional graphs and charts, create pivot tables for analysis, or simply use the equation tools to sum or average the data.

Workorders, Requests, and Inspections

Again, I remember the days that all requests were handled in writing, actual ink to paper. My eyes would strain to make sense of the illegible. Moving to an online option where tenants can log into a portal to send a request or workorder just makes sense in terms of time savings and in keeping requests organized and prioritized. Paper can get lost, coffee can be spilled, and tenant requests are just too important not to consider an online alternative. 

Consider conducting inspections using your phone or tablet. This free you from holding that pesky clipboard while awkwardly taking photos. Better yet, if that inspection app integrates with your property management software it further streamlines your common landlord tasks efficiently.

Rental Advertising

Still printing out flyers for your rental advertising? If it works, great! However, a quick analysis of interest from online listings and referrals versus a printed flyer may convince you to drop the printed advertising flyer to save time and money. 

Cashless Rent Payments

Cash, checks, money orders are all forms of paper. Cash is risky and handling checks time-consuming. Additionally, going cashless and letting your tenants pay rent online reduces operating expenses, reduces past due accounts, creates a digital paper trail, and improves tenant-landlord relations.

Simple ways to convert to a cashless office while converting to a paperless office would be to invest in a property management software that offers a merchant processing option to receive electronic payments from your tenants and send contributions back to owners. Research your software to see if it allows tenants to pay by cash at local convenience stores using tools such as PayNearMe. 

Online Receipts 

Once you’ve gone cashless, you can also automate payment receipts. Good software will post the payment received to a tenant portal. Additionally, many stores and vendors these days offer electronic emailed receipts for the asking. 

Tenant Resources

Between all the notices, flyers, information that gets sent out to the tenants for every move-in, inspection, holiday, emergency, etc. it’s a wonder there isn’t a papercut reduction initiative. Perhaps not everything can be electronically delivered but here are a few suggestions to move towards a digital offering: 

  • Rules & Regulations
  • Emergency Contact Lists
  • Local Area Information
  • Resident Newsletters
  • Tenant Welcome Packet

Disaster and Emergency Plans

Having a disaster preparedness plan or other emergency plans in a digital format can save lives. Trying to find a paper copy and then finding the right section in an emergency is slower than grabbing a phone and doing a quick search of a document for the information. These can also be updated and sent out faster to more residents than printing and delivering hard copies. 

Incoming Paper in a Paperless Office

Ah, the paper tiger arrives at your desk in the form of letters, advertisements, junk mail, faxes, receipts and the like. How do you cure the world of the need to give you paper? 

  • When shopping or paying bills, opt-in for online billing and online receipts when possible.
  • Opt-out of junk mail such as catalogs, direct mail, and offers
  • Inform vendors, owners, and residents to contact you by phone, email, online portal, text or any other non-paper formate to communicate requests, concerns, and questions. 
  • Switch newspapers, periodicals, and magazine subscriptions from print format to online versions when possible.
  • Have reports delivered to you electronically. 

Paperless Rental Property Management

It may not be one hundred percent possible to go paperless. E-signatures, property management software, tenant and owner portals, electronic and cashless rent payments, and switching to digital communication and documentation storage all play a part in getting closer to that goal. 

In the meantime, try to reduce, reuse, and recycle what is still circulating. Even if you can’t eliminate paper altogether, opt for environmentally friendly products when possible. Many office supply companies will even pay you to recycle ink cartridges and you can choose to recycle toner cartridges or refill them instead of purchasing new. 

Progress not Perfection

Paper isn’t going away completely anytime soon so as we all make progress towards that goal, let’s get creative. For example, make mini note pads with the back of the discarded printed paper. Take home discarded paper for kids to use for crafts and coloring. Crumple junk mail and learn to juggle. Even our office, which is just about 99.99% paperless, had just enough fodder for a paper airplane contest in celebration of Boss’ Day. 

Going paperless doesn’t have to be a scary proposition. It’s just a toothless paper tiger waiting to be tamed.