A Landlord’s Obligations To Repair And Maintain Rented Property

Posted by on July 26, 2006 under Tenant Screening & Background Checks | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

A landlord of a rental property is expected to ensure it is habitable and comfortable for his / her tenants. So much so, certain states even carry laws that govern maintenance of rental properties by landlords. Generally, taking care of one’s rental property is split between the two categories of maintenance and repair.

  • Repair. If anything on the rental property breaks, malfunctions, becomes inoperable, generally it is the responsibility of the landlord to carry out the repairs as quickly as possible, in order not to put the tenant to any kind of inconvenience. Repairs that are considered the necessities of daily life, include running and / or hot water, heating, air-conditioning, proper ventilation, etc., and should be fixed on a priority basis.Usually, a landlord is responsible for providing repairs when the damage caused is not the fault of the tenant, such as, a broken water line, an inoperable water heater or some such, where the problem is not due to any direct action of the tenant. Even so, if the damage has been deliberately caused by the tenant, such as knocking over a water heater, as a result of which it no longer functions, it is the landlord who is responsible for carrying out repairs and fixing the problem as quickly as possible, since hot water is deemed a basic necessity. While, a landlord may have to cover the initial costs of repair of replacement, he / she can bill the tenant who was responsible for knocking it over, in the first place.

    Similarly, if the property’s structure has been damaged, a landlord need’s to determine at whose door responsibility should be laid. Even if the tenant caused the damage and will have to pay for fixing it, it is still the responsibility of the landlord to get the repairs done. As well, there have been cases when a tenant fixed the damage and then tried to deduct the repair charges from the rent. Whether, you permit the tenant to get away with it or not, you should make sure they know you are to be notified about any accidents or damages, as soon as they occur.

  • Maintenance. As a rule, the landlord is responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of his / her property. This can mean anything small, such as, mowing and maintaining the lawn to something as big as having a new roof put in. In case, you want the tenants to remove snow or mow the lawn, then you will have to state it in the lease agreement so that landlord / tenant duties and responsibilities are clear cut.Certain tenants will offer to maintain your property in lieu of a reduction in rent. It is for the landlord to determine how much rental discount can be given to a tenant for maintaining his / her property.

    For someone with several rental properties and little time to provide necessary repairs and maintenance, it makes sense to outsource these duties. A property management company or a maintenance worker can be hired to handle problems. Large apartment complexes will require living accommodation for your handy man so that repairs and other problems can be handled as soon as possible.

A word of advice, it is better to carry out preventive maintenance so that your property does not require excessive repairs over time. Despite all, it is a wise move on the part of the landlord if he / she screens prospective tenants thoroughly to ensure their property will be well looked after. Visit www.e-renter.com for tenant screening and background check services.

FAQs Regarding Landlord Tenant Dispute Resolution

Posted by on July 25, 2006 under Landlord and Tenant FAQs | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

For landlords and tenants, lawsuits should not be the first and only choice; there are other options to help resolve any landlord / tenant disputes.

Ques. How is it possible to avoid disputes between landlords and tenants?

Ans. Quite unavoidable, landlords and tenants can often get involved in disputes leading them to the hiring of lawyers and taking each other to court. Minor in nature, the disagreement may be over a small increase in rent, who is responsible for repairs and maintenance or the return of a security deposit. Whatever, the disagreement, don’t turn it into a legal wrangle, resorting to lawyers and litigation for resolving landlord / tenant disputes should not be your first thought.

Legal problems can be avoided if both landlords and tenants follow the tips below:

  1. All involved in the rental game should be aware of their rights and responsibilities under federal, state and local law.
  2. The terms of the lease or rental agreement should be clearly defined and not couched in ambiguous terms.
  3. A landlord and tenant should keep their lines of communication open. Any disputes or disagreements e.g. landlord’s right to enter the tenant’s apartment, should be resolved by thrashing out the issue, instead of immediately getting on the phone to a lawyer.
  4. A landlord / tenant should keep copies of any correspondence and notes about conversations relating to any issues they might have. For example, requests for repairs should be given in writing by the tenant and a copy kept on file. On his / her part, the landlord should retain the request for repairs, noting down when and how the repairs were done.

Ques. If thrashing out the problem has not helped and we still disagree, what should be done next?

Ans. If a landlord and tenant cannot come to an agreement, in spite of talking it out, yet, still want to continue their rental agreement, mediation by a neutral, third party should be considered. The mediator may not have the legal powers of a judge, but can work to find a mutually acceptable solution to settle the dispute. A publicly funded programme, mediation is available at little or not cost.

To get more information on mediation programmes, the mayor’s or city manager’s office can be called to find out the person responsible for handling landlord / tenant housing disputes.

Ques. If mediation has failed to resolve the issue, what is the last step before going to a lawyer?

Ans. If mediation fails, then the only recourse is to seek a legal remedy. If the dispute is regarding the return of the security deposit money, the case can be taken to the small claims court for a speedy, inexpensive resolution of disputes involving relatively small amounts of money. Keep in mind, a small claims court remedial measures are limited to the awarding of money damages, with the maximum amount one can claim varying from $3,000 to $7,500.

Residential Lease – Consent Assignment

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For the uninitiated, a consent assignment is when a tenant wishes to terminate a lease agreement before its expiry, and in which case, the landlord may request a new tenant be found to take over the lease. Called a consent assignment of lease, it requires the three parties i.e. landlord, first tenant and new tenant to agree to the new arrangement.

Like everything else, it is important to put it in writing to ensure all concerned parties are clear about the transaction, as well as, a preventive measure for future misunderstandings and complications. For an initial tenant, a consent assignment removes all lease agreement for him/ her. For a landlord, it serves as notification, allowing them to screen and conduct a background check on the new tenant.

For an air-tight consent assignment agreement, it should include the following 8-points:

  1. Names and addresses of involved parties. The first tenant’s new address is required, the mailing address of the new tenant should be their current address, which will allow the landlord to carry out the necessary background and reference checks. Visit www.e-renter.com for help with tenant screening and background checks. The address of the rental property should also be included.
  2. The first tenant’s reason for vacating the leased property. If the first tenant is leaving as a result of a job transfer, or because he / she wishes to move to another location, whatever the reason, it should be included in the consent assignment agreement.
  3. Effective lease dates. It should also be stated how long the new tenant will be bound by the consent agreement. If the first tenant’s lease expires in four months, then this will be the term of the existing lease for the new tenant.
  4. Lease terms.
  5. What will be done with the initial security deposit. If the first tenant has adhered to the conditions for the return of the security deposit, such as, no damage to your property, cleaning of the property, etc., the deposit must be returned. This means that the new tenant will have to provide his / her own security deposit.
  6. Liability statement. This states how a landlord wishes to deal with liability for future lease payments. Should the new tenant be held liable, or will the old tenant still be accountable for them?
  7. Integration clause / whole agreement. As with any written lease agreement, it is important to include a statement, clarifying signatures of all parties constitutes acceptance of the entire agreement. This is useful if the new tenant claims they did not understand a part of the consent agreement, and therefore should not be held responsible.
  8. Signatures of all parties. The signatures of all parties involved in the consent agreement are important, including the date signed. For added security, it may be signed in the presence of a witness or that of a notary public.

Lease termination should not be turned into a bitter, acrimonious dispute. If a tenant wishes to end his / her lease and provides a replacement, they have fulfilled their part of the bargain. By drawing up a consent agreement, all parties amicably solve what could be a stressful situation, benefiting all involved.

Accepting Co-signers For Lease Agreements

Posted by on July 24, 2006 under Landlord and Tenant FAQs | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

A lease agreement with one tenant is tricky enough, and by adding a co-signer a landlord can make the situation more complex than is necessary. But, if you have a tenant who lacks a credit history or has a dodgy one, a co-signer with a good track record can assure you financial peace of mind.

Similar to a co-signer on a bank loan, a lease co-signer agrees to pay the rent, if and when your tenant cannot make the payments. In many instances, such as a young tenant without an established credit history, either parents or friends may be required to co-sign their lease.

Or else, a co-signer may be required if a landlord wishes the tenant’s rental amount to be less than a certain percentage of his / her entire income. Some landlords ask for co-signers, as a way of ensuring the tenant is living well within his / her means and can meet their rental payments each month. If on the whole, a landlord is satisfied with his / her tenant, but the latter’s income is less than the satisfactory percentage requirement, it is a good idea to ask the tenant to add a co-signer to their lease , as surety the rent will be paid throughout the lease term.

Consider the following before instituting a co-signer lease policy:

  1. A Complete Analysis of Co-signer’s Financial Status. A landlord needs to ensure a co-signer will be able to live up to the financial guarantees provided by him / her in the lease agreement.
  2. Co-signer Must Be Easily Contactable. In case, a tenant is unable to meet his / her rental obligations, a landlord should be able to get in touch with the lease co-signer to be able to collect rent owed. It is a good ideal to discuss options and procedures with the lease co-signer before the lease is actually signed.
  3. A Co-signer Must Understand the Implications Of Signing The Lease. It is essential a co-signer understands the terms and what is entailed when he / she signs the lease. Not every co-signer will be willing to take on the responsibility of paying the rent plus late fees if a tenant is unable to do so. A landlord should discuss the matter with both tenant and co-signer, making clear everyone understands what is expected of them. It is possible to work out an agreement where a co-signer is liable for only part of the lease term, till such time as the tenant proves he / she is reliably trustworthy and can meet the rental payments on his / her own.
  4. More Than One Co-signer. Sometimes, a tenant may wish to add on more than one co-signer to the lease. This lessens the risk and the obligation of meeting the lease terms, is shared amongst responsible people. It is a good option for a young tenant, who is just starting out and has not established a credit history.

But, having co-signers for lease agreements is not the only solution to protecting oneself against unpaid rent. A landlord has the option to ask a tenant to pay rent in advance for the entire term or part of the term, or even ask for a large security deposit amount.

Permitting a tenant to have co-signers is a serious consideration, and all points should be weighed carefully before deciding on it as the final option. Discuss the implications with your lawyer to ensure you are on firm legal ground before instituting any new lease policies.

Taking Tenants To A Small Claims Court

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If you are a career landlord, then unfortunately there will probably be many an occasion when you will have to take a tenant to the small claims court, either because they have breached the lease agreement, or you have been failed to negotiate the damage done to your property. Perhaps, all efforts, such as, attempts at mediation have also proved unsuccessful, which leaves you only with the last option of suing your tenant for damages to your rental property in a small claims court.

While, particulars vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one can use the small claims court for seeking damages below $2,500/-. Before filing a claim, it would be a good idea to find out what your state or city mandates are for your case type. It is important for you to get this information as some cities / states have instituted landlord / tenant courts solely dedicated to hearing disputes between tenants and landlords.

While, a victory in court is not guaranteed, a landlord can take certain steps to increase his / her chances of winning, such as the following:

  1. Prompt pursual of legal remedies. Like other court cases, even small claims court cases are subject to statutes of limitations. All offences have different time limits; therefore, landlords should ensure they do not wait too long before going to court. Pursuing a case when the evidence is fresh, most certainly will help you to win the case.
  2. Know the rights of a landlord. As individual states and cities have varying landlord / tenant laws, a landlord should research and have in-depth knowledge of his / her state / city laws to ensure he / she actually has a case.
  3. Contact the court house i.e. the local small claims court to find out the details about bringing your dispute to court.
  4. File a claim. Pay the filing fee, which is usually $25/- for the small claims court, though this may vary, and hand over your paperwork.
  5. Collate documentation. Maintaining proper records is the best thing a landlord can to help his case. Tenant’s application, signed rental lease agreement, repair bills, pictures of your rental property before renting out versus pictures of damage incurred, log of tenant offences, when they occurred, including other related information should be furnished in court. Too much is always better then too little.
  6. Rehearsing the presentation. In small claims courts, a landlord will be asked to present his side of the events that took place. Prepare your presentation well ahead of time, organise your documentation date wise to assist in the preparation.
  7. Attend the hearing. Attend the hearing with confidence, you are well prepared and can present your case in its best light. The rest is for the judge to decide, as to whose claim is right or wrong.

The best solution for landlords to avoid expensive litigation is to screen tenants well before signing a rental lease with them. Visit www.e-renter.com for tenant screening and background check services.

Raising The Rent

Posted by on July 21, 2006 under Landlord Tenant Lawsuits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

As costs of maintaining properties rise over time, a landlord may not have any other option, but to raise the rent charged from tenants. However, before doing so, several things need to be taken into consideration.

First, check out the lease agreement signed with tenants to ensure there is no clause in it specifying rent will not be raised during the term of the lease. If such a clause exists as part of the agreement, then it will not be possible to raise the rent until the lease expires. The lease terms must be honoured, even though the rent amount may not cover your expenses.

It means, you will have to bide your time till the lease comes up for renewal, at which time negotiations for increasing the rent may be broached with tenants. While, some of them may be prepared to pay the extra charges, a landlord must be prepared for other tenants to oppose the increase or move out. As preparation for such an eventuality, advertisements to fill any rental vacancies arising out of an increase in rent should be taken out.

Though, it must be borne in mind, every landlord has to provide existing tenants with sufficient notice that a rent increase is in the offing. Usually, a 30-day notice is enough, but check out state or local laws as they may differ slightly on the notice period.

As well, certain states have rent control measures in place, limiting the amount of rent that can be legally charged from tenants, so as to stop landlords from over-charging. If you do not wish to become embroiled in a legal battle, ensure you comply with all applicable rent control laws. As well, make certain the local housing market supports your rent increase demand. If a majority of properties in the area are charging less rent than you are asking, you may not be able to retain your existing tenants or attract new ones.

Also, remember small gradual rent increases go down a whole lot better than huge, one-time ones. Negotiate with good tenants in case they cannot meet the new rental charges. As you are aware, good tenants are extremely difficult to find, and a landlord should be prepared to bend a little to retain them. Perhaps, services can be traded for the rent increase amount, such as, odd jobs around your rental property or taking care of the grass. To avoid accusations from other tenants regarding favouritism, record the odd jobs the tenant has taken on in lieu of a rental increase.

And, remember, even though you are trading services for rent, you will still need to claim the entire rent amount as income on tax returns. Take for example, if you are charging $600/- per month as rent, but your tenant only pays $550/- plus mows the grass, then the entire amount of $600/- must be claimed as income. However, the $50/- in lieu of services can be deducted as property expense. To be on the safe side, check it out with your tax advisor before doing so!

Residential Tenant Eviction For Breach of Lease

Posted by on July 17, 2006 under Eviction | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Maybe your tenant has not paid rent for a lengthy period of time, has continually broken the terms of the lease agreement, or deliberately and intentionally damages your property. No matter what the reason it is time to terminate the lease agreement and evict the problem tenant.

This, however, can prove to be difficult for landlords, particularly those saddled with problem tenants. In such a situation, so as not to be accused of discrimination or held hostage by an unruly tenant, one must take specific steps to protect one’s interests.

Lease Termination for non-payment of rent. Even though, this is the most cut-and-dried area, landlords must still document reasons for eviction, including a clause in the lease that states, what will happen if a tenant fails to pay rent. If a tenant is habitually late in paying rent, or fails to pay it, a landlord should keep a record, including a file on each tenant to ensure accurate record keeping that will hold up, should a tenant contest the eviction.

The first step should be to warn the tenant he / she is in danger of being evicted as a result of late payments or non-payment of rent. If no heed is paid to the warning, then issue him / her an eviction notice. Give the tenant 15-days between the warning and the notice to make payment. Ensure you stick to this time limit or the warning will lose credibility, as how long the tenant takes to vacate the property is determined by state law.

Breaking or failing to follow the lease agreement. This can cause landlords many problems; therefore, it is important they include rules and prohibited conduct within the rental agreement. The lease should state clearly what behaviours are unacceptable and the consequences of not respecting the lease.

Take for example, if you do not want pets in your rental property or would prefer the tenant removes his / her own trash, it should be stated clearly in the lease agreement. In the event of a problem occurring, ensure you document what happened, when it happened, and how you dealt with it. And, provide at lease one warning to the irresponsible tenant before terminating the lease.

If documentation of the problems and the warning does not stop a tenant from persisting in breaching the lease, then it is time to serve an eviction notice based on the problems. Documenting lease violations will protect you, in the event a tenant does not wish to leave or intends to fight your decision in court.

Lease Termination for property damage. If a tenant damages your property and refuses to carry out repairs, document the problem clearly. Put down in detail when the damage occurred or was noticed, any police action that might have taken place, including pictures of the property to prove the extent of the damage. Before and after pictures of the property will help considerably in improving your claim. With all documentation in place, you can now serve an eviction notice and terminate the lease agreement.

Amicable lease termination. Or else, a landlord may terminate the lease in agreement with a tenant who wishes to move. In this case, request the current tenant to find a replacement tenant for the duration of the lease, or withhold the security deposit in lieu of a month’s notice.

A successful landlord must take time to prepare a lease agreement that covers all eventualities and document any problems that occur and their resolution, to minimize tenant problems. What is included in the lease will help him / her win the case in court.

Tenant Credit Report and Background Checks

Posted by on July 14, 2006 under Tenant Credit Checks | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

If not a common practice, landlords should make it so, to approve prospective tenants only after checking and verifying their credit report and references. Tenant screening alerts one to potential problems before signing of the lease, greatly reducing the risk of entrusting a rental property to problem tenants.

However, before a credit report can be obtained, landlords need to have prospective tenant applicants complete a written application, which should provide all relevant information, such as, name, social security number, etc. required for running credit reports.

But, obtaining the necessary information is not enough, written permission from the applicant to perform a credit check is needed, as well. This could be a clause in the application form or a separate form authorising the landlord to run a credit check, which the applicant will have to sign before a landlord can go ahead and obtain a credit report.

If a landlord has a large number of applicants for his / her rental property, credit checks can prove to be fairly expensive. Therefore, a landlord can request a prospective tenant to cover the cost. It helps to know beforehand the type of credit report needed, including the agency charges for providing it, so as to be able to request the correct amount from the applicants.

There are many agencies in the business of providing credit checks and other screening services, and while some require a membership fee, there are others who charge only for each report. A landlord of a large rental complex, who has many applicants, would be better of registering as a member of one of these agencies, such as, www.e-renter.com, saving more money due to bulk discounts members are offered.

www.e-renter.com offers many different kinds of services from credit reports, criminal records, evictions records, FCRA compliant declination letters, online submission to collections, automated decision-making, and how to accept a web based application from your own site. With online access to www.e-renter.com, landlords can order and review reports in seconds.

There are no monthly fees, no minimum billing amounts and no annual fees at www.e-renter.com, one only pays for reports ordered, from consumer credit reports, criminal record searches, eviction histories, ID verifications, business credit reports, etc., including allowing members to generate FCRA compliant declination letters, do online submissions to a collections agency, accept web based rental applications, use decision tables to qualify applicants, and more. Credit reports complete with FICO scores, known credit patterns, employment histories, in addition to the usual information on liens, account balances, and pending judgments are all available at www.e-renter.com.

Utilising the services of a screening agency helps reduce the time a landlord would have to spend on checking prospective tenant backgrounds, clearing more time for applicant processing and property management.

On a cautionary note, applicants should not be judged solely on the basis of their credit reports. Credit reports while providing valuable insights, do not give the whole picture, as there is no one, who has never run into a rough patch in their life.

Visit www.e-renter.com for tenant screening and background check services.

Security Deposits For Rental Properties

Posted by on July 13, 2006 under Rents and Deposits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Every landlord charges a security deposit from tenants of his / her rental property, in order to protect it, if a tenant fails to adhere to the lease agreement. Used, usually, to cover any damages caused by a tenant to the landlord’s property, such as, broken doors or windows, paying for the cleaning and for junk removal after a tenant has vacated security deposits are used for such, or any other destruction to the property. As well, it can be used if a tenant walks out without giving the landlord 30-days notice or without paying his / her last month’s rent.

However, most landlords have not familiarised themselves as to the legal handling of security deposits, or even how much should be charged. A number of laws govern security deposits, including whether interest is to be accrued for the period the security deposit is held by the landlord. If a landlord does not wish to walk on the wrong side of the law, it is important he / she brushes up on local, state and federal laws surrounding security deposits, so as to avoid legal hassles.

A landlord’s first task is to determine the amount to be charged for them. It should be enough to cover any damage to his / her rental property, at the same time it should not exceed the limits set by state law. There are certain states that do not allow more than one-and-a-half month’s rent to be charged as security deposit. If as a landlord, you feel this amount may not cover potential damages, it is a good idea to insert a clause in the lease agreement that states the tenant will be held liable should excess damages occur.

Once the amount to be charged as security deposit has been decided, it should be incorporated in the written lease agreement, including a separate clause, stating it will cover tenant damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear, as well as, should a tenant elect to terminate the rental lease before its due date. This ensures tenants are well informed as to what is expected of them to get back a full refund of their security deposit.

At the same time, landlords should bear in mind security deposits are not to be confused with pet deposits. The latter are non-refundable and are used for cleaning or repair of damages caused by a pet. Any rental property allowing pets will also charge a pet deposit, a difference that should be specified in the rental agreement to reduce confusion and keep a tenant informed, as to what will occur when the lease ends.

Landlords should also be aware, if the security deposit is not used while the lease is in effect, it does not have to be claimed as income on tax returns.

On the whole, it is quite possible a landlord may avoid any tenant trashing of his / her property due to careful tenant screening and background checks. (Visit www.e-renter.com for tenant screening and background check services). Even so, a security deposit provides peace of mind, in case a problem tenant causes more damage than the deposit covers. At least, security deposits help a landlord in repairing some of the damage caused by rampaging tenants!

Residential Lease Termination Agreements

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Whether, a landlord terminates a residential lease or tenant, it is always to a landlord’s advantage to draw up a suitable lease termination agreement. It not only protects the landlord interests, but guarantees both landlord and tenant; clearly understand the implications of terminating a lease. The following stipulations are essential and should be incorporated in a lease termination agreement.

  1. The effective date of lease termination should be a part of all lease agreements in order to provide both parties with a clearer understanding of when the rental premises have to be vacated by the tenant.
  2. Termination charges. In case, a landlord wants a tenant to pay for lease termination, such as, a month’s rent or forfeit his / her security deposit, it should be stated clearly in the lease termination agreement.
  3. Reciprocal release. Similarly, if a landlord does not wish to penalise a tenant for early lease termination, include a clause to the effect that both parties are willing to release each other from the terms of the written lease agreement.
  4. Authority. A statement confirming both parties have the authority to enter into the agreement is also important.
  5. Condition of the property. This clause should contain a clarification of what type of damages are to be considered as normal wear and tear, and which will be paid for from the tenant’s security deposit. In case, you feel the security deposit may not cover the entire scope of damages in the event of tenant eviction, specify the responsibility of the tenant in fixing the property.
  6. Agreement in totality. Include a clause stating both landlord and tenant agree to all terms and conditions in the agreement. This is to ensure that neither of the parties can claim later they were not aware of any agreement terms, as well, this clause will legally protect both the landlord and tenant.
  7. Delivery date. The time and date when the tenant will hand over the rental premises to the landlord must be included.
  8. Signing the lease agreement. Both landlord and tenant must sign and date the lease termination agreement to indicate acceptance of it, and that no other separate terms or conditions have been left out of it. If a witness cannot be arranged to see the signing of the agreement, it can be signed in the presence of a notary public.

Not only is it plain common sense to use a lease termination agreement, it also ensures both parties are aware of the implications of breaking any agreement term. Even if, there is no written agreement, get the tenant to sign a written termination of an oral lease. It will cut through the confusion, providing a clearer understanding and legal recourse, should a tenant challenge any of the terms that a landlord may enforce.