Identifying and Handling Problem Tenants

Posted by on July 11, 2006 under Landlord and Tenant FAQs | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Problem tenants can make life extremely difficult for a landlord. Those that seemed to be perfectly reasonable tenants may soon turn out to be perfect horrors from hell. Or, they may rack up months of unpaid rent or past-due rent skipping without paying their dues. It is suggested you follow the following tips and strategies to help avoid renting to problem tenants or to handle them, if already stuck with them.

  1. Insist everything should be in writing. Ask for references and follow up on them to ensure everything is as said to be. Include a code of conduct in your rental agreements, clearly stating action that will be taken if a tenant breaks the code.
  2. Conduct background checks. A tenant who has posed problems for other landlords will have a record on his / her activities. There are different services that can provide a landlord with background information regarding prospective tenants, such as, criminal records, etc. allowing you to determine whether the applicant will prove to be a problem tenant or not.
  3. Credit checks are essential. Along with background checks, get relevant information from applicants for your rental property that will allow you to perform a credit check. For credit checks, you require their full name and social security number on their application, including permission for you to perform the check.
  4. Think with your head and not your heart. Don’t fall for any hard luck story as problem tenants are master craftsmen, able to weave a tale of hardship and woes, taking in landlords and charming them into offering them their place to stay.
  5. Verify references. If references given by an applicant do not pan out, there may be something wrong. Often, people rely on the fact landlords may be too busy to follow up on the references provided. Don’t make the same mistake, beware of inaccurate references.
  6. Make a record of late payments. Ensure your lease stipulates the cut-off date for rental payments. Always, make a record of late payments, as this will help in case you have to file for eviction.
  7. Take into account complaints from tenants and neighbours. Not living on the site can make it tough to track the goings-on at your rental site. Tenant complaints about other tenants should be heard out and noted. For single family units, enlist the neighbours to report strange or illegal activity.
  8. It is better not to go in for tenants wanting a six-month or one-year lease. Tenants who will be there for a few months are best avoided, as tenants who move out quickly, means incurring advertising or re-leasing costs.
  9. A landlord must be knowledgeable about his rights. Knowing landlord / tenant state laws empowers you to deal with unpleasant situations. As long as you know the rental laws, you will not violate any fair housing acts by evicting an unwanted tenant.
  10. Take action immediately. If a tenant proves to be troublesome, take action at once. Enforce lease terms or they will continue to take advantage of you, simply stand your ground including documenting problems and then acting swiftly.

As long as a landlord has a legally binding rental agreement, no matter what the tenant problems, it will help protect a landlord’s interests and property. A powerful legal recourse in case something goes with a tenant or potential tenant, a lease or rental agreement is an absolute essential.

FAQs – Landlord Liability For Criminal Acts And Activities

Posted by on July 7, 2006 under Landlord and Tenant FAQs | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Most states to some degree, hold landlords legally responsible for protecting tenants from theft, would be assailants and criminal acts of fellow tenants.

Probably, that has you asking whether a law abiding citizen can be held responsible for the criminal acts of a complete stranger. Yes, the law will hold you responsible, if you own the rental property, where the assault or crime occurred. Not exactly a new trend, but landlords and rental property owners are being sued by tenants who have suffered injuries or had property stolen, with jury awarding settlements ranging from $100,000 to $1-million.

Ques. What should a landlord’s responsibilities be with regard to tenant safety and security?

Ans. Most states ascribe landlords with some degree of legal responsibility to protect their tenants from theft, assault, and criminal acts of fellow tenants. They are responsible for protecting the neighbourhood from illegal tenant activities involving drug dealing or growing of marijuana or illegal plants.

Ques. Is it possible for a landlord to limit responsibility for crime committed by strangers on his / her rental property?

Ans. A landlord must take effective preventive measures against criminal acts and activities. He can take a number of steps to not only limit the likelihood of crime, but, limit the risk of the landlord or property owner being held responsible for theft or criminal assault. Therefore, a landlord should:

  1. Meet or exceed state and local security law dictates that apply to rental property regarding requirements for good lighting, window locks and deadbolt locks on doors, if possible.
  2. Assess the crime situation in and around the neighbourhood and rental property. He / she should design a security system that provides reasonable protection to tenants i.e. in both individual rental units and common areas, such as, parking garages and elevators. Private security professionals, local police departments, even a landlord’s insurance company can furnish useful advice on effective crime preventing security measures. Installation of additional security may warrant a rent hike, in that case, the landlord should discuss the situation with his / her tenants. It goes without saying; the majority of tenants would not mind paying a little extra, as long as they know they live in a safe and secure rental unit.
  3. Tenants should be educated about neighbourhood crime, and provided with a description of security measures taken by the landlord, along with their limitations.
  4. Regular inspections of the rental property should be conducted to check and fix burnt out flood lights, broken locks or latches, including tenant suggestions for an ongoing repair and maintenance system.
  5. A landlord should look into and handle tenant complaints about suspicious activity or a broken security system, immediately. Failure on the part of the landlord could result in the landlord being saddled with a higher degree of legal liability, if a tenant is injured or robbed despite complaining to the landlord.

Ques. Can tenants dealing with drugs on rental property land the landlord into legal trouble?

Ans. Everyone knows and it has been in the news often, drug dealing tenants can cause a slew of practical and legal problems for a landlord.

  1. In such situations, a landlord will find it hard to rent out to and retain good tenants resulting in a harsh drop of the rental value of his / her property.
  2. Any problems or injuries caused by irate drug dealers to tenants or people in the neighbourhood could result in them suing the landlord on grounds of maintaining a property that is not only a public nuisance, but public safety and morals are also being threatened and jeopardized.
  3. The landlord could end up paying a heavy fine levied by local, state or federal authorities for allowing such illegal activities to continue on his / her property.
  4. The landlord may be stuck with criminal penalties by the law enforcement authorities for knowingly allowing drug dealing on rental property.
  5. The presence of drug dealers may even force the government to confiscate the rental property.

Ques. Is it possible for a landlord to avoid legal problems posed by drug dealing or law breaking tenants?

Ans. Landlords can take several practical steps to avoid tenant trouble and limit exposure to lawsuits filed against them, such as:

  1. Screening tenants carefully to weed out violently dangerous individuals and selecting those that are quite likely to be law-abiding and peaceful citizens.
  2. Accepting rental payments by cheque, rather than cash.
  3. A landlord’s lease or rental agreement should have an explicit provision that prohibits drug dealing and other illegal activities, resulting in eviction if a tenant violates the clause.
  4. A landlord should also keep a watch on heavy traffic going in and out or other suspicious activities on rental premises.
  5. He / She should respond to any complaints received from tenants or neighbours regarding illegal activities on the rental property, and should inform the police immediately on learning about the problem.

A landlord should consult security experts as to the ways and means of discovering and preventing illegal activity on his rental property.

Ten Tips For Writing Incontestable Lease Agreements

Posted by on July 5, 2006 under Landlord Tenant Lawsuits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

The best and only way a landlord can protect his / her interests is to write out an airtight lease agreement for tenants to sign. A well-constructed agreement makes the world of difference between being stuck with a troublesome tenant and taking legal recourse to safeguard your rental property.

It would be a good idea to have a competent lawyer well-versed in landlord / tenant law review the lease agreement before you finalise it. A professional is in a better position to help you determine a landlord’s legal rights in many different situations. The following tips should be of considerable help to you in the creation of a rental agreement to protect landlords and their properties.

  1. Knowledge of the Law: Property management and landlord / tenant rights are governed by different laws in each state. A landlord should familiarise himself / herself with these laws before writing out a lease agreement. Knowledge about the law will guide you as to what can and cannot be put into a lease agreement.
  2. Clarity is top priority: Confusing legal jargon or a poorly written agreement can result in misinterpretations and may not hold up in court. A landlord’s requirements should be couched in easy-to-understand terminology even a fool may find it difficult to misconstrue.
  3. Condition of rental property should be part of the lease: Ensure that the lease contains a small paragraph saying the unit being leased out is in good condition, undamaged and there are no problems relating to it.
  4. Pet Policy: A landlord’s lease should contain a clause relating to his / her pet policy i.e. whether pets are allowed and restrictions if any regarding size and pet type. As well, if you prohibit keeping of pets on your rental property, ensure it is there in the lease.
  5. Right of Entry: Each state requires a landlord to give his / her tenant a specific amount of notice period before entering the premises. Some states have 24-hours as the minimum time requirement, while others maintain a 48 or 72-hours notice period. How much notice, you intend to give your tenant should be a clear part of the lease.
  6. Security Deposit Terms: Everything relating to the security deposit should be spelt out clearly in the lease. For example, if tenants are required to pay a deposit against damages to the property, it should be specifically stated in the lease, what is to be considered as damage to the property.
  7. Rental and Security Deposit Amounts should be clearly stated: The rent per month and amount of security deposit should be clearly stated in the rental agreement. The lease should also contain information on when the rent is to be paid and when it will be considered as late payment, including penalty charges.
  8. Maintenance and repairs, what you will or will not cover: It is a landlord’s responsibility to provide repairs for fixtures, heating and air-conditioning equipment, including appliances. However, a lease agreement can designate tenants with certain maintenance responsibilities and hold them responsible for repairs needed due to negligence or destructive tenant acts.
  9. Activity restrictions: If a landlord expects his / her tenants to follow a certain code of conduct, it should be included in the lease agreement. This will provide a clear lifestyle guideline for tenants and will take care of your interests should the tenant fail to follow the rules and restrictions laid down by you.
  10. Consequences of lease breaching should be made clear: In case, a tenant breaks the specified code of conduct or fails to pay rent on time, specify in the lease that in such cases, the landlord has the right to terminate the lease agreement and evict the tenant.

Incorporate all of the above points and you are well on your way to constructing an indisputable lease agreement that will hold up in any court of justice!

Legally Correct Procedure to Deal With Real And Personal Abandoned Property

Posted by on July 3, 2006 under Landlord Tenant Lawsuits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

Abandoned property is property that a tenant has given up all rights to and intent to reacquire same property is not evident. To ascertain the correct legal procedure to deal with such a situation, landlords are advised to consult Civil Code, Section 1951.3, which contains the applicable law relating to abandoned property. As well, reading the following should give you a fair idea of when a landlord may consider his / her property to have been abandoned.

  1. If you find your rental property unoccupied, it may only be considered abandoned if there is a delinquency in rental payment and no rent has been paid for 14-consecutive days.
  2. It is important a landlord has reasonable belief that his / her property has been abandoned. If a landlord knows or suspects his / her tenant is either away on vacation, living at his / her job site, in jail or simply absent due to other circumstances, he / she may not consider the property to have been abandoned, as there is every possibility that the tenant will / may return to take up residence, again.
  3. If a landlord finds his property unoccupied, instead of considering it abandoned, he / she must first serve a written notice upon the tenant, mailed first class with prepaid postage, and sent to the last known address or any other address, where the tenant may receive it. Perhaps, the notice can be sent to his / her place of employment, a parent’s address, a P.O. Box No, including a copy to the premises, a landlord believes to have been vacated by the tenant. This is, in order, to provide adequate opportunity for the tenant to reclaim his / her tenancy rights, if so wished.You are not required to send the notice by certified mail as the law presumes first class mail is sufficient proof; the notice has been received by the addressee. However, as further precaution, obtain proof of mailing from the post office.
  4. The waiting period of 18-days ensues and a landlord has to out the period before he / she can take any action.
  5. A landlord cannot re-possess his / her property if the court does not agree the property has been abandoned, or if all or a portion of the rent owed is paid up during the 18-day waiting period, or if the tenant gives written notice that he / she has no intent to abandon the property, along with providing an address where he / she can be sent certified mail.
  6. In case, none of the above happens, a landlord is allowed to re-enter the premises after the 18-day waiting period and may rent out the property, again.
  7. If, personal property is found to be abandoned, the landlord is required to store it in a safe place, protecting it from theft and natural elements. He / she will be held responsible and made to pay for any damage to the tenant’s property.
  8. On the other hand, a landlord is entitled to seek reimbursement from the tenant for storage costs and the safe-guarding of his / her personal property.
  9. Before storing the property, the landlord must itemise and determine the monetary value of the abandoned personal property, except in the case of a locked trunk or suitcase, whose outward appearance can simply be described. And while, evaluating and making an inventory of the personal property ensure you have a reliable witness on hand. If the property is valued over $300.00, it will be required to be sold off at a public auction. If, under $300.00, it can be disposed off in whatever manner after requisite notices have been sent.
  10. In the same way as abandoned rental property, a proper written notice is to be served on the tenant for abandoned personal property. Again, an 18-day waiting period ensues to allow him / her time to reclaim his / her belongings, with release of the property dependant on its value, whether over $300.00 or under.If storage and other charges are paid by the owner, the abandoned personal property may be released. But, a landlord cannot hold ransom personal property for unpaid rent or damaged property.
  11. If the tenant’s personal property is auctioned of, the proceeds from the public sale rightfully belong to the tenant. The landlord is not entitled to them in lieu of unpaid rent or damage to property. He / she can only claim reimbursement for actual costs of storing the property and for advertisement of the sale. If the tenant does not claim the balance amount, the landlord is required to deposit it in the County security, in which the sale took place.

It is important that landlords follow the law; otherwise they may end up getting sued or land themselves in uncomfortable situations. As well, it is a good idea to confer with a lawyer before taking action on your own.

Ten Best Landlord Tips

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The following tips or rather simple suggestions will help you run your rental business smoothly, as well as, hassle tangle free relations with your tenants.

  1. Never rent out your place without checking up on your prospective tenant’s credit history, landlord plus other references and background. Incomplete screening and tenant selection can result in numerous problems, such as, late rent payment or no payment at all, or a tenant who has no respect for your property, or is careless of the damage he / she causes, or else you can get a tenant who allows undesirable friends to move into your property along with him / her, and worse.
  2. Ensure you get all important terms of the tenancy in writing, beginning with rental application, lease or rental agreement, notices to tenant e.g. entering tenant’s apartment for maintenance / repairs, etc., handling of tenant complaints and repairs i.e. when and how they were handled, etc., even going so far as to noting down conversations or discussions with your tenant that bear any relevance to the tenancy.
  3. A Landlord must establish a clear, fair system of collecting, holding and returning security deposits. Inspect and record the condition of the rental unit, document and if possible video-tape it before a tenant moves in. This will help prevent disputes over security deposits when he / she moves out.
  4. A good landlord always stays on top of repairs and maintenance to his / her rental unit. If the property is in a deplorable condition, the tenants will have every right to withhold rent, sue for injuries caused as a result of broken steps, etc, or even move out without notice.
  5. Make your property burglar proof as you do not want to be held liable for tenant losses. Skimping on essentials could cost much, much more in the long run.
  6. A good landlord always respects the privacy of his / her tenants and notifies them whenever he / she plans to enter their unit and will give as much notice as possible, at least a minimum of twenty-four hours, or the minimum required by state laws.
  7. Environmental hazards such as lead must be disclosed, as increasingly, tenants are holding landlords liable for health problems related from exposure to environmental poisons on the rental premises.
  8. Rental property managers must be chosen carefully, as if he / she is incompetent or commits a crime, it is the landlord who will be held financially responsible. You need to screen employees and conduct background checks, the same way you would a tenant, as well, clearly spell out the manager’s duties in order to prevent future problems.
  9. For someone in the rental business, it is important to purchase sufficient liability and other property insurance. A well-constructed insurance programme will protect your rental property from losses due to fire, storms, burglary, vandalism, personal injury and discrimination lawsuits.
  10. Resolve to resolve disputes with tenants without resorting to lawyers and litigation. Any conflict over rent, repairs, access to rental unit, noise or any other issue that does not warrant eviction, can be sorted out by meeting with the tenant and talking it over.In case, that does not work, try mediation through a neutral third party, which is often available at little or no cost from a publicly funded programme. If the dispute is over money and all attempts to resolve the conflict fail, the next resort is to go to the small claims court, a place where one can represent oneself without hiring a lawyer. When a tenant moves out without paying rent and damage to the property is over and above the security deposit amount, the small claims court can help you collect unpaid rent or obtain reimbursement for property damage caused by your tenant.

As long as you follow all the above scrupulously, you will be the best landlord in the rental business and will never have to resort to lawsuits or chase tenants for unpaid rent or damage to your property.