Making Your Rental Property Non-Smoking

Posted by Teresa on March 30, 2012 under Housing Trends, Landlord Tips, Lease and Rental Agreements | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, background checkIt seems that smokers are having more and more trouble finding places to light up these days. They can’t smoke at work, or in most other public places, like bars and restaurants. Some municipalities are banning smoking in outdoor parks and other public places, too. Seems like his or her own home will soon be the only place a smoker can legally smoke. Unless they live in a no-smoking rental property.

Is that the case for your rental properties? Are your tenants allowed to smoke in their units, or in common areas? For an increasing number of landlords, the answer is “no.” It’s not so much the smokers’ health that landlords are concerned about—it’s the health of the rest of tenants, including children, who are subjected to second-hand smoke.

If you’re ready to ban smoking in your rental properties, you might experience some pushback from smoking tenants. Smoking is legal, after all. But landlords are within their rights to ban many legal activities, such as owning a pet, playing loud music or operating a business from home.

In many states, laws are changing to specifically state that landlords may adopt no-smoking policies. And some cities have instituted smoking bans on multiunit properties.

A new no-smoking policy generally requires 30 days’ notice before it can go into effect. A tenant with a current lease cannot be subjected to the ban until the lease expires and they sign a new one.

If you’re going smoke-free, think about how you’ll handle your policy. Will you include all units as well as common areas? Will smokers be allowed to smoke in a far corner of the property, or in an isolated area of the parking lot? How will you handle violators? If you own several buildings, would you convert some to smoking and the rest to non-smoking?

There are several ways to approach it, but encouraging tenants to give up smoking is good for everyone. After all, if you won’t subject a tenant to a neighbor’s noise, why would you want to subject him or her to a neighbor’s second-hand smoke?

Protect your rental property and assets through tenant background checks. Proper tenant screening will ensure you are leasing to the best possible tenants.

Landlord Faces Jail Time After Medical Marijuana Bust

Posted by Teresa on March 27, 2012 under Legal | icon: commentRead the First Comment

tenant screening, tenant prescreeningCould this happen to you? A Montana landlord faces up to three years in prison for renting to a medical marijuana business. The landlord neither grew nor sold marijuana; he is the only landlord charged after two rounds of federal search warrants were served on Montana medical marijuana operations last year.

The landlord, along with three tenants, was charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

After making arrangements with the prosecutors, one tenant pleaded guilty to money laundering and will serve six months in federal prison with six months of house arrest. The others pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and received sentences of a year and a day.

The landlord, Jonathan Janetski, faces sentencing on April 19, on a charge of maintaining drug-involved premises, with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. His lawyer says that sentencing guidelines point to a likely sentence of 30 t o 36 months in federal prisonmore than the people who grew and sold the marijuana.

Janetski’s lawyer said his client thought the business was legal under state law. The raids surprised growers and medical marijuana dispensaries alike. State law legalized medical use of marijuana, but growing, distributing and possessing marijuana is still a violation of federal law.

Growers in California also thought their state’s law made it legal to grow and sell marijuana for medical use. There, authorities sent out warning notices before conducting raids. Landlords often used that opportunity to evict marijuana-growing tenants and remove the plants. The head of a drug task force in California’s Central Valley said that strategy proved more efficient than raids.

No such letters were sent in Montana, where one landlord who thought he was following the law has found himself facing criminal charges and jail time.

Rent it Fast With These Easy Tips

Posted by Teresa on March 23, 2012 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant background checkIf you have rental units to fill, you might want to put yourself in your potential tenants’ shoes, and give them what they want. So what do people look for when searching through apartment or rental home ads?

Photos: You can’t have too many photos of your rental. Exterior and interior photos are a must for attracting the right tenant. And be sure the photos are done well. Use good lighting or bright, natural light. Be sure to show features like closets, dishwashers, laundry rooms, garages, patios and any attractive views.

Neighborhood: Describe the neighborhood, including the distance to grocery stores, pizza places, coffee shops and schools. If you’re close to a high-end neighborhood, but your rent doesn’t reflect it, say so.

Pets: More people have pets these days, and consider them part of the family. If you accept pets, say so right off the bat. Specify any limitations, such as size or type of pet (cats or reptiles, for instance), and whether you require pet references. And if you don’t allow pets, you should let people know that, too. Save phone calls, emails and headaches all around with complete information.

Rules: You can weed out less-than-desirable prospects by stating any application requirements in your ad, like fees, proof of income, credit and tenant screening checks, and references.

Just be sure to treat all applicants equally and fairly to avoid any question of discrimination. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status or handicap.

Landlord Basics: Security Deposit Laws Around the U.S.A.

Posted by Teresa on March 20, 2012 under Rents and Deposits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenantscreeningblog, tenant screening, background checkIf you’re new (or not) to landlording, you may be wondering about how to set your security deposit requirements. Many landlords charge one month’s rent, plus extra for pets. Others charge higher deposits, to protect themselves from paying for excessive damages when tenants move out.

But it’s important to know that many states mandate what rental property owners may charge tenants for security deposits. Limits range from one month to three months, to no statutory limits at all

Here are some examples of states that do require limits on tenant security deposits:

Alabama One month’s rent, except for pet deposits
Alaska Two months’ rent, except where rent exceeds $2,000 per month
Arizona One and one-half months’ rent
Arkansas Two months’ rent
California Two months’ rent for unfurnished rentals, three months’ rent for furnished. Extra one-half month’s rent for waterbed
Connecticut Two months’ rent for tenants under 62 years of age; one month’s rent for tenants 62 years of age and over
Delaware One month’s rent on one year or more leases; no limit for month-to-month rental agreements; no limit for furnished units
Kansas One month’s rent (unfurnished), one and one-half months’ rent (furnished), extra one-half months’ rent for pets
Michigan One and one-half months’ rent
Nebraska One month’s rent for no pets, one and one-quarter months’ rent with pets
Nevada Three months’ rent
New Hampshire One month’s rent or $100, whichever is greater (!); no limit when landlord and tenant share facilities
New Jersey One and one-half months’ rent. Additional security deposit may not exceed 10% of the current security deposit.
New Mexico One month’s rent on one year or less leases; no limit for leases of one year or more
North Carolina One and one-half months’ rent for month-to month agreements, two months’ rent for if term is longer than two months
North Dakota One month’s rent, with pet, not to exceed the greater of $2,500 or two months’ rent
Pennsylvania Two months’ rent for first year of renting; one month’s rent during second and subsequent years
South Dakota One month’s rent
Virginia Two months’ rent

Be sure to check your local rent control laws, state landlord-tenant laws, and rent regulations for deposit limits and other regulations you need to know.

Pest Control Tips For Landlords and Tenants

Posted by Teresa on March 16, 2012 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment, tenant screeningPest control in rental properties requires mutual agreement and effort from both the landlord and the tenant. Unless a rental agreement specifically provides that a landlord will supply pest control services, he or she is not required to do so (check state and local statutes or housing codes for exceptions). Of course, severe insect infestations can contribute to health issues, which could lead to other violations, so most responsible landlords take care of pest problems.

Here are a few tips to pass along to your tenants, to help keep pest populations under control—a mutually beneficial situation, for sure!

  1. Keep things clean: Empty the garbage regularly, wash pet food dishes often, and don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. Wipe down the stove and kitchen counters every evening. Rinse juice, milk and soda containers before putting them in the recycling bin.
  2. Check out the plumbing: Report leaks immediately. Don’t allow standing water to accumulate beneath cabinets or on floors. Turn off faucets to avoid drips.
  3. Store food properly: Don’t leave boxes of cereals or bags of flour or sugar open. Store food in airtight containers.
  4. Inspect used furniture: Buying a chair or couch from a yard sale is a great way to save money. So is picking up free furniture from the side of the road. However, think about what’s coming in with the furniture. Check it for signs of infestation of bugs—especially bedbugs.
  5. Check your luggage: When returning from a trip, check all bags for signs of bedbugs, ideally before you leave the hotel, and again when you get home.
  6. Reduce pet pests: If you have cats or dogs, keep them pest-free with flea and tick medication.
  7. Landlords, do your part: Keep pests out by sealing gaps, caulking cracks and using stripping around doors. Install quality windows and doors that seal tightly, and treat only with people-friendly pest control when absolutely needed.

Do Fireplaces and Rental Properties Mix?

Posted by Teresa on March 14, 2012 under Landlord Tips, Lease and Rental Agreements | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant pre-screening, tenant credit check, tenant background checkAhhhh, a cozy, cracking fire on a cool evening. What could be better? If you’re an owner of a rental property with a fireplace, you could probably write a long list to answer that question.

But most people enjoy sitting by a fire, so a fireplace can add great value to a rental property. Newer homes and apartments often have gas fireplaces—if they have one at all. Wood burning fireplaces are common in older homes and apartment buildings. And landlords are split on whether or not to allow tenants to use them.

Here are some factors to consider when you own rental properties with wood burning fireplaces.

  • Fireplaces can be dangerous: a fireplace can also cause serious fire and smoke damage if not used properly.
  • Too many people do not know how to use them properly. Some use gasoline to start fires. Others store wood too close to the fire, or don’t use doors or screens to keep embers from igniting nearby carpets or curtains. And news reports often showcase the tragic results of improper disposal of ashes.
  • Fireplaces require regular maintenance: yearly inspections and professional cleanings are essential to keep fireplaces safe to operate.
  • They waste heat: much of the heat generated by a fireplace goes right up the chimney—and they draw warm air from the rest of the room, too.
  • Liability issues: if your tenants do not have renter’s insurance, you may be liable for any damage that occurs as a result of their negligence or an improperly operating fireplace.
  • They attract pests: Chimneys are a great place for birds and squirrels to nest.

If you decide to allow tenants to use fireplaces or woodstoves in your rental property, be sure to include a provision in the lease and have the tenant sign, acknowledging they understand and agree to your terms. Check with your insurance provider about how it will affect your premium, coverage and liability.

Protect your rental property and assets through tenant background checks. Proper tenant screening will ensure you are leasing to the best possible tenants.

Banning Certain Dog Breeds

Posted by Teresa on March 9, 2012 under Landlord Tips, Lease and Rental Agreements | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant background check, tenant pre-screeningAround the country, landlords, insurance companies and municipalities are responding to reports of attacks and other problems posed by “bully breeds” of dogs—mostly pit bull terriers—by prohibiting residents from owning them. The New York City Housing Authority has banned pit bulls from its properties. Some municipalities around the country have also outlawed the breed.

On the other side of the argument are the pet owners who love their animals, as well as those who insist their dogs are companion animals, protected by law. In one such case, a 76-year-old tenant has been told she must give up her pit bull or face eviction. Her landlord has received four written complaints about the dog, from teeth-baring and lunging incidents to barking at children. While the tenant has a doctor’s order certifying the dog as a companion animal, other residents feel the dog has not been properly trained, and it’s just a matter of time before a resident or child is hurt.

The American Insurance Association says that dog bites are one of the biggest categories for homeowners’ insurance claims. In assessing risk, and with millions of dollars per year in damage awards, many insurers refuse to cover homeowners with pit bulls, Rottweilers and other breeds deemed “aggressive.”

Some animal protection groups, such as PETA, are calling for bans on breeding pit bulls, while others insist such actions are discriminatory, and that owners need to be accountable for the actions of their dogs.

Landlords have the right to prohibit animals in rental properties, with the exception of companion and service animals for the disabled. If you as a landlord allow animals, you may designate which types your tenants may keep in your property. Some landlords limit dogs by weight; others prohibit snakes and other exotic animals, while others specifically prohibit dog breeds with a reputation for aggressive behavior.

Just be sure your lease agreement clearly states the rules and the consequences of breaking them. Check with your lawyer and your insurance agent to see how allowing these breeds affect your risk.

Can Tenants be Forced to Pay Rent Online?

Posted by Teresa on March 7, 2012 under Landlord Tenant Lawsuits, Rents and Deposits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, prescreening, tenant credit checkCountless landlords and tenants enjoy the convenience of online rent payment. Whether a tenant sets it up through a bank’s online bill pay system, or the landlord offers a web-based rent payment service, it’s becoming a more common way to complete this common transaction.

But what about tenants who prefer not to—or cannot—use online rent payment? Can they be forced to do so? One property management group in Los Angeles will soon find out. Residents of Woodlake Manor Apartments are suing the landlord, Jones & Jones Management Group, Inc. over a new requirement that every tenant make rent payments online.

Some, like 86 year-old Margaret Beavers, have no interest in paying rent online. She has lived in the building since 1963 and in her own words, is “computer illiterate.” She and other tenants fear that refusing to cooperate with the new requirement leaves then vulnerable to eviction. They claim that the company’s new rule is a cover-up for an attempt to evict the low-income, elderly residents who fall under rent-stabilization laws. An attorney for the property owner said the claims were “completely unfounded.”

The property owner stated that their objective was to “go green” and make rent payment easier for tenants. Opponents say they are eager to shed low-income residents in favor of higher-income tenants. A California state senator who filed a bill banning the requirement of online rent payment said that not everyone has a computer, and even those who do may not want to pay bills online for security reasons. The legislation is pending.

Jones & Jones owns 38 buildings throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four residents, all over age 62. An attorney who represents landlords pointed out that the state of California has no right to ban online-only rent payment requirements by landlords—especially when California requires online tax payments.

Do you offer online rent payment to your tenants? If so, is it required, or are you flexible about whether tenants must pay online?