Summer’s Coming: Is Your Pool Safe for Tenants?

Posted by Teresa on May 16, 2013 under Landlord Paperwork and Forms, Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant background checkFor apartment communities with swimming pools, safety is a concern for landlords and property managers. While some are obligated to follow specific state or municipal regulations, others are guided by common sense.

Regardless of whether you have to follow laws or regulations, you’ll want to review pool safety with all of your tenants, especially those with children. Use these tips to improve the safety around your community’s pool—and increase the fun for everyone this summer.

  • Use clear signage: Not only do clear, legible signs help inform users of the rules, they can also help your case if there should be any problems with injuries or litigation. Posting signs that say “No Lifeguard on Duty,” “No Diving,” “No Access After Dark” and “Keep Gate Closed” are essential.
  • Be sure that any guests or non-residents are accompanied by a tenant at all times. Consider selling guest passes for $2.00 or $5.00 per day to reduce the number of guests.
  • Enforce a minimum age rule. Children under the age of 15, 16, etc. must be supervised by an adult.
  • Don’t allow food or beverages in glass containers near the pool, to reduce the possibility of injury.
  • Request that people with infections diseases, skin abrasions, cuts, or other injuries avoid using the pool.
  • Do not allow pets inside the pool area.
  • Keep trash receptacles close by and empty them frequently.
  • Equip the pool area with safety equipment, such as life rings, life hooks and whistles.
  • Compile a complete list of pool rules and warnings, include them with the lease, review them with new tenants, and have them initial the page at lease signing.
  • Close the pool during inclement weather, especially during and after thunder/lighting storms.
Start your tenant relationship off right by knowing who you’re leasing to. Protect your rental property and assets with tenant background checks. Proper tenant screening will ensure you are leasing to the best possible tenants.

Before You Evict a Tenant

Posted by Teresa on April 21, 2013 under Eviction | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screeningDespite your best efforts to lease your rental property only to well-qualified tenants who pass your screening process, not every tenant works out. Some tenants stop paying rent. Others refuse to follow the rules. Eventually, you make the decision to evict and bring in a better tenant.

But before you evict a tenant, make sure you are following the laws of your state. Failure to follow the proper legal procedures can result in plenty of trouble for you, and an undesirable tenant still living in your property.

There are certain reasons you can legally evict a tenant, including staying past the termination of the lease and non-payment of rent. Having a pet, sub-leasing or allowing guests to stay without your permission are other examples of legitimate cause for eviction. Disliking the appearance of their visitors, the food they cook at home or the church they attend are not legitimate causes.

Each state will have its own detailed requirements, so be familiar with your state’s procedures before you start. You’ll be required to terminate the lease and give notice of eviction, in writing, before you begin the filing process. The number of days for the notice to vacate will vary according to the state law. Some states require landlords to give tenants time to correct the problem; others don’t.

Depending on your reason for terminating the lease, you may issue:

  • A Pay Rent or Quit Notice, which gives the tenant several days to pay or move out.
  • A Cure or Quit Notice, which gives the tenant time to correct the problem, such as having their sub-tenant move out or finding a new home for the cat.
  • An Unconditional Quit Notice, which requires the tenant to move out, with no chance to pay rent or fix the problem. These are generally used with tenants who engage in criminal activity, repeatedly break the rules or fail to pay rent on time.

Once you start the eviction process, you may be in for weeks or months of court appearances. Tenants can defend themselves, or look for errors in your documents that give them time to stay. If a tenant thinks you are being discriminatory against him or her, or are retaliating for complaints they’ve filed, you could have a long case on your hands.

Before you evict, make sure you have documented all of your correspondence with the tenant; keep things completely professional and whatever you do, don’t change the locks or turn off the utilities in order to force a tenant out. That’s illegal.

If you follow the procedures outlined by your state, you can usually evict a tenant for cause in a matter of weeks. If you don’t, you could lose your case. You can always consult with a landlord-tenant attorney if you need to. Good luck!

Legal disclaimer:

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for obtaining legal advice applicable to your situation.

Reduce Crime on Your Rental Property With Practical Landscaping Tips

Posted by Teresa on April 19, 2013 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screeningIn most areas, keeping residents and your rental property safe doesn’t require bars on the windows and doors. Common-sense practices can deter thieves from targeting your property, including crime-fighting landscape design.

Properly placing plants, trees, fences and other landscape elements can make your property unattractive to thieves and other lawbreakers. A new approach is called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, which includes using landscaping and site layout to support natural surveillance, access control, territorial reinforcement, and image and maintenance.

Natural surveillance means keeping trees and shrubs trimmed so that all sightlines are clear for tenants and people walking or driving by. This means no overgrown shrubbery in front of windows or low-hanging tree branches covering walkways.

When you discourage the wrong people from entering your property, you’re practicing natural access control. Simple practices like installing noisy gravel paths and shrubs with spines or prickly leaves can keep would-be criminals away from your rental units. Avoid shrubs and trees that allow easy access to second-story windows and balconies.

Territorial reinforcement can mean a simple fence, which designates the boundaries of the property, as well as well-placed lighting, which will reveal anyone sneaking around at night. Keep plants trimmed around light fixtures for optimum coverage.

Remember that promoting a clean and organized image sends a signal that people who live in and own the property care about it and keep an eye on it. Neglected properties with overgrown landscaping, garbage strewn about and broken sidewalks, shutters, fences and other elements invite more problems.

When it comes time for planting shrubs and trees, allow more room between them. Less is more, especially when the plants grow and fill in. You don’t want to provide any hiding places for less-than-desirable visitors!

What Could You be Liable For, as a Landlord?

Posted by Teresa on April 9, 2013 under Landlord and Tenant FAQs | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant credit checkOne question that many new landlords ask is whether or not they are liable when a tenant suffers injuries or damages while living in the rental property. Others wonder if they need landlord insurance, or if their homeowner’s policy will cover them.

We’re not insurance experts, so if you have questions specific to your situation, consult your insurance agent. But we can offer some common-sense guidelines.

First of all, when you become a landlord and lease out your property, you take on more risks. In many states and cities, landlords are also held to certain rules regarding safety. So if a tenant falls down the stairs, for example, you could be liable for her injuries, depending on whether or not proper handrails, non-skid surfaces and other safety measures are in place.

If you have followed all the rules, the tenant’s personal insurance might cover her losses. But if not, she might try to seek retribution from you.

What about when a water pipe bursts and water leaks in your rental unit, soaking the carpet, damaging the ceiling below or soaking into the drywall? Water can do a lot of damage, as can fire. You need to protect your business and personal assets from the costs of rebuilding from fire, water and smoke damage.

These are three good reasons to have landlord insurance. A liability policy will protect you from damages. However, it’s important to realize—and tell your tenants—that your liability policy will not typically cover their possessions. They’ll need their own renter’s insurance for that coverage. Renter’s insurance will also cover tenants if they are negligent and cause injury or damages.

It’s a good idea to require tenants to have renter’s insurance.

Start your tenant relationship off right by knowing who you’re leasing to. Protect your rental property and assets with tenant background checks. Proper tenant screening will ensure you are leasing to the best possible tenants.

Some Think Neighborhoods Should Exclude Tenants

Posted by Teresa on April 5, 2013 under Housing Trends, Legal | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant credit checkNot everyone loves a landlord. Some homeowners dislike having too many rental properties in their neighborhoods. They think that rentals decrease property values and degrade the community.

One town decided to take steps to limit the number of rentals allowed in a neighborhood. West St. Paul, Minnesota passed a law, effective January 1 of this year, which permits no more than 10% of homes on a block to be rental properties.

West St. Paul has had more than its share of foreclosures. Home values have fallen. But there’s little evidence that the number of tenants living in its neighborhoods has anything to do with it. Studies provide mixed results; some say higher rates of homeownership raises home values, but others conclude that even large, mixed-income, multifamily rental properties don’t affect the values of surrounding single-family homes.

Besides, with all the foreclosures in the town, where are former homeowners supposed to live? Not in West St. Paul. And not in Madison, Mississippi, which banned all rentals in 2009. In addition, what about homeowners who need to sell a home to take a better job elsewhere, but are unable to sell? What if they’re not allowed to rent their home? How many will walk away from their mortgages and ruin their credit history?

Not surprisingly, homeowners are not taking this lying down. They’re filing lawsuits, claiming that renting one’s own property is a legitimate property right.

Municipalities might mean well by limiting the number of rental properties on a block, but it seems like a recipe for disaster. Americans are demanding more flexible housing, with less upkeep and expense , the ability to move at the end of a lease without penalty and no worries about falling home prices wiping out their equity.

If surrounding homeowners worry about their home values, they can insist on stronger laws that support landlords’ efforts to keep their properties in good shape, and limit noise and other nuisances. They can get to know the landlord and the tenants that own and live in the rental properties in their neighborhoods. Communication is a better way to start than passing laws to prevent property owners from leasing their properties.

HUD Conducts Multifamily Rental Survey

Posted by Teresa on April 3, 2013 under Housing Trends | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant credit checkThe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau recently conducted a survey to gather more data on the country’s multifamily rental properties. Multifamily rentals numbered approximately 2.3 million in the U.S., but little was known on their value, or how they are financed.

Recent data shows that approximately one in five American households live in multifamily rental properties, most of which are owned by individuals—not large companies.

The two agencies produced a report that combined existing information and new data on number of units, value, ownership status, mortgage financing, Federal and state benefits, and other information.

A few statistics from the survey:

  • 73% of multifamily rentals are comprised of one building.
  • 67% are owned by households or individuals.
  • 77% provide parking.
  • 19% have buildings built before 1920.
  • 87% of owners reported making repairs to their properties in 2010 or 2011; the median cost was $699 per unit.
  • In multifamily rental properties with 50 or more units, 45% have 20 or more buildings.
  • 73% were acquired by their owners before 2005.

It’s clear that not all Americans can or want to buy their own home. For some, renting is a way of life; for others, it’s the only viable option available. Multifamily rental housing, according to the report, is “critical to solving the nation’s affordable housing problems.”

The Importance of Good Landlord-Tenant Communication

Posted by Teresa on March 28, 2013 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening“I thought you said I could have a roommate.”
“I told you I was going to be getting a dog after I moved in.”
“No, I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to park my RV in the parking lot.”
“We didn’t know we weren’t supposed to skinny-dip in the pool.”

Have you ever heard a tenant explain that they broke the rules of the lease because they didn’t know or realize what those rules were? Or because they thought they heard you say it was okay?

Many an experienced landlord can tell stories about the misunderstandings that go on nearly every day with tenants. That’s why it’s so important to establish good communication from the start of your relationship with every tenant.

Here are some tips for improving landlord-tenant communication:

  • Never assume. Don’t assume you know what a tenant is thinking or planning.
  • Put it in writing. Especially when it comes to changing the terms of a lease, such as allowing a roommate or a pet, put it in writing and have all parties to the lease sign and date it. Even if it’s simply to use an extra parking spot, don’t rely on verbal agreements. They’re difficult to remember, not to mention prove in court.
  • Over communicate. If you’re going to err on either side, over—don’t under—communicate.
  • Use multiple platforms. Some tenants will prefer to talk with you on the phone, others via text. Still others will only respond to email. All legal correspondence should be delivered through the U.S. Mail.
  • Ask questions. Whether you’re reviewing the terms of the lease, or making an appointment for a maintenance call, make sure the tenant understands what you’re saying by asking clarifying questions. And if you’re unsure about what the tenant is saying, ask again.
  • Listen. Be an active listener. Make eye contact. Watch body language. Repeat back what you’ve heard and ask if that’s what the tenant really meant.
  • Don’t interrupt. Show interest, provide feedback and be patient when your tenants are speaking.

Good communication takes some effort, but remember that your tenants are your customers, and establishing positive communication will go a long way to keep the relationship positive.

Start your tenant relationship off right by knowing who you’re leasing to. Protect your rental property and assets with tenant background checks. Proper tenant screening will ensure you are leasing to the best possible tenants.

Companion Animal or Illegal Pet?

Posted by Teresa on March 26, 2013 under Legal | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screeningThe Fair Housing Act (FHA) governs rental properties, requiring landlords to follow all laws established under the Act. Owners of rental properties may not discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, race, family status, national origin, or disability.

Under the disability section of the FHA, it states that landlords must make reasonable exceptions to their policies to ensure that people with disabilities receive equal housing opportunities.

This means that if you have a no-pets policy, you may be required to make an exception for service or companion animals that people with disabilities depend on to manage their lives.

But not all disabilities are obvious. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment.”

It’s a broad definition, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every animal kept by a person with disabilities must be allowed. Not all dogs are service dogs—some are simply pets. Certain court cases have ruled in favor of landlords, such as when a dog owned by person with a hearing impairment was found to be completely untrained, and not an assistance animal at all.

Other examples include a case where a property management company changed its pet policy to ban all animals. One tenant had lived there for years, and owned a dog. When it came time to renew his lease, he was asked about whether he would be giving the dog away or leaving his apartment to comply with the new policy. He stated that since he’d been in an accident a year before, he needed his dog as a companion animal. He supplied evidence from his physician, and was allowed to keep his dog.

If you have an issue with a tenant over whether or not the service or companion animal they’re keeping truly fits the definition, consult your attorney. Keep in mind that some disabilities, like heart trouble, depression and diabetes cannot be seen. Assuming your tenant does not have a disability can be considered discriminatory in itself. Be sensitive, proceed with caution, and give your tenant the respect he or she deserves.

Handling Tenant Complaints

Posted by Teresa on March 14, 2013 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screening, tenant credit checkWe recently noticed a news story about a tenant complaining her landlord asked her to post a “Do Not Flush Tampons” sign in her bathroom. Apparently, the landlord blamed the tenant for plumbing problems in the four-unit building that was built in 1945.

The story unleashed quite a response, mostly consisting of stories describing plumbing problems caused by all kinds of things that shouldn’t be flushed. Whether the landlord was justified in asking the tenant to post the sign was no longer the focus.

Interacting with tenants invariably means dealing with complaints—whether they’re about you, the neighbors, the heat or any of the other approximately 10,000 subjects tenants complain about.

Here are some tips for handling tenant complaints:

  • First, it’s important to establish good communication with tenants from day one. While you don’t want to encourage them to find fault with everything, do let tenants know that you want to know when they have a problem. Having the opportunity to make repairs keeps your property in top condition, and allows you to check on how the tenant is treating his or her unit.
  • Devise a tracking system. Ask tenants to make requests in writing, and follow up in writing. Create an official form and have tenants complete it, or accept requests by email. You never know when you’ll need written records to back up your actions, so make this a standard procedure.
  • Record details of how you handled the complaint. Include dates, times, notes about repairs made and when you followed up with the tenant. These details are important in case the tenant withholds rent for non-performance.
  • If a tenant complains about fellow tenant’s behavior, parking habits, noise or other issues, don’t ask them to handle it on their own. Approach the offending tenant, point out the lease provision that prohibits whatever behavior that is offending the other tenant, and ask them to stop. It’s best to not identify the accuser. If the behavior continues, move on to written notices.

Most tenants will have issues at some time or another. Experienced landlords know that this is part of the job. But how you handle complaints can make a big difference in your tenant relationships, your stress level and your success.

When Tenants Want to Sublease

Posted by Teresa on March 10, 2013 under Lease and Rental Agreements, Tenant Screening & Background Checks | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screeningLandlords typically include language in the lease that prohibits subleasing without permission. But what exactly is subleasing, when and why would a tenant want to do it, and how should landlords proceed?

Subleasing is different from transferring a lease to another party. In the latter situation, another tenant takes over a current lease and the original tenant is absolved of any responsibility for its terms.

In subletting, the subtenant is granted the rights contained in a sublease, but the original tenant is still responsible for the terms of the original lease. In essence, the subtenant is renting from the original tenant, who is still bound by the contract with the landlord. For example, a subtenant is allowed to live in the unit but must pay rent. If they do not, the original tenant is still liable for the missed rent.

Tenants might be interested in subleasing if they are going away for an extended length of time, but wish to return to their apartment. It wouldn’t make sense to go to the trouble of subleasing for a trip of a few weeks. But if your tenant were planning on traveling through Europe or South America for three months, subleasing is a way to cover the rent without having to break the lease and start over when they return.

Tenants who are interested in subleasing may ask permission, even if the lease states you do not allow it. Remember, it’s always up to the landlord whether or not to allow the sublease. If you decide to allow a tenant to sublease your property, follow these tips for a more successful outcome:

  • Write up a Consent to Sublease agreement between yourself or your company and the two parties.
  • Include elements such as effective date, the tenant and subtenant’s names, the property address, and the monthly rent.
  • Be sure to state that the tenant is still responsible for his or her duties under the original lease.
  • If you decide to allow subleases, be sure to create a policy. Don’t let one tenant sublease, and forbid another from subleasing. This could lead to charges of discrimination.
  • Be sure your tenant also has a sublease agreement with the subtenant. This is a different document from your Consent to Sublease agreement, and covers the legalities between those two parties. If expectations are not made clear, you could find yourself stuck in the middle of their disagreements.
  • Keep in mind that if the subtenant damages the unit, leaves before the lease expires or breaks any other condition of the lease, you may hold the original tenant responsible. He or she can will have to get satisfaction from the subtenant.
  • Just as you screen all your prospective tenants before signing a lease, you should make it clear that any subtenants will also be required to undergo tenant screening.

Subleasing can be a hassle, but if you have good tenants whom you want to keep, allowing them to sublet while they’re away can make sense. Remember, it’s completely up to you!

Start your tenant relationship off right by knowing who you’re leasing to. Protect your rental property and assets with tenant background checks. Proper tenant screening will ensure you are leasing to the best possible tenants.