What is Section 8 Housing?

Posted by Teresa on September 11, 2012 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

tenant screeningThe Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides housing assistance to families with children, the disabled and elderly, through the Housing Choice Voucher Program. The program is commonly known as “Section 8.” To qualify for Section 8, participants must meet certain income requirements. In general, the family’s income cannot exceed 50% of the median income for the county or city in which they live.

The tenant is then allowed to find a suitable housing unit; therefore, Section 8 Housing can be found in most neighborhoods, in most U.S. cities. Landlords may agree to rent their property under the terms of the program. Their rental properties must meet minimum standards of health and safety, and the rent must be reasonable when compared to market rents for similar units.

A family with a voucher is generally required to pay 30% of its income for utilities and rent, while the voucher takes care of the remainder, up to a set limit.

Some Section 8 vouchers are for specific housing, but most give the tenant the ability to choose where to live, with the landlord’s cooperation. Landlords have the benefit of receiving rent by the third of each month from HUD. Tenants must also pay their share on time, or face the possible loss of their eligibility.

Keep in mind that HUD does not conduct tenant screening or qualify tenants in any other way. Landlords must still do their due diligence and perform background checks, credit checks and criminal history checks, as they would on any other prospective tenant.

The voucher program has been shown to be very cost-effective, as well as to positively impact homelessness and housing instability for children. Families who are able to move to better neighborhoods often enjoy better schools and higher chances for employment.

No matter who pays the rent, you need to protect your rental property and assets with tenant background checks. Proper tenant screening will ensure you are leasing to the best possible tenants.

Round Up of Online Rent Payment Services

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

tenant credit check, tenant screeningOur last post covered ways to incentivize tenants to pay rent online. One reader asked for a list of online rent payment services. So we’ve rounded up a list of popular online rent payment services, along with what makes each one unique.

RentPayment – This company says it’s the largest electronic payments processor in the multifamily industry. RentPayment was founded in 1999 and has since acquired a couple of competitors along the way. The company offers credit card and debit card rent payment on their website. Tenants can also pay rent by phone, by using the company’s iPhone app, or by text. Tenants who sign up for RentByText get monthly text reminders when rent is due. They simply reply “Pay,” and their rent is automatically paid via their debit/credit card or through an e-check. Property managers collecting paper checks can use RentPayment’s check scanning services to capture check images digitally, and then deposit them without leaving the office.

RentPayment’s extensive marketing efforts are intended to increase use of its services. They offer magnets, brochures, posters and signs to help spread the word about the advantages of paying rent online through their services.

Pricing: The monthly fee is $9.95 to set up accepting e-check payments through RentPayment, which includes 10 e-check transactions. Funds are deposited into your bank account within one or two business days. Tenants may pay online for free. Additional e-checks are $1.00 each. The fee to accept credit cards is 2.95% of the total amount. Debit cards are 1% of the total amount. Tenants may pay online, by phone, or text for free.

PayLease – PayLease also offers rent payments via e-checks and credit cards, either one-time or recurring. They also offer the means for property managers to make payments into the building owner’s bank account. Another unique feature of PayLease is an integrated online lease application system. Prospective tenants may submit an application and pay the application fee at the same time. Property managers are notified via email that a new application has been submitted.

Tenants may pay rent online or over the phone. Email reminders are also avaialable.

Pricing: PayLease allows rental property owners to pay the transactions fees for online payments, or pass the fee along to tenants. The company also offers a rebate program. The more online payments tenants make, the bigger the rebate. Monthly and/or transaction fees are priced individually.

PayYourRent – PayYourRent was developed by property managers. They offer rent and security deposit payment processing by e-check or credit card, along with additional automatic management services, such as maintenance requests, rental applications, utility connections and check scanning. PayYourRent also offers a payment portal that you can customize with your company’s logo, address and other information.

Pricing is provided upon request. Tenants may pay rent online. PayYourRent offers 24-hour payment processing, so funds are available more quickly.

eRentPayment – eRentPayment allows property managers to collect rent, application fees and security deposits online. Tenants may pay rent online each month, sign up for recurring automatic payments or pay by phone. Managers may also refund security deposits to tenants through the service. Rent payments submitted late are automatically charged a late fee, and managers/owners have the option of blocking partial payments. There are no extra fees to use multiple bank accounts.

eRentPayment offers a solution for tenants without Internet access, as well. Managers may submit a form, signed by the tenant, authorizing an automatic monthly debit from their bank account. Tenants may not alter the payment without submitting another application.

Pricing: Each transaction is $3.00. Property owners and managers may choose to pay the entire transaction fee, split it with the tenant, or have the tenant pay the fee. eRentPayment also offers vacancy listings for no charge.

Landlord RAQ (Randomly Asked Questions)

Posted by Teresa on July 10, 2009 under Landlord and Tenant FAQs, Tenant Credit Checks, Tenant Screening & Background Checks | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

raq-image on tenant screening blogFrom time to time, we get a handful of rental property-related questions that concern many landlords—but don’t fall neatly into any category. We hope you find one or two that you’ve been wondering about, too!

Q: My rental unit has a jetted tub. If it breaks, am I responsible for repairing it—or replacing it with the same type tub?

A: You might want to consider adding a clause in your lease agreement that states the jetted tub is as is; the tub itself will be maintained for bathing purposes; however, if the jets malfunction, they will be repaired at your discretion only.

Q: I live in a city where only the owner of the property can be billed for the water and sewer service. How can I handle this with my tenants? I’m afraid they’ll run up the water bill, since they’re not paying it.

A: Your lease can state that you will pay for a certain amount of the water and sewer, based on average rates in your area. The lease can require the tenant to pay anything above that amount, to be included with the following month’s rent.

Q: Is it necessary to prescreen tenant applicants if they were referred by a good friend of mine?

A: Not only is it necessary, it is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your other tenants and the neighborhood residents. You need the peace of mind that a professional credit and background check will bring you. But just as important, if you don’t follow consistent procedures for each applicant, you could be accused of discrimination. Apply the same rules and follow the same procedures on every single tenant applicant—no matter who recommends them!

Q: What’s the absolute most effective way to advertise my for lease property?

A: Landlords we talk to say that good signs in the yard or window, visible from the street, plus an ad with photos on Craigslist.com, are the two best ways to advertise. Do beware of scams on Craigslist—read the warnings posted on the site and don’t allow anyone you have not personally met send you a check to hold a rental—many scammers operate like this.

Q: What should I do to make my rental property appealing to high-quality tenants?

A: Give your rental the best curb appeal possible! Get rid of unsightly trash, hide the trash cans, trim shrubs and low-hanging branches, and plant some new flowers. Repair any broken windows or screens, and paint the trim if it’s needed. A bright color for the front door is a great way to make the property pop!

Q: How do I know when it’s time to hire a property management company?

A: If you no longer enjoy or have the time to spend on property maintenance, dealing with tenant questions and problems, and finding new tenants, you should research property managers. Base your decision on the out-of-pocket expense; if you decide your time and peace of mind is worth more than what you’ll pay the management company, give it a try!

Helpful Websites for Landlords

Posted by Teresa on July 8, 2009 under Landlord Tips, Marketing for Landlords | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

older-couple-on-computer on tenant screening blogStaying on top of the landlord game can be tough. Sometimes it helps to know just where to get a question answered, or to check out a contractor, or even find good used appliances! Here is a wrap up of some websites you may find helpful:

Zilpy is a address-based rental facts site. Zilpy for Landlords helps landlords determine how much a property can rent for simply by plugging in its address. Zilpy generates comparable rents, as well as demographic information about the neighborhood and city. Figures include population, median household income, education and ethnicity, and crime rate.

RealEstateMarketingBlog.org is targeted more toward real estate agents, but many of its insights are applicable to landlords, too. Especially if you manage several properties, REMB’s advertising and social media tips can be translated for renting, rather than selling, homes. From Search Engine Optimization to email marketing, you’re sure to find useful information to help you stay competitive in today’s rental market.

Craigslist.org is arguably the web’s largest classified ads site. There is a lot to like about craigslist! All classified ads are free, photos can be uploaded at no charge, and it’s extremely popular! Craigslist is organized by city; just check out the main website to see if your town has a local craigslist site. Then follow the instructions to post your “For Lease” ads. And if you need to replace appliances in your rental unit, craigslist is a great resource!

Angie’s List is a popular review site for contractors, handymen, plumbers, and other service providers. Angie’s list is a paid, members-only site. For a monthly fee, you can check out unbiased reviews by other members. Contractors are not allowed to pay to be featured in any way. If there are no reviews for your city, you can join free for a year and help build the list of reviews in your area.

Bankrate.com is chock full of mortgage, CD, credit card, and loan rates, along with articles covering current happenings in the financial world. There are even advice columns covering small business, retirement planning, financial literacy, and debt management. It’s always good to know what’s happening in the credit and mortgage industry—and bankrate.com is a good place to keep up!

BiggerPockets is an online community for real estate investors and professionals. It offers groups, networking, and information, and membership is free. You can post questions in the forums and search by keywords to see if your question has already been answered. Handy tips, advice, and a place for landlords to talk to other landlords make BiggerPockets a lively online community.

For more landlord resources, including forms and information on tenant screening, turn to E-Renter.com. You’ll know that you have the best possible tenants when you prescreen tenants.

Service or Companion Animals for Disabled Tenants

Posted by Teresa on February 25, 2009 under Fair Housing Act, Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment


The Fair Housing Act
You are required to comply with The Fair Housing Act (FHA) if you rent private housing, housing that receives Federal financial assistance or State/Local government housing. Essentially, if you rent any property whatsoever, you must follow the laws established under the FHA.The FHA prohibits discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and family status.  It also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.  Under this section, owners of rental properties are required “to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities.”

Who is considered disabled?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an individual with a disability to be

 “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 an impairment.”

Pretty broad definition! And, the ADA does not specifically name all the impairments that are covered (it’s probably a very long list).

Making exceptions
So, if you’re a landlord, you are required to make “reasonable exceptions” to ensure disabled folks are not discriminated against. For example, even with a “no pets” policy, you may be required to make an exception to accommodate a service or companion animal. While a dog wearing a special red “service animal” vest or a wheelchair-pulling canine are pretty obvious, other companion animals are not so easy to spot.

You might think a deaf tenant would always be allowed to keep a dog to help out when the doorbell or phone rings, or the fire alarm is activated.  Actually, a court decided that a dog owned by two deaf women had never been trained to assist them in any way, and therefore was nothing more than a “house pet”—and the landlord won its case.
 [Bronk v. Ineichen, 54 F.3d 425 (7th Cir.1995)]

In another case, a dog with no training as a service animal was found to be therapeutic solely because of his “innate qualities.” The tenants were allowed to keep him. In still another case, a mentally disabled tenant was not allowed to keep two birds and two cats “for companionship.”
[Auburn Woods  Homeowners Ass’n v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission, 121 Cal.App.4 1578, 18 Cal.Rptr.3d 669] [Janush v. Charities Housing Development Corp., 169 F.Supp.2d 1133 (N.D. Cal, 2000).]

What’s a Landlord to Do?
Because court rulings on this topic are as varied as the genetic makeup of a pound puppy, it seems there are no hard and fast rules to follow. Consider the following general guidelines, and remember: this is not legal advice!  Every jurisdiction is subject to individual case law, so always seek the advice of your attorney for specific questions on your local laws, as well as FHA and ADA. 

  • The law protects both physically and mentally disabled individuals. Don’t assume a person is not disabled based on appearance.
  • Not all trained service animals wear special vests or harnesses. Don’t assume a prospective tenant’s animal is not a service animal based on appearance.
  • Highly trained service animals, as well as companion animals who might not be specially trained, are not considered “pets.” Therefore, a “no-pet” policy would not apply.
  • Emotional support animals provide just that service—emotional support—to their owners.
  • It is reasonable to ask for proof of disability and need for a service/companion animal from a tenant’s physician or other health care provider in cases where the disability and/or need is not obvious.
  • It is reasonable to require all animals living on your property to be properly vaccinated and to follow any and all rules regarding leashing, waste disposal, etc.
  • While you cannot discriminate under the FHA, you are perfectly within your rights to screen all prospective tenants’ background and credit history.
  • Sources: Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, Fair Housing Institute

    Next post: Verifying Tenant Income

    New Tenant Welcome Package

    Posted by Teresa on February 18, 2009 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

    You’ve worked hard to prepare and market your rental property, and now you’ve found a great new, pre qualifed tenant.  If you think the hard work is behind you, guess again!  Now it’s your job as property manager to retain your good tenant—after all, you want to minimize tenant turnover.


    Consider providing a Welcome Package that answers your tenant’s questions and clarifies everyone’s expectations. It’s a small, but significant, step toward building a good landlord-tenant relationship.


    Include an overview of rules and policies, but don’t restate the entire lease.  A simple list for referral purposes is enough. Include when and where to pay rent, how to access the building, where to park, and any other pertinent information. This can be accomplished with an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list.


    Be sure to provide practical safety information, such as an evacuation route, fire extinguisher locations, and emergency water shut-offs. A floor plan clearly indicating these items would be perfect.


    A phone number list is essential for new renters. Include your own regular and emergency contact numbers, as well as those of your preferred maintenance service, plumber, and electrician. If a crisis situation occurs, your tenants should be able to get the help they need, even if they cannot reach you. Make sure your tenants know how to reach all of the property’s utility providers, too.


    A guide to nearby restaurants, grocery stores, dry cleaners, and coffee shops would be most appreciated by a tenant who is new to your town. Tell them where the best pizza can be found, so they’re prepared to order dinner on move-in day. Visit your Chamber of Commerce or local Visitor’s Center for brochures and area guidebooks.


    If you’re really dedicated to establishing a great relationship, the Welcome Package might include a few move-in necessities to help your new tenants transition to their new home.  Think about the items most needed when moving—like bottled water, paper towels, soap, a roll of t.p. for the bathroom, and even a gift certificate to a local pizzeria.  You’ll demonstrate you are going above and beyond to improve the landlord/tenant relationship!

    Find landlord resources, including everything you need to know about tenant screening, from E-Renter.com.

    Next post: Establishing A Property Inspection Schedule

    Should You Pre-Qualify Tenants?

    Posted by Teresa on February 14, 2009 under Tenant Credit Checks, Tenant Screening & Background Checks | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

    The perfect tenant might not exist, but there are plenty of good, even ideal tenants out there. You know them—they’re clean, quiet, and pay their rent on time, every time. How do you sift through the prospects and make sure you’re renting to the one of the good ones? It’s simple: take the time to pre-qualify tenants.

    Five reasons why you should pre-qualify tenants:
  • Today’s economic environment: Don’t rent without knowing a potential tenant’s credit history. The current economy makes this essential.

  • Avoid nightmares: Even the well-employed can be nightmare tenants. A good income never guarantees good behavior, so check personal and rental references of each tenant applicant.

  • Screen out the criminals: Check each applicant’s source of income. If a potential tenant’s income source is unclear or worse, not legitimate, you do not want them as a tenant on your property.

  • Mitigate your risk: Proper tenant screening can prevent a predator from becoming your tenant and your liability.

  • Reduce tenant turnover: Know what you’re dealing with going in, so you don’t have to watch tenants move out due to liens, overextended credit, or other legal issues.

  • Remember to be thorough when pre-qualifying—require written applications from each adult who will be leasing your property.


    It’s easier than you think to ensure that you have the best possible tenant—before you sign the rental agreement. Decrease your headaches and your losses by pre-qualifying every potential applicant.


    Find landlord resources, including everything you need to know about tenant screening from E-Renter.com.

    Next post: A Welcome Package for New Tenants 

    Marketing Your Rental Property in a Tough Economy

    Posted by Teresa on February 11, 2009 under General, Landlord Tips, Marketing for Landlords | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

    Part 2 of 2: Cost-effective ways to advertise

    There is a lot of movement in the rental market right now. Renters living in recently-foreclosed homes are being forced to move. Homeowners who cannot afford rising mortgage payments are becoming renters again.

    Now is not the time to be passive in your advertising efforts. The good news is you don’t have to spend a ton of money. Once you’ve prepared your property, get the word out with these cost-effective advertising tips.

    Advertising is good; free advertising is even better: If you haven’t tried Craigslist yet, don’t let another day go by without posting your property on the site. Craigslist is free, easy to use and immensely popular—three very good reasons to check it out!Other websites offer free listings, too—but these vary. Some require that you pay for each subsequent contact. Let your budget be your guide as you Google “Free For Rent Listings.”  Wherever you list your rental, include photos! Take the time to shoot at least one exterior and several interior pictures of your property. Include the kitchen and bathrooms, closets, and any unique features that will attract your ideal tenant.

    Double your efforts with some low-tech methods, too. Write up your listing, and print it out. Repeat your phone number all across the bottom of the page. Cut strips between the numbers so interested folks can tear one off. Many grocery stores, coffee shops, and community centers allow fliers on their bulletin boards, so visit a few around your rental property to see how others post their rentals. Why reinvent the wheel when you can copy a good idea?

    Local community publications are another good option for free or low-cost advertising. You might hesitate to advertise a downtown high-rise condo in a farm community paper, but the idea is to get the word out and let others do your advertising for you. You don’t know where your next tenant will hear about your property, so why not try a scattershot approach?

    Don’t Forget Signage. Easy to read signs or banners will send the message that your property is available. While hardware stores carry the standard “For Rent” signs, you might want to investigate the options at your local sign and banner store. To make your contact info easy to read, you may need a larger sign or banner—and since they last for years, signs are a one-time investment.

    Host an Open House: They’re free, and can be a great way to gather potential tenants all in one afternoon. The key is to advertise well in advance: again, use Craigslist, fliers, and signage to get the word out. Enlist some help so visitors are all greeted and shown the property. Have a contact sheet ready at the door to gather names, phone numbers, and emails for each person so you can follow up after the open house. 

    Utilize the Best Form of Advertising: Word of Mouth! Ask your friends and family, your hair stylist or barber, your manicurist and the home and garden store guy if they know anyone looking for a rental property. You may be surprised at the response this easy form of networking can bring.

    After all your money-saving efforts pay off and you have some great possibilities, take the next step to ensure you’re choosing the right tenant. Tenant screening is easy and fast. Proper tenant screening also gives you peace of mind—and it’s impossible to put a price tag on that!

    Marketing Your Rental Property in a Tough Economy

    Posted by Teresa on February 6, 2009 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

    Part 1 of 2: Prepare Before You Advertise


    As we pointed out in our previous post, the newest study on rents and occupancy rates showed that both were down overall for 2008. No big surprise there! What wasn’t down in 2008 (besides unemployment figures)? 


    Today we’ll show that you don’t have to be down about marketing rental property in this tough economy. If you’re sitting on vacant rental properties and tightening cash flow, we’ve got some practical ideas that won’t break your budget.


    4 Steps to take before you advertise your rental property:

    1. Check it out:  Look at your rental unit through the eyes of a potential tenant. Even better—ask a friend to come along and suggest some honest, critical observations. You may not see things like they do.


    2. Spruce it up: It doesn’t take a ton of money to put things in tip top shape! Is your rental property super-tidy, inside and out? If not, get busy. Scrub the interior and powerwash the exterior, make sure the entry or porch is spotless, and put out a fresh, new welcome mat. First impressions are critically important.


    3. Clear it out: A prospective tenant does not want to see beer cans and lost dog fliers in the yard—so remove any trash from the premises. Cut the grass and trim the shrubs, sweep out the carport and haul it all away.


    4. Make it safe: Repair broken or sagging steps. Check railings for security. Trim overhanging branches and out-of-control shrubs near windows. Check the exterior lighting, and install additional if needed. Finally, check all door and window locks to be sure they work properly and easily.  You’ll make your prospective tenant feel safe and reduce your risk.


    Your rental property makes impressions every day. Ask yourself, What does the public see? You never know who will refer your new tenant, so make sure yours is an outstanding property, ready to become the perfect tenant’s new home! 


    Get the best new tenants by preparing your rental property. Then screen them properly. Find landlord resources, including everything you need to know about tenant screening from E-Renter.com.

    Next post: Cost-Effective Ways to Advertise Your Rental Property