Category Archives: News

Should you have to write a letter to get your security deposit back?

There’s a very important piece of legislation coming before the Chicago city council, one that would do a lot for ordinary people waylaid by the foreclosure crisis. But there’s a problem with that bill, or at least a version of it floating around the council chambers. One that could hurt vulnerable tenants around the city. The main bill is basically this: If you rent an apartment and your building went into foreclosure and is now owned by a bank, that bank still has to give you back the security deposit you paid when you signed your lease. That’s the part of the bill everyone agrees upon. But there’s another version with an amendment tacked on that would do something entirely different. That version is sponsored by the Chicagoland Apartment Association, a group that represents landlords, that would require tenants to write their landlord a letter, giving them 14 days to return their security deposit, or they risk not getting it back at all. This letter flies in the face of the Landlord Tenant Ordinance, which gives a landlord 45 days to return that deposit or face legal action. Tenants from around the city gathered today before the meeting to support the main bill, but oppose this 14 day notice amendment. Why? Well, they say the people who would be affected by this are the people who are already vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords. People with little knowledge of the law, those who don’t speak English and those who don’t have the money for legal representation. Alderman Helen Shiller doesn’t like this amendment. She said the amendment would give landlords a financial incentive not to give the deposit back. “It’s in my economic interest not to do so,” said Shiller. “I would just wait until that tenant contacted me to return their money – most of them they won’t know they have the right, they won’t do it or they might be intimidated.” Schiller proposed an amendment of her own – one that makes tenants write a 14 day notice before taking legal action because the landlord didn’t calculate the interest on their security deposit correctly. So, for example, when my landlord sent me a check for $12 last year, if I determined that she owed me $15, I should give her 14 days notice before I sue her over $3. That sounds pretty reasonable, right? I mean, lets cut down on the extraneous lawsuits. On the other hand, just as there are a lot of unscrupulous landlords out there, there are just as many unscrupulous tenants – people that are lawsuit trigger happy and just like to sue for the fun of it or to see how much money they can shake loose from honest business owners. Those people often mess it up for the rest of us, raising our rents and costs because they were looking out for themselves. One man giving testimony (I didn’t catch his name) relayed story just like this. His parents and sister bought a building, and the tenants, who lived their only two days while they owned it, alleged that they didn’t get the properly formatted letter, letting them know they would be getting their deposit back. Not that they didn’t get a deposit – they just didn’t get a letter in the proper format. They sued for around $3500, plus legal fees. This poor elderly couple and their daughter paid that out of pocket. Judith Roettig, president of the Chicagoland Apartment Association, says that the ordinance they favor – the one with the 14 day period for everything – says it doesn’t go against the laws already on the books – the Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance. Tenants right now can sue for twice their security deposit, plus legal fees, if they don’t get their security deposit and interest within 45 days of moving out. “This amendment does not absolutely does not change the owners obligation to comply with all aspects of the RLTO,” said Roettig. “It simply provides a way for the landlord and the tenant to work out out before going to court.” But volunteers who work with tenants at the Metropolitian Tenant Organization hotline say that tenants already have a hard enough time getting their security deposit back. Charlotte Starkes, who volunteers on the hotline, says she talked to one man who paid a $3,800 security deposit – several months rent – and only got $900 back with no notice as to why or what damages he was paying for. Other tenants are told their security deposit is being used to paint or clean the apartment for the next tenant. “It’s done city wide. This problem doesn’t have a color, a neighborhood, an age or a class. It’s going on everywhere,” says Starkes. At the moment, there’s a battle going on in the city council chambers. Fifty plus people are waiting to testify on this legislation, before the building committee even votes on it. So, since we’ve got some time on our hands, what do you think? UPDATE (2:46 p.m.) : As of about one o’clock, Loreen Targos from Metropolitan Tenants Organization told me that after a couple hours of testimony from both sides, the Buildings committee ended up passing the main bill – without either amendment – unanimously. So now it moves to the full council for a vote. The two amendments will be taken up by a subcommittee chaired by Alderman Shiller. Apparently, at the end, Alderman Bernie Stone asked, “Is anyone opposed to ending this useless meeting?” No one was. The democratic process at work…

By Megan Cottrell

Apartment Vacancies, Rent Down in Q1

Apartment vacancies and average rents in metro Denver dropped again in the first quarter, year over year, according to a report released Friday by the Colorado Division of Housing.

The lower vacancy rate was helped along by landlords offering discounted rents to fill vacant units, according to Gordon Von Stroh, business professor at the University of Denver and author of the report. “The lower vacancy rate is good for apartment owners, but owners had to basically buy that lower vacancy rate by increasing rent discounts,” Von Stroh said.

The average apartment vacancy rate decreased to 6.5 percent in the first quarter, from 8.4 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and from 7.7 percent in last year’s fourth quarter. Vacancy rates fell in all the six metro-area counties tracked by the housing division; the division combines Boulder and Broomfield counties.

Average metro apartment rent fell to $877.16 per month in the first quarter, from $881.92 in 2009¹s initial quarter, but was up from $875.39 in last year’s fourth period.

Without job growth, and because of renters’ desire to cut costs, it’s been hard for landlords to raise rents, according to Ryan McMaken, the Colorado Division of Housing’s spokesman. But once the metro area starts to see more job growth, that should spark higher demand for apartments and significant rent increases.

“Our unemployment isn’t bad here, compared to other metro areas, and that’s what’s keeping apartment vacancies down. Another factor is there isn’t a lot of new apartment construction,” McMaken said.

From 2003 through 2009, metro Denver added fewer than 3,000 new apartment units each year, compared to 8,000 units in 2001 and more than 9,000 in 2002, according to Terrance Hunt, principal and broker at Apartment Realty Advisors Inc. in Denver. Because of that lack of new construction, Hunt believes the Denver area may be looking at a “pretty tight” apartment market in the near future.

Lauren Brockman, principal at apartment management company Orion Real Estate Services Inc. in Denver, pointed out that even in the current economic downturn, there’s strong demand for housing in metro Denver because many people are staying here, rather than moving to other markets for jobs. Even with limited job growth, “people want to be here” and need apartments, according to Brockman.

Other first-quarter apartment data from the housing division study includes:

  • Arapahoe County had the highest average apartment vacancy rate, at 7.2 percent, down from 9.7 percent year over year.
  • Douglas County had the lowest vacancy rate, at 4.4 percent, down from 7.1 percent.
  • In between, were Adams (6.8 percent), Boulder/Broomfield (5 percent), Denver (6.9 percent) and Jefferson (5.8 percent) counties.
  • Douglas County also had the highest average rent in the first quarter, at $1,055.12 a month.
  • Arapahoe County reported the lowest average rent, at $833.94.
  • Other rents, by county, included: Adams ($874.45), Boulder/Broomfield ($946.60), Denver ($883.87) and Jefferson ($833.94).

The housing division collaborates on its quarterly apartment market reports with the Apartment Association of Metro Denver. The full report is available on the apartment association’s website, at http://www.aamdhq.org.

Article by Paula Moore of Denver Business Journal

The Tenant Blacklist ends

From GothamGazette.com

Council, Courts End the ‘Tenant Blacklist’

The term “blacklisting,” usually associated with 1950’s McCarthyism, has taken on a new meaning. The blacklisted in 21st century New York have been people applying for apartments whom property owners deem undesirable as tenants. In an effort to limit this practice, the New York City Council in March, building on previous court cases, enacted the Tenant Fair Chance Act.

While credit checks are well known, most New Yorkers do not realize that some companies buy landlord-tenant filings, harvest court histories and sell them to landlords. The endgame is for landlords to learn whether the apartment-seeker had an in-court dispute with a prior landlord.

Tenant screening agencies, as the companies are known, may supply information about credit, character, reputation and personal characteristics, but the new law’s emphasis is on “history of contact with any court… [and reports] used for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing a consumer’s suitability for housing.”

The Legal Background

In the case of White v. First American Registry a class-action was brought in federal court in Manhattan against the nation’s largest tenant screening agency. In his ruling, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York noted that landlords are all too willing to use such “consumer reports” as a blacklist, “refusing to rent to anyone whose name appears on it regardless of whether the existence of a litigation history in fact evidences characteristics that would make one an undesirable tenant.”

The judge went on to say the practice of seizing upon the availability of Housing Court filings helps “to create and market a product that can be, and probably is, used to victimize blameless individuals. Tenants and lawyers in that case won more than $2.9 million.

While everyone agrees landlords have a right to know who will be living in their buildings, and that they should do some checking, Kaplan agreed with tenants that the records obtained and sold by screening agencies are unreliable. As Supreme Court Judge Barbara Kapnick wrote in the later case of Dawn Weisent v. Subaqua, “regardless of whether or not a tenant prevails in the Housing Court, his or her name may appear on the ‘blacklist.'”

Limited Information

The Housing Court records that are bought and sold show merely that a proceeding was commenced, not what ultimately happened in the case, making the information incomplete or even inaccurate. The records the screening agencies receive from the court show a proceeding was brought — for example, Landlord v. Tenant — but give no other information. Because of the limited facts, the case might not even involve the tenant in question, but someone else with the same name, giving a false impression of a potential tenant’s history with a landlord.

The records also do not reveal, for example, that a tenant might have previously withheld rent due to dangerous housing conditions. Instead, they simply show that the tenant was a defendant in a lawsuit. The records also will not reflect that a Housing Court judge might have dismissed the landlord-tenant proceeding, finding that it was baseless, or deciding after trial in favor of the tenant. In other words, the mere fact that there was a proceeding in an apartment related dispute brought to court could be used against a person trying to rent an apartment — even if it is the wrong person.

The Council’s ‘Fair Chance’

The Tenant Fair Chance Act, which was introduced by Manhattan City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick and co-sponsored by 17 other members, goes into effect this summer. It intends to let potential tenants know if screening agencies are being used and what they have reported about them, especially if adverse information has led to denial of an apartment.

In introducing the bill, Garodnick said, “Tenant screening reports are one of the most powerful tools working against renters today, and yet they are almost completely unregulated.”

Under the new law, the tenant who is spurned is entitled to a copy of the report and the opportunity to make any corrections. The law states, “Every tenant or prospective tenant may dispute inaccurate or incorrect information contained in a tenant screening report directly with the consumer reporting agency.”

A violation of the Tenant Fair Chance Act law “shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $250 nor more than $700 for each violation.” Other penalties, including criminal prosecution, also are available.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice
This is the full article, but you can view it again here.

Database Plan Aimed at Enabling Reviews of Landlords

thought this was an interesting article to share...

A Penn State student group is planning an interactive, web-based database of State College landlords and apartment reviews — a resource that should reward responsible property owners and hold others accountable, organizers said this week.

They said the new group, Project Blue Pill, has already secured support from Information Technology Services, a university department that will pay two interns and help guide them in developing a website this summer. ITS may also provide a web server for the project, said sophomore Will Sheehan, the Project Blue Pill CEO.

Student organizers hope to have a thorough, searchable list of local landlords and properties available online by the fall, with user-submitted reviews to follow by fall 2011, Sheehan said. He said only Penn State students with active online-user accounts will be able to post reviews.

“We want to put control back with the consumer, with the students,” Sheehan said. ” … We want to reward the landlords who do a great job by keeping their properties up to date, keeping maintenance where it should be. And we want to give students who are looking for off-campus housing some reviews and comments before they sign a binding lease.”

Funding for project, known as Tenant Review of Landlord, or TRL, is still in the works. Sheehan said the leaders of Project Blue Pill — all members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity — will ask Beta alumni for support and seek other sources, including through the Smeal College of Business.

“We realize this will be pretty pricey,” Sheehan said, though an exact price tag is not yet available. For now, he said, ITS will cover the labor cost of the interns.

TRL is a top priority for Project Blue Pill, founded recently by undergraduate David Adewumi. A graduate of State College Area High School, Adewumi lost his bid this spring for the University Park Undergraduate Association presidency.

But Adewumi has said the loss won’t sideline the ideas that he campaigned on, including improved accountability for local landlords. He envisions Project Blue Pill as a local policy think-tank that will collaborate with other student organizations, including the undergraduate association and the Off-Campus Student Union, or OCSU.

Bobby Ryan, the OCSU president, said he is already helping to assemble property listings for the TRL project. He called the concept a great idea. Other U.S. universities have implemented similar programs.

“We’ll see what comes to fruition here,” Ryan said. He said he has filed an open-records request with the Centre County government to collect details about rental properties.

Marcus P. Robinson, the director of IT communications at Penn State, said the university will pair summer interns with Penn State software engineers to help with management and technical guidance for the project. “It’s probable that we’ll provide some web infrastructure support,” he said.

Robinson said the university’s mentoring role will be similar to its contributions to the recent student book-exchange project. That online endeavor, launched within the past few years, also was initiated by students.

From statecollege.com by Adam Smeltz

Portland Oregon Landlord : Tenant destroyed rental as revenge!

PORTLAND – A tenant was believed to be responsible for destroying a home that he rented in SE Portland.  The landlord thinks it is retaliation for her trying to evict him for not paying rent.

Cindy Hiatt told NewsChannel 8 her tenant, William Olietti, wrecked every room of her home on SE Rhone Street.  “I just walked through the house and I was in shock,” she said.  “Every step I took I was in more shock.”

The kitchen cupboards were taken down and burned.  Trash was left in the sink and the faucet was broken.  It looked like Olietti took a jackhammer to the tile floor in the kitchen.

“It’s just like, you’re numb and in shock,” said Hiatt.

Olietti also smashed windows, broke holes in the wall, and trashed the backyard shed.

“I can’t think of anything horrible enough to happen to somebody who could do that,” said Hiatt.

An expert on landlord-tenant rights said there were a few things a landlord could do to avoid similar situations.

“The landlord can ask for references, can ask for a security deposit, can ask for a co-signer,” said clinical professor Mark Peterson.

Olietti was arrested and charged with criminal mischief.  Hiatt does not think the house will be available to prospective renters for several months.

“I can’t begin to think how much it’ll cost,” said Hiatt.  “It’s unbelievable.” 

From KGW.com
by Mike Benner

Find services to help you properly screen your tenant here.

Tackling the Tenant Screening Background Blacklist With New Legislation

New York Times
By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS
Published: April 7, 2010

If you have ever been in housing court for an eviction proceeding — whether you withheld rent because of the hole in your ceiling or because of the ticket you bought to Maui — your name may be on a list that screening companies sell to landlords to help them spot potentially troublesome tenants.

Even if you won the case.

The list of those named in eviction filings has remained, by and large, relegated to the murky status of urban legend. But in February the City Council passed legislation, introduced by Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick, called the Tenant Fair Chance Act. It requires landlords, property managers and brokers to disclose which screening company, if any, they plan to use for these background checks.

Starting this summer, tenants will have the chance to order their files from the firms in question, and correct any inaccuracies.

“We began to hear from constituents throughout the city that they were getting rejected for apartments and they couldn’t figure out why,” said Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker. “They had an albatross around their necks, and they didn’t even know it.”

As soon as an eviction case is put on the calendar by a clerk or lawyer, New York’s housing court system sells the names of tenants to screening companies. The court has sold case information since 1990.

One pitfall for renters is that because the database is organized by name rather than, say,Social Security number, it is possible that someone with the same, or almost the same, name as a tenant-defendant could be included. But even if the information on the screening report is accurate, there is generally precious little of it. It will not say, for example, whether rent was withheld because the building was falling down, or whether the housing court found in a tenant’s favor.

Screening companies do not coordinate with one another, and there are more than 600 of them nationwide, so it is important to know where a landlord plans to look.

“We can’t stop the practice,” Ms. Quinn said, explaining that any decision to end the practice of selling this information would be made by the State Legislature. “But at least we’ve brought it out in the sunlight, and that’s always the best disinfectant. Tenants will have knowledge, and in these types of situations, knowledge is power.”

Louise Seeley, the executive director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a nonprofit agency that helps people navigate the housing court system, said her organization received 5 to 10 calls a week from potential tenants whose names were on the list. Names are meant to be expunged after seven years, she said, but some companies are not careful about purging their records.

The prospect of being added to the list can have a chilling effect on tenants, advocates for renters said.

For the rest of this article please visit: http://tinyurl.com/tenant-screening-help
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Home Prices: 1st Annual Increase in 3 Years

(AP Associated Press via msnbc.com)

MIAMI – Home prices in February posted their first annual increase in more than three years, though it’s too early to say the housing market is recovering.

Despite the 0.6 percent increase on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, 11 of the 20 cities in the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index showed declines.

The last time prices rose on a year-over-year basis was December 2006. But economists polled by Thomson Reuters had predicted prices to rise 1.2 percent in February.

For the rest of this article please visit: http://tinyurl.com/help-for-landlords-6