Tag Archives: apartment management

Using Facebook as a Tenant Screening Tool

This is a recent article from American Apartment Owners Association, of which I am a member.  This was posted on their blog today and I found the information to be especially helpful for landlords:

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Q: When I screen potential tenants, I talk to their current landlord and their employer, ask for references, and order a credit report.crystal ballSome of the landlords in town are also regularly looking on the Internet, to see if the applicant blogs, has a Facebook page, and so on.

One friend told me that when he looked at the Facebook page of an applicant he was about to rent to, he saw that the person is really into partying and drinking. My friend didn’t rent to him.

Should I be looking at Facebook pages, too? –David R.

A: Your question calls for two answers: a legal one and a practical one. From a legal point of view, should you be checking applicants’ Internet postings? And, from a practical point of view, is it a good idea?

The steps you’ve been taking when screening tenants are the tried-and-true methods that careful landlords have been using for years to weed out risky applicants: those whose past actions indicate that they may not pay the rent or may not be considerate residents and neighbors. Although these methods are commonly used, they are not legally required.

It’s possible that a court might rule that these tools are the “industry standard,” which might make them quasi-mandatory, but it’s unlikely. Running a residential rental business (unlike, say, car manufacturing) is engaged in by too many people, in too many varied ways, to conclude that it’s an “industry” with common metrics and procedures.

So because you’re not legally required to do even what you’re already doing, it’s very unlikely that a judge would consider checking for Internet postings to be a legally necessary step in the screening process. Consider, for example, the issue of screening for those who are legally required to register as convicted sex offenders.

No state requires landlords to go online and look for their applicants on these lists, and California specifically forbids them from doing so. If you’re not required to consult the Internet for information as serious as registration for one of these crimes, it’s not reasonable to think that you’d have any duty to search for evidence of partying.

This conclusion has to be adjusted, however, for one situation: If you’re hiring a resident manager, you are screening not only a tenant, but a future employee, who will have access to tenants’ personal information and even their homes. You have a duty to make sure that you do not place a dangerous tenant manager in that position — in other words, your duty to screen has changed significantly.

Careful landlords do investigative background checks for tenant managers, with the legally required advance notice to the applicant. These investigations may turn up relevant information, including the applicant’s postings on the Internet.

So much for your legal duty. What about the practical value of hopping online and checking out your applicants? It’s hard to resist, and indeed you may learn information about your applicants’ lifestyle and habits that would reasonably lead any landlord to say, “No thanks on this one.”

As long as you’re looking at Web postings that are available to the public, your applicants will have no legitimate beef if you reject them based on what you see and read. But be careful — you can safely reject any applicant only when your reasons for doing so, no matter where you found the information, are legally justified, and not based on that applicant’s membership in a protected class, such as race and religion.

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For the rest of this article, please visit:  American Apartment Owners Association.  This link will take you directly to the article.

10 Steps Toward Low-Risk Landlording

Learn how to protect your rental property from common mishaps and risky situations.

Most rental property owners worry about protecting their investment. From physical damage to the property to insurance claims to lawsuits brought by tenants, there are myriad ways that you can lose money. Fortunately, minimizing risks in a rental business doesn’t require a ton of money or a staff of experts. All you need to do is learn where you’re vulnerable and then take commonsense steps to minimize that vulnerability.

Here are ten steps you can take to protect yourself against liability as a landlord. By acting now, you’ll enjoy a big payoff: reduced likelihood of lawsuits, harm to tenants and guests, damage to your property, and financial distress to your business.

Step #1: Get the Right Insurance for Your Property and Business

Don’t wait until a loss occurs before you determine whether you have the right insurance for your business and property. Review your current policy with your agent or broker, then discuss coverage options that fit your needs.

Step #2: Make Your Property Physically Sound

Keep your property safe so that people don’t get hurt. To do this, learn the basic legal requirements for repairing and maintaining your property, and then follow them.

Implied warranty of habitability. Virtually every landlord must comply with a legal rule known as the “implied warranty of habitability.” This means you must make sure your rentals are in a “fit” and “habitable” condition when tenants move in, and you must maintain this condition throughout the tenancy. Get familiar with your state and local health, building, and safety codes, and strive to keep your property compliant.

Take steps to prevent injuries and losses. In addition, take other reasonable steps to prevent injuries and other losses. For example, take all tenants’ repair requests seriously and fix problems promptly. Inspect your property yourself for hazards. If you can’t address a hazardous situation immediately, warn tenants and visitors about the danger. (For example, put traffic cones around a pothole, or post signs and safety tape near a spill on the floor.)

Step #3: Make Your Rental Property Accessible to Disabled Tenants

Make your property accessible to tenants with mobility impairments and other disabilities. Check whether structures on your property must follow the Fair Housing Act’s “design and construction” requirements. (Generally, multifamily buildings that were designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 must comply.)

Regardless of when your buildings were constructed, seriously consider all requests from a disabled prospect or tenant to modify your building in order to meet that person’s needs. Review each request on a case-by-case basis and grant it if it’s reasonable. For example, a prospect’s request to install grab bars in the bathroom or lower kitchen cabinets is probably a reasonable modification request.

Step #4: Remove Environmental Hazards from Your Property

Removing environmental hazards is often trickier than removing other physical hazards. Environmental hazards often can’t be seen, and they may not become apparent until they cause injury or property damage. For example, a landlord might not learn of lead paint dust on her property until a family gets their child’s blood test results showing elevated levels of lead. What’s more, in some cases environmental hazards remain invisible even once they’ve caused damage, as in the case of carbon monoxide or radon.

Do your best to address environmental hazards before they cause serious damage. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Require tenants to report all leaks and flooding to you promptly so that you can take quick action to prevent mold.
  • Maintain your heating systems and appliances, and install carbon monoxide detectors in order to prevent carbon monoxide build-up.
  • Comply with federal testing requirements when employees or contractors work on asbestos-containing building materials, such as sprayed-on ceilings. These tests will reveal to workers what’s in your building, and you can use this knowledge to protect your tenants, too.

Step #5: Prepare for and Handle Disasters and Emergencies

Take steps to safeguard your business and protect your property, tenants, and employees in an emergency. For example:

  • Back up your computer files and keep important documents (such as a mortgage, note, and management contract) in a secure and fire-proof off-site storage facility.
  • Report suspicious objects, activities, and mail to the police, and take bomb threats seriously.
  • Document the location of utility shut-off valves, a step that can save lives and minimize damage if a fire or other disaster occurs.
  • Create an emergency procedures manual with an evacuation plan that’s tailored to your property.

Step #6: Lower the Risk of Crime at Your Property

In recent years, courts have increasingly found landlords partially responsible for crimes on their properties because they didn’t provide adequate security.

To prevent problems and keep your property and tenants safe, comply with state and local laws concerning security measures on rental properties. Screen your applicants and employees carefully — don’t just look for experience and know-how when it comes to filling a position on your staff. Adopt a smart key policy so that keys don’t fall into the wrong hands, and make sure your intercom system doesn’t link tenants to their apartment numbers. Answer prospects’ questions about security candidly, and deliver on any promise you make to increase security.

Step #7: Avoid Fair Housing Complaints When Choosing Tenants

If a prospective tenant believes you violated her civil rights, she may take legal action against you. Even if you win, defending yourself takes time, money, and energy.

To avoid problems, learn the basics of fair housing laws. The key to compliance is treating everyone the same. Some ways to do this include:

  • putting your screening criteria into a written tenant selection plan and giving a copy to applicants
  • rejecting applicants for legitimate business reasons, such as poor credit or negative references from prior landlords, and letting applicants know your reasons for rejecting them, and
  • keeping an updated log of apartment availability, and granting prospects’ requests for reasonable accommodations. For example, if you have a “no pets” policy and a prospect needs a guide dog to accommodate his disability, let him keep the dog as an accommodation.

Step #8: Adopt Careful and Consistent Business Practices

Many landlords create risks just by the way they go about their business. Be a careful and consistent landlord by using a written lease or rental agreement with tenants and by enforcing lease clauses consistently. Create house rules for tenants to follow (for example, regarding pets or children’s health and safety) and enforce them. Don’t let a friendship with a tenant interfere with your professional relationship. Also, to prevent identity theft, don’t use tenants’ Social Security numbers any more than needed.

Step #9: Avoid Problems When Hiring Help

Hiring help brings the promise of efficiency, savings, peace of mind, and profitability to your business — but it also brings risk. To lower your risk, determine whether you must classify a helper as an employee or an independent contractor.

For employees, be sure to withhold the appropriate payroll taxes and create a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment.

When using contractors, make sure they have insurance and sign a written contract with you.

If you’re considering hiring a management company or need to hire a lawyer, ask questions until you’re satisfied you’re choosing the right one.

Step #10: Taxes: Stay on Good Terms with Uncle Sam

Take steps to avoid a tax audit and to maximize your deductions. For example,

  • Establish a recordkeeping system for your business so that you keep track of every document that will substantiate your claimed income and expenses.
  • Understand how your choice of business structure and tax year affect your taxes.
  • Find out what deductions you’re entitled to claim, and then claim them.
  • Finally, hire the right type of tax pro for your business, and review your past returns for evidence of trends or problems.
Information obtained from nolo.com

For more help regarding these issues please visit:

https://helpforlandlords.com/landlord-state-guide-assistance/

Deadline for Returning Security Deposits by State

 

The following list is a guide to help landlords determine when the security deposit must be returned to the tenant.  As a reminder to all landlords, you should be performing a walk through prior to the tenant moving as this will prevent arguements as to the condition of the unit at move out.

State Deadline for Returning Security Deposit
Alabama 35 days after termination of tenancy and delivery of possession
Alaska 14 days if the tenant gives proper notice to terminate tenancy; 30 days if the tenant does not give proper notice
Arizona 14 days
Arkansas 30 days
California Three weeks
Colorado One month, unless lease agreement specifies longer period of time (which may be no more than 60 days); 72 hours (not counting weekends or holidays) if a hazardous condition involving gas equipment requires tenant to vacate
Connecticut 30 days, or within 15 days of receiving tenant’s forwarding address, whichever is later
Delaware 20 days
District of Columbia 45 days
Florida 15 to 60 days depending on whether tenant disputes deductions
Georgia One month
Hawaii 14 days
Idaho 21 days, or up to 30 days if landlord and tenant agree
Illinois For properties with five or more units, 30 to 45 days, depending on whether tenant disputes deductions or if statement and receipts are furnished
Indiana 45 days
Iowa 30 days
Kansas 30 days
Kentucky 30-60 days, depending on whether tenant disputes deductions
Louisiana One month
Maine 30 days (if written rental agreement) or 21 days (if tenancy at will)
Maryland 45 days
Massachusetts 30 days
Michigan 30 days
Minnesota Three weeks after tenant leaves, and landlord receives mailing address; five days if tenant must leave due to building condemnation
Mississippi 45 days
Missouri 30 days
Montana 30 days (10 days if no deductions)
Nebraska 14 days
Nevada 30 days
New Hampshire 30 days; for shared facilities, if the deposit is more than 30 days’ rent, landlord must provide written agreement acknowledging receipt and specifying when deposit will be returned — if no written agreement, 20 days after tenant vacates
New Jersey 30 days; five days in case of fire, flood, condemnation, or evacuation; does not apply to owner-occupied building with two or fewer units where tenant fails to provide 30 days’ written notice to landlord invoking provisions of act
New Mexico 30 days
New York Reasonable time
North Carolina 30 days
North Dakota 30 days
Ohio 30 days
Oklahoma 30 days
Oregon 31 days
Pennsylvania 30 days
Rhode Island 20 days
South Carolina 30 days
South Dakota Two weeks to return entire deposit or a portion, and supply reasons for withholding; 45 days for a written, itemized accounting, if tenant requests it
Tennessee No statutory deadline to return; 10 days to itemize
Texas 30 days
Utah 30 days, or within 15 days of receiving tenant’s forwarding address, whichever is later, but if there is damage to the premises, 30 days
Vermont 14 days
Virginia 45 days
Washington 14 days
West Virginia No statutory deadline
Wisconsin 21 days
Wyoming 30 days, or within 15 days of receiving tenant’s forwarding address, whichever is later; 60 days if there is damage

The above chart was obtained from nolo and is deemed reliable at the date of this post.

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

Application to Rent – It’s all in the details

When renting to a tenant or renting to multiple tenants its extremely important to have them fill out a rental application.  Rental application form or application to rent form can sometimes be found at your local stationary store like Staples or Office Depot.  You can also obtain the form from a tenant screening company, find my list here.  Apartment Associations or some may call them landlord associations will also provide the necessary landlord forms.  There are local apartment associations and nationwide associations, you can find my lists for them here.

The Application to Rent is one of the most important pieces of information you can gather from a prospective tenant during the tenant screening process.  Any information they provide assists you with your decision to rent as well as helps you recover lost rent should they skip out (more on this later).

Here is some of the information you should be requesting from your prospective tenant or new renter when they apply for your apartment for rent or home for rent:

  • Tenant full name; include first name, middle name, last name, and any AKA’s
  • Tenant address history; ask for 7-10 years of addresses to assist you in their prior living history
  • Date of Birth; You cannot base your decision to rent on a tenant’s date of birth, however, many tenant screening reports will require this piece of information.  It will also help with the debt collection process should you need to search for them later.  Lastly the tenant’s date of birth also assists should a Jr. vs. Sr. issue ever arise.
  • Social Security Number; This is required to obtain a credit report or tenant screening background report.  The tenant’s social security number can also be used for skip tracing should they leave and owe money.  Many tenant screening companies will also provide Social Security Fraud reports, I recommend you obtain one on your prospective tenant.
  • Phone numbers.  Get their home phone, cell phone, work phone (see below), and any other phone number they will provide.  Why are so many tenant phone numbers needed?  There are 2 main reasons: (1) to let them know you want to rent to them and (2) to chase after them if the tenant leaves owing you money!
  • Work history for 7-10 years.  It’s important to know where your prospective new tenant’s income is coming from.  Do they have a job?  Where is the job?  What is the address of the job?  Their boss’s name?  The phone number to the boss?  The title of their job?  Their previous and current salary?  You want to know all of this information to help in determining if the tenant can afford your rent.  A tenant screening report or tenant background check will provide credit and criminal information as well as insight on their debt/credit,, but their current job should still be verified.  Employment information also will assist in the debt collection process should the tenant skip out owing you money!
  • Banking information is also important.  First you’ll need this information to verify the tenant has the money to pay your rent.  You want to know they can write you a check each month!  (and that it will clear!)  Plus, as I stated with other information above, this will help with the debt collection process.
  • Tenant’s Relatives and Non-Relatives.  This information is helpful for the tenant screening process and the debt collection process.  Relatives will help you confirm the type of person your new tenant is, they will also help you locate the tenant when they leave you owing rent.  Non-relatives are also important because friendships change over years.  Your tenant may list someone that, after moving out, they are no longer friends with.  That person may be more than willing to assist you in your debt collection needs.
  • Additional Occupants in the apartment.  Who else is going to reside in the unit?  What is their name?  What is their social security number and date of birth?  How are they related to your prospective tenant?  Depending on the age of the occupant you may want them to sign the rental lease too.  You should perform a tenant screening background check on every occupant over the age of 18 even if they aren’t signing a lease!
  • Pets.  Do they have any pets?  Do you even want to allow pets?  What kind of pets are they?  Age of pet?  Type of pet?  How big (weight) is the pet?  What’s the name of the pet?  You’d be surprised how often the pet “gets out” and how helpful it can be to know its name.  Or if that dog is parking all night because your tenant is gone and you can yell out to the dog.
  • What type of vehicles does the prospective tenant own or lease?  A tenant screening background check will not always show automobiles.  You should obtain the type of car, color, year, make and model.  Always know whose vehicles are parked on your property.  This includes autos for co-tenants/additional occupants.
  • Ask the hard questions!  Ask the tenant on your rental application form if they have ever been evicted from an apartment or home.  Sure many will lie and you’ll discover an eviction on their tenant screening eviction background check, but others may fear the question and not even apply — saving you time, money, and aggravation.
  • Important:  You must have a signed release from the tenant authorizing you to obtain and investigate information on them such as a tenant screening credit report, criminal background check, eviction records, etc.  The law requires this release, so don’t forget it!
  • Always have the tenant print their name and provide a signature and date.  If the application is more than 1 page, its not a bad idea to have them initial or sign the bottom of each page in the corner.

My apartment association provides rental applications for free.  You can also find landlord forms like the application to rent from some tenant screening companies.  Visit my listings to locate an apartment association by state or visit the American Apartment Owners Association, a nationwide landlord association providing larger discounts than local chapters, for the necessary landlord forms.

Landlords Get Help with Managing Rentals

Many landlords love the income they get from their rentals but hate the business of managing their properties. Meanwhile, other people are interested in becoming a landlord but are concerned that it’s too much work. That’s where Rentometer (a free service to compare rent rates) and its advanced product, RentometerPro (an automated rental management system) are helping ease the work load for landlords.

“We’re essentially acting as an impartial third party for both people [landlord and tenant] to interact in a really convenient way that is up to date with the times,” says Allison Atsiknoudas, CEO of Rentometer.

Atsiknoudas says people who are interested in becoming landlords but also have some fear about the expense and cost of managing a property should note that there are simplified ways to manage your rental. “Now, there are options,” says Atsiknoudas. “It’s only been recently that there have been management solutions for people who own just a few units.” That’s good news for the approximately 90 percent of United States rental owners who each manage only a few rental properties.

“The tool Rentometer itself is a way to compare actual active rental rates for the market in a specific area. One of the things that we focus on is being able to present rent comparables in a very close proximity,” says Atsiknoudas. For tenants, it allows them to compare how their current rent rate compares in their local neighborhood. They enter an address on the website and a free report is instantly generated by Rentometer.com.

“If you’re an owner or a real estate professional and you wanted to find out what you might be charging these days for a vacancy, you enter the unit information and find out,” says Atsiknoudas.

“A majority of our clients are individuals or small partnerships and those folks really own a majority of the rental property in the United States. Most of the people who fall in that category are people who are in an industry other than real estate and they’re just managing some properties on the side—their own properties as long-term or mid-term investments for additional income,” says Atsiknoudas. The Rentometer tool and the rental management service that is provided by the company help landlords manage their properties easier and without all the loads of paperwork that often accompanies rentals. “The one thing that these people have in common is that typically they’re managing small portfolios. … between two and 35 units,” says Atsiknoudas.

She says that most of these properties owner are in situations where they don’t have large staffs (if any) to manage their rentals. So, they seek ways to simplify the process. “We have about 22 units in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The process of managing the rent and collecting the rent checks became pretty cumbersome,” says landlord Matt Angerer.

He uses Rentometer’s services to help manage his properties. “My tenants can now send their rent either directly to the processing facility that RentometerPro owns and operates in Rhode Island and, in turn, they will actually cash the checks and deposit them into my account, or my tenants can pay online via electronic fund transfer or they can pay with a credit card,” explains Angerer. Here are a few other services offered by the company.

Creating rental forms. Rentometer and EZLandlordForms.com provide a way for landlords to use a forms builder to create their own documents for their rental properties. Landlords can find forms such as lease agreements, lease renewals, rental applications and even eviction notices on Rentometer.com.

(Note by Help for Landlords!  The AAOA for any level of membership, provides a 15% discount to EZLandlordforms.com!)

Simplifying rent processing. “We do everything from the monthly invoicing of tenants, (both electronic and snail mail), to the acceptance of rents,” she says. Atsiknoudas emphasizes that the company accepts all forms of payments from credit cards to paper checks.

Automated late reminders. The payments are automatically posted to the landlords accounting ledger and to the tenants account. “Part of our automated system is that if you have late payments, [it] automatically sends out friendly reminders to people to pay their rent,” says Atsiknoudas.

Pricing starts at $7.99 per month for up to five units and increases for additional units with $50 a month buying unlimited access. “We’d like to be able to simplify management on every level,” says Atsiknoudas.

I found this article on Yahoo.  It was by Phoebe Chongchua and dated Fri, Apr 9, 2010
http://realestate.yahoo.com/info/news/landlords-get-help-with-managing-rentals

Youtube Tips and Help for Landlords

This isn’t the worlds best YouTube video, but sometimes its helpful to hear someone provide some simple tips and not just read it.  In this video the speaker is discussing how to properly screen a tenant.  This is a topic that I write about frequently.  The better your tenant screening service is, the better chance your tenant will pay their rent.

As I’ve stated many times before, I used to use ClearScreening. Then I moved to TenantAlert.com and now I’m with the American Apartment Owners Association because they provide me with more services than TenantAlert and their prices were cheaper.

I’ve tried to embed the YouTube video but for some reason its not working with WordPress.  Here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/help-for-landlords-5