Tag Archives: property management tips

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.

Top 10 Tax Deductions for Landlords

Every year, millions of landlords pay more taxes on their rental income than they have to. Why? Because they fail to take advantage of all the tax deductions available for owners of rental property. Rental real estate provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment.

Often, these benefits make the difference between losing money and earning a profit on a rental property. Here are the top ten tax deductions for owners of small residential rental property.

1. Interest

Interest is often a landlord’s single biggest deductible expense. Common examples of interest that landlords can deduct include mortgage interest payments on loans used to acquire or improve rental property and interest on credit cards for goods or services used in a rental activity.

2. Depreciation

The actual cost of a house, apartment building, or other rental property is not fully deductible in the year in which you pay for it. Instead, landlords get back the cost of real estate through depreciation. This involves deducting a portion of the cost of the property over several years.

3. Repairs

The cost of repairs to rental property (provided the repairs are ordinary, necessary, and reasonable in amount) are fully deductible in the year in which they are incurred. Good examples of deductible repairs include repainting, fixing gutters or floors, fixing leaks, plastering, and replacing broken windows.

4. Local Travel

Landlords are entitled to a tax deduction whenever they drive anywhere for their rental activity. For example, when you drive to your rental building to deal with a tenant complaint or go to the hardware store to purchase a part for a repair, you can deduct your travel expenses.

If you drive a car, SUV, van, pickup, or panel truck for your rental activity (as most landlords do), you have two options for deducting your vehicle expenses. You can:

  • deduct your actual expenses (gasoline, upkeep, repairs), or
  • use the standard mileage rate (55 cents per mile for 2009; 58.5 cents per mile for July 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008 and 50.5 cents per mile from January 1, 2008 through June 30, 2008). To qualify for the standard mileage rate, you must use the standard mileage method the first year you use a car for your business activity. Moreover, you can’t use the standard mileage rate if you have claimed accelerated depreciation deductions in prior years, or have taken a Section 179 deduction for the vehicle.

5. Long Distance Travel

If you travel overnight for your rental activity, you can deduct your airfare, hotel bills, meals, and other expenses. If you plan your trip carefully, you can even mix landlord business with pleasure and still take a deduction.

However, IRS auditors closely scrutinize deductions for overnight travel — and many taxpayers get caught claiming these deductions without proper records to back them up. To stay within the law (and avoid unwanted attention from the IRS), you need to properly document your long distance travel expenses.

6. Home Office

Provided they meet certain minimal requirements, landlords may deduct their home office expenses from their taxable income. This deduction applies not only to space devoted to office work, but also to a workshop or any other home workspace you use for your rental business. This is true whether you own your home or apartment or are a renter.

For the ins and outs on taking the home office deduction, see Home Business Tax Deductions: Keep What You Earnor Every Landlord’s Tax Deduction Guide, both by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

7. Employees and Independent Contractors

Whenever you hire anyone to perform services for your rental activity, you can deduct their wages as a rental business expense. This is so whether the worker is an employee (for example, a resident manager) or an independent contractor (for example, a repair person).

8. Casualty and Theft Losses

If your rental property is damaged or destroyed from a sudden event like a fire or flood, you may be able to obtain a tax deduction for all or part of your loss. These types of losses are called casualty losses. You usually won’t be able to deduct the entire cost of property damaged or destroyed by a casualty. How much you may deduct depends on how much of your property was destroyed and whether the loss was covered by insurance.

9. Insurance

You can deduct the premiums you pay for almost any insurance for your rental activity. This includes fire, theft, and flood insurance for rental property, as well as landlord liability insurance. And if you have employees, you can deduct the cost of their health and workers’ compensation insurance.

10. Legal and Professional Services

Finally, you can deduct fees that you pay to attorneys, accountants, property management companies, real estate investment advisors, and other professionals. You can deduct these fees as operating expenses as long as the fees are paid for work related to your rental activity.

Did You Know?

Did you know that:

  • Landlords can greatly increase the depreciation deductions they receive the first few years they own rental property by using segmented depreciation.
  • Careful planning can permit you to deduct, in a single year, the cost of improvements to rental property that you would otherwise have to deduct over 27.5 years.
  • You can rent out a vacation home tax-free, in some cases.
  • Most small landlords can deduct up to $25,000 in rental property losses each year.
  • A special tax rule permits some landlords to deduct 100% of their rental property losses every year, no matter how much.
  • People who rent property to their family or friends can lose virtually all of their tax deductions.

If you didn’t know one or more of these facts, you could be paying far more tax than you need to.

by: Stephen Fishman , J.D.

Holding an Open House Saves Time & Money!

In my dreams I fill my vacant units with the best tenants on earth who pay their rent on time, keep the apartment clean, and never move out.  But unfortunately my dreams aren’t reality.

When I’m looking to fill a vacancy I prefer to show the unit like I would an open house.  I’ll pick a day, say Saturday, and set aside a period of time for propsective tenants to view the unit.  For example:  Open House, Saturday, 2-4pm!

I’ll tell as many prospective tenants to come on that same day and time too.  This helps create a sense of urgency and competition amongst the fellow renters visiting the property.  Plus it saves me time from having to meet prospective renters at different times and different days.

By creating a buzz, prospective renters feel the unit is special, limited, and could be rented in a blink of an eye.  This is their chance to grab it before anyone else does.  You never want to eat at an empty restaurant, do you?  Well you don’t want to live at an apartment that no one else is interested in either.

The prospective tenants that are interested will fill out an application right there and then.  Depending on which property I am at, I can also run their credit report on the spot (I check eviction, criminal and some other stuff too).  For screening providers I’ve used and others, click here.

No-Fuss Wallpaper Removal

Q: Do you know the best way to remove wallpaper that’s about 20 or 30 years old? I just bought a house that has old-time country wallpaper in the kitchen, and I really don’t like it. Besides, they didn’t do a very good job putting it up in the first place.

I’ve tried some over-the-counter spray that’s supposed to work, but it only succeeded in having me put a bunch of little holes in the wallpaper. My dad suggests I just cover it up with drywall, but then the wall would be sticking out beyond the kitchen cabinets and I would need to redo the trim.

I just want to remove it and put some paint in its place. The kitchen is not very big, and there’s not a lot of wallpaper to remove. Any suggestions?

A: Wallpaper of this vintage is probably vinyl on a paper backing. The vinyl prevents the spray you bought from penetrating the wallpaper to the glue. We assume the little holes in the wall are from your attempt to score the paper so the solution could penetrate.

Don’t abandon the job. You just need to tweak your method a bit. Follow these steps and you should have the offending paper off the walls lickety-split.

First, prepare the area. Shut off all circuit breakers that control the kitchen outlets and lights. Remove covers from outlets and switch plates, and keep them and their screws in a safe place. The job will require fairly significant amounts of water. You don’t want to fry your electrical system or yourself.

Put drop cloths over anything you want to protect. Old wallpaper and glue get everywhere. And once it dries on the floor, it’s a pain to get off. Tape plastic sheeting to the cabinets. Use cloth on the floors. The drops on the floor will move, so be careful.

Next, slide a metal putty knife under the edge of the wallpaper. Odds are some of the seams are loose. Take the edge of the paper and peel it back. The vinyl face should separate and expose the paper backing. Peel as much of the vinyl off as you can.

Fill a bucket with water as hot as you can stand. If you are using commercial stripping solution, mix it with the water according to package directions. You can also get good results with a 20 percent solution of vinegar in hot water or a 50-50 mix of fabric softener and water. Use a paint roller to get the hot-water stripping solution mix on the wall.

Apply the solution liberally. The idea is to saturate the paper and the glue holding it to the wall. Do an area only as big as you think you can strip in 15 minutes. Any longer and you risk the paper drying out.

The wallpaper darkens as it gets wet. Let the solution set for a few minutes to thoroughly saturate the paper. Now start peeling. We like to use a 4-inch drywall knife for this part of the job. It’s small enough to maneuver, yet large enough to take big pieces of paper off at a time. Have a big garbage can nearby to contain the paper.

Once all the paper is off, you’ll be left with little specks of wallpaper residue on the walls. A Scotch-Brite pad dipped in stripping solution will take care of the stragglers.

The solution mix will cool down or get contaminated with old wallpaper glue. When that happens, dump it out and make a new batch. Don’t dump it into a sink or tub, as this may make your drains go slower. Dump it down the toilet — don’t worry about clogging — or outside if you are using nontoxic substances.

For larger jobs, rent a wallpaper steamer. This is a metal plate connected to a tank by a rubber hose. The tank contains a heating element. When plugged in, water is heated to create steam that escapes through holes in the metal plate. The advantage is that the water never cools, making the job go more quickly.

With clean walls, a little spackling, priming and painting will make your kitchen look like new.

 Copyright 2009 Bill and Kevin Burnett

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/

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.

What to Look for in a Tenant Screening Background Check

Before any landlord leasing property ever considers signing a lease agreement with a prospective tenant, it is vital that the landlord gets a signed rental application from each adult who will be included on the lease agreement. With this information, the landlord now has the ability to conduct an investigation known as a tenant screeningor background check. This application should request key background information including key questions about the potential renter’s past such as the past addresses for the past 5 years, employment record, and criminal history. One of the most important uses of this application is that it provides the landlord with the basic data from which he or she can conduct an effective background screening on the applicant(s). Nealy all tenant screening services require that you have a valid social security number and many require a current or past address as well.

The data your applicant provides for the purpose of obtaining a lease on your property lies the groundwork for you to be able to harvest an enormous amount of information about your prospective tenant. I would highly recommend that you use a good quality service which provides you with nationwide data. Avoid using tenant screeningservices which only provide you with state only data. It is surprising how many of the big name online background check services are severely lacking the vital information that are imperative for you to have as a property manager. It is absolutely necessary that you obtain a nationwide history of any criminal records, court judgments, and previous addresses.

Once you receive the results of the background check, you want to look for any discrepancies contained within the report that differs from what your had applicant stated. For example, if your background check report shows many different previous addresses reported by your applicant, then you most likely have a major issue. Also, if you find previous court judgments, there are usually major issues. Unlawful detainers are especially troublesome because it means that in the past, your rental applicant had to be forcibly removed from a property with a previous landlord. There are plenty of tenants to chose from who are honest and pay their bills on time with a clean record. Don’t gamble your future with people who have a shady past.

Alexis Hughes has worked in the real estate industry for the past 23 years. For the past 14 years, she has been employed as a property manager and currently serves as the president of the local Property Manager’s Rental Association. Tenant ScreeningBackground Check at tenantscreeningbackgroundcheck.com is an excellent resource that I recommend for conducing effectivetenant screening.

This article is from here: http://tinyurl.com/tenant-screening-help-1

I’ve never used the above referenced tenant screening provider. However, I do list providers on my website through the links found in the header and by Help for Landlords by State.  I am currently very satisfied with the tenant screening service I receive from the American Apartment Owners Association.