Tag Archives: property 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.

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.

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/

Patch Those Plaster Cracks

Tips for lath-and-plaster repairs

by Bill and Kevin Burnett, Inman News

Q: We are getting ready to repaint our home office. The walls and ceiling were cracked during an earthquake and poorly patched before we moved in. We had the roof redone last summer, and the banging and hammering seriously re-cracked the plaster. In two areas there is a large “plate” of plaster that is loose. You can press it and it moves closer to the wall.

My questions are: Can this be glued back into place, or must we remove all the loose stuff and replaster? How does one handle the bubbles (like an air pocket) that occur in the plaster? Any suggestions for a proper repair would be greatly appreciated. I can handle small holes and cracks pretty well.

A: Old plaster is the bane of old houses. Most often when we’ve been presented with old plaster walls we’ve opted to strip them and apply drywall rather than engage in the seemingly constant battle of repairing them. We also had an ulterior motive.

With the stud bays open, it is an opportune time to reconfigure lighting and electrical outlets to our liking and to add insulation to exterior walls.

But tearing out the plaster and drywalling a room is a ton of work, and we can appreciate your wanting to avoid it.

You’re on the right track when you ask if you can simply reglue the detached plaster. To understand how, it helps to understand the guts of lath-and-plaster walls. The 1 1/4-by-1-inch-thick wood, called lath, is nailed horizontally to the 2-by-4-inch wall studs. The lath is installed with 1/4-inch spaces between each piece. Plaster is applied in three coats and built up to a thickness of 3/4-inch to make the finished wall.

The plasterer forces the first coat of plaster — the brown coat — through the grooves between the laths. The plaster droops on the backside of the laths and dries, forming “keys.” These keys keep the plaster tight to the wall. Over time, with movement the keys break and the plaster becomes loose, forming what you call bubbles.

Reattaching loose plaster bubbles is a multi-step process. You’ll need a cordless drill, a 3/16-inch masonry drill bit, a wet/dry vacuum, adhesive and some drywall screws with plastic washers.

The first order of business is to protect the floors of the work area with drop cloths. Old plaster is composed in part of coarse sand and will destroy the finish of a wood floor or bore deeply into carpet.

Start by using the 3/16-inch carbide-tipped masonry drill bit to bore holes through the plaster. The masonry bit does well moving through the plaster and will not perforate the wooden lath. Drill evenly spaced holes — about every 3 inches — around the damaged wall area.

If you happen to hit one of the gaps between the lath, mark it with a pencil. Remember lath runs horizontally, so when you hit a gap, drill the next hole a little higher or lower. Clean dust from the holes with a wet/dry vacuum.

Be sure to purchase adhesive that will bond the plaster to the lath. Adhesive should come in a tube to be applied with a caulking gun. Check out the local paint store for their recommendation and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Trim the adhesive tube’s nozzle to the size of the holes in the plaster with a utility knife. Then inject the adhesive into each hole by giving the caulking gun’s trigger one full squeeze.

Immediately after squeezing adhesive into the holes, use the drill equipped with a Phillips head bit to screw drywall screws with a plastic washer into as many holes as necessary to pull the plaster tight against the lath. Wipe away any adhesive that oozes out of the holes.

Allow the adhesive to dry and remove all the screws and plastic washers. If necessary, scrape the rings from the wall with a putty knife. Scrape off any high points of adhesive off the wall with the 6-inch putty knife.

Apply a thin coat of joint compound to fill the holes. Let the compound dry overnight and sand the surface lightly with 120-grit sandpaper. Apply a second compound coat, let dry and sand. Now you have a solid wall, ready for paint or paper.

By the way, this is a topic that we saw Tom Silva cover years ago on the “This Old House” franchise. We nosed around the Web for a while and were able to find this video: http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/video/0,,20210037,00.html.
Copyright 2009 Bill and Kevin Burnett

See Bill and Kevin Burnett’s feature Do-it-Yourself Fix for Squeaky Floors.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your real estate investment including REAL ESTATE FORMS, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at joinaaoa.

Landlord Quick Tips

Stick to the Script!

Ever call up your applicant’s previous landlord, then hurry through the call because you didn’t know what to ask? Well, you are not alone!

Having a script can help you get the information you need.

Here are some questions that other landlords ask:

Have-to-Asks:

Is this a good time to talk, or should we reschedule when you have more time?

Did the tenant pay their rent on time, every time?

Did the tenant give you notice they were leaving? Are they leaving prior to the lease expiring?

Did neighbors or anyone complain about this tenant?

Did you ever have to warn the tenant about behavior?

Was the unit/property in good condition when they left?

Did you return all of the deposit?

Good-to-Knows:

Why did they leave?

Did they have a pet? Did you know they had a pet? Was the pet disruptive?

What type of unit did they rent? How much did they pay?

Did they pay by check?

It is a good practice to ask the same questions of each landlord reference, for each applicant. Create a checklist with the questions, and jot down the answers. Place the completed sheet in the tenant file.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts for landlords on products and services related to your rental investment, including real estate forms, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at www.joinaaoa.org.