Author Archive

Should I allow vaping in my rental property?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in e-cigarettes, edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, smokers, smoking, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain, vaping

vapingYou might not allow smoking within your rental units, but what about vaping with e-cigarettes?

About 15 percent of adults under 40 vape, so you might want to allow vaping in your rental property to attract more tenants. But you should learn all you can about e-cigarettes before you do.

Like regular cigarettes and cigars, e-cigarette emissions leave behind a residue that could build up on the walls and floors over time. Even if you decide to allow vaping indoors, it’s worth considering the extra cleanup work that could result when that vaping tenant moves out. So even if your state permits vaping in many public areas, you might want to restrict their use within your rental units.

Cigarettes versus e-cigarettes: the vapors

E-cigarettes: The vapors emitted from an e-cigarette contain far less nicotine than the smoke blown from a regular cigarette.

Cigarettes: Cigarettes leave behind a nicotine-stained film that discolors everything from walls to furniture. And then there’s that stale cigarette stench that’s notoriously hard to remove from a chain-smoker’s home.

Related: How to Remove Cigarette Odor From Your Rental Property

E-cigarettes: The vapors emitted from an e-cigarette contain just a fraction of the amount of nicotine found in cigarette smoke.

Cigarettes: Cigarette smoke contains a laundry list of harmful chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and formaldehyde.

E-cigarettes: Vapors in e-cigarettes typically contain less harmful chemicals, although they’re still packed full of chemicals.

The main difference, when it comes to residue left behind from smoke or vapor, is that cigarette-smoke residue builds up faster and reeks. It’s also visibly noticeable, since nicotine discolors some surfaces.

Even though vaping doesn’t cause nicotine stains, the vapor still creates a messy buildup. One substance in the vapor is vegetable glycerin, which leaves behind an oily residue. Oils attract dust and small particles, so a home exposed to frequent vaping ends up with a dirty, greasy buildup.

Cleaning concerns

Cleaning up after a smoker typically involves steam-cleaning carpets and curtains, washing  non-porous surfaces thoroughly, and repainting the walls. Removing odors could be extremely difficult, depending upon the amount of smoking done indoors.

Cleaning up vaping residue means deep-cleaning carpets, fabrics, and upholstery; washing non-porous surfaces with equal parts water and vinegar; and potentially repainting walls after wiping them down with the vinegar solution. All surfaces could be harder to clean than similar surfaces in a nonsmoker’s unit, thanks to the oily vaping residue.

What about the law?

As is the case with traditional cigarettes, the laws regulating e-cigarettes vary greatly from one region to another.

San Francisco, for instance, bans use of e-cigs wherever traditional cigarettes are banned.

Minneapolis lawmakers, however, believe e-cigarettes do not violate clean-air laws. In Minnesota, landlords decide whether tenants can smoke cigarettes or e-cigs within their units and on-site outdoor spaces. State law prohibits smoking and vaping in common indoor areas of rental properties, however.

Read up on your state’s laws to determine if there’s already a law regulating e-cigarettes and whether that applies to rental housing. If you choose to ban  e-cigarettes and similar electronic vaping products, clearly state this in your rental agreement. Define what forms of smoking and vaping you prohibit. Note any areas where vaping is allowed, such as outdoor spaces far away from rental units. Also clarify any bans on vaping in common indoor and outdoor areas.

Fire hazard is real

Vaping doesn’t carry the same fire hazard as falling asleep with a lit cigarette, but it still has its risks. In an eight-year period ending with the close of 2016, 195 vaping-related fires or explosions were reported in the United States. Many of these incidents happened when the device or spare lithium-ion batteries were in the user’s pocket. Other incidents happened while charging the e-cigarette’s batteries. All of the reported problems related specifically to lithium-ion batteries.

The charging incidents in particular are worth noting, as fires could occur while the tenant is away or asleep. Even so, the number of reported incidents is relatively small, considering that more than 3 percent of all U.S. adults vape, according to 2016 statistics.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether allowing e-cigarettes is worth the extra cleanup effort or the potential fire hazards. If you decide to allow vaping, it may be worthwhile to note an extra cleaning charge in the rental agreement. Make sure your tenants are well aware of your vaping and smoking rules before renting to them. A questionnaire asking potential tenants about smoking and vaping habits could help protect your property from careless tenants. They’ll be responsible for any excessive repair or cleanup issues that result during or after their tenancy.

When is a tenant responsible for repairs?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, repairs, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain, unauthorized repairs

Who is responsible for repairsWhether you own a home or rent one, things eventually break, malfunction, or wear out.

Generally if you’re a renter and you break something, you pay to repair it. If something breaks not because of you, such as because of age, the landlord is typically responsible. But what about minor repairs that are inexpensive or simple enough to do yourself?

You might be better off just handling them yourself. Before calling the landlord for every minor maintenance or repair issue, consider who should really be handling those repairs.

Check your lease agreement for repairs

There’s no need to stress out the moment that bathroom sink faucet starts to drip. Before wondering if you’re in charge of such repairs, check your rental agreement. In most cases, the contract discusses which repairs are the landlord’s responsibility and which may be yours.

For instance, Landlordology writer and rental owner Laura Agadoni includes language in her rental agreements noting that tenants are responsible for repairs $50 or less. Anything costing more is her responsibility, as long as the tenant or tenant’s guests didn’t cause the repair issue.

Is it a big deal?

If your lease isn’t clear about who should handle your specific repair issue, consider whether the problem is a big deal or a minor annoyance. For instance, if your entry door won’t lock properly and never has, your landlord should fix it, as your safety is at stake. If your cat uses the window blinds as a ladder, destroying them in the process, this isn’t such a big deal. It’s also an issue that you are definitely responsible for, since your pet caused the problem.

If that leaky faucet keeps you awake at night, the landlord may be willing to fix it, especially if they pay the water bill. It doesn’t hurt to submit a written repair request for something like this if you aren’t sure whether it’s your responsibility. Even so, use those repair requests sparingly, as no landlord enjoys being pestered repeatedly by the same tenant for somewhat minor concerns.

Check your state’s laws

Tenants have a right to habitable living conditions in every state. For instance, a functional heat system is a requirement. If your heating unit breaks down, the landlord must repair it, no matter where in the United States you live.

Some states such as Washington take things farther, noting that a landlord cannot legally make the tenants responsible for any repairs except when the tenant or their guests caused the damage.

If your repair issue is potentially difficult or costly and isn’t an obvious landlord responsibility, check your state laws for more clarity.

Handle what you can

Minor things such as burnt-out light bulbs or mildew in the shower are typically the tenant’s responsibility. Even if this isn’t spelled out in your agreement, it’s usually easier to deal with the issue yourself than to contact the landlord over what amounts to a minor annoyance.

If a screw is missing from the deadbolt hardware, replace it yourself.

A stain on the carpet near the front door is also easier to deal with yourself; the landlord usually isn’t responsible for cleaning-related issues.

On the other hand, if there’s mold and a wet, sagging spot on the bathroom ceiling due to a leak in an upstairs unit, it’s not your responsibility. But you should report it immediately before things get worse.

Definitely your responsibility

Certain maintenance issues are always your responsibility, unless your contract states otherwise.

It’s up to you to replace light bulbs and batteries in smoke detectors.

You also must keep the appliances clean, even if they belong to the landlord.

Even though it’s a rental unit, treat it as if you own the space. Keep the floors, walls, kitchen, and bathroom clean and in the best condition possible. The landlord expects the unit to be in the same condition when you move out as when you moved in, other than normal wear.

What not to do

Even if you have the skills of a general contractor, don’t make major repairs yourself without the landlord’s consent. Patching a nail hole in a wall and repainting the spot to match the wall is okay; painting “ugly” walls an entirely new color is not. Likewise, replacing a window you broke may seem like the right thing to do. In the landlord’s eyes, it might be all wrong. The window may not match the rest of the building’s windows.

Do not make any such repairs without asking the landlord first. The landlord may prefer to use their own contractor or do the work themselves and send you the bill. This ensures the work done meets your landlord’s standards.

In a nutshell, handle simple things such as light bulbs and cleaning yourself. Consult your rental agreement for anything that seems like a gray area. Major issues such as heat and electricity are definitely up to the landlord.

When is rent considered received?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Leases & Legal, paid, payment, rent, Rent & Expenses, rent received

When is rent due?When it comes to paying the rent on time, all methods are not created equally.

A mailed check, for instance, may be considered received when a landlord receives the letter, not the postmarked date – depending on what your lease says. Online payments may go through instantly and considered received as soon as the tenant initiates the payments. No matter what, it’s best not to push the limits on your monthly rent calendar if you want to avoid landlord-tenant friction, or worse yet, eviction.

The due date is the due date

Although many mortgage companies offer a payment grace period beyond the listed due date, the same is usually not true for rental payments.

If your rent is due on the 1st of each month, for instance, your landlord expects to receive it by the 1st. However, in some states, when the 1st falls on a Sunday and your mailed rent check shows up on Monday the 2nd, this is acceptable.

Read your rental agreement

Some landlords give a grace period, so be sure to read your lease to find out the actual due date and whether there is a grace period. Read this section thoroughly, as it also explains what happens if the payment date falls on a weekend or holiday. This area should also list acceptable payment methods and what to do if the landlord is on vacation, for instance.

Grace periods

Some leases have grace periods, either by law or by preference. A five day grace period means that rent due on the 1st wouldn’t get a late fee until the 6th. However, this does not mean that rent is actually due on the 5th – but that’s the message that is inadvertently conveyed. Rent is due on the due date – please don’t make a habit out of paying within the grace period.

Related: Don’t allow a grace period unless required by law

When you can relax after payment

In person: Your rent is considered received when it’s in the landlord’s office, if you pay in person.

In cash: Get a receipt to prove payment if your landlord accepts cash.

By check: If you mail your rent payments, the “received by” date is when the letter is received by the landlord. Postmark dates don’t matter when paying rent. The IRS allows you to postmark your taxes because the Postal Service is part of the federal government and therefore the government has “received” your taxes as soon as you mail them. But the USPS is not an extension of your landlord, so you need to take into account the mailing time when sending your check. A check sent on time but  returned due to insufficient funds means your payment is late.

Online payments: If you pay via online bill pay, a confirmation email showing proof of payment should suffice.

Paying through Cozy: Paying rent becomes a streamlined process through Cozy. This convenient app allows you to make automated monthly payments on a date you select. It’s free if you connect the app to your checking account, and you won’t have to think about the rent payment ever again. This method is also ideal if you are paid via direct deposit or if you keep enough cash in the account to cover the rent.

Bank transfer considerations

A manual bank transfer is a way to pay the rent, but it’s not the best way (unless you and your landlord use the same bank).

Let’s say you pay via bank transfer performed manually (not automatically) each month. You initiated a payment on September 1, a Friday, for a payment due the same day. Two weekend days follow, then Monday is Labor Day and the banks aren’t open. The transfer doesn’t complete until nearly a week later due to the holiday and bank processing times, which can take three to five days. Your landlord isn’t happy that your payment took so long to show up in their account. Mailing a check probably would have been faster.

Note: The exception is if you and your landlord use the same bank. In that case, the money typically transfers immediately or within minutes.

If making transfers manually, set them up well ahead of the due date to ensure they arrive close to the actual due date. Otherwise, opt for an automatic monthly withdrawal via an automatic clearing house (ACH) to ensure your payment arrives consistently on time. Cozy uses this method.

The one potential drawback to ACH payments: you must have enough money in the connected bank accounted to ensure the payments clear. If you don’t have enough to cover the rent payment when an automatic payment initiates, your account might be charged for insufficient funds and/or your rent payment won’t go through.

Better early than late

Waiting until the last minute to pay rent could spell serious trouble.

Check your state laws to determine how soon the landlord can take action over late or missing rent. Your landlord has a legal right to evict any tenant who doesn’t pay within the legal time frame. Turning in that check a little late more than once could also make your landlord less likely to offer a lease renewal.

Paying a few days early helps eliminate the stress of wondering whether the landlord received your payment on time. It also shows the landlord that you’re a reliable tenant. A stress-free, peaceful rental arrangement benefits both you and your landlord. Ditch the due-date pressure and make your life simpler with Cozy or other early automated payments. Your brain will thank you for it.

Standard questions to ask on a rental application

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, rental application, Screening, Step 6 - Applications & Screening

Questions to ask in a rental applicationIf you’re new to the rental business, setting up something even as basic as a rental application may seem a bit daunting.

Cozy makes the process easy, offering a secure online application link for each applicant and co-applicant. Whether you choose to use Cozy for your applications or opt for your own homemade version, these standard questions help you make informed decisions about potential new renters.

1. Personal information

Getting personal information is an absolute must on every rental application; after all, you need a way to contact the applicant and verify a few basic details. In this section, the applicant fills out their name, contact information, and date of birth. A Social Security number is not required.

Related: Do Landlords Need to Collect Social Security Numbers?

2. Employment and income history

This section asks for the applicant’s employment status and several years of work history. Ask for the current (and recent) employer’s name, the applicant’s start date, title, and monthly pre-tax income. Also ask for a work contact to verify employment. Include space for additional income information. This comes in handy for the self-employed or for those with other income sources or side jobs.

3. Residence history

Ask the applicant to include residence history for at least the past two years, including the current home. For each location, the applicant should list the approximate move-in and move-out dates. Also ask for the landlord’s name and contact information.

4. References

A reference section helps you verify that what the applicant claims is true. Ask for at least two references, such as coworkers, former landlords, college professors, or former bosses.

5. Emergency contact

This information isn’t necessary to rent an apartment, but it could be vital in the event of an emergency later on. Here, the applicant lists the contact information for a nearby family member or close friend.

5. Pets

The pet section lets the applicant list any pets they plan to bring into the rental. If your rental allows only small dogs, for instance, include extra space to list a dog’s breed or size. Use this section to inform applicants of pet-specific rules at your rental, too.

6. Bankruptcy

Though not a requirement, you may wish to ask whether the applicant has filed for bankruptcy in the past seven years. Include space for an explanation below the question in the event the applicant indicates a bankruptcy. Note that bankruptcies show up on a credit report for up to 10 years.

6. Evictions and refusal to pay rent

These questions are optional. Asking the applicant whether they’ve ever been evicted or refused to pay rent can help screen potential problem tenants. If they indicate “yes” to the eviction question, ask why it happened. Refusing to pay rent or refusing to pay on time is also worth an explanation. Typically, rent refusal happens during a landlord/tenant dispute, so it’s good to know the tenant’s history in this area. Several rent refusals could indicate a potential for future disputes.

7. Crimes

In this section, the applicant indicates convictions for felonies or misdemeanors, including drug-related convictions. Parking and traffic violation information isn’t necessary here. This information will show up on a background check.

8. Smoking

Ask about smoking. This is also a good place to list the smoking policy for your property or region. If your property has a designated smoking area, mention it here as well.

Related: How to Remove Cigarette Odor from Your Rental Property

Additional screening information

It’s a good idea to require applicants to undergo further screening, such as credit reports and background checks. Note that the Cozy application covers these as well. With Cozy, applicants click links to purchase either report, with an option to refuse either one. If an applicant refuses, they are offered space to explain the refusal.

The bottom line

Getting the same information on all your applicants makes the process fair and helps you compare applicants. Have requirements set up ahead of time, such as a certain credit score, income level, and debt load, and then when you review applications, you’ll be able to offer your rental to the most qualified applicant.

What to do when your tenant is locked out… again

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, key replacement, keys, locked out, locks, Move-in/Move-out, paid

Locked out againIt’s happening again: one of your tenants is locked out and calls you late at night to let him into his rental unit.

Accidents happen. I’ve left my hotel key-card in my room plenty of times. But it could be a major annoyance if the same tenant repeatedly gets locked out.

If you don’t mind being on-call 24/7 to deal with every Mr. and Ms. Forgetful you rent to, don’t worry about it. But if you appreciate peace of mind and wish your tenants would learn to be more responsible, there’s a few things you can do to deal with those lost-key situations.

Add a lost-key clause to the contract

By adding a simple sentence or two to your lease, you could charge for a lost key. Include details such as a minor charge for key replacement or for your time traveling to the rental after business hours. You may want to add a clause charging the tenant for locksmith services if you are unavailable and don’t have another means of getting the tenant back into their rental.

While you’re at it, make sure your rental agreement details how many keys each tenant receives upon renting. The contract should also state whether the tenant is allowed to make key copies. Note that if you generally change or re-key the locks between tenants, allowing copies could help prevent lockouts.

Related: Lock Lock, Who’s There? The Rules for Changing Locks

Change the locks

If your tenant locks their keys inside the rental, that’s one thing; outright losing the keys more than once is another. There’s no telling where those lost keys are or who may have access to the building after finding them. In that case, changing the locks makes sense.

Note in the rental agreement that the tenant will be responsible for the full cost of replacing the locks if they lose the keys. This is a potential security issue.

Install “smart” locks

Every time a tenant makes a key copy or loses one of their keys, there’s a chance a nonresident has easy access to that rental unit. Kwikset SmartKey locks eliminate a lot of stress, allowing you to re-key the locks without a locksmith. Make sure you still have a key that opens the lock, or you won’t be able to re-key it.

Related: Re-key the Locks Between Tenants with Kwikset SmartKey

Go keyless

An electronic keypad system is the perfect alternative to dealing with forgetful tenants. Back when I was a renter, my landlord allowed me to choose an access code for the entry door keypad. It was quite nice knowing I could go for a bike ride or jog without carrying keys.

As a landlord, the keypad system is even more beneficial: no more replacing or re-keying locks between tenants. Even better: no more lost-key phone calls. Electronic keypads are battery powered, so the battery needs to be replaced once a year or so. Basic electronic keypads don’t require internet access or a “smart” home system, so there’s no Wi-Fi required. Keypads fit many types of doors.

Ultimately, re-keyable locks and keypad systems help prevent lost-key syndrome, which means more peace of mind for you and your tenants in the long run.

Is my landlord responsible for my stolen bike?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, landlord tenant, Laws & Regulations, paid, renter's insurance, theft

When it comes to theft, it doesn’t matter if your bike is worth $100 or $1,000. If your bike gets stolen from your rental, your first reaction may be to blame the landlord. In most cases, however, the landlord isn’t liable, even if it was stolen from inside your apartment.

Your stuff, your responsibility (usually)

In most cases, you’re responsible for your personal property when it comes to your home.

This includes your bike, your computer, or anything else stolen during a break-in. The same also holds true for a bicycle kept outside, whether it’s on a patio or locked to an onsite bike rack.

Landlord responsibilities

In some cases, your landlord could be held responsible for a stolen bike if they didn’t provide sufficient security measures. It’s the landlord’s job to ensure basic safety measures to prevent criminal activity, but what that means, exactly, varies from region to region. Some cities may require that rental units have functioning deadbolts on doors and locks on ground-floor windows. Others may require ample lighting in common areas. Check your local and state laws to determine landlord responsibilities in your area.

Landlord ignores security issues

If you can prove your landlord ignored known security issues, such as broken window locks, you may have a case against them. Document all requests for security-related repairs or upgrades, as well as general repairs inside your rental unit, as they happen. These can help prove your case in the event of theft. Your landlord also must protect your belongings if a contractor works in your apartment while you’re away, for instance.

Don’t rush to sue

If the landlord failed to provide sufficient security or make security-based repairs in a timely fashion, you could sue for negligence. Before suing, however, make sure it’s worth your while. Legal costs could add up to more than your bike’s value in a hurry. Another option is to simply not renew your rental agreement.

Related: How to file a small claims lawsuit against your landlord or renter

The benefits of renters insurance

You can take an important step to protect your belongings—renters insurance. Renters insurance covers your bike and any other personal belongings stolen or damaged during a break-in. Better yet, it even covers your bike if it’s stolen off site, such as from your workplace. This insurance also covers items lost in a fire, for instance. It’s a great idea to purchase a policy, much as homeowners buy insurance to protect their personal property.

Related: The ultimate guide to renters insurance

Read the fine print first

As with other forms of insurance, renters insurance rates and the amounts of coverage vary from one policy or company to another. Some include limits on payouts per item stolen or damaged based on a percentage of total coverage. For instance, a policy from esurance pays full value of any item stolen or destroyed, as long as that single item is 10 percent or less of the total policy coverage. Some policies also don’t cover high-value items, typically worth thousands of dollars. Most insurance companies offer numerous package options, so it’s easy to pick a plan that meets your needs and budget.

Read your rental agreement

Read the original contract you signed when moving in, and find out exactly what you agreed to as far as security. For instance, if the agreement says buildings and common areas are secure, but several thefts happened recently, the landlord could be responsible. Some agreements explicitly state the landlord isn’t responsible for personal property, which means you should take steps to secure your own belongings.

Am I responsible for the damage my guests or pets cause?

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, guests, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, paid, property damage, renter's insurance, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

You’ve invited a few guests over for a barbecue on the patio. Your pal Mr. Grillmaster, the self-proclaimed expert on charcoal grills, takes over lighting the grill and handling burger duty. A few squirts of lighter fluid later and the flames soar, which damages the exterior wall. So who’s responsible?

It’s your responsibility…

Even though you didn’t cause the damage, you will be held liable for it by either the landlord, their insurance company, or your rental-insurance company. You, as the tenant named on the lease, are responsible for damage caused by your household members, guests, and pets. Many rental agreements detail this information, so there’s no question about it.

…even if you weren’t home

It doesn’t matter how or when the damage happened—you’re still responsible. If you allow friends to stay in your place while you’re away and one of them causes a sink to overflow, damaging the floor or even an apartment beneath yours, you’re liable.

Your landlord expects you to pay for repairs to your unit and any other damaged property.

Dealing with renter’s insurance

If you have renter’s insurance, submit the landlord’s repair bill to the company, but don’t expect them to cover all damages. Renter’s insurance covers your own personal property, such as computers and clothing, but might not cover damage to your rental unit.

Renter’s insurance that includes liability coverage pays for damages to other people’s personal property, such as electronics in the unit beneath yours. As with other forms of insurance, the amount and type of coverage varies by policy. Read the fine print or call your agent to determine whether your policy covers damage to the building.

Related: A landlord’s guide to renters insurance

Shouldn’t my guest pay?

If your guest breaks a window, you can’t expect the landlord to send the bill to that guest. You’re legally responsible for the actions of the guest. You could ask the guest to pay the bill, but as far as the landlord is concerned, you’re the one ultimately responsible.

Burglary damage

If a burglar breaks in, you might not have to pay for damages to the unit. To help prove your case, file a police report right away and provide all pertinent information to the landlord. Read the lease terms to ensure you aren’t liable for such damages. Some contracts might shift such responsibilities to the tenants. Check local and state laws regarding this issue if your landlord refuses to pay for repairs.

Pet problems

Even if your landlord welcomes dogs, you could get stuck with a bill if the dog breaks a screen door, for example, when scared by lightning. Your renter’s insurance might cover pet-related damage, but keep in mind the cost of your deductible versus the cost of the repair bill. If you make an insurance claim, your premiums may also rise. It may be better in the long run to just pay for the repairs out of pocket.

Related: Landlord liability when a tenant’s dog bites someone

Ultimately, you’re responsible for everything that takes place in your home, just as if you owned the property. Keep that in mind before planning a wild party or adopting a large dog that might make a mess of the place in a hurry.

 

How to pick a good roommate

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, paid, Rent & Expenses, roommates, tenant

There’s an art to choosing a good roommate. The more responsible the person, and the better you get along, the better everything will work out for both of you.

Even though it may take a little time to find a great roommate, it’s well worth the effort to prevent unnecessary strain on your sanity and your wallet. Here’s what to do.

1. Advertise

  • Craigslist. Be prepared to be inundated with responses. Help weed out types you don’t want by providing information that’s important to you in a roommate, such as nonsmoker or even a vegetarian.
  • Facebook. Post your quest to your status. It’s up to you whether you make it public or send it only to your friends’ list. Making the post public nets more views, but sending it only to friends also has value, because bots and spammers won’t respond. Tag a few friends who may know of others seeking a new home. This way, you and the potential applicant have at least one mutual contact in common.
  • Roommate apps. These apps can be great places to find someone, but know that some charge for premium versions of their services. RoomieMatch.com, Roommates.com, Roomster, and the Roomi app work a lot like a matchmaking service, helping filter out seekers who don’t match your search criteria.
  • Online college-alumni boards. Great places to find roommates with similar interests and work schedules.

2. Ask questions

  • Do you have a steady income? Ask the other party for proof of income to determine whether they make enough to cover their share of the rent.
  • What other expenses do you have? Other bills such as student loans, medical expenses, or a car lease make a dent in monthly income. Make sure there’s still plenty left over to cover the rent.
  • Do you smoke?  If you don’t smoke, rooming with a smoker may not be a good idea, especially if they smoke indoors.
  • Do you have a pet? Since some rentals have restrictions on pets, it’s good to know upfront whether a potential roommate has any pets. If you have a pet, this is the time to mention it to applicants to see if they mind or if they have allergies.
  • What’s your work schedule? Work schedules are also worth discussing, as this could affect the other party’s sleep routine. If you work nights and they work days, their after-work Netflix sessions might impact your pre-work nap, for instance. If they work from home and spend time making calls, this could also impact your post-work relaxation time.
  • Are you dating anyone? While this may seem too personal, it’s best to know if they have a significant other and if they plan to invite them over frequently. This could be an issue if you don’t like houseguests.
  • Do you have any questions for me? Allow the other person to ask you questions.

After going over the basics, discuss one another’s general habits, likes, and dislikes openly. This gives both of you a chance to find out if rooming together is a good idea. After all, you’ll both probably be named as tenants on the rental agreement.

3. Screen applicants

  • Meet in person. Once you’ve narrowed down the list of potential roommates, arrange an in-person meeting. This allows the chance for you both to make sure you feel comfortable around one another and to discuss furniture, pets, and potential move-in dates.
  • Order a background check. Just as a landlord screens tenants before moving in, due diligence on your part helps ensure you won’t get burned or stuck for the entire rent. Cozy offers a complete screening suite that looks through local and nationwide criminal records and sex-offender registries. It also notes any previous evictions, which comes in handy for weeding out potential deadbeats.
  • Ask for references. And call them. An employer can let you know whether the applicant really works where they say they do. A past landlord can tell you whether they’re a good renter.
  • Get proof. Ask to see several months of pay stubs or other proof of income.

4. Think twice about friends

It may seem like a good idea to rent a place with a close friend or three, but that’s not always the case. That old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” holds especially true for friends and family members.

It may be fun to hang out with your bestie on weekends, but not so fun when you discover they’re a complete slob or that they drink out of your personal jug of juice. A close friend or family member who falls behind on rent could be even more of an issue, since you care about them and may not want to kick them out.

The bottom line

The effort spent finding the perfect roommate is well worth it. You’ll both potentially spend a lot of time in the same space, and you deserve to be as comfortable as possible in your own home.

Cleaning and repair rules when you move out

Written by Kathy Adams on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, move-out, paid, Security Deposits, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

communicationThe last thing you probably feel like doing as you move out of a rental is cleaning the place. Like it or not, though, you’re expected to leave it just as nice as it was when you moved in.

If you leave a dirty place for your landlord, they can hold back the cost to clean up from your security deposit. After all, it is your mess. But the security deposit is your money. You want as much of it back as possible, right? So just what are your responsibilities?

Related: How to get your security deposit back

Read your lease

Besides typical cleanup duties such as washing the floor or vacuuming the carpet, the landlord expects you to do a thorough job of getting that rental back into shape. Move-out expectations vary, so check your rental agreement or lease to see what the landlord wants you to do.

Common cleanup duties

Common cleaning requests include wiping down baseboards, doorknobs, and light switches; dusting ceiling fixtures; washing the windows; and thoroughly cleaning appliances. Some landlords may expect a professional carpet cleaning as well. It’s definitely worth your time to read every move-out detail in your agreement, as some landlords levy extra fees if you don’t take care of an item on the list or if you don’t do it within the specified time frame.

Repair damages

Even minor damage to the rental must be repaired before you hand over the keys. A couple of nail holes may not seem like much to you, but if you don’t repair them, the landlord has to. That means they can bill you in the form of a deduction from your security deposit. Here’s a checklist of things to do:

  • Patch nail and tack holes with a small amount of spackle.
  • Erase scuff marks on walls and floors with a melamine foam eraser, aka a Magic Eraser.
  • Rub a walnut over scratches in wood floors, or fill them in with a wood marker that matches the floor color.
  • Replace anything you may have temporarily removed, such as cabinet hardware you swapped out for something that suits your own style.
  • Go through each room and closet, replacing any light bulbs that no longer illuminate.

Cleaning not your thing? Hire someone

If you choose not to clean and repair everything on the move-out list, there’s still hope. Hire a cleaning company to tackle your checklist. Just make sure you’re available to inspect the space afterwards to make sure they took care of everything. The same goes for repairs. If you broke a handrail off in a stairwell, for instance, and don’t have time to repair it, hire a handyman or contractor to take care of the problem.

Tell your landlord about any damages

Inform the landlord of specific items you can’t fix on your own, such as a broken handrail. Your landlord may ask to see the damage and assess whether they can repair it easily. If so, you may be off the hook. If not, expect a repair bill.

Informing the landlord of potential damage or cleaning concerns is always better than just skipping out and leaving the work for your landlord. If you completely bail on your responsibilities, you’ll probably not get some—or all—your security deposit back.

You might be charged extra for damages

If the damage is beyond minimal, such as missing floor tiles, mold on the shower surround, or massive stains on the carpet, the landlord could charge you more than the amount of your deposit. For instance, if your security deposit is $900 and it will cost $1,200 to repair everything in your unit, you may owe $300 to cover the difference.

Rules for holding back a security deposit

Whenever a landlord withholds any money from your security deposit (including charging you extra), you are entitled to a detailed breakdown of charges. Check your state laws to ensure the charges are legitimate. Common sense also applies; for instance, a $250 charge to fill in three small nail holes is extreme and likely would not hold up in court.

Related: What to do if your landlord wrongfully kept your security deposit

All in all, taking care of a minor aggravation—cleaning your old place—is well worth your time. Besides, you agree to do it when you sign your rental contract. Once you’ve refreshed your old abode, you’ll get your deposit money back, as well as peace of mind, knowing you’re leaving on good terms with your former landlord. On to a fresh start!

PayRent.com