What’s a tenant walk-through?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Security Deposits

Tenant walkthroughAfter you move out of your rental, how can you prove the carpet came with stains already on it or that the countertop didn’t get chipped during your stay?

If you don’t do a tenant walk-through, also called a landlord walk-through or a move-in/move-out walk-through, you often can’t prove existing damage. If that’s the case, it becomes your word against your landlord’s.

Learn how to prove existing damage so it doesn’t become your word against your landlord’s.

Landlords ask for a security deposit to cover any damages caused to the property during a tenant’s stay. Landlords aren’t supposed to charge for normal wear and tear or to pay for brand-new upgrades. (Although a cleaning fee or something along those lines is sometimes required as part of the lease agreement.)

If you’re renting a unit that has some damage, make sure your landlord doesn’t charge you for that damage when you move out. The way to ensure you aren’t is to request a tenant walk-through at two times: move-in and move-out.

The good news is that landlords usually want to do a walk-through just as much as you do. Why? It goes both ways. If you damage something during your stay, the landlord needs to prove that damage was not there when they gave you the keys.

Use a checklist

Before you move into a rental, you need to look at more than the pretty things, such as the nice view from the bedroom window. You need to look for damages or defects, too.

It’s difficult to know what to look for or to know whether you inspected everything you should, so it helps to have a checklist with you. Landlords often provide tenants with a checklist, but if yours doesn’t, you can use this one.

Have a copy for yourself, and make a copy for your landlord. Or just take a picture of your checklist after it’s filled out and signed, and send it to your landlord. The important thing is that you both agree with what’s on the list. Once you do, you both need to sign the checklist.

File the checklist with your lease. You can do this in a file folder that you put in a safe place at home. Or save it on your computer. You’ll need to bring this checklist with you when you move out if you have a move-out inspection with your landlord. If you don’t have move-out walk-through with your landlord, you’ll need the checklist in case your landlord tries to charge you for damages already noted on the checklist.

Take pictures and/or video

You can take pictures or video of the rental in addition to or in place of filling out the checklist. This is another way for both landlords and tenants to have proof of what the unit looked like at move-in and at move-out. It’s best to date stamp the photos somehow, such as using an app that shows the date. With video, state the date at the beginning.

Related: Record a Video of the Move-in/Move-out Inspection

When it’s time to move out

A couple of weeks before you move out, you might want to request your landlord do a walk-through with you. That way, if they see possible problems, they can let you know what you need to fix to avoid being charged.

If your landlord isn’t interested in doing that, you can go over your checklist, photos, or video yourself. If you return the unit in the same condition it was in when you moved in (minus normal wear and tear), you should receive all your security deposit.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to “Normal Wear and Tear”

The day you move out (and after all your stuff is out) is the time to fill out the move-out part of the checklist or to take a second set of photos or another video. Remember to date everything. Now, you have a before-and-after record.

The day you move out, your landlord might do a walk-through with you. But your landlord doesn’t have to do that. They might prefer to conduct the inspection after you leave. Some landlords feel stressed or rushed to conduct a proper walk-through with a tenant following them around.

And that’s okay. Landlords have a certain time limit to return the security deposit or provide a reason why they are holding all or part of it. This varies by state. Look up your state’s law here.

Just make sure if your landlord keeps all or part of your security deposit that it’s for damage you really caused. If your landlord is wrongfully holding your deposit, and if you have completed the checklist or have photos or video, it will be easy enough to prove.

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.

Year in review: the best of 2018

Written by Lucas Hall on . Posted in For Landlords, For Renters, General

2018 Year in ReviewWelcome to the new year! As we dive into 2019, we’d like to take a moment and reflect the highlights of the past year. Whether you’re a landlord or a renter, we’re glad you’re here. Please enjoy the best articles of 2018.

2018 summary:

We’re proud to be a part of an amazing community of real estate investors, landlords, managers, and renters. Thank you for being there with us.

Without further ado, here are the best articles from last year, based overall on quality, popularity, engagement, and traffic.

Best articles of 2018:


JANUARY

How many pets are too many?

Some landlords believe that even one pet is one pet too many in their rental property. But if you allow pets, you should have a plan on how many to allow. It’s a good idea to have a pet policy in your lease that you go over with your tenants before they move in.


FEBRUARY

Umbrella insurance: can it replace an LLC?

Did you know there’s an alternative to an LLC that protects your finances? It’s umbrella insurance. Landlords can protect themselves from lawsuits with a simple umbrella insurance policy and avoid the problems involved with an LLC.


MARCH

Offer incentives to current tenants so they stay

If you do your job properly when it comes to taking care of the tenants, they’ll ultimately take care of you by wanting to stay. After all, every renter wants and deserves a good landlord and a well-kept property.


APRIL

Cleaning and repair rules when you move out

If you leave your rental in bad shape when you move out, your landlord can hold the cleaning costs from your security deposit. After all, it’s your mess. But the security deposit is your money. You want as much of it back as possible, right? So what are your responsibilities?


MAY

Withholding rent

When can you withhold rent?

Tenants will learn when it is legal to withhold rent when the landlord is not making proper repairs. But this can be a very risky move for tenants: it can result in eviction.


JUNE

Rental application fees: what you need to know

Experienced landlords, particularly those who’ve been burned by less-than-exemplary renters, always screen future tenants. And that costs money. Thus, the application fee, which pays for background checks and credit reports for each person on a lease.


JULY

9 maintenance issues tenants are responsible for

A landlord is required to provide a safe and habitable residence, but landlords and tenants share responsibility for keeping it that way. Tenants should maintain sanitary conditions and contact the landlord whenever repairs are needed.


AUGUST

Tenant move-out letter plus two other free templates

When your tenant plans to move, you should make the move-out process as smooth as possible. This benefits you and your tenant—when your tenant knows what to expect, they’re more likely to meet your expectations. Here are some templates you can use when your tenants’ leases are about to end.


SEPTEMBER

What to do when your tenant is locked out… again

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 about those lost-key situations.


OCTOBER

Should I accept credit card payments as rent?

Is it a good choice to pay rent with a credit card? Learn the pros and cons of which payment method makes the most sense for your finances.


NOVEMBER

When is rent considered received?

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


DECEMBER

A basic guide to landlord and tenant responsibilities

Landlord and tenant responsibilities can be complicated. This guide will outline which party is responsible for common landlord/tenant issues.

A basic guide to landlord and tenant responsibilities

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Security Deposits

Who’s responsible for what in a tenant/landlord relationship?

I have my fair share of crazy landlord stories. I once had a tenant who wanted to move out a month after moving in. The question was: did they need to abide by the lease even though it just started? A year later, I had a tenant file a lawsuit because they believed damage in the unit was the landlord’s responsibility. So, who was right in each of these scenarios? What responsibilities did each party have?

We are going to dive into the not so fun, but always relevant, topic of responsibility. Laws vary between states, and even cities, so pay particular attention to your jurisdiction’s laws. Additionally, the lease will have specific rights outlined that must be obeyed. To learn specific landlord/tenant laws by state, visit this comprehensive guide.

Top 5 debated tenant/landlord responsibilities

1. Security deposit

Landlords are responsible for returning security deposits, usually within 15-45 days of the move-out date, but this varies by jurisdiction, so be sure to know yours. Landlords who own between 10 and 25 units or more often need to hold the security deposit in an interest bearing account. This also varies by state.

If the landlord is withholding any of the security deposit for loss of rent or damage costs, an itemized list needs to be sent to the tenant within the legal time frame for your jurisdiction. What happens if a landlord ignores this law? They can owe the tenant twice the security deposit plus court fees.

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

2. Lease termination notice

Occasionally, tenants need to break a lease for various reasons. Whether moving out of state or fighting with a roommate, the law needs to be followed. Annual leases lapse on the date listed in the lease. Although, state-by-state the laws vary, and you might need to give notice that you will not be renewing.

When ending a lease early, additional issues arise. The lease generally outlines requirements for breaking a lease; however, a rule of thumb is that the tenant is responsible for the rent until either the end of the lease or a new tenant takes over the lease, whatever happens first.

Monthly leases, in general, require 30-days’ notice from the date rent is due.

So what happened with my tenant who wanted to move out a month after moving in? When that tenant wanted to break the lease so soon, we went by the lease agreement. The tenant paid a fee to have the unit re-listed and was responsible for the rent until new tenants signed a lease.

Related: Can my tenant break the lease?

3. Damage responsibility

The party responsible for rental property damage is a touchy subject, and the reason is clear. The answer is not cut and dry. The general understanding is that the tenant is not responsible for normal wear and tear but is responsible for the damage they have caused. The question is: what is normal wear and tear?

Normal wear and tear falls within these categories:

  • Minor paint damage
  • Faded or worn carpets
  • Faded lamp and window coverings
  • Lightbulb replacements
  • Rust or mold in the bathroom
  • Smelly garbage disposal

As you can see, normal wear and tear are items that would have happened if anyone was was living in the unit; you, your tenant, your mom, your mom’s tenant, etc.

However, more extensive damage is the tenant’s responsibility, such as:

  • Broken window coverings
  • Holes in the wall
  • Pet damage
  • Broken items—doors, windows, appliances
  • Unapproved decor

And here’s what happened with my tenants who thought damage in the unit was my responsibility: When my tenants sued us over the definition of normal wear and tear, the judge decided that all damage above the wear of general use was considered damage that needed to be repaid. Something to note: the judge did not allow us to charge based on quotes to repair damage, only repair receipts.

Related: The ultimate guide to normal wear and tear

4. Habitability

Landlords have a responsibility to provide a habitable place for their tenants to live. But what does habitability mean? Habitability means a safe and healthy environment. Plumbing, electricity, heating, and (in some areas) cooling need to be in working order. Doors and locks must be working correctly. The structure needs to be sound.

Landlords are required to:

  • Ensure the building structure is intact
  • Maintain common areas
  • Keep utilities in working order
  • Remove rodent infestations
  • Manage environmental hazards

Related: 9 maintenance issues tenants are responsible for

5. Utilities

The party responsible for utilities can be complicated to determine. While landlords have the right to require tenants to pay for their own utilities, the renter has the right to working utilities to meet “habitability” requirements.

A good course of action is to have a solid lease with clear responsibilities. The lease must outline who is responsible for paying utilities. Many utility companies have landlord provisions. A landlord can contact a utility company and set it up so if a tenant does not pay the bill, the landlord is notified. This way, the utilities won’t be turned off for nonpayment, and the landlord can avoid frozen pipes or a lawsuit for a rental property that is not habitable. The landlord can then bill the tenant for the nonpayment, and there should be a provision in the lease for utility nonpayment and associated fees.

In conclusion

While I have acquired some crazy landlord stories during my years in the industry, they have each taught me something new. I became an expert in my local jurisdiction’s rental laws and became better able to protect myself in the future. When taking on a new tenant and lease, re-examine your lease and make sure that the responsibilities are legal and clearly outlined so there are no gray areas. Gray areas are the cause of many landlord and tenant headaches.

I’d love to hear your landlord-tenant stories. Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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.

4 reasons you should not use a real estate agent to rent a house

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rent & Expenses, Rental Advertising, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

Don't work with an agentCall me crazy, but I get a little annoyed when real estate agents call me about a rental listing.

Why?

Here’s a typical conversation:

Me: Hello.

Agent: Hello, this is John. I’m a real estate agent with AAA Real Estate. Is the home for rent at 123 Main Street still available?

Me: Yes it is.

Agent: Well, it’s not in the MLS.

Me: A silent pause

Agent: Anyway, my client requested to see it. And I want to show it now.

Me: I’m having an open house Saturday at 3 p.m., and your client is welcome to come.

Agent: No, that doesn’t work. My client wants to see it sooner. When can I show it?

Me: You can’t show it at all. Tenants are currently living there, and I’ve made arrangements to have an open house Saturday at 3. Please invite your client to come then.

Agent: Do you pay an agent commission?

Me: No.

Agent: Thank you. Goodbye.

And I never hear from this agent or their client again.

Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t use an agent when you want to rent a home:

1. Real estate agents use only the MLS

If you ask a real estate agent to find you a rental property, they will most likely look only on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which only agents can access.

In fact, I asked an agent the other day how he finds rental properties for clients. He said he finds them through the MLS.

Here’s the problem of looking only at the MLS for rental properties: Since only agents can list properties through the MLS, real estate agents are missing all the properties landlords like me advertise. And if your real estate agent is missing out on properties listed by non-agents, you are too.

You are better off, when looking for a rental property, to look online.

You’ll probably find lots of rental homes by looking at various real estate sites on your own, more than what your real estate agent will find by using only the MLS. Of course, you can always find properties and send them to your agent, but then why not just contact the person on the listing yourself?

Related: The Only 3 Websites You Need to List a Rental Property

2. Agents expect to be paid

Real estate agents mainly work with clients who are buying and selling homes. In those cases, the seller typically pays the real estate agent by giving the agent a percentage of the home’s selling price.

So the expectations for most real estate agents who are helping a client trying to rent is that the landlord will pay the agent for finding a tenant, typically one month’s rent (similar to getting a cut of a home’s sale).

But in a rental market where most applicants find rental properties without an agent, landlords have no reason to pay an agent. In other words, if I have five applicants for a property, four who represent themselves and one who comes with an agent who expects me to pay them a month’s rent, guess who I’m not renting to?

If you use an agent in a market where most people are finding properties on their own, you will likely be taking yourself out of the running to land a rental property.

3. Agents don’t really want to work with you

I’ve always suspected that statement to be true, and now I have a couple of stories to back this up. I think this probably represents what many agents think.

A real estate agent called me the other day on behalf of her client, and when I told her I don’t pay an agent commission, she let me know that she doesn’t know what to tell renters who call her for help. She wants to help them find a home, but if the landlord won’t pay her commission, she is not interested in working for free.

Another agent told me that he usually doesn’t work with clients looking to rent but that he will sometimes do so to help a friend out.

Since it’s not the norm for homebuyers to pay an agent (home sellers typically do), renters and agents expect the landlord or property owner to pay the agent just as home sellers (owners) do. But while most home sellers use and pay real estate agents, most small-time property owners do not use agents to get their property rented, so they have no interest in paying your agent.

If you really want to use a real estate agent to help you find a rental home, you might want to consider paying your agent yourself.

4. Agents often do more harm than good

Landlords who know their business find out what market rents are for similar rentals in their area. (I use the Cozy rent estimate tool in addition to keeping up with rent prices in my area.)

But when a real estate agent comes along, they are usually loaded for bear and ready to negotiate rent price—it’s just part of their job, like offering less than asking price for a home to buy. Although that’s standard practice for the home buying process, it’s not typical for landlords like me who plan to rent the property for the price listed.

Just as I don’t pay agents a commission, I am not interested in taking less than my advertised rate for my rental properties. If you’re paying an agent for their great negotiating skills, your money is largely being wasted when it comes to renting versus buying a property.

When real estate agents are helpful

There’s a place for real estate agents and rental properties. In big cities like San Francisco or New York where it’s difficult to find housing, you might benefit from using an agent. Or if you are relocating and know nothing about the area, you might need help from an agent who can show you around. Other than that, you are typically better off to cut out the middleman and find a rental house yourself.

Should you let tenants make improvements?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

You have a house that’s, to put it mildly, ugly.

The front porch sags, the exterior paint is peeling, the carpets are stained and worn, and the circa-1960 bathrooms have never been updated. But you have renters anyway, and they want to make improvements. Should you let them?

That’s almost exactly what happened in one Pennsylvania home. It turned out badly for the landlord who gave the month-to-month tenants a notice to vacate … after all the renovation work was complete. The court made the landlord pay more than $11,000 to reimburse the tenants for the improvements they made.

So the question remains: should you let tenants make improvements?

The answer: it depends.

Your tenant asks

Tenants often ask to make improvements to a home they will rent. They need to live there, after all. Common requests are to paint the walls, drill holes to hang window treatments or run cable, replace the flooring, update the light fixtures, create a garden in the backyard, and change the bathroom sinks.

Related: Should I allow my tenants to paint a rental property?

What you should do when your tenant asks to “improve” the home is to calculate how much it will cost to return the unit back to its original condition if need be. That might be necessary if the tenant’s so-called improvements make your rental less desirable. But, on the other hand, the alteration might very well be an improvement you can leave. And that will be a benefit for you and will make your current (and probably future) tenant happy.

If the security deposit will cover fixing the alteration, you might consider taking the risk and say, “Yes.” If the security deposit won’t cover the cost to return the property to its original state, or if you just don’t like the idea of what your tenant proposes, you can—to use Nancy Reagan’s famous line: “Just say no.” This is your investment we’re talking about.

But who pays?

If your tenant makes an “improvement” that devalues your home, and if they did so without your permission, they typically need to pay, and you would use that money to fix the issue. But if your tenant adds value to your house, like the Pennsylvania example above, the situation regarding who pays becomes more difficult.

One option is that you strike a deal where you pay half and they pay half. Another is that you might allow an improvement but only if they pay for all of it. Or you might decide the improvement will be a good value for your property, and you will pay for all of it.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s best if you address the issue of tenant improvements in the lease. If you haven’t done that beforehand, you can add an addendum to the lease that makes it clear who is responsible for paying for improvements or whether they can be done at all.

Related: The differences between repairs and improvements

Here’s a sample of what I have in my lease:

That guards against renters who decide to take matters into their own hands during their stay and allows for some negotiation.

If you decide to let your tenant make improvements, you could include language like this, courtesy of Law Insider:

For work you will do:

That ensures you will be paid for work you do that is requested but not a habitability issue.

For work done by either party:

This clause makes it clear that you get to keep the improvements to the property.

A clause if the alterations devalue the home:

This is the clause you point to if you need to withhold all or part of the security deposit.

What if your tenant makes alterations without your permission?

As soon as you notice that your tenant altered your property without your permission, you need to act. At the very least, send a letter or email letting them know that you are aware of the change to the property and that this change is a violation of the lease.

Then let your tenant know the consequences of their action. The change might be something you like. If so, let them know that they don’t need to restore the property to the original condition but that you will not pay for the alteration since you did not approve it.

If you don’t like the change, tell your tenant to restore the property to its original condition. But if that doesn’t happen, let them know that you will do so and will deduct the money from the security deposit.

If the alteration was unacceptable and the tenant is not cooperating with you, you can choose to evict at that point for violating a lease term.

Related: 4 tips for first-time landlords

When you should consider making improvements yourself

Your rental property is an investment. You should, therefore, protect that investment by at least maintaining and repairing as necessary. It’s also a good idea to know what the competition is like in your area. Most tenants don’t stay in a rental property forever, meaning that you will probably need to re-rent at some point.

It’s good to understand what tenants expect in a rental property for your price in your area. If your rental is lacking, you might want to make upgrades to make it more desirable. Most renters, for example, like stainless steel appliances, renovated bathrooms and kitchens, and central air conditioning.

Related: Top 10 amenities renters can’t resist

The bottom line

Rental properties need improvements from time to time. The best situation is for you to be on top of maintenance, repairs, and possible renovations for your property. But if you don’t do that, or if your tenant has suggestions to improve the space, you might want to entertain your tenant’s request to make improvements. Just make sure you and your tenant completely understand the terms of the deal.

Have you let tenants make improvements? Have you ever improved your rental property? Tell us about it in the comments!

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.

 

9 maintenance issues tenants are responsible for

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, landlord tenant, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, rental maintenance

Maintaining a clean, safe, and livable rental property is a shared commitment. The law requires a landlord to provide a safe and habitable residence, but it won’t stay that way for long unless tenants share upkeep responsibilities.

Landlords can’t control how tenants live, but they have a right to expect proper use of their properties. Some commonsense tasks, such as proper disposal of trash, need no explanation. Other maintenance issues should be specified in the lease so everyone is on the same page.

1. Waste disposal

You have to throw away the trash if you want a clean and sanitary home. Most municipalities provide waste disposal services for which they generally charge a fee. Landlords often pass this fee on via a lease clause or include it in the rent. In places without regular trash service, it’s important to negotiate a disposal strategy and stick with it.

Related: How to handle dirty tenants

2. Pest control

It’s up to the landlord to ensure that a rental is pest-free before anyone moves in. Once the place is occupied, though, tenants automatically assume some of the responsibility for keeping it that way. If the landlord has corrected structural problems that allow rodents and insects to enter, tenants should avoid attracting them with poor hygienic practices. Tenants could be financially liable for abatement of an infestation caused by negligence, especially if they violate provisions specified in the lease.

Related: Best pest control and prevention tips for your rental property

How to deal with bed bugs at your rental property

3. Landscaping

Lawn and yard maintenance can fall to the tenant if a lease clause assigns these tasks. In that case, any violation of city or county ordinances would be the tenant’s responsibility. The tenant is always responsible for keeping the yard safe by removing obstacles and generally cleaning up. In certain situations, particularly in shared housing units, a landlord may contract a tenant to do yard maintenance in exchange for compensation.

Related: Should a tenant be paid for doing yard work?

4. Snow removal

Snow removal is a matter of safety, not only for tenants but for anyone using a public walkway that crosses the property. Some municipalities assess fines for failure to remove snow in a timely fashion. Able-bodied tenants are in the best position to handle this job, but it isn’t their responsibility unless the lease specifies it. However, because tenants have a responsibility to keep the premises safe, they could be faulted for failing to clear snow from doorways and walkways that access them.

Related: Snow removal—how to avoid being negligent

5. Mold prevention

Mold grows where there’s moisture, and the question of whose job it is to prevent it—and clean it up—can be a thorny one. In general, it’s the landlord’s job if the moisture comes from a plumbing or building leak. Liability for cleanup may fall to tenants if the mold is the result of poor hygiene practices, such as leaving piles of damp clothing in the corner. Tenants are also responsible for providing adequate ventilation and could be required to clean surface mold on furniture and bathroom walls.

Related: Is a landlord always responsible for mold remediation?

6. Proper appliance use

Appliances, such as stoves, microwaves, and dryers, won’t last long under abuse. Proper appliance use is a must in any living situation, and if any repair or replacement is clearly the result of negligence on the part of tenants, they may have to foot the bill. Landlords are typically responsible for routine maintenance, such as filter replacement or duct cleaning. This could be addressed in the lease.

Related: How long should appliances last?

7. Smoke detector maintenance

Smoke detectors are generally unnoticeable until they need new batteries or they go off, which hopefully never happens. When a smoke alarm needs new batteries, it’s the landlord’s job to replace them, unless the lease says otherwise. It’s up to tenants to avoid false alarms caused by shower steam or cooking smoke, but if an alarm goes off for no reason, they must notify the landlord as soon as possible so it can be fixed or replaced.

Related: The long and short of smoke alarms

8. Septic maintenance

Improper use of a septic system can seriously shorten its life. This is such an important maintenance issue that most landlords include a lease clause or provide a handout that describes best practices. They include treating oils, greases, and non-degradable substances as trash and not plumbing waste. Septic treatments, tank pumping, and pump maintenance are the landlord’s responsibility, but if the system fails, tenants could be dinged if negligent use is the cause.

Related: How to educate your tenants about using a septic system

9. Contacting the landlord

It’s illegal for a landlord to make tenants responsible for all repairs. Tenants do have a responsibility, however, to contact the landlord or property manager when the property needs repairs. Any damage that results from a failure to do so could cost all or part of the security deposit or more. Unless authorized by the lease, tenants can’t make repairs on their own unless the landlord does not respond. In that case, most states allow tenants to make repairs that affect habitability and charge the landlord.

Understand the lease requirements

When it comes to maintenance issues for tenants, it’s important to read and understand the lease before signing it. Certain clauses may stipulate maintenance tasks that don’t normally fall to tenants, and once they sign on the dotted line, tenants own these tasks. Encourage your tenants to take the lease home and study it carefully before signing.

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