5 ways to collect on a judgment

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, paid, Rent & Expenses, Screening

Collecting on a JudgementThe bad news: your tenant left owing you money.

The good news: you just won a money judgment in court against that tenant.

Time to celebrate?

Not really.

Although you’re supposed to get the money your tenant owes you after you win a money judgment, actually getting the money is another matter.

It’s not always easy to collect money on a judgment.

The court’s job ends with the judgment. Collecting on that judgment is on you. Your ex-tenant might pay you immediately, and if so, great. Now it is time to celebrate. But what do you do if they don’t?

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

1. Ask for it

This simple solution often works. Draft a letter to your ex-tenant requesting the money.

  • Let this person know what they owe you.
  • Tell them if they don’t pay by X date, you will begin a collection process.
  • Mention that if you begin a collection process, the transaction will appear on their credit report.
  • You might wish to remind your ex-tenant that having a collection on their credit report will make it difficult to rent another place or to obtain a mortgage.

Many tenants, not wanting their credit affected, will pay.

2. Garnish wages

Almost every state allows wage garnishment, a process that allows creditors to take up to 25 percent of a debtor’s wages until the debt is paid. You must know where your ex-tenant works to do this. You might have this information on the application your ex-tenant filled out. The rest of the procedure varies by state, but typically, you do the following:

  • Go to your local courthouse and ask for a garnishment order.
  • This goes to your ex-tenant’s employer.
  • The employer then withholds money from your ex-tenant’s paycheck until the debt is paid to you.

3. Garnish bank account

Similar to wage garnishment, you must know something about your ex-tenant—in this case where they bank—and ideally, their bank account number. You might have some bank information on the application your ex-tenant filled out, or you can get the information from a cancelled check. If your tenant paid you by check, then you have it. If not, you might be able to find someone who has received a check by your ex-tenant. You then go to your local courthouse and follow the procedure for garnishing the bank account.

4. Request information from the court

If you don’t know where your ex-tenant works or where they bank, you can request a formal procedure at your local courthouse, usually called a “debtor’s examination.” Your ex-tenant might then be ordered to fill out a form that lists their employer and bank information. Or they may be subpoenaed to appear before the court at a hearing to answer your questions. You will have the opportunity to find out the information you will need to collect money:

  • Where they work
  • The contact information of their employer
  • Where they bank
  • Their bank account number

5. Hire a collection agency

You’ll have to pay to use a collection agency, but recovering some of your money is better than receiving nothing. Unfortunately, the odds of a collection agent being successful in collecting money your tenant owes you are not that good. But you can increase your chances by hiring a recommended and reputable collection agency that specializes in working with landlords. Ask your lawyer, accountant, or other professional you know for a referral.

Related: The problem with collection agencies

The bottom line

Sure, you can collect on a judgment. But there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful or whether it will be worth your time and effort to pursue the money. Only you can make that determination based on how much your tenant owes you and on how busy you are. In most jurisdictions, you have between five and 20 years to collect. So if you’re not up to the job now, or if your ex-tenant has no assets at this time, you might be able to collect your money in the future.

The best course of action is to screen your tenants before renting to them. There’s no guarantee you won’t be burned when you screen tenants, but your chances of renting to a deadbeat tenant are lessened. Keep in mind that the Cozy tenant screening process is free for landlords, and I highly recommend it.

Related: 6 Ways to Find Your Deadbeat Ex-Tenants

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.

What to do if the deposit doesn’t cover the damage or unpaid rent

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rent & Expenses, Screening, Security Deposits, Step 13 - Return Deposit

You did the right thing in collecting a security deposit. But what happens when that deposit isn’t enough to cover damages or unpaid rent?

Most landlords collect a security deposit equal to one month’s rent at move-in time to cover any damages or unpaid rent at move-out time. But if there were extensive damages to the property or if the tenant left without paying last month’s rent and there were damages, you’re out some money, and that isn’t right.

You have options, though. Let’s explore them.

1. Communicate with your tenant

To legally withhold the security deposit, you must, in most states, send a letter to your tenant explaining why you are holding some or all the deposit. And you must do so within the time limit specified by your state. You can find your state law here.

Here’s a template for documenting and itemizing deductions from the security deposit.

Send this document or one like it to your tenant to let them know why you are withholding some or all the security deposit.

If they still owe you money beyond the security deposit, you’ll also need to send a demand letter.

2. Send a demand letter

Along with sending the itemized list, you need to send a letter asking for what your tenant owes you, called a “demand letter.”

Here’s a sample of a demand letter you can send a tenant who owes you money.

3. Decide whether you should go to small claims court

You might receive the money owed to you after sending the demand letter. But if you don’t, send the letter a second time, attaching the first letter along with the second. If you still get nothing, you need to assess whether it’s worth your time and effort to take your tenant to small claims court.

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

The upside of going to small claims court is that you’ll likely win a judgment against your tenant if you can prove to the judge that your tenant does, indeed, owe you money. You get your money (theoretically anyway: see about being broke below), and you get satisfaction in that you were not taken advantage of.

But there are downsides to small claims court as well.

It’s time-consuming.

You need to prepare your case, organize the evidence, learn how to go to small claims court, and attend the hearing in the town in which your rental property is located.

Your tenant might be broke.

If you win a judgment, you still need to collect on that judgment. If your tenant has no money and no job, you won’t be able to collect.

You might not have the evidence.

If you didn’t keep proof, such as how your property looked at move-in time compared with how it looked when your tenant left, you might not be able to win in small claims court.

You pay filing fees and might lose pay by taking time off work.

Filing fees are usually less than $100 and you get them back if you win your case, but if you don’t have a strong case and lose, you need to be prepared to lose your filing fee. And depending on how valuable your time is, if you need to take the day off from work, you need to factor that cost in as well.

Your tenant could file a countersuit.

Whether your tenant has a case against you or not, they could file a countersuit. If you haven’t done everything by the book, you actually might go home owing your tenant money.

But if you can say “yes” to the following, you should seriously consider going to small claims court:

  • Your tenant owes you a significant sum of money.
  • You have proof of what you are owed.
  • Your ex-tenant has a job or a source of income.
  • You have the time and energy for small claims court.

If you don’t think you’ll get much or any money, you might want to write this off as a loss and move on.

Try to prevent excessive damages in the first place

It’s good to know what to do if you’re owed money, but it’s even better to prevent this situation from happening in the first place. Here are three measures to take to help avoid being out any money.

1. Conduct regular inspections

One way to help prevent excessive damage to your rental property is to perform periodic inspections. It’s important to strike the right balance between keeping tabs on what’s going on with your rental property and not becoming intrusive to your tenants. It’s typical to inspect your property at least once a year. Some landlords do this twice a year or even quarterly.

Related: How Often Can a Landlord Inspect a Rental Property?

If you notice a problem, such as a tenant sneaking in a pet or an extra tenant or two, or if you notice a dying lawn or a water stain on the ceiling, you can nip the problem in the bud before a small issue becomes an expensive problem.

2. Have a walk-through a month before move-out

The time to do a walk-through is when the tenant is moving out or immediately after they move out. (You do that, right?) A walk-through lets you know whether you will need to withhold any of the security deposit.

But you can also do a walk-through about a month before your tenant moves out. At that time, you can go over with your tenant any items that need fixing. By doing the walk-through a month in advance, you give your tenant a chance to fix any problems so they can get all or most of their deposit back.

3. Screen tenants

A great way to help ensure you don’t lose money is to get good tenants in your property in the first place. And the way to do that is by tenant screening. Of course, screening doesn’t guarantee a perfect landlord/tenant relationship, but it helps immensely.

I use Cozy to screen tenants. I require a background and credit check on all applicants. The applicants pay directly to Cozy for this service, and I receive the information to review, which helps me decide whom to rent my properties to.

Bottom line

Making repairs because of damages tenants cause and being out rent for a month or more from a tenant who stiffed you are risks landlords take. Knowing what to do if this happens to you and helping prevent this from happening in the first place lessens your risk of losing money.

The problem with collection agencies

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, Leases & Legal, paid

There needs to be methods for creditors to collect debt owed them. Otherwise, they run the risk of going out of business.

As a landlord, you are a creditor. If your tenant skips out without paying rent, or if they damage your place more than what the security deposit covers, you need to be able to recover your money.

One way to try to get your money is to use a collection agency. Doing so might work for you, but you should first understand the process and what it entails before you go down this path.

Why?

Because there are problems associated with collection agencies.

1. Collection agencies don’t collect

The odds of a collection agency actually collecting the debt they are going after are not good.

Estimates vary in just how successful collection agencies are. A generous estimate is 20 percent, meaning that there is an 80 percent chance that a collection agency won’t be able to collect delinquent debt for you. And some estimates are as low as an industry-wide 11 percent success rate. That’s pretty dismal.

To make matters worse, the success rate for collections is down from decades past, when the collection rate averaged 30 percent. So not only are your odds of getting your money low when you use a collection agency, the odds are getting worse as time goes on.

2. Collection agencies are expensive

Ideally, as a landlord, you should get all the money your tenant owes you for back rent, damages, and late fees (that were specified in the lease).

The best way of doing that is to handle the collection process yourself, typically by sending a demand letter, calling your tenant, or by starting the eviction process. You might not have the time, however, to track down your tenant, or you might have tried but were unsuccessful.

Related:

Getting some of the money you’re owed is better than getting nothing. So if you can’t collect on your own, you might consider a collection agency. You’ll pay either a flat rate or a percentage of what the agent collects.

You’ll probably pay less by paying a flat rate, but see No. 1 above—the odds are not good that the agency will be successful in collecting the money your tenant owes you. If you pay a flat fee, you potentially are out even more money. If you pay a percentage of the collection, expect to pay between 25 percent and 60 percent of the collected debt to the collection agency.

3. Collection agents can be shady

Some collection agencies allow their agents to use unlawful tactics to try to collect debt. You might have heard stories about aggressive collection agents who harass people for money they don’t owe, threaten jail to debtors, or who call employers and put people’s jobs in jeopardy. None of that is legal.

Not only is it wrong to subject people to unlawful collection tactics (even people who owe you money), it gives you a bad reputation by associating with unscrupulous people. You might even find yourself being sued.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Collection agencies must comply with federal law, specifically the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Ask agencies you’re considering using if they comply with FDCPA regulations. Under the Act, agencies must adhere to the following:

  • No calls to debtors before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • No calls at work if the debtor requests that.
  • Collector must stop contact if the debtor requests so in writing.
  • No contacting friends and family more than once. And the one contact can only be to get contact information, not to inform friends and family about the debt.
  • Agent must provide proof of the debt to the debtor.
  • Debtors cannot be threatened with harm.
  • Agent cannot threaten to take legal action unless they actually can and will.
  • Collector cannot lie about who they are.
  • Collector cannot send fake legal documents to trick the debtor.

Unless you check out the firm you are hiring and find out the tactics they use to collect, you could be contributing to the problem.

Finding a good agency

Many collection agencies are reputable and play by the rules.

Here are some ways of finding a good agency:

  1. Ask for referrals from trusted professionals you know, such as your lawyer or accountant.
  2. See whether the agency you are considering is a member of ACA International, The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, the leading trade organization for the industry.
  3. Look online for complaints against an agency you’re considering.
  4. Make sure the agency is licensed.

Bottom line

Using a collection agency could work for you, but be prepared for disappointment. You’ll have a better chance of collecting your money if you hire a collection agency that specializes in collecting rent from tenants. Also, the younger the debt the more likely it will be to collect. Provide the agency with your lease, what the tenant owes, and all attempts you have made to try to recover the money yourself.

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.

Can a landlord take possession of an abandoned property?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, paid

Can a landlord take over an abandoned propertyThe answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Landlords can most definitely take over abandoned property.

The real question, though, is how?

Even if you have a signed lease with your tenant, they don’t always stay the entire lease term. Things happen:

  • Maybe they could no longer afford rent.
  • They found a better job elsewhere.
  • They are in jail.
  • They are in the hospital.

Whatever the reason, if your tenant left without telling you, they have left you with an abandoned property.

It’s never a good idea to have an abandoned property. For one, you’re probably not collecting rent. You can sue your ex-tenant for rent until you find a new tenant—that is if you can find your ex-tenant.

Related: 6 ways to find your deadbeat ex-tenants

Another reason abandoned property is not good is that it opens your property up to the possibilities of squatters, vandals, water damage, and fire.

Related: Risks of leaving a property vacant

I have a clause in my lease that states what happens if the tenants will be gone for just seven days:

There is no question that you can and should take control of your abandoned property, but you can’t just start re-keying and tossing out your ex-tenants’ belongings.

Why not?

Your tenant might have left but had every intention of returning to the property. If you took possession in that instance, your tenant could claim wrongful eviction, and you might need to pay damages.

Here’s what to do if you suspect your tenant abandoned your property.

Determine whether the property is truly abandoned:

Unless your tenant told you they were moving out early, you can’t necessarily be sure they abandoned the property just because no one’s been home for a few days or even weeks. Assuming they abandoned the property is not the same as knowing they abandoned the property. Here are some ways to tell.

1. Your tenant is still paying rent

If your tenant continues to pay rent, even though they haven’t been living there for a while, it means the place is not abandoned. In this case, it’s best to contact your tenant to find out what’s going on. If they are away for an extended time, let them know that you or your representative will need to check on the place every week or so until they return. It’s unsafe to leave a property vacant. If your tenant has stopped paying rent and is gone, they might have abandoned the property.

2. Speak with the emergency contacts

This is one of the times to call the emergency contacts listed on your application. Let them know your concerns and ask if they know whether your tenant has moved out.

3. Ask the neighbors

Maybe one of the neighbors saw your tenant moving out.

4. Check to see whether the utilities are off

Give your tenant 24-hours’ notice that you will come in. If you hear back, you can ask what’s going on. But if you don’t get a response, come over and check all the utilities. If they are off, it’s a sign the place might be abandoned.

5. Check for garbage and old food

If the place has old garbage and rotting food in it, you have found another sign that your tenant might have abandoned the property.

What to do with abandoned personal property left behind

If there are valuables such as clothing and furniture still in the unit, the place might not be abandoned. But then again, it might. In this case, you need to get in touch with the tenant. Notify them to pick up their property by a certain date. If they don’t get it by that date, let them know that you will dispose of it, donate it, or keep it for yourself.

Related: What to Do with Abandoned Personal Property

Once you determine the place is abandoned:

If your tenant has stopped paying rent, their emergency contacts told you your tenant has moved, the utilities are off, and nothing is left in the rental, you can probably determine that your tenant abandoned the property. Here’s what to do.

1.  Send a letter

Send your tenant a letter notifying them they have 10 days to let you know whether they have abandoned the rental unit. If you have not heard from them, you will declare the property abandoned.

2. Take photos

Take photos of the property that demonstrate why you think the place has been abandoned, such as lack of furniture or an overgrown lawn.

3. Document and describe the situation

Document the reasons you believe the place has been abandoned, such as not receiving rent or finding that the utilities have been turned off. Note the date of the last rent payment you received.

4. Record your conversations with the neighbors

Keep a record of any interviews you had with emergency contacts or neighbors.

5. Use USPS certified mail

Send all communication to your tenant through certified mail to prove you tried to contact them about whether they have moved and about picking up their belongings.

It’s never fun to find that your property has been abandoned. Your job now is to mitigate your losses by doing something about it. Take back your property as soon as possible, but make sure you do so the right way.

It’s best to have a lease clause that addresses abandonment issues. But whether you have such a lease clause or not, take the necessary steps to document your reasons for taking back your property.

How to convert your home to a rental property

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Laws & Regulations, Maintenance & Renovations, Mortgages & Loans, paid

Turning your house into a rentalYou’ve made the decision to convert the home in which you live, in other words, your primary residence, to a rental house.

Maybe you’re moving, or maybe you figure you can make some good money, collecting that all-important cash flow, by making your home your rental property. Whatever the reason for the change, congratulations on your decision!

But you can’t just move out and declare your home a rental. There are some things you need to do first. Find out what they are.

You need to take care of some business before you can turn your primary home into a rental property.

You might need to wait if you have a mortgage

Do you have a mortgage on your home? If so, you generally need to live in the home for at least 12 months before converting it into a rental. Why? Certain perks are associated with buying a primary residence as opposed to investment property.

You often get a lower interest rate and can put down less of a down payment when the mortgage loan is for your primary home versus a vacation home or an investment property.

If you say you’ll live in the house but you really are buying it as investment property, you are committing mortgage fraud. The penalty? Your lender could call in the loan immediately upon finding out. And that will probably lead to foreclosure.

Read your loan paperwork or call your lender to find out the waiting rules that apply to your loan. After you’ve lived in the home for the required time for your mortgage, you’re free to turn your primary residence to rental property.

Find out whether you can get another mortgage

When you move from your primary home, you might want to buy another home to live in. If that’s the case, find out whether you’ll qualify for another mortgage before you rent out your current home.

Your lender might consider the rental income you’ll get, but they might not. Either way, get the ball rolling by talking with a mortgage lender before you make any moves.

Check with your homeowners association

If your home is in a neighborhood governed by an HOA, you need to find out whether there are any restrictions regarding renting out your house. Some HOAs have no restrictions, some allow only a certain percentage or a certain number of homes in the neighborhood to be rentals, and some ban the practice altogether.

Change your homeowners insurance policy

Insurance policies for primary homes differ from insurance policies for rental properties. “In my experience, the insurance classification is really the biggest issue when converting a primary home to a rental property,” says Lucas Hall, Landlordology’s founder and Head of Industry Relations at Cozy.

And Lucas makes a great point. Why? If you need to file an insurance claim after you convert your home to a rental, but your policy has not been changed to a landlord policy, your insurer could deny your claim. “New landlords need to make sure they change the policy from a homeowner occupied policy to a landlord’s policy,” says Lucas.

Related:

Learn about tax changes

It’s best to consult a tax professional both for your rental property and for your primary residence. But you shouldn’t be totally in the dark about taxes. Here’s what you need to know.

The bad news (regarding taxes) is that if you make money, that money is taxable income, so you should figure out how that might change your tax rate.

But here’s some good news. Once you have rental property, you get to take these deductions for rental property expenses:

  • Utilities (if you pay them)
  • Homeowners association fees
  • Landlord insurance policy
  • Repairs you make to the house
  • Property taxes
  • Mortgage interest

Related: Top 15 tax deductions for landlords

Ask your tax advisor or find out from your local municipality about the homestead exemption you probably have on your current home. You are allowed to have that only on your primary residence, so find out what you need to do when you wish to convert your home to a rental.

Ready your property

Look at the competition. Are the rental homes in your area upgraded? If they are and your home isn’t, you should consider putting some money into your home to help ensure you’ll get renters and at market rate.

A new coat of neutral paint throughout the house and nice landscaping in front are good starts. You might want to then make a list of all the improvements you’d like to make and get them done gradually. At the very least, make sure your home is well-maintained and that everything is in working order.

Related: Top 10 Amenities Renters Can’t Resist

Learn how to be a landlord

Once you rent out your home … hello, you’re a landlord. Many of us, myself included, learned the business by jumping in headfirst. But, you are apt to make costly mistakes this way. I know I did.

Related: 5 Unexpected Traits of a Profitable Landlord

But lucky you: If you happened to find this site, browse around. We are here to help you along the way with informative articles, a comprehensive state law section, and a toolbox with tons of resources to help landlords succeed.

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.

Rental property in a snowy area? 5 pieces of snow removal equipment you need

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Laws & Regulations, lease clause, Leases & Legal, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, rental maintenance, snow removal, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Owning snow removal equipment is practically a basic need in a snowy climate. And in many communities, snow removal is mandatory.

If you have a rental unit where snow accumulates, check the local bylaws. You’re likely to find that someone has to remove snow from public thoroughfares that cross your property, and there is often a time limit. For instance, cities like Ann Arbor, Michigan, give you 24 hours from the time it stops snowing to get rid of the white stuff.

Related: Snow removal—how to avoid being negligent

Whether you do the work yourself, pass the responsibility to tenants through the lease, or hire maintenance personnel, someone has to remove snow if you want to get around, and they’ll need equipment and supplies to do so. As the property owner, you’re responsible for non-compliance with snow removal ordinances, so it’s best if you make sure snow removal equipment is available. Here’s a list of what you should have:

1. Snow shovels

And not just one—you need two or three. You need them even if you have a snowblower. One of the shovels should have the capacity to move a lot of snow at once, but the others should be smaller. Snow is heavy when it’s slushy, and you don’t want anyone to pull a muscle, so the smaller shovels are an option if using the big one is impractical. They also come in handy should a snow shoveling party develop.

Snow shovels are lightweight, usually made of plastic, and they’re inexpensive, so there’s no reason not to have a collection. Keep them on the property so they are ready when the need arises.

2. Scraper

Where there’s snow, there’s usually ice, and clearing it off thoroughfares is part of the job of snow removal. You need a scraper to remove ice, and it should have a long handle so you don’t have to bend over. The scraper itself is usually nothing more elaborate than a flat piece of metal with a slight edge. A spade shovel will do the job in a pinch, but a scraper is lighter and easier to use. Save the spade for digging and spend $30 on a scraper.

3. Snow broom

When you get less than an inch of accumulation, it’s easier to sweep snow off walkways and driveways than to shovel it. While you can use any broom, a snow broom, which is a push broom with moderately hard bristles, works best. Some snow brooms come with a scraper installed on the other end of the long handle, and some come with LED work lights, which makes sweeping easier at night. These are great for sweeping snow off railings and steps.

4. Salt or sand spreader

The stuff that falls from the sky in winter isn’t always snow. If the temperature hovers just above the freezing point during the day, precipitation can take the form of sleet or rain. When the temperature drops at night, though, you’ve often got a frozen mess and a slipping hazard on your walkways.

Salt or sand is a must for these situations, so you should have some. You should also have a spreader to distribute it evenly. It’s akin to a fertilizer spreader for the lawn, and in a pinch, that’s what you can use. However, if you use a spreader for salt, don’t use it for fertilizer. Residual salt in your fertilizer spreader is bad for your lawn.

5. Snowblower …maybe

Sure, a snowblower makes fast work of a large driveway or a long sidewalk after a nice powdery dumping, but it doesn’t work nearly as well in slushy snow. Not only that—someone has to start it. A snowblower engine is like a lawnmower engine, and if you’ve ever tried to start one of those in the spring after a long, wet winter, you know how difficult that can be. How much harder is it to start it in the middle of a wet winter? Often very.

If you have a tenant or maintenance staffer who is savvy about small engines and a warm, dry storage place, a snowblower can be a good investment. Otherwise, consider joining a neighborhood snowblower pool, or stick to manual snow removal equipment.

Snow removal liability can be confusing

Communities in northern climates are usually specific about snow removal requirements, and the bylaws are easy to understand. Not so in communities in which snow is uncommon. For example, Jonesboro, Arkansas, has no law regarding snow removal, so when the town got a 2-inch accumulation in 2013, some landlords let the snow melt rather than clear it. The result was general pandemonium in the town for a week.

One way to avoid liability and keep the community safe is to pass the responsibility to tenants by including a snow removal clause in the lease. Tenants are often in a better position to assess the situation after a snowfall than landlords. In multi-family dwellings or large apartment complexes, it’s probably a better idea to contract snow removal with a third party. Either option is better than doing nothing.

Related: 7 Extraordinary Lease Clauses That I Can’t Live Without

Can I get more money from a furnished rental?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Laws & Regulations, paid, Rent & Expenses, Rental Advertising, Security Deposits

Furnished RentalsAn interview with Lucas Hall, Landlordology’s founder and head of industry relations at Cozy.

Not only can you get more money from a furnished rental, demand is growing in the furnished rental market, even with the popularity of Airbnb. Over the past decade, there have been more renters overall, and a percentage of those renters prefer to rent a furnished home for a variety of reasons.

I recently spoke with Lucas to get his opinion on what it takes to get into the furnished rental business and to get his best advice for landlords who are thinking about breaking into this niche segment of “landlording.”

First, lets talk about what exactly a furnished rental is.

There are two types of furnished rentals: long-term, meaning a few months or more, and short-term, such as vacation properties.

Most long-term rental properties typically don’t come furnished. But they can. And there are some benefits for renters. Furnished rentals usually have all the furniture and appliances someone would need, and they may or may not have day-to-day essentials such as plates, silverware, and linens.

Short-term rentals for 30 days or fewer are completely furnished with linens, a vacuum cleaner, grill—everything you can want. The idea is that all you do is bring your suitcase and move in.

What kind of furniture should you put in a furnished rental? Cheap motel furniture? High-end stuff?

The type and quality of furniture to buy should mirror the type of unit you have. So if you have a high-end unit that commands thousands of dollars a month, then you should probably have a leather couch, a nice bed frame, and art on the walls. Whereas if you have housing that attracts contract workers, for example, who make between $20,000 and $40,000 a year, you can have used furniture that’s still in great shape. Or you can get furniture from places like IKEA.

In other words, if your clientele is willing to pay $3,000 a month for a two-bedroom, that’s the clientele who would expect to have a nice sofa.

Another consideration is that if you buy the nicest furnishings, there is a chance things will get stolen. If you buy the best coffeemaker or the most expensive knives, those items might ‘disappear.’ You’re better off buying middle-of-the-road items that serve their function.

What is the market for a furnished rental? Who wants to stay in one?

I have had renters for long-term furnished rentals who are moving from across the country for a job, and it’s a big convenience to just be able to move right in. There’s no need to move furniture or to shop for furniture right away.

Short-term is a whole different game. There you have weekly or monthly vacation rentals. You also have traveling nurses who tend to stay for two to six months, and the hospital pays for it.

Related: How to market your rental to traveling nurses

How do you market a furnished rental? What, if any, are the differences in your advertisement?

It’s important to put in the title that you have a furnished rental. Someone who needs furnished housing will be looking for that first. An unfurnished rental in this case will be a deal breaker. Also describe in the listing what the furnishings are. And make sure you show pictures of all the furnishings.

An important benefit of a furnished rental is that furnished units generally look better in listing photos, particularly when you stage properly. You want your furnishings to look really good in pictures. Your furnishings should be clean, useful, and complement the space and the color scheme.

Whenever you’re advertising a property, whether it’s a long-term unfurnished rental or a short-term furnished rental, you should photograph it with furniture in it.

Related: How to shoot real estate photos like a pro

How much does it typically cost to furnish a rental property?

I have had experience furnishing a two-bedroom condo and a studio. For the studio, I spent between $2,000 and $3,000. With the two-bedroom, I spent about $10,000 to furnish it. I bought a little nicer for the two-bedroom because it was going to be a short-term rental. I needed durable furnishings.

My tip when it comes to buying furnishings, whether it’s for a short- or long-term rental, is to buy stain-resistant materials. Otherwise, you’re stuck with regular cleanings or having to replace the furniture every year.

Now for the question that helps landlords decide whether they will offer a furnished rental or not:

How much more money can you get for a furnished rental?

You can typically get 15 to 20 percent more for a furnished long-term rental. It’s a convenience. People are willing to pay for convenience.

And for a furnished short-term rental, you can get 40 to 50 percent more at a minimum. In some cases, you can even double that, getting 100 percent more, depending on the location of the property.

You can typically get 15 to 20 percent more for a furnished long-term rental. It’s a convenience. People are willing to pay for convenience.

Which locations are best for furnished rentals?

I’ve had the most success with furnished rentals in high-density or highly desirable areas. I’ve had a successful furnished studio, for example, right in the heart of Washington, D.C., right near Capitol Hill and a metro station. People wanted to live there and were willing to pay for the convenience of a furnished rental. Places like that appeal to people whose time is more important than money and who would rather spend more than deal with furnishing a rental property.

Can you charge a larger security deposit for a furnished rental? After all, there are now theft of furnishings and furniture damage to consider.

Absolutely. But you can charge only what your state allows. This is often between one and two months’ rent as a maximum. So most of the time, landlords charge one month’s rent as a security deposit for an unfurnished rental. But for a furnished rental, I think it’s smart to double that, or charge two months’ rent. And just like any security deposit, it’s fully refundable as long as there are no damages.

Do you have any further tips or advice for our readers?

A good opportunity for people who want to do long-term furnished rentals is to get into corporate housing or provide housing for traveling nurses. You figure out if there’s a company or hospital that’s willing to make a corporate agreement with you. They pay the rent and are responsible for finding tenants.

Are you interested in getting into the furnished rental business? Or are you in it now? Let us know in the comments!

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