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.

Should you offer a deal to find new tenants?

Written by Holly Welles on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rent & Expenses, Rental Advertising, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

incentivesWhen your property can’t seem to keep reliable tenants, you might start to consider ways of sweetening the deal, such as offering incentives.

Your property may be great, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to bouts of bad luck with tenants, increased competition, and environmental nuisances like neighborhood construction projects. When the cards are stacked against you, a discount can help speed up the tenant search and reduce the negative financial effects of vacancies.

The benefit of filling your space may very well be worth the added expense, but make sure you first do a cost-benefit analysis by making sure adding an incentive won’t make your total expenses greater than your total income.

Here are seven practical tips and techniques.

1. Reduce your fees

Review your contract to see if you can be flexible with some of your listed fees. Tenants who review your agreement are likelier to sign on the dotted line if they don’t have to factor an excessive amount of additional costs into their budget. For instance, if you charge for amenities such as laundry or parking, the cost of waiving those fees may be negligible compared to the benefit of winning over a reliable tenant.

If you can manage without the extra income, waive the application fee for background and credit checks. Note that if you use Cozy, applicants are automatically charged for this, but you might apply this charge toward first month’s rent as a way to waive the application fee.

Remember that you’re trying to attract tenants. Applicants have a greater justification for renting with you if they feel like they’re getting a deal they couldn’t find elsewhere. The loss in fee collection is minimal compared to the vacuum of an unoccupied apartment draining your resources.

Of course, make sure that you trust the potential tenant and your screening process before going down this route.

Related: Should I raise the rent on a good tenant?

2. Offer discounted rates

Discounted rates are clearly attractive to potential tenants, but this solution requires some careful math on your end.

Evaluate your expenses and the rates offered by your competition. Compare the costs of offering a monthly reduction against those of an extended vacancy, making sure that your property is still profitable with the deal you offer. Do you have the room to lower your rates if it means signing a tenant more quickly?

You could also offer discounts in return for more convenience. If a tenant can pay rent each month through automatic electronic payments rather than physical checks, for example, you can offer a rent reduction for making your financial life a little easier.

3. Consider a longer or shorter lease

Another way you may discount rates is to offer an extended lease for a lower monthly rate. The longer renters stay with you, the more your risk of extended vacancies is reduced.

The point of an extended lease is to keep your renters making regular contributions to your business. Keep an eye on your local market and any proposed tax changes to assess the risk of settling into a longer-term agreement. While you’ll receive less money for your unit, it may prove more consistent and reliable down the road.

On the other hand, some tenants may not be sure if they’ll be sticking around for a full year. If you need to fill a vacancy now, offering a shorter lease that allows for tenant flexibility may prove beneficial. This is especially true if you’re trying to find a tenant in an off-season. If the shorter lease ends in the summer, for example, you’ll have an easier time finding a more long-term renter.

4. Create more flexible terms

Renting an apartment is an enormous commitment, and a strict lease can turn otherwise excited applicants away. If you relax the terms of your agreement, applicants might feel more secure in deciding to sign with you. And there are small, inexpensive changes you can make to your contract to improve its appeal.

Offer a deal to find new tenants who may be perfectly great renters but crave flexibility that other landlords lack. Pet-friendly apartments are enticing to animal lovers searching for a place that accepts their furry friend. Permission to decorate the property may win some prospective tenants over. Others will find an early lease termination clause appealing, giving them a degree of freedom unavailable from your competitors.

Related: Pet deposits, pet fees and pet rent – what’s the difference?

5. Offer upgrades

If you can’t swing a rate reduction, property upgrades can be a powerful incentive for new tenants. Replacing an old oven with a newer model, painting the walls a more modern color, or increasing storage might win over tenants looking for a fresher living space. Property upgrades create value for you, too, since they will make your rental more attractive for years to come.

Be careful not to overspend on a project that will eat away at your profits. After all, you’re still responsible for all maintenance costs down the line. You don’t need to offer lavish upgrades to appeal to new tenants when simple improvements can make an impact. Something as simple as installing more shelving can please a renter without extending your regular budget for new projects.

Related: 7 Affordable Upgrades for Your Rental Properties

6. Put together a gift basket

For those new tenants who have recently signed a lease, welcoming them to your building with a gift basket can be a great first step toward building a friendship. Renters who feel a closer connection with their landlord are more likely to renew their contract once it expires.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to look like a nice gesture. Gift cards to local restaurants or the movie theatre, food, or a bottle of wine are all possible options when stocking your gift basket. An edible arrangement can make a good impression on your tenants.

7. Provide a free first month

At first glance, it seems like a ridiculous ask of any landlord. Who in their right mind would sacrifice an entire month’s rent? But consider the money lost on an already vacant unit that’s accruing nothing but dust, and a month of waived rent is well worth the income that will begin to flow in afterward.

Related: 3 reasons you might not want to collect a security deposit

When does offering a deal become a gimmick?

Some potential renters are wary of deals, seeing them as “gimmicks” that a landlord uses to attract the naive and gullible. After all, if the landlord has to offer a deal to find new tenants who will stick around, they might think the property suffers from an issue not explicitly advertised.

This is particularly relevant to No. 5 above. Densely crowded urban areas with high rent prices often have apartments that advertise a free month’s rent in exchange for signing a lease. While this isn’t misleading, these concessions can lead tenants to enter an agreement they’re unable to manage.

As a landlord, you need to fill your rentals. The fortunate news is that there are many ways to accomplish this task. As long as you do it with respect and fairness to everyone involved, you’re well on your way toward managing a happy, busy property.

How to attract long-term tenants

Written by Holly Welles on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Landlord Tips, long-term rental, Maintenance & Renovations, Move-in/Move-out, paid, renters rights, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

Fresh out of college with the intention to move from my hometown to a new city, I was searching for an apartment. And when I finally found the listing of my dreams—okay, a listing I could afford—I first had to make sure the landlord was someone I trusted to respect my living situation as much as I respected their property.

For a young renter, meeting with a new landlord can be intimidating. I was nervous about apartment hunting on my own, but even more nervous about failing to see eye-to-eye with my potential landlord.

Fortunately, from our first meeting, my landlord made it clear that my interests were as important as his business. I live in a small building with my landlord residing on the first floor, which makes a healthy rental relationship crucial. Happily, my landlord has a great attitude that has attracted and kept multiple long-term tenants.

I’ve renewed my lease since that first year and have every intention of doing so until my living needs change. How did my landlord inspire this, and how can you take his lead? From moving in to living in harmony, here’s how you can inspire long-term rental relationships with tenants.

1. Consider a compromise

The day I signed my lease, the landlord was showing the listing to two other potential tenants. I had lined up a few viewings and was hesitant to jump on signing without finding out my options. Rather than pressure me to grab the listing while I could, my landlord granted me a grace period—he would not lease the space that day without hearing from me first.

I appreciated that this potential landlord was willing to work with me. His gesture showed me that he valued me as a potential tenant and was understanding of my situation.

If you want to make a good first impression on your tenants, laying the foundation to build a long-term relationship, making even a small gesture can do the trick. A flexible policy can go a long way.

2. Offer a warm welcome

When I moved in, my landlord provided me with a list of his favorite community hotspots and a few restaurant recommendations. His friendliness alleviated all my earlier anxieties about living in a new space, and he established himself as a go-to contact for questions about our neighborhood.

If you want to start off on the right foot, a small welcome gift or some cultivated advice can go a long way. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but a welcome package is a kind gesture that shows you care. Besides free advice, here are some inexpensive items you might want to include:

  • Coffee beans
  • Baked goods
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Map of the area
  • Coupon or gift card for a local favorite
  • Your contact info on a notecard

Note that if you provide consumables, make sure your tenant is aware of the ingredients.

Welcoming your tenant opens a line of communication early on, encouraging your tenant to call you in case something happens. A welcome package is a perfect first step.

Related: Provide Bathroom Essentials on Move-In Day

3. Maintain the “little” things

Neglect can drive a wedge in your rental relationships, particularly if the tenant believes you don’t care for their comfort. Landlords should respond to maintenance requests as soon as possible, and this can include more than apartment maintenance.

Parking was an issue during my first week of moving in because I struggled to perfectly maneuver into my tight space. When I mentioned it to my landlord, he guided me into the spot. He even sent me an appreciative text once when he noticed I had parallel parked like a pro. He took time out of his day for this small act, and I felt appreciative.

Related: Be an ethical landlord

4. Make the area safe

With today’s technology, installing security measures in your complex is simpler than ever.

Browse through the broad selection of modern tech and determine which cameras and locks are most suitable for your building. If you make the adjustments to your property, brief your tenants on new procedures and protocol. You can send out an email or place notes on the doors, but make sure to keep them informed.

My landlord has never compromised in this area. Between a security camera by my parking space and his diligence in maintaining my exterior locks, I feel secure living alone as a young woman. His respect for my security contributes to my decision to renew my lease each year.

Related: Should Landlords (or Tenants) Install an Alarm System?

5. Show respect for privacy

I never have to worry about surprise inspections. That’s not a healthy way to approach the landlord-tenant dynamic, not to mention that the practice is illegal in most jurisdictions. Though you own the property, you should show some tact when navigating a renter’s space.

If you’re planning to enter a tenant’s unit for whatever reason other than an emergency, let them know in advance. Schedule a date and time that won’t inconvenience them, and try your best not to break from it. They should feel happy to see you, not horrified at the prospect you might appear at any given moment for an impromptu check.

In this area, like many others, your relationship rests on your ability to communicate. Maintain a regular back-and-forth where you discuss these things. Tenants deserve privacy, so it’s essential you give them their personal space.

Related: Can a Landlord Enter the Property Whenever They Want?

Building long-term rental relationships

My concerns about navigating my new rental relationship were swept away by the respect my landlord has shown for both the apartment I leased and my living situation. None of his actions take much time or money, but they add up. Not only am I more likely to continue this long-term rental relationship, but I’m also encouraged to do everything I can to make my landlord’s life easier as well.

Your tenants can share my positivity. Start with a small gesture, and go from there.

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.

9 tips for getting your property ready to rent

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in appliances, edited, For Landlords, heating and cooling, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, move-in, Move-in/Move-out, paid, painting, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Things to do when prepping a rentalA turnover gives you a little time to spruce up a rental in a way you can’t while it’s occupied.

You may not need to do a major cleanup or repair, but you can take care of some of the small but important details that make a rental attractive to quality tenants and ready to rent. You should always make repairs necessary to satisfy habitability requirements, but don’t stop there.

Here are 9 tips for getting your property ready to rent.

4 essential and inexpensive tasks

Once your rental is empty and disrupting tenants is not an issue, seize the opportunity by completing tasks that affect habitability, such as checking the smoke alarms and making sure all the electrical outlets and plumbing fixtures work and are safe. While you’re at it, pay attention to the following four tasks:

1. Test and service appliances

  • Turn on the oven to verify that the temperature on the dial and that recorded by a thermometer inside are the same.
  • Check the water heater pilot to make sure it’s steady and blue.
  • Wash a load in the washing machine and dry it in the dryer.
  • Clean out the dryer vents.
  • Perform any repairs that your tests indicate are needed.

Related: How to test appliances before a tenant moves in

2. Clean and deodorize

The entire unit needs cleaning after a lengthy tenancy, but especially the kitchen and bathrooms.

  • Grease buildup in the kitchen may call for a strong detergent, such as TSP, for removal.
  • Use liberal amounts of disinfecting cleaner in the bathroom.

Also clean the carpets. Unless the tenants who just moved out were particularly conscientious, they will probably need shampooing.

Related: How clean does my rental need to be when I move out?

3. Search for and eradicate mold

Look for mold in the following places:

  • Dark corners of the laundry room
  • Bathroom tiles and fixtures
  • Closets

Scrub mold with soap and water, but don’t try to scrub mold out of drywall. Unless the mold is clearly only growing on the surface paint, the only way to eradicate it is to replace the affected drywall.

Related: Is a Landlord Always Responsible for Mold Remediation?

4. Re-key or change the locks

It’s a good idea to change locks between tenants. If you can’t re-key the existing locks on the entry doors, replace them. This might be a good time to install keypunch locks that you can simply reprogram during the next turnover.

Related: 4 Considerations When Choosing Locks for Your Rental Properties

5 important jobs that may cost a bit

If you’re prepared to devote a modest sum—in the neighborhood of  $1,000—toward getting your unit ready to rent, the following items should be high on your to-do list so that you can attract quality tenants who’ll pay top dollar.

5. Paint the walls

Repainting a rental unit before occupancy is a good idea, but it isn’t something you always have to do to get a unit ready to rent. However, painting freshens up the space in a way that cleaning can’t. Professional painting costs from $400 to $700 per room, but you can reduce this cost by more than half by doing the work yourself.

Related: Save money by learning to paint

6. Spruce up the landscaping

If you’re renting a detached unit, pay some attention to the lawn, garden, and entryway.

  • Trim back foliage that covers windows or hangs over the roof
  • Edge the walkways
  • Plant a few decorative plants

You might even consider paying a contractor $100 to $150 to paint the front door, which Realtors advise is the easiest and most effective way to upgrade the exterior of a home.

Related: 5 hardscaping features that attract renters

7. Clean or replace curtains and window screens, and wash the windows

  • Take the curtains down, and put them in the washing machine or have them dry cleaned.
  • Remove the window screens, and wash them or replace them if they are torn or the frames are bent.
  • Consider having the windows professionally cleaned to bring light into the house.

8. Service the central air system

A vacancy provides a golden opportunity to bring in a technician to do a furnace and cooling system tune-up. It will include checking the seals in the compressor and blower, replacing the filters, and inspecting for small other small problems that could turn into big ones at some inopportune moment when an emergency repair is the last thing you need.

Related: Is My Landlord Required to Provide Heat and Air Conditioning?

9. Restore hardwood floors

A floor restoration, unlike a refinish, doesn’t involve sanding off the finish. Instead, you merely scuff up the finish with a floor buffer and apply a refresher coat. It costs a fraction of what refinishing costs and can make a floor in good shape—but dulled by years of traffic—look new again.

Don’t be afraid to spend money to make a unit ready to rent

The amount of time and money you have to invest in getting a unit ready to rent depends on the rental market and the condition of the unit. In a community with rental shortages, you may not have to invest much money or time at all. Things are different in a competitive market, but don’t worry if you need to make a small investment.

By working to attract renters, you’ll reduce downtime and future maintenance costs, thus recouping your investment and keeping your books in the black.

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

6 easy ways to get more rent for your home

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in appliances, edited, For Landlords, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, painting, rental improvements, rental maintenance, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Make more money with your rentalsWhen renting out a single-family unit, one rule of thumb is the rental price should be a fixed percentage of the purchase price—something in the range of 1 percent for most parts of the country.

Realities of the real estate and rental markets don’t always make it possible to attain that figure, especially in coastal cities. However, if you want to get as close as you can, try making some improvements to your rental property.

Start by using Cozy’s online rent estimation tool to gauge where you currently stand, and you’ll know how far you need to go to get there. You may find you have some work to do to get top dollar, but the improvements you need to make might be easier and less expensive than you expected. The ideal improvements are those that make the most impact on rental value while costing the least to implement.

1. Tidy up the front

Realtors will tell you that giving your home curb appeal is one of the most effective ways to make it attractive for buyers. That’s also true for renters. Here’s what to do:

  1. Mow the lawn.
  2. Trim back the part of the lawn that overlaps the driveway and walkway.
  3. Clean the driveway and walkway with a pressure washer.
  4. Tidy up the garden and hardscape.
  5. Plant some trees and flowers.

You might consider painting the house, but if that isn’t in your budget, at least paint the front door. It’s the first thing people see, and it makes an instant impression.

Related: 5 hardscaping features that attract renters

2. Add light

Darkness makes a room feel like a dungeon, but light opens it up and makes it feel welcoming. Add light to dark rooms by replacing small, outdated sash windows with larger sliding or casement ones.

Home Advisor’s 2018 average cost estimate for window replacement is lower than you might expect, about $500.

If the rental property is a brick building, or if there is some other circumstance that drives the cost of modifying windows out of your budget, you might consider placing a few mirrors in strategic places to augment light. Renters can always remove them after they’ve signed the rental agreement and moved in.

3. Provide quality amenities

Most people don’t want to move into a rental unit with a stove from the 1960s or a washing machine that makes bumping sounds. If anyone does, they won’t pay top dollar, or they’ll end up complaining if they do.

Quality appliances add value in two ways. One, they are more efficient than older, out-of-date appliances, so they cost less to use. And two, most newer appliances are equipped with technology features and smart functions that consumers who pay top dollar for a rental have come to expect.

Pay special attention to the kitchen. According to Consumer Reports, improving the kitchen is the number one way to make a house attractive to buyers, and this can apply to renters as well. Stainless steel is king when it comes to appliance finish, and stone, quartz, and faux marble outrank plastic laminates by a long shot in the countertop category.

Related: 

4. Paint the interior and exterior

Painting is the easiest and most effective way to transform a property from shabby to scintillating, thus raising the rental price. Pay attention to both the interior and exterior of the property.

Outdoor colors that blend with the surroundings make a property feel more inviting and comfortable. Inside, it’s all about light. Don’t try to be an interior designer, because your tastes might not match those of your prospective renters. Keep the interior colors neutral and clean.

Related: Paint Walls a Neutral Color

5. Get the property professionally cleaned

A rental property should look and smell clean. The bathrooms, kitchens, walls, and floors should be spotless when you’re showing the property.

Odors left by your previous renters must also be gone.

  • A coat of paint covers most odors that have accumulated on the walls, but sometimes it takes more than that.
  • Check for mold and be ruthless about eradicating any that you find. Sometimes, that involves replacing drywall.
  • Open the windows and leave trays of baking soda in inconspicuous places to absorb any smells left by the previous tenant.
  • Do not spray fragrance to cover the odors. Many people find them offensive, and some people are even sensitive enough to get sick.

6. Raise the rent price incrementally

Unless the community in which your property is located has rent control, you can raise the rental price after a lease expires or, in most month-to-month rental situations, on 30 days’ notice.

It’s best to make a rent increase in intervals that make sense. Most people who sign a lease expect a rent increase before they sign the next one, and those on a month-to-month rental agreement also expect one periodically. Keep the increase small enough to encourage your renters to stay, and by the time they move out—if they ever do—the rent will have moved that much closer to your target for the property.

Related: Should I increase rental rates every year?

The bottom line

If you increase your rental price by a significant amount between occupancies, you should be ready for extra scrutiny. You’ll probably have to sink more of your resources into improvements, and the tradeoff in rent might not be worth it. Limiting your rent increases to keep your current renters not only avoids those extra expenses, but by encouraging them to stay, it creates a neighborhood. That’s what many renters, especially those with families, are looking for.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve used any of these tips to raise the rent, or if you have other techniques that have worked!

PayRent.com