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.

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.

Top 3 tricks landlords should steal from Airbnb hosts (but aren’t!)

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Move-in/Move-out, paid, Rental Advertising

Tricks to learn from AirbnbWhen you go on vacation, you expect an experience. Airbnb hosts and other vacation rental owners spend a lot of time on that point.

To stay in demand, vacation rental owners need to understand how to create a great experience for their customers. This keeps their occupancy high, their rental in demand, and their nightly rate at a premium. By thinking like a vacation rental host, landlords can reduce tenant turnover, keep their units in demand, and charge more for rent.

To level-up their business, landlords should provide great customer service and offer tenant “bonuses” to reduce turnover and increase rent. Below are the top three tricks that long-term landlords should steal from Airbnb hosts.

1. Amazing Communication

The top Airbnb hosts have high communication rates. Furthermore, Super Hosts have a minimum of a 90% response rate. How can you replicate this?

  • Use Cozy’s maintenance ticket system to quickly respond to repair issues.
  • Respond quickly when you have requests for a unit showing.
  • Show future tenants how responsive you are by having current and former tenants review your rental property on Google Maps or your property website.

In fact, 82% of Americans at least sometimes seek out reviews before making any kind of purchase. Your prospective tenant will feel more at ease about entering a year-long commitment with you if they can view reviews beforehand. In addition, from the beginning, you are showing them that their time matters.

2. Welcome Package

A welcome package is an essential part of the experience of staying in a vacation rental. It tells guests about the property, local restaurants, and anything else they might need to know to make the vacation as simple and relaxing as possible. Long-term rentals are no exception.

Landlords should have a welcome package that includes:

  • Unit rules and regulations
  • A small welcome gift like flowers, chocolates, or a gift card
  • Location details like public transportation, local restaurants, local events, local attractions, and anything else that might make their move more seamless.

Related: The perfect move-in package

3. Concierge Services

Lastly, landlords can create a wonderful living experience for their tenants by offering premium services included in the rent. This provides an added selling point and makes life just a little easier for your tenant.

Let’s say your usual tenant is in corporate America and pays a premium to outsource tasks. An added bonus to your rental property could be as simple as including maid service, an Amazon Fresh subscription for quick grocery delivery, and laundry service with the rent. By cutting those chores out of your tenant’s life, you’re providing the best gift you can: time.

Related: 4 basic amenities that attract quality tenants

Conclusion

To summarize, it doesn’t need to cost a lot to provide a great experience for tenants. Above all, simply caring about their time matters most. By communicating quickly, providing an informative move-in package, and including time-saving services with rent reduces turnover, allows for a premium rental price, and attracts good quality prospective tenants. So think like a Super Host and start thinking outside the box when it comes to being a top landlord.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Why?

Here’s a typical conversation:

Me: Hello.

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

Me: Yes it is.

Agent: Well, it’s not in the MLS.

Me: A silent pause

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

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

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

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

Agent: Do you pay an agent commission?

Me: No.

Agent: Thank you. Goodbye.

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

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

1. Real estate agents use only the MLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Agents expect to be paid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Agents often do more harm than good

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

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

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

When real estate agents are helpful

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

What to do when your tenant is locked out… again

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

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

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

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

Add a lost-key clause to the contract

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

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

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

Change the locks

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

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

Install “smart” locks

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

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

Go keyless

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

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

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

PayRent.com