How to protect your tenant’s sensitive information

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in data storage, edited, For Landlords, frugal landlord, paid, privacy, rental maintenance, Software, Step 9 - Manage Lease & Collect Rent

The massive Equifax data breach of 2017 revealed that identity thieves are constantly updating the methods they use to steal sensitive information—and they’re getting better.

That should concern any landlord or property manager who collects personal data. Keeping credit card and Social Security numbers out of the hands of thieves calls for advanced IT skills beyond the scope of many property owners and managers. It’s one reason you should consider working with third-party online property management agencies.

1. Use firewalls and passwords

Storing the data you get from tenants in an unprotected file on your computer is like leaving a large sum of money on the hood of your car while you go shopping. If someone doesn’t steal it, you’re having a very good day.

Tenants and potential tenants shouldn’t have to rely on luck. At the very least, you need to enable a firewall on your computer to protect their data.

By itself, however, even that won’t necessarily keep out a determined hacker. You can add a second level of protection by using only a password-protected Wi-Fi connection, but this may mean keeping a second laptop for use in coffee shops and other public places.

2. Understand the malware factor

Hackers continue to devise new ways to lure you to fake sites and persuade you to click on links that download malware onto your computer. Once their software is past your firewall, only your anti-malware software stands between it and the sensitive information you’re storing. Keep your anti-malware software up-to-date. But even if you do that, there’s no guarantee that hackers aren’t one step ahead of you.

To show how easy it is to lure viewers, software engineer Nick Sweeting created a copycat Equifax site after the data breach. It was so convincing that some Equifax employees were fooled into navigating to it. They were “Rickrolled” (re-directed to a video of Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up”) when they clicked on one of the tabs—a favorite internet prank. The stunt underlined the disturbing fact that fake sites can persuade viewers to click through. Those that do could potentially download malware without ever being aware of it.

3. Call the pros

It’s better to hire a lawyer than trying to represent yourself in court. In the same way, you can manage your own files, but it’s better to use an online property management system, the most reliable way to avoid having your data compromised. For example, Cozy protects you in these ways:

  • Transmits data using only the secure HTTPS protocol
  • Limits the amount of data it stores (Cozy never stores the results of background checks or credit card numbers.)
  • Encrypts all data it stores on secure servers
  • Submits to regular audits by third-party firms to ensure security

Cozy also only shares information with trusted third parties as required to provide services, prevent fraud, or satisfy legal requirements. All this security comes with an easy-to-use interface.

4. Go it alone

Property management companies charge a fee for the services they provide. If your budget won’t accommodate that, and you choose to store data yourself, you may find the following tips helpful:

  • Access data only when using a secure, password-protected Wi-Fi network.
  • Install high-quality anti-malware software, and set it to update automatically whenever an update becomes available. Set up a firewall.
  • Set up two-stage authentication. For example, have a verification code sent to your mobile phone whenever you log into your computer.
  • Avoid storing credit card and Social Security numbers. If you must keep them, store the numbers separately from the corresponding names and addresses. This may involve establishing a system to link them, which you should keep in yet another location.
  • Activate a tracking/recovery system, such as Lojack or Find My iPhone. This gives you and law enforcement officials a better chance of recovering your computer if it gets lost or stolen.

5. Take privacy seriously

Landlords must provide a safe and secure place for their tenants to live, and they have a responsibility to protect any sensitive information they collect. The consequences of identity theft can be as devastating as a physical accident. If investigators trace the theft to negligence on the part of a landlord, they could be liable. If you don’t have the time or skill to keep data safe, companies like Cozy can help.

What to consider when buying a foreclosure for a rental property

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, Laws & Regulations, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Rent & Expenses

The lure of a good deal can make some pounce before they think, and foreclosures are no exception.

Let’s say you’re scanning the internet for some hiking boots. As you know, your search history follows you, and a pair of hiking boots pop up in an ad for 50% lower than others. You pounce. You get them in the mail, and they look like a floppy, sad version of what you actually wanted.

That’s what acting too fast on a foreclosure is like. You see a good deal, buy, and find that it wasn’t worth the money.

Related: Save 40%-70% on your next rental property with a pre-foreclosure

Four considerations when buying a foreclosure

Before you buy a foreclosed home as your next rental property investment, consider these four things.

1. Can you view before you buy?

When you find a good deal, it might be tempting to buy sight unseen because of the fear of missing out (FOMO) nagging at your brain. Don’t let FOMO win. Always make time to see your potential investment before you buy, even if you need to travel to see it. No one wants a surprise money pit.

By seeing the property ahead of time, look for the following:

  • The neighborhood. This can tell you what kind of tenants you will likely have.
  • The house. This gives you an idea of what work needs to be done.
  • Area rents. You’ll need to know what rent you are likely to get to determine whether the deal will be worth doing.

2.  How long was it empty?

When homes are unused for a long time, the decay gets worse, not better.

Rodents and bugs infest the house. Plumbing dries up from being unused. Bigger problems could have happened and never noticed like a roof leak, plumbing burst, mold, or vandalism/theft.

If you are purchasing a foreclosure that had been abandoned for some time, it’s even more important to get a thorough inspection before buying. You always want to get an inspection, but when it has been empty for a long period of time, ensure that the inspection dives deep.

Related: Risks of leaving a property vacant

3. Should you find skilled labor before you buy?

With nearly all foreclosures, there will be repairs that need to be completed. You should have a team of tradespeople in place before you buy, and have them review the property with you.

By having trusted tradespeople lined up, you have a better idea of what you are getting into or on whether to pass on the property. Ask them to go to the inspection, and then begin pricing repairs before you purchase. Ask their opinion on whether this is a good investment. A reliable team can help you budget properly, quickly repair the property, and turn a profit faster.

4. Are there any rules I should know?

Foreclosures have different rules than a typical property-buying situation.

Some government programs will not allow a buyer to rent out a property for up to five years. Understand the program you are buying your foreclosure from, and ensure that you are allowed to rent it once you own it.

If there are current tenants, legally, you need to honor their lease in some states. The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 requires that all new owners of a foreclosure honor leases of previous tenants if they plan on renting the property.

However, if the new owner plans on living in the property, they are allowed to give the tenants 90 days’ notice. This law expired in 2014, and now tenant’s rights vary by state. In Illinois, tenants still need 90 days’ notice; however, in Wisconsin, they can be evicted immediately.

Related:  Are tenants required to move out during a foreclosure?

Use the same best practices as with any property

The same considerations for any rental property are still valid with a foreclosure.

Before buying, consider the cap rate. What is your predicted rent? Subtract expenses, including expenses to get the property ready to rent, from the annual rental income. Divide that number by the value of the property. A cap rate of 5%-10% shows that the property is a good investment.

The bottom line

Before making the decision to buy a foreclosure as a rental property, know what you are getting into. Landlords need to find tenants, make fixes, collect rent, and have great relationships with your tenants. You’re running a business, so weigh the pros and cons before diving into renting a foreclosure.

Don’t buy the discount hiking boots without doing the research first.

10 landscaping tips to save water

Written by Ruth de Jauregui on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Maintenance & Renovations, paid

Drought, water restrictions, and increasingly expensive water bills should motivate everyone to learn how to save water in a landscape plan.

Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, there are ways to save water without busting the budget on initial changes. Before beginning any project, review any HOA or city/county restrictions on landscaping. And tenants should always discuss landscaping ideas with the landlord before adding or removing lawn, shrubs, or trees.

5 suggestions for landlords

Implementing water-saving measures can range from repairing a faulty sprinkler system to fully renovating the landscape. Adding plants, shrubs, and trees suited to the local climate reduces the time required to maintain the landscape as well as reducing water usage.

1. Select the right type of grass

Save water by selecting the appropriate grass species for the USDA hardiness zones and environmental conditions. Grasses are divided into cool- and warm-season species. Most grass species require full sun or a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily to thrive.

Bluegrass and fine fescues grow well in USDA zones 2 through 7. The fine fescues, Chewings, creeping red, and hard, are better choices than bluegrass due to their drought and shade tolerance.

In USDA zones 6 through 9, zoysiagrass requires the least amount of water. It, like bermudagrass, becomes straw-colored in winter.

Bermudagrass is another tough, spreading grass. It’s found in USDA zones 7 through 10. It is invasive and will take over the flowerbeds if not separated by a barrier—such as concrete edging—and edged regularly.

Related: Top 5 exterior maintenance items to perform before residents move in

2. Use ground covers

Water-saving alternatives to grasses are ground covers and native plants. Replace part or all the lawn with ground covers, preferably natives, which are suited for the site to save water.

Sun-loving miniature daisies, creeping thyme, and blue star creeper cover bare soil while reducing water usage.

In part-sun to shade, easy-maintenance ground covers like ajuga, also known as bugleweed, provide green coverage and flowers. After the ajuga finishes blooming, clean up and rejuvenate the plants by setting the mower at its highest setting and mowing over the fading flowers and foliage. (Avoid Vinca minor, also known as periwinkle and myrtle, and English ivy; both are invasive.)

While people often use decorative rocks as a ground cover, in time they begin to look drab and dusty. In addition, they harbor weed seeds and can develop into a messy expanse of unattractive weeds. Instead, weed cloth covered by organic mulch helps prevent weed growth and slows the evaporation of water from the soil.

3. Practice xeriscaping

Xeriscaping doesn’t mean cactus and bare rocks. The primary focus of xeriscaping is reducing water use. Plant drought-tolerant perennials, shrubs, and trees that may be natives or originated in a similar climate. The plantings might include iris, daffodils, daisies, hardy hibiscus, poppies, salvias, and other flowers that require less water once established in the landscape.

4. Consider installing a drip-watering system with a rain-sensing timer

Each plant, shrub, and tree receives water directly over the rootball according to the plant’s needs with this system. This allows specimen plants that may have higher water needs to receive the correct amount of moisture, while other plants are not overwatered. Set the timer to water in the early morning, between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., on the city- or HOA-specified days. The rain sensor prevents wasteful watering on rainy days.

5. Inspect existing sprinkler systems

Repair leaks and replace broken or inefficient sprinkler heads. Adjust the sprinklers to ensure that the water lands on the lawn or in the landscape and not on surrounding hardscape, such as sidewalks or the driveway. Add a timer to prevent overwatering.

5 ways tenants can reduce water usage

Tenants have fewer options than landlords, but there are a number of water-saving steps that can reduce the water bill while maintaining the landscape according to the landlord’s or HOA’s rules.

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

1. Water grass deeply in the morning

But water only once or twice a week. Frequent, shallow watering encourages shallow roots. Less frequent watering that moistens the soil to a depth of 6 to 12 inches encourages the grass to develop deeper roots and better withstand drought conditions.

2. Mow the grass at the recommended height

Remove no more than one-third of the lawn’s height at each mowing. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and return nutrients to the soil. In spring, dethatch the grass, mow, and then rake a thin layer of compost over the grass.

3. Remove weeds from the lawn

Weeds compete with the grass and plantings for water and nutrients. Landscape as soon as they appear. Rake and remove debris under shrubs and trees before adding mulch. Spread 4 inches of mulch over bare soil or landscape fabric, beginning 4 to 6 inches from the trunk to the outer edge of the canopy.

4. Wind soaker hoses through the flower beds and around trees

Do this instead of hand-watering or using a hose end sprinkler to save water. At the spigot, install a simple battery-operated timer set for early morning on the watering days set by the city or HOA.

5. Add compost to a garden

If your landlord approves a vegetable garden:

  • Dig several inches of compost into the garden bed to improve the soil and to increase its ability to drain or hold water, depending on whether it is clay or sandy.
  • Plant the fruits and vegetables at the recommended distances, or consider a square foot garden to increase productivity in a small space.
  • Add trellises to the north side of the garden for peas, beans and cucumbers to save space and keep the fruits off the ground.
  • Use soaker hoses covered with loose organic mulch between the rows to reduce water usage while keeping the soil moist.

Landlords can implement a range of water-saving measures or can completely renovate the landscape to reap the maximum benefits of xeriscaping. Meanwhile, tenants can reduce their water bills by adding easy water-saving steps to their weekly lawn maintenance routines.

A well-kept home with a thriving green landscape is an asset for everyone. It makes the property more desirable, and reducing water use is good for the environment and the checkbook—a win-win.


3 reasons you might not want to collect a security deposit

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

It’s important to collect a security deposit that you can use in case of damages to your property, or to compensate you for unpaid rent.

But some landlords have stopped collecting security deposits.

Here are three reasons why.

But first, about the security deposit

The security deposit is exactly what it sounds like—security against damages or unpaid rent. So if your tenant damages your property beyond normal wear and tear, you can use the security deposit money to make repairs. Or if your tenant skipped out on you without paying rent, you can keep the security deposit.

But if there are no damages, and if your tenant has faithfully paid rent each month, you need to return the security deposit. And you need to do so by the deadline for your state.

Some landlords don’t do that, thinking the security deposit is a windfall for them. That sort of landlord makes it necessary for security deposit laws to be created. The problem is that sometimes the laws governing security deposits are more like “gotchas” for the landlord.

Related: How to handle security deposits properly

1. Security deposit laws can be oppressive

Every state, and sometimes jurisdiction, has laws pertaining to the security deposit. You can look up your state’s law here.

Most states have straightforward laws, such as this: Landlords must return the security deposit to the tenant within 30 days after the lease ends. Landlords must give a written explanation and itemize any money withheld. Check your state law since these laws vary.

Chicago, for example, is particularly tough on landlords. Here are some laws Chicago landlords must follow:

  • Landlords must place the security deposit in a federally insured interest-bearing account in an Illinois bank. This account must be a separate account, just for the security deposit.
  • The landlord must tell the tenant which bank holds the security deposit.
  • If the tenant paid first month’s rent and security deposit as one check or as one electronic funds transfer, the landlord needs to transfer the security deposit portion to the separate security deposit account within five business days.
  • Landlord must provide tenant with a signed receipt at the time of receiving the security deposit. The receipt must include the date, amount, name of person receiving the deposit, and a description of the rental unit.
  • Landlord must pay tenant any interest earned within 30 days of a 12-month term.
  • The security deposit must be returned within 45 days of move out.
  • If the landlord will withhold money, they must provide an itemized statement of damages and the estimated or actual cost of repair within 30 days of move out.

Wow! That’s a lot of regulations to keep track of.

Seattle also has tough security deposit laws for landlords.

  • Landlords must return the security deposit within 21 days of move out or send an itemized list in writing for any withholding within 21 days.
  • If a tenant can’t pay the full security deposit at move-in time, landlords must allow payment to be in installments.

Many landlords, rather than risk a tenant lawsuit for possible noncompliance, are simply not requiring a security deposit.

2. Security deposit laws can cost you money

Using Chicago again as an example, if landlords don’t follow the very specific laws, the landlord must pay the tenant two times the security deposit in addition to the security deposit itself. And if a landlord loses a claim filed by the tenant, the landlord must pay the tenant’s attorney fees and court costs.


Some states are also strict with landlords who do not follow security deposit laws to the letter. California, for example, also awards tenants two times the security deposit in addition to the security deposit if the court finds the landlord acted in bad faith. Read your state laws, and you could be shocked.

3. The cost is burdensome to tenants

It can be difficult for tenants to come up with first month’s rent plus security deposit, particularly in high rent areas. If people can’t afford to move into your rental, you could have a difficult time renting it out.

Renters ought to be able to come up with first month’s rent. If they can’t, then they probably won’t be able to pay the rent each month. But adding a security deposit that’s equal to first month’s rent upfront could be tough on some people, particularly if there are other fees involved such as pet fees, utility deposits, and moving expenses.

If you’re finding most people are having trouble coming up with first month’s rent plus security deposit, you might not want to collect a security deposit.

If you don’t collect a security deposit, collect a move-in fee.

Landlords need protection when they rent out property, and that’s the reason for the security deposit. But some landlords collect a move-in fee instead.

You may say this is playing semantics—whether you call it a “security deposit” or a “move-in fee,” you’re still collecting money. But there are differences between the two. You should understand what they are so you can decide whether collecting a security deposit or a move-in fee better suits your situation.

About move-in fees

Most landlords who don’t collect a security deposit collect a move-in fee instead. The move-in fee is typically not subject to as many regulations as the security deposit can be. The reason is that the move-in fee is not returned to the tenant at move-out time. The landlord simply keeps it.

But the move-in fee is usually less than the security deposit. It’s designed to cover the cost of cleaning the rental unit, painting, and making minor touch-ups. Most landlords charge a percentage of the rent, such as 40 to 50 percent.

Which should you collect? A security deposit or a move-in fee?

If you live in a jurisdiction where the security deposit laws are complicated and the penalties strict, you might want to consider charging a move-in fee, dropping the security deposit altogether.

But if you live in a state with straightforward security deposit laws, you’re probably better off collecting the security deposit.

What about collecting first and last month’s rent?

Some landlords collect first and last month’s rent instead of a security deposit. That can get you off the hook for cumbersome security deposit laws. But doing so means you are protected only from a tenant who skips out on paying a month’s rent. You would have to pay for any damages out of your own pocket.

Related: Collect a larger deposit instead of last month’s rent

Bottom line

It’s generally a best practice to collect first month’s rent plus a security deposit. But depending on your situation, you might want to do things differently.

5 hardscaping features that attract renters

Written by Megan Wild on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, hardscaping, landlord, landscaping, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Step 4 - Renovate & Decorate

If you’re having trouble attracting renters to your investment property, you might have a curb appeal problem.

Landlords typically compete for renters who might also be looking at condos and upscale apartment buildings that have professional landscapers. Renters want beautiful outdoor spaces that create a place to escape after a long day.

Consider adding some attractive hardscaping, the hard, permanent elements in your landscaping, such as concrete walkways, stone patios, or small ponds.

Why invest in hardscaping?

Property managers point out that an unkempt yard can attract less-than-ideal renters. An ugly outward appearance can also make it difficult to find renters for a property.

Related: Top 10 amenities renters can’t resist

Keep it as low maintenance as possible

The key to adding hardscaping to a rental property is to choose elements that require as little maintenance as possible. A small concrete bench with a clay flowerpot to the side filled with seasonal flowers is a nice touch, for example. You can easily and inexpensively swap out any plants that don’t do well or wither.

But you might want or need to do more than just putting out a nice bench. Whatever you choose to do, have a maintenance plan that either your tenants will be responsible for or that you will take care of, typically for a fee.

Find out which specific hardscaping elements are more attractive to renters and can even help you get higher rent for a property.

1. Decks and patios

Having a space of your own to entertain friends or relax on the weekends is very attractive, especially to busy working professionals. If your rental property features a small yard, add a deck or concrete patio to enhance the space and make it more usable. Another option is to install a patio made of pavers, which is often less expensive. These hard elements will last for many years, and the return on investment is about 70%, depending on the materials you use.

2. Retaining walls

Since you won’t be present at a rental property to assess any damage from rain or other natural elements, adding in features such as a retaining wall can protect your investment and add visual beauty to your yard. Retaining walls are made of a variety of materials. You can use stones, bricks, wood beams, or stamped concrete. Allow some space to add softscape materials for a pop of color from flowers or plants.

3. Plants

There should be a pleasing visual aesthetic between hardscape and softscape elements. A landscape that has an imbalance of mostly hardscape elements can look harsh and uninviting, and too many plants often create an unkempt look. As you create a hard and soft picture with a variety of elements, make sure there is adequate drainage between the hardscape and the softscape elements. A beautiful design that floods every time it rains isn’t attractive for long and could damage your property.

Related: 6 yard hacks to make your property more attractive

4. Water features

Adding a fountain creates a relaxing element to your landscaping. It can help attract renters because it makes your rental property unique. Water hardscaping can include fountains, which is probably the easiest and least expensive water feature to add to a rental property. However, it can also include a small pond. Whatever water feature you decide to add to your property, make sure it is clean, free from algae, and well maintained.

5. Swimming pool

Whether a swimming pool is the right choice for your rental property depends on where in the country your property is located. There are some liabilities with a swimming pool, so keep in mind increased insurance costs before purchasing a property with a pool or installing one. 

However, a swimming pool may be an attractive way to attract renters who are willing to pay more to have additional amenities. The key is to weigh the payoffs against the costs and risks, and then decide whether a pool will attract enough renters to make it a worthwhile investment.

Related: 6 considerations when renting out a house with a pool

A landlord’s guide to swimming pool maintenance and liability

When a potential tenant pulls up to your rental property, they should immediately feel at home. Hardscaping affords the opportunity to make an excellent first impression. It can also give you a leg up on other rentals in the area. 

How to find a contractor you can trust

Written by Chris Deziel on . Posted in contractor, edited, For Landlords, landlord, Maintenance & Renovations, paid, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

Planning a large remodel? Needing someone to make an emergency repair? Looking to complete the support team for your rental business? If so, you’ll have many contractor options, but choose wisely.

Hiring someone who has few skills, manages time poorly, or is dishonest wears on your time and resources.

A trustworthy contractor usually has a network of tradespeople who can step in when the need arises. Find the right person and you may never have to search for qualified maintenance support again.

Related: How to build a little black book of contractors

1. Look for a trustworthy contractor

You can always find a contractor, but your goal is to find a good, reliable contractor you can trust. Here are some ways:

Through people you know

The No. 1 place to start searching for a trusted contractor is among your friends. Many of the best contractors stopped advertising long ago. They rely on satisfied customers to do their advertising for them. If you’re looking for someone to complete a particular task, find friends who have had that type of work done and ask for recommendations.

Neighborhood review websites

Join a neighborhood discussion group. When you ask for recommendations on sites such as, you usually get several leads, phone numbers and all. Yelp is another resource, especially for contractors who specialize in large-scale projects.

Online classified services (Craigslist)

Search the Services tab for your area, or post a job opening. If you post, be prepared to screen responses carefully because scammers are a fact of life in the world of online classifieds. Accept email replies only, ask for contact information, and initiate further contact yourself.

Local hardware and building supply centers

Here, you’re likely to find plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. Ask the customer service representative for business cards. They probably have several on file.

Related: 8 real estate professionals a landlord can’t live without

2. Ask questions…then more questions

Getting in touch with a pro who can handle your job is just the first step. You need to know more before you sign on the dotted line, especially if you’re contracting a big job. A trusted contractor can give you satisfying answers to the following questions:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Have you done this kind of work before and how often?
  • Do you have references?

The last question is the most important one. A reference should include contact information so you can follow up. When you call the reference, you’ll want to know the following information:

  • Did the contractor do the work in a complete and timely manner?
  • Was the contractor well organized?
  • Was the contractor easy to work with?
  • Did personal problems ever interfere with the work?
  • Did the contractor charge a fair price for the work? Were there “extra charges”?
  • Would the person ever hire this contractor again?

Related: 4 tips for first time landlords

3. Schedule a meeting

In the end, trust your gut feeling about a person you’re considering working with. Schedule a face-to-face meeting before you sign anything. During the meeting, you’ll want to go over details of the job, but let the conversation wander a bit to get an idea of the contractor’s attitude to work. You might ask such questions as:

  • How long have you been doing this kind of work?
  • Why did you start doing it?
  • What was your favorite (most troublesome) project?

Touching on appropriate personal issues—such as family—and trivialities—such as favorite movies—might reveal some shared interests, which is a good sign. A trusted contractor, like a friend, is someone with whom you share a certain commonality and who speaks your language.

4. Remember, trust is a two-way street

It isn’t a good idea to micromanage a pro, but it is a good idea to stay in touch and communicate any concerns that arise. Addressing issues such as work standards or punctuality at the outset prevents small matters from turning into bigger problems later on.

If you have an emergency, you need a competent contractor. If you want to create an effective maintenance network for your rental, you need a trustworthy one. In any long-term relationship, even with a contractor, trust works both ways. Be honest, communicative, and reliable, and that’s probably what you’ll get in return.

Related: 8 traits of an ethical landlord

How to pick a good roommate

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

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

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

1. Advertise

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

2. Ask questions

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

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

3. Screen applicants

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

4. Think twice about friends

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

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

The bottom line

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

Rental application fees: what you need to know

Written by Megan Wild on . Posted in application fees, edited, For Landlords, For Renters, paid, Step 6 - Applications & Screening, tenants

Landlords hate to charge rental application fees as much as tenants hate to pay them. But these fees are necessary.

Experienced landlords, particularly those who’ve been burned by less-than-exemplary renters, screen future tenants to make sure they’re a good fit for their rental property. And that costs money. Thus, the application fee, which funds running background and credit checks on applicants.

Here’s what landlords and tenants need to know about application fees:

For tenants

Landlords can charge rental application fees

Landlords need to know you can pay the rent, act in a financially responsible way, and will treat their property with respect. Running a credit check helps them get a sense of your financial history, and a background check helps them see if you have a history of behavioral red flags.

The application fee covers the screening cost. 

Some landlords accept information directly from you and will give you a break on the application fee. If you bring your recent credit report and recent pay stubs, for example, some landlords will accept that in lieu of running your credit. Keep in mind, however, that landlords typically prefer to run their own credit check, as credit reports and pay stubs can be altered. 

Note that landlords typically charge an application fee to everyone on the lease. Did you hear that, roommates? 

Related: Who should fill out a rental application?

Don’t get scammed

There’s a reasonable and customary charge for rental application fees. They usually cost $30-50, but some landlords may charge you up to $100. You can expect to pay the larger fees in a hot real estate market.

Some landlords, unfortunately, try to take advantage of applicants by charging them exorbitant fees just to apply or, even worse, just for viewing the property. Landlords like this are trying to make the application process a moneymaker, a practice that scrupulous landlords don’t do.

Don’t be afraid to walk away from a landlord who seems to be making a money grab. In fact, some states limit the amount a landlord can charge for an application fee. If your state has those limits, let the landlord know. If your state doesn’t mandate fees, ask if the landlord will lower the fee, so they’re charging enough to cover the cost of screening and that’s it.

Ask if the fee will be refunded 

In some cases, your landlord may refund the cost of a rental application. This may happen if they had multiple applicants and rented the property to someone before they got to your application. In that case, not only will many landlords refund the application fee. Some states mandate they must refund the fee.

Be aware, though, you are not entitled to a refund just because you didn’t get the rental. If the landlord did the screening, they don’t have to refund the fee.

You can ask the landlord if they can put the application fee toward your security deposit, as a negotiation point. But it’s up to the landlord whether that will happen.

Related: Ask Lucas 012: Are Online Rental Applications More Secure than Paper Applications?

For landlords

Charge rental application fees only for the actual cost

Application fees are intended to cover the cost of running a credit and background check. Taking a hard look at an applicant’s credit history, employer, former landlord, and doing a background search on criminal records will give you a good sense of whether someone would be a good tenant. You can and should screen each person on the lease.

Depending on your state, you might only be allowed to charge what credit and background checks cost. You’ll want to check the local and state rules where the rental is located for specific regulations for rental application fees.

If you use Cozy to manage your property, tenant screening reports are free for landlords. The applicant pays $24.99 each for a background check or credit report, or $39.99 for both. Applicants order the reports and share them directly with you, so you both stay on the same page.

To collect your application fee, tenants can pay via cash, check, or card. An advantage of using Cozy is that tenants pay online, so you don’t have to deal with money at all. If you’re accepting payments yourself, make sure to provide a receipt, especially if you provide refunds for application fees.

Don’t use application fees as a profit center

Finding a tenant to rent your property can be a time-consuming task, and you may feel justified charging for your time. It’s important, though, not to overcharge or to use the application as a profit center. Some states, such as California, for example, mandate against overcharging, allowing landlords to charge only their out-of-pocket expenses.

You can ultimately profit from your rental by charging market rates; as a bonus, you avoid potential legal ramifications and damage to your reputation that can come from charging unnecessarily high application fees. 

Related: Should I increase rental rates every year?

Refund the application fee under certain circumstances

In some circumstances, particularly hot rental markets, you might end up renting your property to an applicant while you have the applications and fees of others still pending. If you have application fees from prospective renters and won’t be running their background checks, you should refund the fees.

Renters and landlords: know the laws in your state

State laws about application fees differ widely, so it’s important to know the rules in your state. Both renters and landlords should check into their state laws on this. California, for example, caps application fees at $47.22, and landlords need to provide the results to tenants if they request it. In Wisconsin, a landlord may charge the actual cost of a consumer credit report (up to $20).

There’s a lot to know about rental application fees, but you can master the best practices to make sure you’re charging and paying a fair rate.

How to avoid rental scams

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Renters, Leases & Legal, paid

What could be worse than paying a large sum of money to secure a rental property, packing all your stuff to move, getting excited about your new home…and then finding out that you really didn’t rent the place?

Now you’re out all that time, effort, and money—and you have nowhere to live.

Rental scams, unfortunately, happen more often than you might think. Because it’s easy for anyone to advertise an apartment or house they have for rent online, you might not know whether the poster is legitimate.

Scammers typically do one of two things, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

  1. They take the photos and description from a real ad, change the contact information to their own, and place the doctored ad on another website. You see the ad and call or email the scammer instead of the real owner or manager.
  2. They make up a listing that doesn’t really exist, or they list a property that isn’t for rent. You call about that nonexistent property.

The scam, in both scenarios, is designed get you to pay first month’s rent and security deposit. Once you do, the scammer is long gone, with your money. Here are some ways to avoid those kinds of rental scams.

Related: Skirting a scam

1. Don’t wire money

The goal of rental scams is to try to get you to give money before you see the rental in person. A scammer’s preferred method is usually to ask you to wire the money. Why? Because wiring money works the same as handing over cash. (Oh, and don’t give cash!) You can’t stop payment or reverse charges when you wire money.

Never wire money to strangers.

2. Do an internet search

Search the listing address. You should find the same name of the owner or manager on every site. If you find a random listing or two with a different name attached to it, you can probably assume the listing with the different name is not legit.

3. Be firm

Scammers can be persuasive. Their job, after all, is getting people to part with their money. So con artists involved in rental scams often use high-pressure tactics to get you to pay right away. They usually tell people that if they don’t act immediately, they will lose out on a great deal. It’s not always a scam to rent a place sight unseen, but the practice is risky. It’s best to see a property before paying any money.

4. Be suspicious of a low price

It’s always fun and rewarding to get a deal, so when you find what appears to be a great bargain on a rental property, you might be tempted to plop down your money fast before someone else takes it. Or at the very least, you might contact this ad just to see if it’s really true. Once you do, however, the scammer will try to get money or at least some personal information from you in an effort to steal your identity. Unfortunately, if the deal looks too good to be true, that’s a waning sign of a scam.

5. Be suspicious of no screening

You know who’s interested in looking at your rental application, background check, and credit history? Real landlords who want to make sure you can pay the rent. You know who isn’t? Scammers who just want to take some of your money upfront and run. If you aren’t required to fill out an application and don’t need to agree to a background and credit check, be leery.

The right way to find a rental

  • View the property.
  • Apply, if you like the property. (Note that you can apply for a property before you visit it in person. You might need to do this in a competitive rental market. But the application fee is the only money you should pay upfront.)
  • Meet the landlord or property manager.
  • Sign a lease.
  • Pay move-in fees, which are typically the first month’s rent and security deposit. Look up your state’s laws to find out whether your state has limits on move-in fees.
  • Meet with your landlord or manager and get the keys.

Bottom line

Although you can reduce the chances of being a scam victim, you can still be scammed. If you are, call the police. You can also report what happened to you to the FTC.

And please share your story or any tips you have to avoid scams in the comments.

Rental properties: how to turn a negative into a positive

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, paid, Step 5 - List, Advertise & Show

Permission to subletWhen I bought my first rental property, it was on the fourth floor of a walk-up. Imagine hauling groceries to that unit. It wasn’t fun, but my legs looked great. I saved $100 a month because the gym was no longer necessary. See how reframing changes your perspective?

While I jest, the sentiment has value. Reframing a negative into a positive can work for most issues you find in real estate investments. When there’s a negative about your unit or property, highlight something that would alleviate the need for what your property is lacking. Let’s look at four common negative situations and reframe them into selling points.

Related: How to use cap rate to make your investment property decisions

1. No laundry in building

When you live in an apartment building, laundry is an event. I remember saving up my laundry until I was on my last sock before I would finally think about doing laundry when I lived in an apartment (nothing has changed). I would put it in a wheeled laundry basket and walk it down the block to the Laundromat.

When I became a landlord, one of my buildings didn’t have any on-site laundry. This was an issue for potential renters. Time and time again, I would have prospective renters say that the laundry was a deal breaker for them, so I got creative.

Solution: I spoke with a local fluff-and-fold service that picks up laundry, cleans it, folds it, and drops it back off. I negotiated a special rate for tenants. What was once a deal breaker became a sale maker. The fluff-and-fold deal became a selling point, and I rented the unit the same day I updated my ad to include this feature.

2. Landlord is selling

I recently put one of my leased units on the market. The tenants still had six months left on their lease, so I had plenty working against the potential sale. One, the buyer would either need to be willing to wait to move in or want to be a landlord. Two, the tenants are living their lives in this unit. Showings would be an issue. It could be messy. It was definitely intrusive.

What could I do?

Solution: I spoke with a Realtor friend of mine and asked for advice. He specialized in buying and selling investment properties, so this wasn’t his first rodeo. He suggested offering a monthly discount as an incentive to keep the unit clean. Other options were offering a “bonus” when the unit sold, giving the tenants the option to end the lease early, and/or providing a weekly cleaning service. We chose to offer a “bonus,” when the sale closed. The unit is now under contract, and the tenant is still happy.

Related: How to stage a rental for showing

3. No assigned parking

In two of my real estate investments, I had the issue of no assigned parking. Street parking was the only parking available. At least, on the surface. I found that local parking lots had rental spaces available.

Solution: To turn this negative into a positive, I worked with local parking lot managers to secure monthly parking options. From here, you have a few options. You can secure the parking spaces yourself and roll the cost into the rent, or pass along the information to the tenant or prospective tenant to manage themselves.

If street parking is truly your only option, you can add other incentives to ease the burden by including the cost of a residential parking sticker (if needed) or a stipend for public transportation within the monthly rent.

4. No outdoor space

Outdoor space is an amenity that is important to today’s renters, and I didn’t have it. There was no place to put a barbecue or have drinks on a balcony.

Solution: I focused on what I did have: access to a great park. My unit did not have a terrace, and it never would. What it did have was a big park right behind the building that had barbecues, a playground, and hangout areas for the pups in the neighborhood. In fact, it was where I met all of my local friends and neighbors. I highlighted that outdoor space.

If you’re hard-pressed to find an outdoor space to highlight at your property, go a different direction. Provide a beach pass or a dog park pass in your move-in welcome package.

Related: The perfect tenant move-in package

No property is perfect, but any property can seem perfect to someone.

Being a landlord provides you with many opportunities to think of creative ways to make your tenant’s life better. Instead of thinking of yourself as a landlord, think of yourself as a tenant experience manager. You have the potential to make your tenant’s life better by finding innovative ways to solve problems. What problems can you solve for your tenants?