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 Nextdoor.com, 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

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.

New! Automatic late fees in Cozy

Written by Lucas Hall on . Posted in For Landlords, Step 7 - Sign a Lease / Collect Deposit

With Cozy, the company behind Landlordology, you can easily collect rent from your tenants for free, and now you can add automatic late fees. Landlords have been requesting this feature, and we’re happy to give them another tool to help them simplify their rental businesses.

Landlords who don’t enforce late fees can end up chasing down rent and feeling the stress of unpredictable cash flows. Adding automatic late fees not only gives you peace of mind, but helps you enforce the terms of your lease.

Automatic late fees will help encourage your tenants to pay their rent on time, which means you can focus on more important things, like family, friends, and growing your business.

To turn on automatic late fees, sign in to Cozy and visit the “Rental Details” section of any unit where you’re collecting rent. You can add a fixed late fee amount for whenever your tenants fail to make a payment on time, in full, by the due date.

If you have a grace period for paying rent, or your state requires one by law, you can include that in your late fee set up. Some states, like Massachusetts, require a 30 day grace period, while Virginia doesn’t require a grace period at all. Either way, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re not already using Cozy, give it a try. Our core features are free for landlords, including collecting applications, screening tenants, and collecting rent online.

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?

How to spot fake pay stubs and credit reports

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, paid, Screening, Step 6 - Applications & Screening

Fake credit reportsAs a landlord, you need to make sure you rent to tenants who can afford to pay the rent and who actually pay their bills, so you naturally check pay stubs and credit reports. You are doing that, right?

The problem is that some people aren’t completely honest when trying to rent a property. They might pretend they make more money than they really do by giving you a fake pay stub. Or they might try to give you a doctored credit report to make them appear creditworthy when they really aren’t. So how can you make sure what you’re learning about potential applicants is true?

Look at more than just the pay stub

People can simply go on the internet and use a template to make their own paycheck stub. And these paycheck stub generator sites are super easy to find.

The result?

The pay stubs look official, and people can enter any information they like. You won’t be able to tell just by looking at this type of fake pay stub whether it’s the real deal or not. Here are four better ways to verify income:

  1. Request a W-2 form. Employers prepare this form, which shows an employee’s gross earnings, deductions, and taxes. It’s possible to fake W-2 forms, too. But it’s a much harder process and involves an entire criminal enterprise of tricking payroll personnel. W-2 forms are a more accurate way to verify income than pay stubs are. You are far more likely to get fake pay stubs than you are fake W-2 forms.
  2. Look at your applicant’s bank account. Check to see whether the deposits match what they say their income is.
  3. Call their employer. First, find out whether they work where they say they do. Then ask whether the employer can verify that the applicant earns what they say they do. Not all employers will verify salary, but they can at least let you know whether the applicant works there.
  4. Request form 4506 from the IRS. With this form, you can see a transcript of a prospective tenant’s federal tax record.

Always run your own credit check

If a tenant offers to give you a copy of their credit report to “save” you from doing this step yourself or because they say they don’t want to ding their credit with a credit inquiry from you, politely decline. Why? It’s easy to fake a credit report, too.

The remedy is simple: you need to request a credit report yourself. I use Cozy for this service, and it works out great. The credit reports come from Experian, one of the three credit bureaus. If you use Cozy for your tenant applications, you can request that Cozy require all applicants to agree (and pay for) a credit check and a background check.

And bonus: Just letting applicants know that you use a screening service is itself a way of screening tenants. Applicants who can’t afford your place will probably move on or will be upfront with you about anything negative you might find.

Related: 6 Ways to Handle Applicants with Bad Credit

Bottom line

It would be nice to be able to instantly spot fake pay stubs and credit reports. But that just isn’t possible in many cases. You need to verify information by crosschecking and, ideally, using a screening service such as Cozy.

Should I increase rental rates every year?

Written by Laura Agadoni on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, Income Ideas, paid, Rent & Expenses, Step 1 - Perform Research

Raise the RentI know a landlord who charges less than any other rental around, never raises the rent, and is happy about it. He rarely has tenant turnover, but he isn’t making any money, either.

Then again, I know a renter who wanted to stay in her rental at least another year, but the management company informed her of a $200 rent increase to renew. She left that place so fast the property managers didn’t know what hit them. A vacancy, that’s what.

There’s an art to striking the right balance between making money on your rental properties and alienating good renters. We’re here to help you hone your art.

Related: How to Raise the Rent in 4 easy Steps [Free Template]

Why rent increases are a part of life

When expenses for owning property go up, raising the rent is necessary to just maintain the bottom line in your rental business. We’re talking expenses for which you have no control:

  • Property taxes
  • HOA fees
  • Mortgage payments with an ARM
  • Utilities
  • Landlord insurance
  • Property management fees

Add in expenses for which you have some control but are still expenses nonetheless:

  • Maintenance (lawn care, pest control, gutter cleaning, etc.)
  • Repairs (appliance repair or replacement, plumbing issues, tree removal, etc.)
  • Vacancies

If you don’t raise the rent when your expenses go up, it’s like taking a pay decrease. Not too many people do that. If the thought of raising the rent at lease renewal time makes you queasy, just run the numbers to determine whether you must increase rent just to maintain your cash flow.

Your expenses don’t determine rent

Higher expenses might be the reason you need to increase rent. But the market ultimately decides how much rent you can charge. If you need to charge more for rent than what comparable units in your area charge, you probably won’t get it. If that’s the case, you should reevaluate whether it makes sense holding onto that property.

You are allowed to make money

You can raise the rent even if your expenses have not gone up or—by some miracle—have decreased. Being a landlord is a business, and the purpose of being in business is to make money. If your rents are lower than area rents, and your property is in comparable shape to those higher-priced rentals around you, go ahead and raise the rent to be on par with the other rentals.

How much of a rent increase is good?

Remember my friend who left her rental and found another place to rent because of the astronomical rent increase? Don’t be that landlord. The $200 increase represented 16.67 percent of her rent. A better yearly rental increase that most people can handle is in the range of 3 to 5 percent, or in this case, a rent increase somewhere between $36 and $60. Most renters probably won’t leave if the rent increase is slight.

When you can’t raise the rent

If your rental property is rent controlled, or if your jurisdiction has a statute limiting rent increases, you must comply with the law. You might not be able to raise the rent as much as you like—or at all.

You also cannot raise the rent on a fixed-term lease during the lease term, so if your lease agreement is for two years, for example, you cannot raise the rent after one year. You must wait until lease renewal time to raise the rent. On a month-to-month tenancy, you need to give proper notice per your state law before you raise the rent. This is usually 30 days, but check your state law first.

If you really can’t bear to raise the rent

If you are like that landlord I know who charges less rent to decrease turnover, that’s fine if you’re happy with the arrangement. But as soon as that tenant moves out, consider getting the market rate for your rental property.

Cozy rent estimate

If you want to find out the rent prices in your area, I recommend using the Cozy rent estimate tool. There’s a slight fee involved, but if you find out that you can get more for rent than what you were planning to charge, this cost pays for itself many times over. Or you might find that you’ve been asking too much; hence, the difficulty finding tenants.

Here’s how the Cozy rent estimate works. Note: the whole process is complete in a minute or two.

  1. You fill out the particulars about your property. (If you already have your property stored in Cozy, this information auto fills for you.)
  2. You pay.
  3. You immediately get your rent estimate for your property.

You can then view the six-page report for a detailed analysis of how Cozy arrived at your rent estimate. Here are some highlights of what you’ll see:

  • High and low rents for your ZIP code
  • Days on market vs. vacancy for your county
  • Addresses of comparable homes and the rent other landlords charge (my favorite section)
  • Rent trends

View a sample Cozy Rent Estimate report.

Bottom line

If you know what comparable rental rates are for your area, you can feel confident in what you charge for rent. There are no rules (except if your property falls under rent control) on how much you should charge or whether you should raise the rent each year. But it’s always easier for renters to handle a slight rent increase each year than a one-time ginormous rent increase.

When can you withhold rent?

Written by Sarah Block on . Posted in edited, For Landlords, For Renters, Leases & Legal, paid, Step 10 - Repair & Maintain

communicationWhen a tenant withholds rent, it’s the last resort in a situation where they feel out of control. In this case, tenants do the only thing they can control: withhold pay.

But this can be a very risky move for tenants: it can result in eviction. There are better alternatives for dealing with a landlord who is ignoring complaints and not making fixes.

Here are the steps tenants can take to deal with a landlord who isn’t doing their job.

1. Make a list

Walk through your unit and make a list of all needed repairs. Break this down into two lists: legally required repairs and other. Legally required repairs would be anything that affects the structural integrity or habitability of the home. For instance, a leaky roof or broken heater affects the habitability. While an off-track closet door—not so much. Send your list to your landlord by mail, email, or text.

Landlord’s perspective:  As a landlord, I require all tenants to conduct their own pre-move-in inspection with pictures. They share the inspection and pictures with me. Now, we both know and agree on the condition of the unit upon move-in, and I become aware of any issues that may have gone unnoticed before.

Related: Record a video of the move-in/move-out inspection

2. Notify the landlord of the repairs needed

Inform your landlord in writing of the needed repairs. If legal action is needed, the first written notice begins the process. In your notice, tell the landlord what repairs are needed and why.

If you have previously asked for the repairs to be done verbally, make sure to note in writing each time you have discussed those repairs. If the needed repairs are cause for concern and make the property uninhabitable, be sure to note this in the letter. Tenants have the right to live in a habitable, safe, and healthy space.

Landlord’s Perspective: Welcome this process. It is best to fix the repairs as quickly as possible (they are also tax deductible). By receiving a list of needed repairs, you can fix them before they become unmanageable. Consider speeding up this process by using Cozy’s maintenance request app.

3.  Review your tenant’s rights by state

Every state has different laws regarding tenants and landlords. Make sure to review your state’s law to legally deal with the situation. Here are two examples:

California: Tenants are legally entitled to housing that is safe, healthy, and structurally sound. Housing also needs to be in good repair. Tenants can legally withhold rent, make repairs themselves and deduct from their rent, call the building inspector, sue the landlord, or move out without notice.

Texas: Tenants only have the option of “repair and deduct.” However, before a tenant can use the “repair and deduct” method they need to review the local laws. Most repairs do not qualify.

Local tenant’s laws also provide information on how long to wait before you can move to the next step.

California: Landlords have 30 days to make the repair (unless it poses danger).

Texas: The tenant needs to wait seven days after the written request before moving to the next step.

Landlord’s perspective: Know landlord/tenant law in your city and state well. This helps you maintain a proper tenant/landlord relationship and ensures you’re running your business legally.

Related: 2 basic renter’s rights included in every lease

4. Review your lease

Your lease might provide you with the information you need. Determine what repairs your landlord is required to make and what they are not.

Tenants should be aware that in most states, withholding rent will result in their eviction. A landlord is not required to make all repairs. What they are required to do is provide a habitable home. If the repair needed makes the home uninhabitable, and the landlord is refusing to fix it, the best course of action is to sue.

Landlord’s perspective: Make sure your lease covers all situations and is legal, using your local landlord/tenant laws. While your lease is there to protect you, it is also there to protect your tenant.

In conclusion

Withholding rent is a last-ditch effort to regain control in a situation where you may feel powerless, where you are living in a home that is not up to par. However, withholding rent is illegal in most states and difficult to walk away from without an eviction and mark on your credit score.

The best course of action is to follow these steps and know your rights. The always-legal option, in lieu of withholding rent, is to sue your landlord for not following through on their obligation: providing a safe, healthy, and habitable house.

New! Share your rental documents

Written by Lucas Hall on . Posted in For Landlords, For Renters, General, Step 9 - Manage Lease & Collect Rent

We’re excited to announce that now you can share documents, lease agreements, move-in checklists, and more with your tenants in Cozy!

At Cozy, the company behind Landlordology, we build tools to make life easier for our customers and we listen to their feedback. Landlords have been asking us to make it easy to store and share essential rental documents with their tenants, so they can be better organized and more transparent. Now they can.

Quick and convenient

It’s easy to add and share rental documents in Cozy. When you set up payments, you can upload any related documents, which will be there for your tenants when they login to Cozy.

Every time you share a new document, all the tenants on that lease will be notified by email. Then they can access the shared documents from any device. Tenants will conveniently have the lease at their fingertips, so they won’t have to ask you for it again and again.

State law requirements

Every state has its own landlord-tenant laws. Some states have laws to ensure that tenants always receive a copy of the lease. For example, California Civ. Code §§ 1962(4) says that a landlord must provide a copy of the lease to the tenant within 15 days of its execution. In Delaware, a landlord must provide a written copy of the agreement, free of charge (§ 5105 (b)).

Cozy makes it easy to share a lease with your tenants securely and for free.

To learn more about what state laws require, check out our state law rental guides.

Your tenants will thank you

Most tenants want to be self-sufficient. They don’t want to ask you multiple times for a copy of the lease, or find a place to store a stack of important rental documents.

By using Cozy to send and store these documents, you’ll help foster trust and transparency with your tenants. It’s a great way to start a relationship with a new tenant, that hopefully will help pave the way for a long-term resident who treats you and your property with honesty and respect.

Foundation for success

At Cozy, we make renting easier for everyone. Hundreds of thousands of landlords have built their rental business with Cozy, and now they have another tool to make their lives easier. Document sharing in Cozy is one more way you can create a better, more efficient, and more profitable rental business.

If you’re not already using Cozy, give it a try. All our core features are free for landlords, including collecting applications, screening tenants, and collecting rent online.