Letting Ex-Cons Rent: Should you or shouldn’t you?

People with criminal records (ex-cons) become automatically treated as social pariahs once they get out of jail regardless of their offense. Landlords could be extra meticulous with this, or they could be particularly lenient.

The LA Times had an interesting editorial pertaining to helping former inmates secure housing without compromising the safety of landlords and their fellow tenants.

It’s quite a tricky subject, considering that a simple rejection made by a landlord could become grounds for a lawsuit. Yes, ex-convicts have the right to be treated the same as every other citizen, but landlords have a duty to fulfill. They have to protect their property and protect their tenants.

So, is it fair to look into a person’s criminal history before letting them sign the lease? Eh, 50/50. It’s definitely concerning if their offense, for example, is arson. Or maybe they’re a registered sex offender and you’re a landlord who has families as tenants. So, yes. It could be a factor. However, if their offense isn’t as serious as you’d expect, then maybe giving them a chance won’t be too bad.

Again, as a landlord, it’s still your call. If you were faced with the decision, what would you do? Share it with us in the comments below!

 

Walkthrough Inspection: Why It’s Beneficial

The dreaded “inspection”– it’s done before move-in and move-out and causes a ton of headaches for both parties, especially upon the end of a lease. You built a relationship and then things start going downhill just because the inspection revealed a ton of deductions from the security deposit. Is it really that important? Is the extra legwork for doing inspections worth it? Well, here are some things that you should find out about walkthrough inspections.

What exactly is a “walkthrough inspection”?

It’s when both landlord and tenant go around the rental unit to check for any damages or unauthorized modifications. Landlords usually look for damages that are beyond the normal wear and tear of a unit or any changes made to it by the tenant without prior approval, usually involves  painting/decorating the walls. They compare the condition of the unit before move-in day versus the current condition of it.

When do landlords conduct these inspections?

It’s done before move-in and during move-out. There are state laws that determine when these inspections will take place, it could on the exact date of when the tenant is supposed to move out, or could be two or three days after. Regardless, inspections are best done when all of the tenant’s possessions are out of the unit so the damages incurred can be easily seen by the landlord.

For landlords, using websites such as MoveIn.Space can lessen the headache of determining what kind of damages were caused. Some issues may not seem obvious immediately, so it’s best if the landlord has proper documentation of what the unit looked like before the tenant moved in. MoveIn.Space helps keep these things in one convenient place and minimize potential disputes.

What are the benefits of walkthrough inspections?

Even if not all states require landlords to do so, it’s still beneficial for both parties to conduct walkthrough inspections.

For landlords

  • Avoid conflicts with the tenants – If the landlord discovers the damages early on, they can make the tenant aware of the possible deductions that will be made on their security deposits.
  • Prepare for repair fees – Walkthrough inspections lets landlords anticipate the repairs that need to be done and how much they’ll cost.
  • Gives the tenant the chance to fix the unit – If the inspection was conducted before the tenant’s move-out day, the landlord can give them some leeway and fix the damages to keep their security deposit intact.

For tenants

  • Full security deposit – If the tenant manages to leave the place in immaculate condition, then they don’t have to worry about deductions on their security deposits. Alternatively, if they fix the damages noted by the landlord, then they can rest easy knowing that they’ll be getting their money back.
  • Gives them a chance to fix damages – the walkthrough inspection can put focus on damages that they didn’t notice immediately.
  • Avoid getting shorthanded by their landlord – Contrary to popular belief, there are still landlords out there who will pretend you have incurred damages and deduct from your security deposit. By doing the walkthrough inspection together, the tenant can make a dispute if the landlord points out some “damage”.

Are there different kinds of walkthrough inspections?

Yes, there’s actually four different kinds of inspections.

  1. Move-in inspection – Conducted during the process of moving in. For transparency’s sake, it’s best if both the landlord and tenant are present. Why? So that both parties can’t say the old school excuse of, “It was/wasn’t like that when I moved in!” They can take photos of every nook and cranny of the rental unit so they can make comparisons once move-out inspection day rolls in. If there are already pre-existing damages prior to a potential’s tenant move in, it must be noted as well.
  2. Routine inspections for safety and cleanliness – Just a standard inspection made by landlords to ensure that their tenants are living in a habitable environment. It’s usually done every 3-6 months because if a landlord waits for a longer period of time, the condition of the property might deteriorate. As with any other inspections, it should be well documented. If a landlord finds any sort of damage to the unit, they can schedule a follow-up inspection to confirm that a tenant has fixed the issues. Sometimes, these routine inspections can actually cause tenants to get kicked out of a unit.
  3. Drive-by inspections – No, a landlord doesn’t have to be in the unit to conduct this. This is mostly a “discreet” inspection conducted by driving around the perimeter of the property to check for any violations of the rules. A landlord must inform their tenants if they’re planning on conducting one in the future. Usually, unauthorized pets get discovered during these kinds of inspections.
  4. Move-out inspection – The king of all inspections. This determines if a tenant will be walking away with their full deposit or if the landlord is gonna have to shell money out of his or her pocket to fix the damages. To avoid playing the blame game, both parties must be present during the final inspection– no more telling who caused what. As always, technology is your best friend. It’s wise to have a camera handy (with timestamps!) to take photographs of any damages–for what? Well, sometimes tenants get a little too happy when it comes to suing landlords over security deposits… So, make sure that before suing, tenants should be 100% sure that what their landlord did was illegal and in violation of their rights.

Now that the basics of walkthrough inspections have been explained, tell us in the comments how yours were conducted and how the issues were resolved!

Do you have what it takes to be a landlord?

Well, do you? St. Louis Today has an interesting article up on their website that gives advice to people who want to invest in some property and become a landlord. The piece provides amazing financial advice for those who are keen on making some cash flow on the side. Then again, it also gave a fair warning for those who only think about the gains that they can get, and not the losses that they’d be sure to acquire such as operation expenses and taxes.

See, if you have the disposable money to just get a place and be a landlord, you have to weigh your options. Ask yourself, do you want a windfall profit? Or would you rather have small amounts trickling in every month instead?

If you chose the first one, then you have to spend money to earn money. Flipping houses only works well if the area’s property values are increasing. You better be ready to face unexpected expenses before you can sell it for a profit.

On the other hand, being a landlord may be more suitable for your tastes. But tread carefully! The money doesn’t depend on you alone, but also with the tenants that will rent a unit on your property.

So, what do you prefer? Flipper or landlord?

Tenant Rights: Knowing the Illegal Things That Landlords Do

As a tenant, you usually no longer care about what your landlord has to deal with. You sign a lease, and so long as they let you stay in the property and respect you, you’re good. This is especially true for those newbie renters. However, you have to know your rights as a tenant. Something as harmless as asking a question can be enough to sue a landlord. Are you a landlord? Well, you better read up as well! You never know what could land you in hot water.

Not allowing families in the property

You’re a tenant and you’re in love with your unit. Then suddenly, you decide to start a family and want to stay in said unit. You got married and then finally have a child of your own! All of a sudden, your landlord gives you an eviction notice, saying that families aren’t allowed on his property. Heck, some landlords would try to make it sound nicer by saying that their place isn’t “kid-friendly”. You have to know that that’s not legal.

There’s a federal Fair Housing Act that makes it illegal to discriminate against families with children. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, such as for retirement communities and occupancy limits for certain units. But contact your lawyer ASAP if you have solid evidence that your landlord is violating your rights to fair housing.

Making false promises

It’s no surprise that landlords will say anything and everything that will make tenants hand over their deposits immediately.  Those promises made during the walkthrough? Well, they can become binding if the applicants used them as a factor for signing the lease. If a landlord promises that you’ll have your own parking space or that he’ll give you discounts on the rent during the holidays, he has to fulfill it.

If you’re a tenant who feels ripped off because of those unfulfilled promises, it’s within your rights to wiggle out of your lease legally. Alternatively, you can decide to just sue instead for the difference in the value of the promise that your landlord made and what he provided to you.

Wrong questions during tenant screening

You’d think answering questions would be easy, but tenant screening is a whole different monster. Sure, there might be wrong answers coming from your end, but did you know that there are wrong questions from the landlord too? Yep, that’s right. You may think their questions mean well, but they could border into discrimination territory. They’re not allowed to ask about a potential tenant’s disability, sexual orientation, or even marital status.

Security deposits being used for unrelated expenses

Landlords almost always lose cases in small claims court if it involves security deposits. It’s not unheard of for landlords to use the money for cosmetic upgrades to the property or to purchase new appliances for the units. If the money wasn’t used for repairs, cleaning, or unpaid rent, then you have the right to file a case against your landlord. Remember, just because a tenant benefited/will benefit from the improvement doesn’t mean their security deposit should be used.

Not returning security deposits

Since we’re on the subject, landlords will sometimes not only use your security deposit improperly, they also tend to refuse to hand it over to you. Yes, people like that exist, and there are numerous states that impose deadlines on when landlords should give you an itemized list of how your deposit was used and give back your balance. It’s not surprising to find out that security deposits and property damages are common causes of landlord vs. tenant disputes.

Better yet, using services like the ones that MoveIn.Space offers can help determine if your security deposits were indeed used for the right expenses. No more pointing fingers; you have proof of what the place looked like during move-in and move-out day. It could take weeks, sometimes months, for the landlord to deliver what needs to be delivered, but you MUST get your money back, even, at least, some of it.

Landlord didn’t return any money to you? Check your state laws. More often than not, they can get penalized for it and they can get ordered to pay you back two to three times the amount of your security deposit.

Exorbitant late fees

Ah, late fees — the landlord’s secret tool in motivating his tenants to pay on or before the deadline. Sure, they can charge as high as they want, but there’s always a limit. If the fees resemble the actual monetary hit that they take when a tenant pays late, then that fee could get invalidated in court. It’s much better to just find a new place to rent if you think the late fees are a little too extravagant for your liking.

Violating your privacy

You don’t technically own the place, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to your own privacy. Most state laws indicate some very detailed rules when it comes to tenant privacy. Yet still, there are landlords who think they have the right to drop by your unit without notice. They could just be checking things, or showing it off to potential tenants. If they make a habit out of barging in unannounced, or at least, make one HUGE violation of your privacy, you have the right to break your lease.

 

Got other examples of surprisingly illegal things that landlords commit? Or maybe a story of how you brought your landlord to court because of something that they thought they had a right to do but didn’t? We’d love to hear about it!

Prepping Your Property For Spring

Spring has finally arrived and aside from the usual case of hay fever, you have to start prepping your rental property to either keep your tenants, or attract new ones. HomeAdvisor and LeafFilter banded together to create a very helpful infographic to serve as a cheat sheet for the things that you should do for your property this season.

Winter isn’t a wonderland for a landlord, because you already know that you’re practically screwed. You got so used to the coziness of the inside, that you’re horrified once you see the outside. There are things that you have to do, obviously, but they’re so easy to overlook! You have to check the roof, check your plants, check your lawnmower, etc. Everything has to be checked, so, there’s that infographic to help make things easier for you.

Landlord vs. Tenant: Most common causes of dispute

Living the rest of your life as a tenant can either be better than being a homeowner or worse than sleeping on the streets. You can’t always have an awesome landlord every single time you sign a lease. Nope. Life doesn’t work that way because life isn’t fair, especially during move-in and move-out; then all of a sudden, the inspection brings up tons of things you don’t remember doing to the place. Yikes.

So what usually makes claws appear when it comes to landlords and tenants? Let’s go ahead and take a look at the usual suspects that turn both parties into monsters.

Code Violations: A Landlord’s Headache

This could range from noise complaints to parking fiascos, and even occupancy limits. A landlord doesn’t have anything to do with this, but he can find himself facing problems if someone from a neighboring home or establishment files a complaint against one of the occupants of his property. Alternatively, a tenant can invite officials over if they’re really into messing with their landlords.

A landlord’s time will be wasted, and money will go down the drain to pay for fines. The only option that they have is to kick out the tenant in order to avoid further issues. If you’re a landlord, make sure your welcome packet (here’s a quick guide on creating an awesome one) includes a copy of the laws in your area/neighborhood and your lease includes a provision regarding liquidated damages so that you can get the proper compensation should issues like this arise.

Property Damages: He said, she said

Ah, the usual cause of clashes between landlord and tenants! A landlord doesn’t really see the kind of damage that a tenant has caused until the inspection after move-out day. They have no control over it if they didn’t properly document what the property looked like prior to move-in day. Have you ever heard of the statement, “That was already like that when I got here!”? It’s quite common and, as a landlord, you probably have ZERO recollection if what they’re saying is true unless you got dated photos, signed at the back by you and the lessor.

This is one of the reasons why MoveIn.Space should be your go-to website if you’re in the rental business. Since everything that’s digital gets to exist forever, having an online record of what the place was like upon move-in will be helpful for your business. It’s completely legal to use and it’s for the protection of both landlord and tenant. Should any disputes arise, you can easily use your account on the website as a reference to settle the issue. Less headache for both you and your tenant!

Skipping on Payments

Checks may bounce, salaries will get delayed, and the queen might come to visit. So many excuses, so little time! A tenant’s most obvious responsibility is paying for the rent and any other additional expenses, such as repair fees or penalties. If you’re a landlord who has third-party providers for utilities and maintenance, this can bite your behind hard. Real hard. Especially if you don’t specify on the lease that your tenant should be responsible for any fees that they incur during their stay. So it’s best that you leave no stone unturned, especially with money matters! List what they’re responsible for paying, such as appliance repair, lightbulb replacements, etc. Then list what YOU should be paying for as a landlord, like pool and garden maintenance or repair of communal areas in the property.

Would you really want to pay for something that your tenant damaged inside their rented space?

Clash of Plans

Sometimes, the reason why landlords and tenants don’t get along well is because their personalities, wants, and needs do not match. It’s that simple. You wouldn’t know a person properly until you’ve spent enough time with them, and that doesn’t really happen with rental properties. Tenants may stage a coup if a landlord suddenly decides they’d like to add more doors to the property or maybe fill in the tenants’ pool. On the other hand, landlords may suddenly turn bitter if a tenant decides to ask their significant other to move into their place. You never can tell when a person’s real personality will show, and it’s not something that you can put on the lease. If you’re a landlord, if you can’t get along well with your tenant, just let them be and don’t treat them negatively lest you want them to trash the place upon move out. As for the tenants out there, just pray hard that your lease goes by quickly and then just move out. It ain’t a perfect world, but you can sure as hell avoid lawsuits if you try your best to keep calm.

 

Do you have any landlord vs. tenant stories that you’d like to share? How petty was the feud and how complicated did it become in the end? We’d love to read your stories in the comments!

How To Deal With A Difficult Landlord

The relationship between a landlord and tenant can be difficult and is fraught with potential problems. Both parties may infer actions by the other to be an affront.

Here are tips on how to deal with a difficult landlord. They include:

  • keep records
  • good communication
  • request changes in writing
  • be a good tenant
  • talk with other tenants

Good communication is of the utmost importance, even though it is listed second. When a problem inevitably does occur, being able to discuss it and collaborate on a solution will save time, consternation, and even legal fees.

Good record-keeping will actually help good communication. Having access to agreed-upon records of the condition of the space being rented is a great way to contribute to a peaceful move in and move out of a rental. Both parties taking the time to communicate and agree on the state of affairs of the space lets both parties understand what type of damages the other is looking for. This creates a sense of ownership for the tenant, which is ultimately beneficial for both the landlord and the tenant.

Top tips on finding and keeping great tenants

James Davies, CEO of self-service lettings agency, Upad gives six tips on finding and keeping great tenants. Some of the advice may result in a higher chance for destruction of your investment (e.g. “4. Lets with pets”).

To protect your investment, make sure to do a move-in walkthrough inspection with the tenant so they may participate in documenting the condition of the property. Let them know that they will have the opportunity to do a move-out inspection as a comparison. Be sure to store the report somewhere that both parties have equal access to it. This sets expectations early and lets both parties feel more protected from the other’s possible claims.

Welcoming Your New Tenants: How To Be The Most Awesome Landlord

How To Be The Most Awesome Landlord
How To Be The Most Awesome Landlord

If you want to be a good landlord to your tenants, you have to make a great first impression—something that you won’t be able to get a second chance on. In a perfect world, each and every tenant you come across won’t expect much, will pass your inspections, and will follow all your rules to the dot from their move-in day to their move-out day. Alternatively, your tenants want to find a rockstar landlord that they can depend on. However, you could only do so much, so why not begin by giving them an amazing welcome to your property?

Provide your tenants with a move-in packet/tenant handbook once they sign their lease.

Some people call it a move-in packet, others call it a tenant handbook, but this is one of the most important things that you can provide as a landlord. It’s your job to educate your tenants of the rules and policies of the property.Make sure to include the following information in the handbook:

  • A welcome letter – It always helps to show some warmth and gratitude in a letter before you go down to business.
  • A copy of the lease – Enough said.
  • Property walkthrough – Document the conditions of the space before move-in day and encourage your tenant to do the same. Otherwise, your good relationship with the tenant may be ruined once they move out and claim that they did not cause any damage. Always inform all your potential tenants that the property walkthroughs are done for the benefit of both parties. Websites like MoveIn.Space focus on preventing this “he said, she said” sort of dispute and avoid bigger issues in the long run. In addition, having the tenant document the conditions of the space provides them a sense of ownership and responsibility for maintaining it.
  • Moving checklist – A subtle reminder of the places that they have to notify (example, the post office, DMV, banks, schools, etc.) and some last-minute reminders on what they need to accomplish upon move-in day.
  • Tenant communication – Include your contact number/s and other information that they may need if they have any issues or concerns with the property.
  • Renters’ insurance – Provide the contact number to an agent that can assist your tenant and include bits of information on the pricing and the coverage that they can get.
  • Paying rent and possible fees they might have to pay – Instructions on where they can send their checks/money, payment methods, when rent is due, and possible fees for late payments, lease violations, etc.
  • Rules and regulations of the property – Dos and Don’ts at the property.
  • Tenant responsibilities – What you expect them to do (example, pets, caring for the property, etc.)
  • A guide to the neighborhood – This is very helpful for your tenants who are new to the city.
  • Parking – One of the most common frustrations for tenants. If they need to have a parking pass or sticker, include that in the move-in packet. However, if they get to have an assigned parking space in your property, include information on who to contact if they find someone else’s car on their space, and other policies on parking procedures.
  • Maintenance – Some properties have their own in-house maintenance team, while others have specific vendors that they contact for repairs. Make sure to include their contacts numbers and who do they call in case of an emergency such as a gas leak or backed up plumbing.
  • Move-out notices – Provide your policy for 30-day notices and your tenants responsibilities until move-out day.
  • Maps of emergency exits – This can be included in the last part of the packet/handbook. It’s your job to educate your tenants to be aware of where to go during worst-case scenarios or where to find fire extinguishers, etc. in order to prevent bigger disasters.

The “Tenant Welcome Package”

Everybody loves free gifts, and as landlord, providing a “tenant welcome package” can put you on the “Most Awesome Landlords Ever” list. With moving furniture and other stuff, the last thing on your tenant’s mind is the small stuff. They’re new to the area, and of course, they probably don’t have enough supplies around just yet. Give them a simple house-warming gift that shows that you care for them and want them to enjoy their stay in your property. Some wonderful things to include in the package are:

  • A handwritten, personalized welcome note.
  • Coupons or gift cards to local shops – You can contact local businesses directly to get these. They’re usually on board with the idea because new faces could become paying regulars in the long run. This could be at the grocery, a coffee shop, or a restaurant. It’s a win-win situation for both the landlord and the local businesses!
  • Toilet paper – Leave a couple of rolls in the bathroom. This is one of those things that you don’t really think of as something that’s important until nature calls. You can also include a tiny bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap for that much-needed shower for your tenant’s very long move-in day.
  • Cleaning Kit – A cheap and easy way to subtly inform your clients that cleanliness is one of your priorities. Get a small plastic bucket and fill it with cleaning supplies such as sponges, paper towels, dishwashing soap, and bleach.

Remember, being a good landlord shouldn’t just rely on what you provide them during move-in day. You also have to build trust and rapport with each and every tenant on your property. There are horrifying stories on the Internet about tenants with terrible landlords, and one way of stopping yourself from becoming one is making a good first impression and always being around to lend a helping hand should they ask for it.