Posted by & filed under Rentals.

Allowing Pets and Service Animals in Your RentalEvery now and again, we come across the question of whether or not it’s advisable to allow pets in your rental units. The reality of this question is that there’s no “right” answer – there are reasons to allow pets, and reasons not to allow them. It’s entirely up to the landlord or property manager as to whether or not allowing pets on the property is the right decision for a specific unit or home.

What are the pros?

Pets remain an integral part of the American family, with millions of renters choosing to own a cat, dog, or other small pet. For many, this animal is considered a member of their family and they won’t even consider an apartment or rental home without a pet allowance policy. Depending on the area you live in, you could be missing out on a wide variety of tenants by refusing to allow animals, giving more business to your competitors instead.

Many pet owners understand the meaning of responsibility because they have to properly care for another living being. That can make them a more well-rounded and mindful tenant.

What are the cons?

Allowing animals on your property means that you may have to deal with property damage or problems with other tenants. That’s just the reality of the situation. While many pet owners are responsible, some are not, and you may enter a rental at the end of a lease to find torn carpet, scratched walls, or soiled flooring. If you allow any and all breeds of dog and cat, you may find that a loud or dangerous animal slips through the cracks and can prove an annoyance to your other tenants at best or a danger to them at worst.

What can you do to maximize the benefits of allowing pets while minimizing the negatives? You’re in control of the pet policy, so construct it in a way that works in your favor. Limit the number, type, and size of the animals you’ll allow in your property, paying special attention to your local laws as far as whether there are breed limitations in your area. For example, some local regulations will not allow pit bulls or exotic pets. You’ll likely also want to include a pet deposit to discourage irresponsible pet owners and cover your bases against property damage, and require animals be licensed and up to date on vaccinations with proof from a veterinarian in the application.

What about service animals?

Service animals can complicate matters if you have a blanket “no pet” policy. We’ve written about what constitutes a service dog before, and as you can read there, service dogs are not pets – they are working companion animals. It’s also important to know that both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act require most rental properties to allow service dogs, with some exceptions.

Emotional support animals are different from service dogs and are also typically required by the Fair Housing Act (but not the ADA). An emotional support animal does not have to be as highly trained as a service dog because they’re kept for emotional support rather than assisting a person with a disability. These animals do not have to be a specific breed of dog – they may be small dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, or even pigs. It’s highly recommended that you check with your legal counsel as to your local rules, laws, and regulations as far as service and support animals.

If you’re looking into screening services for all potential tenants, try our RentalConnect program, which offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search. Reach out to us for more details!

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Rental Applicants Are Your Business PartnersAs a new landlord, you’re likely learning all the ropes you’ll need to begin a successful rental business. If there’s any straightforward advice we can give to people who are just starting out, it’s exactly that: make sure you’re running your business as a business. When you’re in a people-centric job like renting out property to tenants, it can be very easy to try to be a friend and let people slide on certain things or overlook others. In order to best protect yourself and your property so that you can continue this work for many years to come, you have to alter your mindset.

The Right Way to Review Tentants

The fact of the matter is that anyone can be a nice person, or at least give the impression that they’re a nice person. When someone has something to hide, they’ll very often try to skirt around it by putting on a friendly front and making you feel at ease. This isn’t to say that some people aren’t genuinely friendly and nice people – they certainly are! It’s just a word of warning that you can’t rely on a person’s word alone when you’re making decisions that could adversely affect your business and your bottom line.

It’s best to approach your rental applicants as if they’re potential business partners, rather than potential friends. Even very nice people can make terrible business partners, so keep that in mind as you interview them and review their application. You may like them as an individual, but will they make a good partner? Can you rely on them to pull their weight to help your business succeed? Everyone has a sob story they can pull out to draw on your empathy. The most important thing is to make the decision that’s best for you and your business.

Better Decision Making

There’s nothing wrong with being a kind landlord who wants to do right by your tenants. People really do fall on hard times occasionally. Your willingness to give them a chance could be well worth it. All we’re suggesting here is that you don’t let your kindness get in the way of making sound business decisions. Don’t place your trust in someone just because they’re very friendly and have a great personality. Trust your gut, but also trust the information you see on paper. That great person could have a criminal history or an eviction record. It’s vital that you know these things before making a decision.

This is where tenant screening comes in handy. A screening service, which is paid by the tenant as part of their application fee, will give you all the information you need to make the best decision for your business. It will tell you all the things that a smile and an interview can’t.

For help in selecting the right tenants for your properties, we recommend our RentalConnect program. RentalConnect offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search.

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Rental Applicant Red Flag: Oversharing and Setting the StageHave you ever had a rental applicant who overshared with you right off the bat? Maybe they wanted to tell you a story about how unreasonable their last landlord was or about that time they got caught up in something that definitely wasn’t their fault. You might hear about a “crazy” ex-partner or a misunderstanding with another tenant or a shady property manager who stole from them and then kicked them out. There are any number of tales you could hear from your potential tenants and quite a few of them should raise a great big red flag.

When your rental applicant insist on sharing stories that seem to indicate trouble in their past, they’re most likely doing so to set the stage. What that means is that they know that you’re running a screening and will spot something you might not like, so they’re trying to get ahead of the situation and give you their side of the story first so that you don’t set them aside immediately. This is a totally understandable reaction – someone seeking housing is going to do whatever they can to better their odds, and it’s human nature to try to make ourselves look good. Often, this is exactly what the applicant is trying to do – make themselves look better in your eyes before you see their screening report.

This is where your landlord instincts need to come in to play.

You should, of course, always check your screening reports before making any decisions. Depending on the laws in your area, you can run:

Many cities allow criminal history to play a part in your decision, so consider the stories you heard from your applicant and apply them to what the report tells you. If someone claims they were “caught up” in something against their will but the criminal history report indicates that they were convicted for drug possession, that’s worth serious consideration. If they mentioned having issues with a previous landlord and there’s an eviction on their record, you might consider following up with previous landlords to get the full story.

As always, it’s admirable to want to give applicants the benefit of the doubt, and if your gut tells you that the person’s story rings true, it’s okay to listen. On rare occasions, things just don’t go someone’s way. If the rest of their background and records indicate that they’re perfectly fine to work with, then you should consider that. Ultimately, screening services are a tool to help you make the best and most informed decision. Use the information you have available to you and trust your instincts.

For help in selecting the right tenants for your properties, we recommend our RentalConnect program. RentalConnect offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search.

Posted by & filed under Property Management, Rentals.

Managing Rental Property By Owner: The AdvantagesIf you own rental units, whether it’s one single family home or a portfolio of apartment complexes, one question you’ll inevitably face: to manage or to outsource. Is it worth the time and effort to manage your rental property? Or is hiring a property management company a better choice? There are distinct advantages to managing a rental property as an owner.

Overhead Savings

Most people get into rental properties to make money. When using rentals as an investment, minimizing expenses will maximize profit. For owners willing to put the time into self-managing, this can eliminate the expense of property management. Usually a private company will charge you 7-10% of the collected income from the property, in addition to any other fees, such as the first month’s rent for each new tenant. That’s a significant expense that you can save by managing the rental property yourself.

Learning Experience

You may not know everything about property management – yet. Managing your rentals is an excellent chance to get to know the ins and outs of management and your specific property. That way, if you do decide to hire a company down the line, you will have a better understanding of the building and the responsibilities of management. Even if you do end up hiring a property manager or team, you will gain valuable experience from doing the job first. This knowledge will make you more informed and better prepared to find the right person for the job.

Better Maintenance

You have a vested interest in your rentals and care the most about the property. You are the best person to make sure your rental property is kept in tip-top shape. While a property management company may only worry about maintenance when a tenant calls with an issue, you can keep your property in better condition with routine maintenance on appliances, cleaning gutters, check ins with tenants, and regular inspections. Keeping up on maintenance (instead of deferring to maximize profits in the short-term) will save you money in the long run and make it easier to turn the unit over when you need to rent it again, because there won’t be major issues to fix.

Total Control

As a owner-manager, you will have total control over your rental property. Relying on a property manager to carry out your concerns and plans is not always a sure thing. As we’ve said, you are the one with the biggest interest in the success of your rental unit. Not every property manager can be trusted to find the right contractors and vendors to work on the space, to be honest about vacancies and rents, and to handle your property in a manner you would want. Some owners fall victim to shady property management companies that steal money, don’t properly screen tenants, and other unsavory activities.

When it comes to rental properties, you are the person most vested in your success. Acting as your own property manager can save you from shady property management companies as well as money. If you’re prepared to take on the hassles of management, including emergency calls in the middle of the night, it can be a rewarding learning experience that gives you total control over your rental.

Posted by & filed under Tenant Screening.

Beware Tenants Who Will "Take Anything"As a landlord, it’s always nice to deal with friendly, flexible tenants. During the interview process while you’re reviewing applications, it can be something of a relief to have a family come in and tell you they’re happy to do whatever you need them to do because they’ll accept anything. However, it’s important to be wary of a potential tenant that will accept literally anything you have to offer. Why? We’ll explain.

Know The Warning Signs

Before we get into it, we’ll establish that some tenants are simply very amicable and willing to do whatever it takes to make their landlord happy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and such tenants can end up being an excellent fit for your property. That said, when you’re in the process of interviewing someone and they reveal that they will “take anything,” it should raise your suspicions a bit. Someone who’s desperate to get a roof over their head, even if the roof isn’t in especially good repair, must have a reason. That reason is rarely a good indicator.

For example, if you’re interviewing a large family with multiple children who are okay accepting a house with too few bedrooms to meet their needs, inquire about that. They may admit that they actually do need more space, but they’re in a bind and need whatever they can get. Alternately, maybe you’re speaking with an individual who’s willing to accept an apartment that’s dirty or in disrepair if they must. When you hear statements like these, you need to take a closer look at their previous residences, eviction history, and background check. More likely than not, something will jump out at you, like a pervious eviction or missed rental payments.

Why It Pays To Be Picky

While it might be slightly more frustrating in the interim, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for rental applicants that are a bit pickier. If they have questions about the property or ask you if you’ll make changes or repairs prior to their move in, it indicates that they’re not desperate. They can afford to be picky, which means they’re less likely to have something in their history that’s forcing them to find new housing right away. As always, listen to your gut, but it’s worth noting that reading between the lines can tell you a lot about what sort of tenant you’ll have.

To reiterate, being amicable doesn’t necessarily indicate desperation or a problem in tenant history. That’s why it’s always vital to make sure you’re doing a full screening on every applicant. If anyone raises your suspicions, you can verify your gut feeling through a background check, credit check, or eviction history report.

For help in selecting the right tenants for your properties, we recommend our RentalConnect. RentalConnect offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search.

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What to Watch for During a Tenant InterviewIn our previous post, we talked about paying attention to the questions your tenants ask and whether they raise any red flags for you. In this post, we’re discussing a similar topic, but this time you’re the one asking the questions. Landlords often interview potential tenants as part of their screening process, which is good business practice. Seeing something on paper isn’t the same as hearing it from a person’s mouth, and there are things that can be revealed during an in-person or even phone interview that you just won’t get from an application alone.

More of What to Watch Out For

To start, you should have a ready list of questions to ask your applicants that will give you the details you need to make a good choice for your property. Some of these questions may include:

  • Where are you currently living and how long have you been there?
  • When do you need to move?
  • Do you have a history of renting and do you have references?
  • Will you be bringing in a pet and do you understand our pet policy?
  • Who is your current employer?
  • What is your estimated monthly income?
  • Is there anything I should be aware of before running your background check?

There are tons of other questions you can ask as well, but these will give you a good baseline. Asking the questions is only one piece of the puzzle, however. The other piece is not only listening to the answers but reading between the lines of the responses.

What does that mean, exactly? When we’re speaking with someone face to face, it’s easier to detect discomfort and potential embellishments. Filling out a form makes it easy to fudge facts a little, but most people aren’t good enough fibbers to make those little lies believable in person. Pay attention to how they answer the question. Are they stumbling over their words often or refusing to answer the question directly? Are they being too vague? Pay attention to body language as well. Looking away while answering a question or nervous fidgeting are warning signs, as is stalling or changing the subject.

It’s entirely possible that some people simply don’t interview well and are acting nervous because they’re just nervous. That’s why the interview is only one part of the tenant screening process. Keep notes so you can refer back to whichever answers stuck out to you and cross-reference them with the screening and credit reports.

For help in selecting the right tenants for your properties, we recommend our RentalConnect. RentalConnect offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search.

Posted by & filed under Tenant Screening.

Tenant Questions That Raise Red FlagsConducting applicant interviews is standard practice for many landlords and property managers. During the interview, you have the opportunity to get a feel for a prospective tenant and learn more about them. This helps you make a more informed decision about who will be the best fit for your property. During this process, you’ll probably ask the tenant if they have any questions of their own for you. It’s a great opportunity for communication and setting expectations early so that you’re both on the same page. It’s the start of a relationship that may continue for years.

Most rental applicants will ask standard questions to get a better feel for you as a landlord or so that they have the information they need. However, occasionally a tenant will ask a question that may raise a red flag. It’s good to know going in which questions you should pay attention to in case they reveal more than the applicant means to let on.

Know What to Watch Out For

One of the biggest red flags during the Q&A session of the interview are questions about your screening process. It’s entirely possible that these questions are innocent, so take this advice with a grain of salt and go with your gut, but often people who press on how you run screenings and which screenings you do are revealing something they’d rather keep hidden.

Some of these questions can include:

  • Do you screen out of state?
  • How high a FICO score do you require?
  • Do you look at eviction records?
  • Do you look at federal records?

These and similar questions can indicate that there’s something that will be revealed in the screening that may affect your decision. Once again, it’s possible that these inquiries are just the applicant’s way of getting an idea of how you do things, but it’s worth looking into. No matter what, you should wait for the screening process to complete and see what it reveals before making your decision. If the applicant inquires about a screening that you don’t do, you may want to place an order for that screening, just in case. Ultimately, tenant screening services are about protecting yourself and your property. It never hurts to do your due diligence.

For help in selecting the right tenants for your properties, we recommend our RentalConnect. RentalConnect offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search.

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What Tenant Residence History Can Tell LandlordsWhen you start accepting new applications for one of your properties, you’ll undoubtedly be asking your potential tenants for their current address and rental history, if they have one. Landlords and property managers will want to pay attention to the current address especially during their initial screening process. It can tell you a lot about your applicant right away, and you’ll want to do additional research, as well.

Know The Warning Signs

One of the first things to note is whether the applicant is the primary account holder at the residence. They may offer this information upfront or you may have to ask about it. If you discover that they’re living with their parents or at a friend’s place without their name on the lease, take that into serious consideration. This situation isn’t unheard of, especially for younger people. For someone who’s fresh out of high school or college, living with their parents makes financial sense and may have been their best option at the time. Now that they’re venturing out into the working world, they could be ready for the responsibility of their own place and have the income to handle rent. This is where further screening and questions about job status and monthly income are important. Make sure you know the background there.

On the other hand, an older applicant who’s still living at home could be a potential red flag. Again, with the Recession and other factors of the modern world, people are tending to live with their parents longer before venturing out on their own or may have gone through a rocky period that necessitated moving back home. It happens, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a poor tenant. However, it’s always worth it to do your due diligence, especially if the person is old enough to be well-established in the working world. Sometimes someone with a rocky eviction history may use a parent or friend’s home address as their residence on an application to obscure that fact.

Get A Complete Picture

Always get a good residential reference and ask about residential history beyond the current residence, if it exists. Parents or good friends are less likely to give you the full truth about a prospective tenant, especially if they weren’t paying rent. Speaking with those references won’t give you a good idea of whether the applicant can make payments on time, and a close relative or friend may fudge the facts a bit to make the applicant look better. It’s better to speak to an unrelated landlord or property manager from a past residence.

Tenant screening services will give you a much more well-rounded portrait of an applicant’s history, including:

  • Past residences
  • Eviction history
  • Criminal reports

It’s well worth your time.

For help in selecting the right tenants for your properties, we recommend our RentalConnect. RentalConnect offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search.

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How to Spot a Potential Problem TenantImagine the following scenario: you’ve just placed an advertisement for your property and are actively looking for tenants. A prospective tenant pulls up to the property to apply and you notice that they’re driving a moving van or that their vehicle is packed full of stuff, almost as if they’re traveling with their home on their back, so to speak. When you ask when they’re hoping to move in, they tell you they need a place to live immediately.

What does this tell you?

Right away, your “spider sense” should be tingling. If someone’s had to pack up their entire life into a truck and they need immediate housing, it indicates that they had to leave their last residence suddenly. This could mean a number of different things. They may have been evicted or forced to vacate by the authorities. It could indicate a serious lack of pre-planning, like that they let their lease lapse without finding a new residence with enough lead time to move in. They may have missed the deadline to let their previous landlord know they wanted to renew. As you can see, there are many explanations, and not many of them are good.

It’s entirely possible that a tenant had to vacate quickly through no fault of their own. It does happen. This is why it’s so important to always do your due diligence as a landlord and use a tenant screening service so you can make a good decision for your property. A credit screening and eviction history will show you patterns in an applicant’s behavior, such as whether they have difficulty making payments on time or if they have evictions on record. Both screenings offer good insight into whether they’ll be able to handle the responsibility of being your tenant.

Screening services are easier than every to obtain and one of the most effective ways to protect your property and your business. They give you all the information you need to make a good decision about your tenants. Always check your local laws and regulations for which screenings you can use in tenant selection because some cities don’t allow certain information to be used by landlords, such as criminal background checks.

For help in selecting the right tenants for your properties, we recommend our RentalConnect. RentalConnect offers property owners and landlords a great alternative to the expense of full tenant screening. This service requires no on-site visit, sign-up, or membership fees, making it extra convenient. The $34.95 service fee is paid by the applicant. Available 24/7, RentalConnect is fast, easy, secure, and delivers reports needed to make an informed decision, including a credit report, a national criminal search, and a national eviction search.

Posted by & filed under Credit Score, Rentals.

How Do You Get an Apartment with Bad Credit?Renting an apartment with bad credit is difficult but not impossible. To get an apartment with poor credit, you need to first prove that you can afford the rental and make payments on time. Job stability is a major factor in whether a landlord will consider your application further, so be sure to show that you’re making a steady income at work and preferably that you’ve been there at least a year. You can also show that you have money to cover several months’ rent in savings, or that you have a co-signer who will take responsibility for rent if you’re unable to do so.

It’s worth noting that there’s not just “good” credit or “bad” credit.

There’s a range, from excellent or perfect credit scores all the way down to very bad credit scores, with the vast majority of people falling somewhere in the “fair” or “good” credit range. There have also been some fairly recent changes in the way credit bureaus are issuing their scores (VantageScore vs FICO Score) and landlords are taking this into account. The new scoring system only considers primary account holders and issues a harder impact on individuals who make multiple credit inquiries in a short period of time, so scores may skew lower than a person’s credit history indicates. They will eventually even out over time.

For people with little or no credit and no rental history who are looking to rent their first apartment, it’s going to be important to illustrate that you have the required income and are otherwise reliable. If possible, bring paperwork that shows you can make payments on time, such as insurance payments or car payments. If you can rent with a roommate first, do so, but choose roommates wisely.

Most landlords will run some sort of tenant screening via their rental application and include an application fee to cover the costs. This is one of the first steps toward showing that you’re serious about renting the place. Paying the fee and turning the application in promptly helps make the case that you’re reliable. You can also offer to pay a certain amount of rent up front to make yourself more appealing.

Avoid telling mistruths about your income or credit history. Honesty is the best policy, especially when a simple internet search can uncover most fibs. Tell the landlord about the steps you’re taking to improve your credit score and the progress you’ve made so far.

Show how responsible you can be, do what you can to answer the landlord’s questions, and make sure you’re applying to rentals you can afford. Good communication goes a long way!