Posted by & filed under Housing.

As a landlord, it’s crucial to keep up to date with your state and local rental housing laws to prevent legal issues. Each year brings with it new legislation, and 2019 was no exception. Some of the changes were positive, some negative, and some were downright crazy. While the list of new laws is far too long to cover in this post, here’s a look at some of the most notable ones that were passed in 2019:

Illinois: Service Animal Documentation

Service animals can complicate the “no pets” policy, but Illinois’ new law seeks to meet tenants and property owners in the middle. The new law allows rental owners to require service animal documentation for applicants or tenants who ask them to make an exception to their no pets policy. The documentation will state the tenant’s disability as well as their disability-related need for the animal. The law prohibits pet-related deposits and fees, but it does allow properties to charge tenants for any repairs caused by the service animal that goes beyond normal wear and tear.

Portland, Oregon: Resident Screening Restrictions

Portland’s new ordinance restricts the property owner’s ability to perform tenant screening to two options. The property owner can use the city’s “low barrier” criteria or adopt an individualized assessment model. The “low barrier” screening process offers landlords a standard set of criteria that allows rental candidates who have gone at least three years without a misdemeanor (or seven years, in the case of a felony) to be considered during the application process. Unfortunately, the low-barrier policy doesn’t include exceptions for those convicted of violent crimes.

Landlords can apply more stringent screening criteria, but if they do, they’re required to give the applicants an individual assessment. If the applicant is denied due to housing barriers (like credit or criminal history) the landlord must allow them the opportunity to appeal the decision.

The ordinance also requires landlords to consider applications on a first-come, first-serve basis after providing 72 hours of notice for available apartments. Applicants don’t need to provide proof of citizenship or provide a government-issued photo ID if they have other forms of photo identification that can be used to verify their identity.

New York: Eviction Records

New York’s new law states that property owners and managers cannot refuse to rent to an applicant based on pending or prior landlord-tenant litigation. Additionally, it establishes a “rebuttal presumption” that an owner is in violation if they request eviction records from a screening company or inspects related court records and the applicant is denied. Violations of this law aren’t minor, either. Each violation could cost anywhere between $500 – $1000 each.

California: Rent Control, Eviction Regulations, and Relocation Fees

California passed several number of significant rental housing laws this year. The first is a rent control law that limits annual rent increases to 5%, plus inflation. The inflation figure will be set regionally. The law also caps exempt properties that are less than 15 years old and most single-family homes unless they’re owned by a corporation or an LLC in which at least one member is a corporation.

Additionally, the law imposes new “just cause” eviction rules and relocation assistance – or rent waivers for “no-fault” evictions. Landlords will be required to list one of several reasons why they want to evict a tenant from their property. This applies to any tenant who has been living at the property for 12 months or more. The reasons include:

  1. Nonpayment of rent
  2. Breach of material lease
  3. Nuisance
  4. Criminal activity by the tenant
  5. Assigning or subletting in violation of a lease
  6. Refusal to allow the owner to enter the unit

There is also a no-fault just cause stipulation that grants the owner the right to evict the tenant if the owner intends to occupy the unit or make renovations to the property, but it must be clearly stated in the lease. The owner would still be required to pay a relocation fee. This law went into effect on January 1, 2020, and will expire after 10 years.

Seattle, Washington: Renter’s Right to a Roommate

Seattle’s ordinance gives tenants the right to add a roommate, family member, or family members of a roommate to the lease as long as they remain compliant with the unit’s occupancy limit. They must also provide a 30-day notice. Property owners are prohibited from imposing any conditions – and yes, that includes screening the new resident.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how you feel about any new housing laws, it’s essential to know how they will affect your properties and processes. It can be challenging to keep up to date, but doing so will potentially save you time, money, and litigation.

Posted by & filed under Rentals.

As a property manager, your success relies on the ability to manage several properties at once. Unfortunately, the more properties you manage, the more likely you’ll experience conflicts among tenants, property owners, or neighbors. Communication skills play a crucial role in resolving disputes and keeping the communities you manage peaceful. You need to be able to listen to the upset party, understand where they’re coming from, and find ways to work together to solve issues that arise. Here are some tips on how to minimize tenant disputes and keep your community harmonious.

Outline Community Guidelines in the Lease or Rental Agreement

If you’re involved in creating the lease or rental agreement for the property, you can include a section that outlines how tenants are expected to behave. Include provisions that cover maintaining a safe and peaceful environment for all residents. This could include strict intolerance of harassment, violence, or inappropriate behaviors.

You can also create a move-in package for new tenants to welcome them to property. Include a guide on living there, including how to interact with other tenants respectfully and good conduct practices in common areas. You can also include any additional information that may help prevent conflict, such as where visitors can park. By providing tenants with clearly defined guidelines, you may be able to avoid many disputes before they have a chance to start.

Become a Neutral Mediator

Small issues, however petty, have the potential to become intense arguments. Most of the time, the tenant simply wants their view to be heard. So, one of the first things you should do is listen. Allow the tenant to explain their point of view and acknowledge the issue. Avoid making personal comments or attacking anything the tenant is saying. 

The most common disputes you’ll have to deal with will most likely involve noise, personality clashes, issues with parking spaces, or other mild annoyances. You can earn the tenant’s trust by showing them empathy and focusing on their complaints. Instead of arguing, work toward a solution that benefits all parties. Keep the conversation open and productive to ensure that things are successfully resolved before they have the chance to escalate.

Keep your tone polite but professional when having the conversation, whether it’s by phone or email. All communication should take place during business hours unless there’s an emergency. Treat problems like parking space disputes or noise complaints empathetically and handle it through effective communication. If it’s a serious issue, like harassment, threats, or violence, you’ll need to get the police involved or resort to legal action. Make sure that if serious offenses occur, you reassess the security at the property and to reassure the rest of your residents.  

Ideally, it’s best to have the tenants sort out the issue between themselves, but this isn’t always possible. If you need to get involved, you have a couple of options. You can try to resolve the issue by finding a solution that works for everyone, such as asking a loud second-story tenant if they’d be willing to move to an available unit on the first floor. Or you can handle the situation more directly, by addressing the issues with the offending tenant and giving them suggestions on how to change their behavior. The method you choose comes down to your management style as well as the severity of the issue.

You should take the following steps if you need to confront the tenant directly:

  1. Listen to the first tenant’s complaint, empathetically. Let them know you understand the situation is upsetting to them.

  2. Contact the offending tenant by phone and let them know about the complaint. It’s generally not a good idea to name the tenant who complained, as this can cause further tension. However, the offender will often know who it is, especially if they’ve already tried to resolve the issue themselves. If they’re breaking terms of the lease, remind them of this. Often a warning is enough to stop any bad behavior.

  3. After your phone call, send a letter or email to the offending tenant, reminding them of what was discussed in your conversation. Mention any actions they need to take, as well as any lease violations. If the issues are particularly severe, you can also serve them with a Notice of Lease Violation, which threatens eviction if they don’t change their behavior.

  4. Document the conversations you’ve had with both tenants. If the situation progresses into a formal legal matter, you’ll have proof that you took action to try to resolve the conflict.

  5. Follow up with both tenants at a later date to see if there have been any positive or negative changes concerning the issue.

When handling any conflicts, make sure to keep records and documentation of the conflict and whether it was resolved. Tenants who make repeated complaints with no resolution are more likely to look for a new place to rent; good retention is essential for the reputation of the property and your business.

Conflicts between tenants can also cause stress among the other residents at the property, so it’s essential to try to resolve any issues as soon as possible. Preventative measures like tenant screening and guidelines in the lease can go a long way in finding the right tenants, but there’s no way to account for how people’s personalities or lifestyles might clash. Maintaining a peaceful community benefits everyone – from the property owner and tenants to your property management company.

Posted by & filed under Property Management.

The last thing any landlord wants to deal with is losing money because of a bad tenant. Despite this, sometimes it can be difficult for landlords to know whether it’s worth pursuing the money they’re owed. One situation that can be tricky to navigate is knowing whether it’s okay to use security deposits for unpaid rent. While it may seem like the answer would be yes, that’s not always the case. In some circumstances, refusing to return the security deposit could get you into legal trouble. So, it’s essential to have a good understanding of how and when a security deposit can be used.

Security Deposit Laws Vary

Despite seeming straightforward, security deposit laws vary between states. However, the general rules are relatively similar between them. The following guidelines will take an overarching approach to how security deposits can be used. Still, it’s a good idea to review your local laws before you officially withhold your tenants’ security deposits.

What Can Security Deposits Be Used For?

Typically, landlords collect security deposits to protect their property during the rental period. If the tenant took good care of the property, the deposit is returned when they move out. If there was damage at the property, the landlord is generally allowed to deduct the cost of repairs or losses from the deposit before returning it to the tenant.

There are some limitations to how the security deposit can be used in this way. Some common situations include:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Unpaid taxes (if it’s outlined in the lease that the tenant is responsible for them)
  • Cost of repairing any damage that falls outside of normal wear and tear
  • Early lease termination (if stated in the lease)
  • Excessive cleaning costs

Ultimately, a landlord can keep the security deposit to cover unpaid rent or unexpected expenses caused by the tenant directly. To avoid confusion or disputes later, it’s a good idea to make sure the above items are clearly outlined on the lease. This gives you and the tenant a clear reference point if any questions arise.

It’s important to note that if the rental is sold while the tenant is still living there, the landlord is supposed to transfer the security deposit to the new owner. If the previous owner fails to transfer the security deposit to the new owner, the tenant can sue the previous owner for it to be returned, or for the portion that the tenant is entitled to receive.

What Can’t You Use Security Deposits For?

On the flip side, there are also some ways you cannot use security deposits. These may not be intentional, so it’s essential to be aware of them, so you don’t accidentally break any laws.

In general, you cannot use security deposits for:

  • The last month’s rent (unless you and the tenant agree on it in writing)
  • Routine cleaning costs from normal wear and tear
  • Routine repairs from normal wear and tear
  • Covering costs not related to that tenant

Most landlords wouldn’t use a security deposit in this way. However, to avoid falling into this trap, it’s best to keep the terms of the security deposit very clear in your lease.

Using the Security Deposit to Cover Unpaid Rent

As mentioned above, landlords can use security deposits to cover unpaid rent. That’s one of the main reasons that the security deposit is generally the equivalent of two month’s rent since this can protect the landlord from not being paid.

If your tenant moves out or is evicted, you can subtract the amount of unpaid rent from the total security deposit before returning the money. While this is an entirely legal practice, some tenants will want to dispute it. But you have a right to the money you’re contractually owed. If your tenant owes you more than what the security deposit covers, you have the right to evict them before they move or take them to small claims court.

To prevent this type of situation, it’s recommended you outline the details of the security deposit in the lease. Make sure that you go over the lease in person with the tenant, so they have a chance to ask any questions or clarify anything they’re unclear about.

So, if your tenant owes you unpaid rent, make sure to check the terms of your lease. If your lease has clearly outlined that the security deposit will be used for unpaid rent, subtract the amount owed from the security deposit before you return it. If the security deposit doesn’t cover the total amount, you can file in small claims court for the remaining money owed.In conclusion, security deposits are designed to be a guarantee between yourself and the tenant that they will be respectful and keep your property in good condition while they’re living there. However, it also guarantees that you won’t have to suffer any monetary losses from unpaid rent. Screen your applicants to avoid tenants who have a history of skipping out on rent and keep good records of all rental payments. Having all terms relating to the security deposit stated on your lease will also help you avoid any issues if you do need to use their security deposit for unpaid rent.

Posted by & filed under Property Management.

Good tenants make your job as a landlord or property manager easier. They pay their rent on time, they’re respectful of your property, and they let you know when something needs maintenance or repair. Naturally, you want to keep good tenants at your property for as long as possible. Not only do you know you can trust them, but filling a vacancy can be a hassle. So, once you have a good tenant, how can you get them to stay? There will always be circumstances you can’t control, like a tenant relocating for a job, but there are several things you can do to keep your tenants happy – and willing to continue renting from you.

Why Do Tenants Stay at a Property?

There are many reasons why tenants stay where they are. They may not be able to afford the down payment on a home, or they may just prefer the flexibility of renting. They may be putting off marriage or having children – two factors that frequently lead people to buy homes.

If your tenant has been at your property for more than a year, they are likely to want to stay for a while. A comprehensive study conducted by Zillow found that 40% of tenants who have lived at their rental for more than a year have no plans to move within the next three years. Nearly half of them stated they were happy with their living situation, including the price of rent and the neighborhood. A third of respondents stated that they didn’t want to deal with the stress of moving.

What about the tenants who aren’t happy with their living situation? The study also found that 55% of long-term renters who are planning to move within the next three years planned to move to another rental. This means that most renters continue to be renters. If you have a good tenant, you want them to stay at YOUR rental.

5 Ways to Keep Your Tenant Happy

  1. Be Available and Responsive
    A good tenant/landlord relationship begins with a clear lease that outlines your expectations. If you’re unsure what to include on a lease, check out our other post on Lease Writing 101. Make sure to review your lease with the tenant in person, so they can ask questions about anything they’re unclear on. This will also help you establish a good rapport with them. Let your tenant know the best way for them to contact you, including times you may not be available. If any concerns come up, make sure to respond to them quickly.

    A quick response shows your tenant that you care about them and the property. You can further that message by checking in with them on occasion. Tenants can sometimes be hesitant to bother their landlords for small problems, but they should be addressed quickly to prevent them from progressing into a larger one.

  2. Be Welcoming
    When your new tenant moves in, make them feel welcome. Help them feel connected to the neighborhood, so they have more incentive to stay. You can give them a small welcome package with useful information about the area, such as nearby parks, services, or points of interest. Take out menus are also another nice item to include. Give them information that will help them get established and comfortable in the community.

  3. Respond to Problems Promptly
    When issues come up, make sure to respond to them quickly. It’s important to remember that a broken dishwasher or jammed door impacts your tenant’s daily life. Waiting to fix problems can cause them to progress into a larger repair – or worse, frustrate your tenant enough to make them want to leave. Treat their problems like they’re important, no matter how insignificant they seem. You’ll send your tenant a message that you’re reliable and care about their quality of life. After the problem has been resolved, make sure to follow up to make sure that the solution was effective.

  4. Keep Your Tenants in the Loop
    If there’s a change or problem that will impact your property somehow, you should let the tenant know as soon as possible. Even if it’s something minor, like having a gardener trim the hedge, you should keep in mind that this is your tenant’s home. Giving your tenant advanced notice shows them that you respect their privacy, time, and occupancy. Significant changes, like sewer line repair or an increase in utility charges, should be communicated as early as possible.

  5. Be Human and Approachable
    Your rental property is a business, and you should manage it like one. However, this doesn’t mean that you should treat your tenants like they are inferior to you. A good manager knows how to manage things while still treating their employees considerately and respectfully.

If you have a great tenant who is having personal problems, like losing their job, you may want to consider whether the “all business” approach is best. Do you really want to tack on late fees, and make things harder for a good tenant? You should always be cautious when making exceptions to your policies, but in some cases, it may be better to give a good tenant leeway. They’ll be grateful for your understanding and will be more likely to stay in your rental.Like most relationships, the tenant/landlord relationship requires investment. By being respectful and thoughtful about your tenant’s needs, you can improve the chances they’ll want to stay. If they are still set on moving when it’s time for the lease to renew, ask them why. In some cases, it may be beyond your control, but there’s a possibility you can improve on your processes to make them happier. If not, you can use this information to inform you of what you can do differently with the next tenant.

Posted by & filed under Property Management.

Our sense of smell is linked closely with memories and emotions, so unsurprisingly, the way your rental smells is important. Former tenants can leave behind stubborn odors that may be bad enough to deter prospective tenants; in some cases, these bad smells may even keep your unit vacant. So, how can you get your property smelling great and move-in ready after a particularly odiferous tenant moves out? Here are a few DIY tips for some of the most common smells landlords and property managers encounter:

Rotten Food and Garbage

Hopefully, your tenant will throw out any unwanted food and garbage before they leave, but if not, you could be in for a smelly surprise next time you enter the unit. Depending on how long it’s been there, you might also find fruit flies or other types of pests. Start by opening all the windows. Throw out the food or trash, then scrub the area it was resting on with some soap and water. Afterward, spray the area with some Lysol to disinfect it. This usually takes care of any odors. Insects will often go away on their own once the food or garbage has been removed. You can also put out traps or hire an exterminator for any pests that refuse to leave.

Pet Odors

Pet odors have a way of saturating the walls, carpets, and even fabric window coverings. The best approach is to start by opening the windows and thoroughly cleaning the unit. Vacuum and steam clean the carpeting. Scrub all hard surfaces with a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar. You can also use a black light to pinpoint any source of the odors. Wait until it’s dark, turn out the lights, and walk around the room with a handheld blacklight. Any urine stains will be illuminated and easy to spot. For particularly tough stains or odors, you may want to use an enzymatic cleaner. Make sure to follow the directions on the label and allow the cleaner to sit for the recommended amount of time; otherwise, it may not be effective.

If this doesn’t get rid of the odors completely, you can hire a company that specializes in pet odor removal. This will save you the cost of replacing carpeting or repainting.

Strong Foods and Spices

Some foods and spices can leave behind a very strong smell that lingers long after the tenant has left. Change all the air filters in the unit, and scrub all surfaces using a vinegar and water solution (one cup of water and two tablespoons of vinegar). Pay special attention to the kitchen area, and make sure to get around the stove. If the smell is especially strong in the kitchen, spray down the surfaces with the vinegar and water mixture, so they’re damp. Keep the windows open to allow the home to air-dry.

Cigarette Smoke

Like pet odors, cigarette smoke has a way of permeating everything. The process of removing smoke odor depends on its severity. If your tenant was smoking in the unit for many years, you might have to contend with stubborn resin and tar contamination. In this case, you may want to consider replacing the carpeting and any other fabrics, like curtains or lampshades. Open all the windows and use fans to circulate the air. Scrub down hard surfaces using a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and hot water.

Make sure to scrub down everything – walls, doors, light fixtures, ceilings, and fan blades. Steam clean any carpets you’re planning to keep. You may also want to replace the air filters or even have the ductwork cleaned. If the smell remains after you’ve cleaned everything, you can place activated charcoal or bowls of white vinegar around the rooms to absorb the odors. Stay away from scented odor removal products, as these generally will just mask the smell.

Marijuana Oil and Methamphetamines

The legalization of marijuana in many states has made it increasingly likely that you may encounter smells caused by indoor growing or oil production. With these odors, the cleaning process will depend on the severity. Like cigarettes, marijuana contains sticky resins that can cling to surfaces. Start by cleaning the walls, ceiling, and hard surfaces with soap and hot water. This should cut through the residue and remove the smell, but if you’re dealing with a more severe case, you may want to follow up with a 50/50 mixture of hot water and vinegar. Then, steam clean the carpets.

If your tenant was using methamphetamines at the property, you might notice odd chemical odors similar to nail polish remover or cat urine. Since meth is water-soluble, you can use the same method as with marijuana. Make sure to scrub all surfaces thoroughly, and steam clean the carpets. If your tenant was manufacturing meth at the property, you’ll need to take a different approach. The process of cooking meth can leave behind toxic, combustible residues that can contaminate every surface in the home. In this case, your best course of action is to have the property tested for contamination and hire a professional cleaning crew. You’ll also want to check with your local laws, as many areas have specific regulations regarding how to handle getting your property ready to rent again.

Getting rid of bad odors may seem like a daunting task, but with some deep cleaning and patience, they can be removed. And, if you’re short on time, you can always turn to the professionals to remove those stubborn smells. The cost of cleaning will be worth finding new tenants who want to occupy your rental!

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

The deeply troubling trend of increasing gun-related violence is difficult to ignore. The wide range of places where these incidents occur – from schools and churches to night clubs and workplaces – suggest that they can happen anywhere.

Unsurprisingly, this trend has many business owners nervous. It’s not uncommon for the families of victims to sue business or property owners for damages caused by an active shooter incident, especially in high profile cases. Many insurance companies have started offering active shooter insurance, also called active assailant coverage. This type of insurance provides financial relief for all expenses related to an active shooter incident.

So, as a landlord, should you have active shooter insurance for your multifamily properties? Here’s a look at what most policies include and some of the factors you should consider.

What is an Active Shooter?

The FBI defines the term “active shooter” as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” This term is often confused with the term “mass shooter.” An active shooter is referred to as a mass shooter once four or more people have been injured or killed.

While “active shooters” are clearly defined, the way active shooting incidents are documented varies. This makes it difficult to know the total number of incidents that occur. Some organizations stick closely to the FBI’s definition, while others don’t include incidents that are gang-related or related to other crimes.

What Does Active Shooter Insurance Include?

Depending on your coverage, the standard liability insurance may not cover an active shooter crisis. Active shooter insurance is a standalone policy that supplements your current general liability coverage. Depending on the policy, it could include financial aid for:

·       Crisis management services

·       Emergency response teams

·       Costs for business interruptions

·       Public relations

·       Legal liability expenses (defense costs, indemnity, judgments, or settlements)

·       Physical damages to the property

·       Future preventive measures (security, or aid in identifying troubled individuals in the future)

·       Job retraining or relocation

·       Victim expenses (medical, dental, victim counseling, psychiatric care, and death, funeral, and burial expenses)

·       Workers compensation for rehabilitation, vision loss, hearing loss, or permanent disablement

Active Shooter Insurance Considerations

If you’re thinking about purchasing coverage for your property, it’s essential to pay attention to the policy’s terrorism exclusions. Some policies define terrorism differently than an active shooter. This may prohibit you from receiving aid from an incident that doesn’t meet the policy’s precise definition.

Here are a few things you should consider when purchasing active shooter insurance:

Employee coverage and casualty thresholds
You should avoid any policies that only include residents and their guests – or only includes coverage for your employees. Some policies also have casualty thresholds, where coverage only applies if a certain number of people have been injured or killed. If you’re going to purchase a policy, it’s worth it to make sure that any or all victims are covered.

Weapons and vehicle restrictions
Some active shooter policies define their coverage as an attack made with only a firearm or bladed weapon. These policies won’t cover incidents where explosives or improvised weapons were used. They also may not cover attacks that were carried out with a vehicle.

Crisis management
If you have an active shooter incident, it’s important to have resources available to help everyone who was involved. Make sure your policy has coverage that includes aid for crisis management services like counseling, public relations, or consulting.

Should You Have Active Shooter Insurance for Your Property?

The aftermath of an active shooting event is taxing, emotionally and financially. There are many costs that may not be initially apparent. With that in mind, should you purchase an active shooter policy for your multifamily property? Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer.

Workplace violence isn’t a new development. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), workplace violence and injuries are the 3rd leading cause of occupational injuries in the United States. While not all active shooter incidents result in death or injury, it’s clear that these events are on the rise. According to the FBI, the average number of active shooting incidents per year jumped from 6.4% between 2000 and 2006 to 16.4% between 2007 to 2013. While the chance of an active shooter incident happening at your property is low, having coverage could provide some needed relief if such an event occurs – particularly in the way of victim counseling.

However, active shooter events are relatively rare and occur spontaneously. The incidents tend to occur at a wide range of locations, from schools and churches to restaurants and medical offices. Active shooter incidents can occur anywhere, at any time, making the need for active shooter insurance unclear for many businesses. There’s a good chance that if you purchase an active shooter policy, you may not need it.

As with all supplemental insurance, you’ll only need the policy should an incident occur – and there’s no way to know if one will. The costs of an active shooter policy may be enough to dissuade many landlords from purchasing one. Still, if an incident occurs, it could end up saving a substantial amount of money and hassle. Ultimately, you’ll need to weigh the benefits with the costs to decide whether it’s worth it to you to purchase a policy for your property.

Posted by & filed under Property Management.

Communication is an essential skill for landlords and property managers. However, even those with excellent communication skills may feel at a loss on how best to communicate with tenants who cause problems. Dealing with a tenant who consistently pays their rent late or regularly causes issues with other tenants can stir up feelings of dread. It may be tempting to ignore the issue, but this is likely to increase tensions between you and the tenant, or even worse, encourage the bad behavior to continue or worsen.

Having a challenging tenant is never fun, but you can often take precautions to put an end to the bad behavior before it even starts. Clear communication also can help to alleviate tensions and correct the problem behaviors. Here are a few tips on how you can improve communication with problematic tenants and prevent unwanted behavior.

Clearly State Your Ground Rules

Many of us have experienced a time where the rules are unclear. If rules aren’t laid out, how can you know whether you’re breaking them? The same goes for tenants. To prevent confusion, make sure that your ground rules are clearly laid out in your lease. This will give your tenants fewer chances to say they misunderstood. If they do break the rules, you can direct them to the part of the lease they’re violating.

You’ll need to be consistent with enforcing the rules and should have penalties for each type of contract breach. Many tenants will take advantage of leniency, so having consequences that are enforced – such as late fees for late rent payment – is essential. The penalties shouldn’t be unreasonable, but firm enough to discourage bad behavior.

Offer Digital Methods of Communication

To ensure excellent communication with your tenants, it’s recommended that you offer them multiple ways to contact you. Calling, texting, or emailing is standard for many properties. Some may even choose to have a Facebook page, Google account, or website. The more channels you offer your tenants, the easier you make it for them to communicate with you.

This is an especially important consideration for millennial and generation Z tenants, who overwhelmingly prefer to communicate through digital channels as opposed to phone calls to face to face interactions. As these age groups make up a large percentage of renters around the country, it’s beneficial to implement communication methods that accommodate them.

If you decide to have multiple digital communication options, it’s also a good idea to state the hourly availabilities for each. This will let your tenants know which method to use and when.

Practice Patience

Challenging tenants can take many forms. Some of them may be actively disruptive, while others might be well-behaved, beyond regularly being behind on their rent. Regardless of the situation, dealing with problematic tenants can be frustrating. However, when communicating with these tenants, it’s important to come from a place of patience. Approaching anyone in a tense or hostile manner is likely to make the situation worse. Civility can go a long way in correcting unwanted behavior.

The best approach is to communicate with your tenant in a patient, understanding, and professional manner. Explain what they’ve done wrong and give them a timeframe for when they need to fix it. If you’ve given the tenant several warnings with no change in their behavior, you may have to resort to eviction. Since eviction is a lengthy process, you may want to give them a chance to correct things before taking the issue to court. Don’t hold the threat of eviction over your tenant, however, and make sure that if you choose that route, you aren’t initiating eviction over minor annoyances.

Set Deadlines for Your Tenants – and Yourself

Another way to prevent issues with tenants is to set definitive deadlines and stick to them. The date your rent is due should be clearly stated in the lease. If you offer a grace period, this should also be clear in the lease. Once rent is officially late, you should take action. Letting the issue slide may set you up for a cycle of late payments. Without consequences, your tenant is more likely to make a habit of paying rent late.

You should also set deadlines for yourself. Responding to tenant questions, concerns, or requests shows your tenants that your care and are responsive to their needs. If you take too long to answer, your tenants are less likely to come to you for assistance. Even if the issue seems like a minor one, it should be taken seriously and addressed as soon as possible. The problem may appear to be minor to you but remember – it’s your tenant’s home, and it might feel significant to them.

Cultivate Respectful Relationships

You may not like every tenant, but a good business relationship is built on mutual respect. Tenants should have an understanding of what your expectations are of them while living on your property and be respectful of your rules.

Likewise, landlords should be respectful of their tenants and their personal space. Unless they’re involved in illegal activities, you should avoid prying into their personal lives or stopping by unannounced. Not only does this create an uncomfortable lack of privacy for tenants, but it could also put you at risk for legal action.

Better Communication Creates a Better Working RelationshipCreating an environment of open communication and respect is essential for a good relationship with your tenants. From a practical perspective, hostilities and tension can lead to vacancies or high tenant turnover. Beyond that, no one wants to have bad relationships with people that they’ll have to communicate with regularly. Focus on setting reasonable, clearly stated policies and allowing for open communication with your tenants, and both parties will benefit.

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Every landlord understands the importance of collecting a security deposit to protect their investment property. In many cases, tenants are respectful of the property, so you won’t have to worry about withholding the deposits. However, what happens when you have a tenant who has caused damage to the property? How do you handle withholding some – or all – of the deposit?

While you have a legal right to withhold money from for repairs, it’s essential to provide the tenant with proper documentation stating how much of the deposit you’re keeping and why. Giving your tenant an itemized security deposit deposition will help you avoid miscommunications that could potentially land you in court.

What is a Security Deposit Deposition, and When Should You Use It?

A security deposit deposition is a form that explains:

  • How much of the tenant’s security deposit is being withheld
  • What the withheld amount will be used for
  • When the tenant can expect to receive any of the remaining deposit
  • Where the tenant’s remaining security deposit money will be sent

This form not only clearly lays out what your tenant is being penalized for and why, but it also serves as a chance for discussion in case they disagree with your assessment.

After your tenant moves out, you should immediately conduct a thorough move-out walkthrough. It’s best to do this with the tenant present, but if they aren’t available, you can also have a third-party there as a witness. During your walkthrough, you should take detailed notes about which repairs are needed.

Once you’ve determined which repairs are needed, get an official estimate for the total cost. You’ll need to keep this information on file in case the tenant disputes the charges. You can then begin writing up your security deposit statement.

Keep in mind that you do have a limited amount of time to return the remaining security deposit to the tenant. Most states give you a timeframe of a month or so to finalize the cost of repairs and return the remaining amount to the tenant. It’s recommended that you check with your state’s laws to make sure you’re in compliance. If you end up keeping the deposit for longer than the legal timeframe, you could be setting yourself up for legal issues.

What is Considered an Allowable Deduction?

As you’re probably aware, deposit money cannot be withheld to upgrade the property or for normal wear and tear. Normal wear and tear would include things like chipped paint, scuffed walls, or a worn carpet. Security deposits can only be used for actual damages that were caused by the tenants or their guests, including:

  • Carpet Stains
  • Broken windows or doors
  • Broken locks
  • Pet damage
  • Clogged drains
  • Broken appliances
  • Holes in the walls
  • Clean up fees to make the property move-in ready

Many states provide a clear list of what can or cannot be withheld from security deposits. If you’re unsure whether the damage would be considered an allowable deduction, it’s recommended you refer to your state’s list. Most states also allow security deposits to cover unpaid rent or taxes that were the tenant’s responsibility. Again, it’s best to refer to your specific state’s rules on the matter.

Contents of the Security Deposit Deposition

Once you have a list of the needed repairs and the costs, you can begin to draft your security deposit deposition. You can view a sample deposition form here. Start your form with the following:

  • The date the form is being completed
  • The tenant’s name
  • The address of the property in question

This step may seem unnecessary, but for your records, it will clearly show who the form is for, what it’s regarding, and when it was drafted.

Next, you’ll want to include a simple checklist that includes the different types of rental agreements (ex: month-to-month, year-to-year, etc.). Check off the type that’s applicable to your property.

You can then start getting into the specifics of what’s being withheld. You’ll want to be very careful when filling out this section, as it’s essential to be as accurate as possible.

First, record the amount that was received as the security deposit. This amount will be in the lease agreement as well, but adding it here makes the disposition form clear and easy to understand.

Then, you’ll list each of the deductions that are being withheld for the cost of repairs. You may want to divide the deductions into the following categories:

  • Repair Damages
  • Necessary Cleaning
  • Replacement or Repair of Furnishings
  • Other Deductions

Once you have these sections filled out, you can total up the cost. If the security deposit completely covers the cost of repairs, you’ll need to include a “Balance Due Tenant” section. If the security deposit isn’t enough to cover the repairs, you’ll need to include a “Balance Due Landlord” section.

Balance Due Tenant

Include this section only if the security deposit covers the entire cost of repairs. You should list the following information in this section:

  • How much of the security deposit remains after the repair costs
  • Whether any interest has accrued on the security deposit (this will depend on your state’s laws)
  • Which check number will be used to return the remaining deposit to the tenant

Make sure to be very clear when listing all this information and to send your check to the tenant within your state’s timeframe to avoid any late penalties.

Balance Due Landlord

This section should only be included if the security deposit isn’t enough to completely cover the cost of repairs. If this is the case, you’ll need to collect additional funds from the tenant.  The amount the tenant owes after the security deposit should be listed here.

If the tenant won’t pay the additional amount, you’ll most likely need to file a civil court suit to collect what you’re owed. If the court rules in your favor, the judge will award you with documents to work with a collection agency or to garnish the former tenant’s wages until you receive the full amount you’re owed. If you don’t want to bring it to court, you’ll most likely have to write the lost amount off as a loss.

Using the Form Correctly and Preventing Future Damages

The security disposition form is crucial to use any time you’re planning to withhold part or all of a tenant’s security deposit. Although they’re moving out of the property, it’s still important to inform them of how their security deposit is being used. Providing them with this form will ensure that both parties are on the same page and will reduce the chances of a lawsuit.

Of course, it’s always best to try to prevent damages in the first place. Thorough screening of all applicants allows you to find tenants with responsible rental histories and reduce the chance of incurring damage to your property. Tenant screening will alert you to potential red flags such as previous property damage, prior evictions, and history of late payments. You can then make a fully informed decision when selecting your future tenant.

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Gun ownership has become a particularly heated topic over the past decade, which prompts the question for many landlords: can you add a clause into your lease that restricts or prohibits firearms? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear-cut. In some circumstances, the answer may be dependent on what your state law says. In other situations, it may come down to personal preference, Second Amendment considerations, or concerns over negligence.

This guide will serve as an overview of the current laws regarding gun ownership at rental properties, court cases that serve as a precedent for gun-related issues, and the factors to consider when deciding whether to allow firearms on your property.

Specific State Laws

State laws vary on the issue of gun ownership in general, let alone whether landlords can legally have a say in the matter. If you’re considering writing a “no guns at my property” clause into your lease, it’s essential to know if your state or local governments have laws regarding the matter. Currently, only four states have specific laws regarding landlords and guns at rental properties:

  • Minnesota – a landlord cannot restrict the lawful carry or possession of a firearm by tenants or their guests. Minnesota statute 624.714.

  • Tennessee – A private landlord can prohibit tenants, including those who hold handgun carry permits from possessing firearms within a leased premise. Such a prohibition may be imposed through a clause in the lease. Tennessee statue 39-17-1307(b).

  • Virginia – Public housing prohibits landlords from restrictions on gun possession for tenants. Virginia Rental Housing Act 1974 Tennessee 55-248.9.6.

  • Wisconsin – Wisconsin’s gun laws are complicated regarding where a weapon can or cannot be possessed. If you have rentals in this state, it’s best to look up the most recent laws that pertain to your specific situation.

Beyond these, the remaining 46 states allow private landlords to choose how they would like to handle the issue. However, there are still constitutional and liability issues to consider before you write a “no guns” clause into the lease.

Is Gun Ownership a Protected Class?

A protected class is a group of people who are protected from discrimination by law. For example, in the Fair Housing Act, it’s prohibited to discriminate based on a person’s race, religion, gender, disability, familial status, or national origin. Denny Dobbins, General Legal Counsel, argues that the Second Amendment could designate gun owners as a protected class. He bases this on the rulings of two Supreme Court cases:  District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago.

There have been numerous debates over the actual meaning of the Second Amendment. Some say that it’s referring to a collective right of the people for forming a well-armed militia, while others argue it’s a personal right. The issue was laid to rest in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. The court case District of Columbia v. Heller examined whether the District of Columbia’s Firearm Control Regulations Act of 1975 was unconstitutional. The Act banned residents of the District of Columbia from owning handguns, automatic firearms, or high-capacity semi-automatic firearms, as well as unregistered guns. The only exceptions were for police officers and guns registered before 1976. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court endorsed the “individual-right” theory of the Second Amendment’s meaning.

The Court held that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to possess firearms independent of service in a state militia and that weapons can be used for traditionally lawful purposes, including self-defense. The Heller case also established that the government could impose firearm restrictions on mentally ill people and felons. That leaves the question of states. How does federal law impact state laws?

That question was addressed in the 2010 Supreme Court case, McDonald v. City of Chicago. The case arose over a challenge to the 1982 Chicago law banning new registration of handguns. The Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense applicable to states. The 14th Amendment’s third clause states, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” It also forbids states from passing rules that contradict federal law. The Court declared that the right to self-defense is a “fundamental” and “deeply rooted” right.

So, while private landlords can forbid the possession of firearms at their property, it’s a gray area that could potentially be challenged based on the Second and 14th Amendments. Since the Heller and McDonald cases established gun ownership as a personal right, Dobbins argues it could be considered a protected class if brought to court.

Factors to Consider Before Adding a “No Guns” Clause

Unless you reside in a state that prohibits you from restricting gun ownership at your property, you can generally add a “no guns” clause to your lease. With that in mind, it’s beneficial to look at the issue from all angles.

Although most states are silent on a landlord’s rights regarding gun restriction at their property, it could still be seen as infringing on a tenant’s constitutional right. A tenant could argue that the landlord is restricting their Second Amendment right and their ability to protect themselves on the property. While there haven’t been any Supreme Court cases regarding the matter, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen in the future.

That brings up another issue. What if you allow guns at your property, and someone is injured by a tenant, either purposely or negligently? Can you be held liable? Possibly; it depends on the situation. As a landlord, you have a legal responsibility to keep your property safe. If the person who was injured was a tenant at your property, they could potentially bring a claim against you, stating that your gun policy was responsible for their injury and violated their right to safety. If you choose to have guns at your property, it’s a good idea to check your insurance policy to see what is and isn’t covered regarding firearms.

On the other hand, prohibiting guns at your property could also be a legal issue. Let’s say you ban guns, and someone breaks into your tenant’s home and injures them. Could you be held liable in this circumstance? Again, possibly. The tenant could argue that your “no guns” policy prevented them from being able to defend themselves and that the injury wouldn’t have happened otherwise. They could also say the lease clause violates their Second Amendment rights.

If you do choose to prohibit guns, there’s also the issue of enforcement. Unless a tenant is brandishing a weapon, there’s no legitimate way to know whether one has been brought onto the property. You can’t go into their home and conduct inspections, so you have to take the tenant at their word when they sign the lease agreement. Even in Tennessee, where landlords have a legal right to prohibit guns, there’s no practical way to enforce such a rule.

For many landlords, the issue isn’t so much about having guns at the property as it is preventing negligent or harmful actions. No landlord wants their tenants walking around common areas brandishing a firearm. This type of behavior can be controlled with the inclusion of carefully worded clauses.

Proposed Lease Clauses

According to Dobbins, when a private landlord chooses to ban guns at their property, they may face liability and constitutional infringement concerns. However, there are a few clauses you can include to protect your rights as a landlord.

  1. “This is a landlord-tenant relationship, and the landlord has no control over your unit or the home. The tenant has sole control of the dwelling unit.”

This clause directly relates to a sad case that occurred in Kansas City in 2006. A landlord rented out a single-family home and gave the tenant the right to sole possession of the premises. The landlord also included a clause that prohibited any member of the household from participating in any form of illegal activity on the premises, as well as prohibit the unlawful possession or discharge of a firearm. The tenant’s child accidentally discharged a loaded gun and killed a visitor to the property, and both the tenant and landlord were sued for damages. The court ruled that because the lease stated the landlord had no control over the property, the landlord was not liable for the visitor’s death. Thompson v. Tuggle, 183 S.W.3d 611 (Mo. App., 2016).

However, if a tenant is acting erratically at a multifamily property, and you’re is aware of this, the you have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their tenants. You should decide with legal counsel whether the tenant poses a risk to other people on the property. If so, you should take reasonable measures to correct the situation. This is especially important if weapons are allowed on the property. You should monitor the property to make sure that firearms aren’t brandished or misused.

  • “If you have any firearms, you must keep your weapons inside your unit at all times and out of view of open windows and doors, absent legitimate self-defense of others.”

  • “If you openly bring a firearm onto the common areas, you will be evicted. You must keep your weapon to yourself, safely tucked away in the private confines of your apartment unit or home and not visible to other tenants, neighbors, or staff.”

Dobbins says he includes the following “no weapons in the common area” clause within his leases under a section called “Weapons”:

“Weapons of any kind, including but not limited to, dart guns, air guns, BB guns, slingshots, handguns, rifles, or any mechanism that could be used to propel an object that could cause harm to person or property, are not allowed in the common areas, are not allowed in the office, are not allowed anywhere on the premises outside of the actual unit. Weapons are not allowed to be displayed, shown, exposed, demonstrated, or exhibited anywhere in the community premises, except in case of self-defense or immediate need for imminent and immediate protection of residents’ life or property, or for self-defense or immediate and imminent protection of resident, resident’s occupants, guests, or invitee’s life, or property.

If a resident wants to possess a legal weapon in the resident’s unit, in that case, the resident must safely and inconspicuously carry said legal weapon to and from the resident’s unit in a manner that ensures other residents and staff do not see the weapon. Illegal weapons are never allowed visibly on the property outside of the unit. If the resident or resident’s occupants do possess a legal weapon in the unit, the resident shall be responsible for the proper and safe possession, handling, and storage of the said weapon. The landlord is not and shall not be responsible in any way to resident, occupants, guests, or invitees for any accidental, negligent, or intentional act involving any weapon or discharge thereof on, near, or off the property.”

This clause covers a lot of ground. It doesn’t infringe on rights that were established in the Heller and McDonald cases, but it makes it very clear that there are specific rules regarding weapons at the property that will be subject to eviction if violated.

What About Restricting Ammunition at Your Property?

Can private landlords also restrict how much ammunition a tenant can have at the property? Or prohibit ammunition completely? Yes, but you come up against the same issues as with gun ownership.

Should Property Managers Have Guns?

There have been several cases around the nation where property managers have been shot by tenants facing eviction; should they have guns for their protection? That question is best left to the property management company. If a management company has armed staff, then they face questions of liability as well. If a staff member uses a firearm, will the company get sued? If a staff member is prohibited from having a weapon and they encounter a bad situation, will the company get sued? What if they have a gun, but don’t use it?

In this case, Dobbins suggests a compromise may be the safest choice. Property management staff shouldn’t be required to have a weapon, but their Second Amendment right shouldn’t be infringed either. If staff members choose to carry a concealed weapon lawfully, that’s their choice. However, Dobbins also warns that they shouldn’t carry a gun openly. It’s recommended to consult with your attorney and insurance carrier before deciding on the matter.

It’s Ultimately Your Decision as the Landlord

Regardless of the politics surrounding guns, they need to be dealt with in a practical way. Unless you live in one of the four states that have specific laws regarding the matter, there aren’t any straightforward answers about how you should handle guns at your rental properties. Each private landlord must decide where they stand on the matter based on all the factors involved. For additional peace of mind, you should also consult with your attorney and insurance broker to ensure you’re making a lawful and informed decision. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s clearly laid out in writing in your lease with no room for misinterpretation.

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As a landlord, few situations are as unpleasant as dealing with an unreliable tenant. Bad tenants may consistently pay their rent late (or not at all), cause trouble with your other tenants, or repeatedly break the rules outlined in the lease. Unfortunately, once they’ve signed the lease, there’s not much you can do legally to break it. Since a lease is a legal contract, you’ll most likely need to use a legal process like eviction to end it early. Regardless of how problematic your tenant is, it’s essential to make sure you’re dealing with them lawfully.

Eviction can be a long process; it can take weeks, sometimes even months. Landlords may go through the entire process only to end up being legally required to give the tenant a second chance. Understandably, many landlords would prefer to avoid eviction entirely. While eviction may be unavoidable, there are a few steps you can take to coax a lousy tenant to leave on their own.

Common Tenant Issues Landlords Face

Screening your tenants will weed out many problematic applicants, but there’s still a chance that you’ll end up with a bad one. It’s an unfortunate part of the rental business that all landlords should be prepared for. Here are some of the most common tenant issues that landlords deal with:

  • Late payments
  • Failure to pay rent
  • Property damage
  • Neglecting the lawn or yard work
  • Parking illegally
  • Illegal activity at the property
  • Fighting with the neighbors
  • Disturbing the neighbors
  • Having pets despite a clear “no pets” policy
  • Allowing additional people to move into the property permanently

Some of these issues are significant enough for legal eviction, while others are more of a general annoyance. That’s why it’s essential to understand how you can get a tenant to leave while still staying within the confines of the law.

Legal Considerations with Bad Tenants

If a tenant breaks the rules of your lease, you have legal grounds to evict them. If they’re doing things you don’t like but aren’t clearly outlined in the lease, the eviction process can be challenging – and exhausting. While it may be tempting to resort to other tactics to get them to leave, it’s essential to make sure that your actions are lawful.

As you’re likely aware, it’s illegal to force, threaten, or blackmail a tenant to leave. That being said, we’ll cover a few ways you can convince a tenant to leave without the eviction process. If you choose to try them, it’s important to be mindful of how you treat your tenant and come from a place of mutual benefit for both of you.

Things to Avoid

Being kind and following the law goes a long way with how your tenant will react – and can prevent you from having a legal battle. When dealing with a bad tenant, make sure to follow these rules:

  • Don’t change your tenant’s locks without notice.
  • Don’t try to physically remove your tenant yourself. Even if you have an eviction ruling, this should be left up to the proper authorities.
  • Don’t harass your tenant. This includes calling them, stalking them, or showing up at their property without notice.
  • Don’t turn off the utilities in an attempt to force them to leave.
  • Don’t remove items from the tenant’s home.
  • Don’t attempt to blackmail them into leaving.

While these may seem obvious, some tenant situations may cause you to feel desperate to make them leave. Regardless of their behavior, the above actions should be avoided at all costs.

As the landlord, you have a responsibility to keep your property habitable and harassment-free until the lease between you and the tenant has ended. However, there’s the possibility that you can talk to your tenant and encourage them to leave without the need for eviction. In many circumstances, your tenant may be just as unhappy as you are.

Cash for Keys

Cash for keys is the most common way landlords get tenants to move out without an eviction. It’s very straightforward: you pay the tenant to move. This can be an effective method for when you want a tenant to leave as soon as possible.

If you choose this method, begin by explaining the situation to the tenant. Tell them why you’d like them to leave. Some tenants may not be aware of their behavior or that they’re causing problems. They even might be willing to change, but don’t count on it. Clearly state why they’re in the wrong and let them know that you’ll file for eviction if things don’t change.

Once you’ve explained why you’d like them to move, offer the tenant a lump sum to move out as soon as possible. Explain how the lump sum will save them money in the long run and how avoiding an eviction will protect their credit. The lump-sum amount should be determined based on the average cost of rent in your area. Let the tenant know that you also forgive any money they may owe you.

If the tenant agrees, write up an official agreement outlining the terms. Make sure that you and the tenant both sign it. This agreement is your legal proof that both parties agree that the terms of the lease no longer apply. Return any of the security deposit they’re owed. Once you have the keys back, change the locks on the property.

Cash for keys can save you and the tenant a lot of time and grief.  Many tenants are pleased to accept money to leave a situation they’re not happy in. If they refuse, you can move on to the eviction process.

Have an Honest Conversation with the Tenant

If you feel uncomfortable (or unwilling) to offer cash for keys, you can opt for an open, honest conversation with them. Let them know that you’re planning to file for eviction. Clearly outline the parts of the lease that they’re breaking and let them know whether or not they have a chance to redeem themselves. Then, ask them if they’re willing to move without going through the eviction process.

Many bad tenants aren’t purposely trying to be evicted, and many of them may not even realize that their behavior is a problem. They could be dealing with personal issues or simply be unaware of the trouble they’re causing. Once they realize they’re in the wrong, many tenants would rather leave than have an eviction on their credit record.

Tenants who agree to leave often appreciate help in finding a new place to live. You can offer them recommendations on rentals within their price range or offer to call resources like the local Public Housing Authority. This can be beneficial to you and the tenant – they’ll leave sooner, and you’ll be helping them find a new home.

When to Evict

Unfortunately, you may still end up with a situation where the tenant refuses to leave. In that case, there’s no alternative. You’ll have to file for eviction. Once you’ve decided that eviction is the best option, you should file as soon as possible. The sooner you provide your tenant with an eviction notice, the sooner you can begin the court process.

It may be easy to avoid dealing with the tenant, but you should take action to remove tenants who are causing property damage, not paying their rent, or breaking the terms of your lease.

Avoiding Bad Tenants

Ultimately, the best way to avoid situations with bad tenants is by avoiding them in the first place. While there’s no sure method for avoiding them entirely, you’re less likely to run into issues by choosing low-risk tenants from the beginning. Here are a couple of steps you should take when selecting tenants:

  • Conduct a thorough screening using our screening services.
  • Don’t rent to tenants who avoid filling out the entire rental application.
  • Call their references
  • Check their pay stubs and employment information with their employer.

For more information on our tenant screening services, visit our services list here, or contact us at 800-523-2381.