Posted by & filed under Tenant Screening.

No landlord or property manager wants to end up with a bad tenant, which is why tenant screening is so essential. However, do you have the time or the resources to conduct a thorough screening on your own? That’s where Tenant Screening Center comes in. Landlords and property managers across the nation have been relying on our reputable services since 1985. We offer in-depth reports available online 24/7, which can be easily tailored to meet the needs of your Newtonville MA property. Whether you’re looking for just a tenant credit report, or you’d like a complete package that includes a tenant background check, we make screening your applicants easy. Save time, money, and hassle by ordering your reports today!

Tenant Screening Newtonville MA

As a landlord, it can be difficult to screen applicants on your own. It’s time-consuming and often there’s not enough information to make an informed decision. You need to screen your tenants, though, or you run the risk of non-payment, property damage, eviction, or other legal hassles. Our tenant screening services make the process of selecting the right tenant easier. You’ll have access to information that will give you a complete picture and help you decide if the applicant represents a financial risk. Not only do we offer an assortment of different screenings, but you’ll also receive a summary that helps you navigate and understand the results.

The Most Important Information

With our tenant credit report, you’ll have access to three important factors: credit history, rental history, and debt level. Using these three pieces of information, you can safely evaluate how reliable an applicant is when it comes to meeting financial obligations. Do they pay their bills on time? Do they have defaults on loans or accounts that were sent to collections? Is their debt to income ratio high enough that they may be unable to make consistent, on-time rent payments? A tenant background check can help add to the full picture with employment verification and evictions search.

Our screening services are comprehensive, with options to fit any budget. We also offer tenant screening for commercial and mobile home parks. Place your order online today for the most comprehensive and reliable screening services for your Newtonville MA property or contact us at 1-800-523-2381.

Posted by & filed under Tenant Screening.

Riverside MA landlords and property managers know they can trust Tenant Screening Center for accurate, reliable tenant screening services. We’ve been paving the way for the rental housing industry since 1985 and currently serve 35,000 clients nationwide. Our in-depth reports are available online 24/7. We make it easy for you to reduce your workload and make the best possible decision for your rental home. Whether you’re interested in a tenant credit report or would like a complete tenant background check, we offer different levels of reporting to fit your criteria and budget. Order your report today and discover why we’ve consistently stayed at the top of the list in The Landlord’s Handbook!

Tenant Screening Riverside MA

Tenant screening is vital to protecting your property and ensuring smooth rental management. You can feel confident that you’re selecting applicants who will be financially responsible, respectful of your rental, and abide by the terms of your lease. This not only saves you money, potentially, but it also saves the hassle that comes with problematic tenants. Our tenant credit report gives you insight into the reliability of a prospective renter. Ideally, a good, stable candidate will pay their bills on time and avoid defaults. The report also looks at whether there is any negative rental history, such as defaults or court judgments. You’ll also be able to evaluate the level of debt the applicant has, and whether this may impact their ability to pay rent.

We offer a variety of reporting options to meet your needs, from simplified pass/no pass reports to in-depth, detailed screenings. Our RentalConnect program lets landlords pass the cost of the screening off to the tenant themselves. This allows you to save money and determine whether a tenant is serious about renting out your Riverside MA property. You can select the reports you want, and a request will be sent to the tenant. After the screening has been completed, the tenant grants you permission to view it. You can access it online at any time for up to 30 days. We also offer tenant screening for mobile home parks and commercial properties! Order your reports online today or contact us at 1-800-523-2381.

Posted by & filed under Rentals.

COVID-19 has caused a wide range of government responses concerning renter’s rights – and they’ve varied greatly depending on where a rental property is located. On the most extreme end, you have California, where state legislators proposed a bill that would reduce rent by 25% and ban evictions until 2022. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some cities like Philadelphia and Houston have created rent relief programs to send rent checks directly to rental property owners. Here’s a look at some of the most recent rent protection responses to be aware of.

California

California’s proposed AB 828 has been revised to remove the 25% rent reduction; as the bill currently stands, it would prohibit foreclosures and suspend the sale of tax-defaulted rental properties during the COVID-19 state of emergency (including 15 days after the state of emergency has ended). County recorders would be prohibited from issuing a notice of default, sale or a trustee’s deed upon sale, as long as the state of emergency is in place. Additionally, it would ban courts from accepting a complaint in a foreclosure action.

The second part of AB 828 would halt evictions during the state of emergency. Courts and county sheriffs would be prohibited from accepting unlawful detainer actions or executing a writ of possession. If a tenant isn’t able to keep up with rent payments due to COVID-19, the court could require them to make monthly payments, which would start at the beginning of the following calendar month. If this bill is passed, it would remain in effect until January 1st, 2022.

District of Columbia

The District of Columbia passed the Coronavirus Omnibus Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 on May 5th, which was signed into law on May 13. This act requires property owners with 5 or more rental units to create a rent payment plan for eligible tenants who have been affected by the state of emergency. The act also adds additional restrictions for eviction filings, commercial rent increases, and amenity changes.

New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order that allows renters to request that their security deposits be used to make up any rent balance that’s past due. If rental property owners agree and use the security deposit for rent, they are prohibited from requesting an additional security deposit for at least 6 months after the state of emergency has ended, or until the lease has ended.

Renter Relief Programs

What You Need To Know About The Latest Rent Protections

There has also been a push for renter relief programs for tenants who have been unable to pay rent due to COVID-19, although they remain fairly limited at this time. Here are a few state and local governments that have created such programs:

Hawaii

Hawaii’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides Hawaiian citizens who have lost income due to COVID-19 with up to 6 months of rental assistance, as well as funds for a security deposit. To be eligible, the applicants must be native Hawaiians, on the Department of Hawaiian Home Land’s housing waiting list, and have a household income that’s 80% or less of the federal median income. Hawaii is also offering financial assistance for mortgage payments.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program will make direct rent payments to rental property owners for approximately 3,000 households. The payments cannot exceed $2,500 over three months. In addition, the renters must have made rent payments prior to April. Landlord recipients of the payments must agree that they won’t evict their renters for at least 6 months after the rental assistance payments have ended.

Houston, Texas

Houston approved a $15 million rental assistance program that began on May 7th. Rental property owners are required to enroll in the program online, at HoustonRentAssistance.org; after they’ve enrolled, tenants can apply to receive the funds. In order to qualify, rental property owners must waive all late fees and penalties that were accrued in April and May. For renters to qualify, they must be current on rent payments up until the month of April and have a median income of approximately $40,000 if single, or $60,000 for a family of four. The estimated rental assistance payment amount could be up to $1,056 per month.

Restrictions on evictions, rent increases, and late fees

Starting in March, many areas placed bans on late fees, rent increases, and evictions due to COVID-19. Since the virus continues to spread and affect the economy, it’s likely many of these areas will extend their restrictions; some local governments, like Baltimore and New York, have already taken action to expand on their current restrictions.

The situation with COVID-19 is constantly evolving. As the year progresses and federal and local governments continue to respond to the pandemic, it’s likely we’ll see expanded support for COVID-19 rental assistance, as well as extended rent and eviction protections. Since things continue to change rapidly, it’s best to keep a close eye on the latest laws affecting your rental properties to make sure you’re aware of any new regulations, expanded regulations, or opportunities for aid for you or your tenants.

Posted by & filed under Property Management.

As of the first week of May, 80.2% of renters around the U.S. had paid full or partial rent, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. Despite this, the pressure is increasing for landlords and tenants alike as they struggle to cover expenses. The full financial repercussions of the pandemic aren’t yet known, but it’s likely we’re not out of the woods yet.

Is The Impact Of Covid 19 About To Get Worse

In April, the unemployment rate was a record-breaking 14.7%, which means more than 40 million renter households have had their finances impacted. Millions of renters have already received the $1,200 stimulus from the IRS but there currently aren’t any official plans from Congress to send out additional stimulus payments. At the moment, the chances of additional payments seem slim.

Unemployed citizens have been receiving a supplementary form of federal financial assistance: an additional $600 per week to complement state unemployment benefits. However, this aid is set to expire at the end of July. Some lawmakers have proposed extending those benefits indefinitely, but like the additional stimulus payments, there’s no official plan to do so at this time. If these funds lapse and renters are still unable to work due to job loss (particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industries), their ability to pay rent could suffer.

Both the stimulus and supplementary unemployment payments are undoubtedly helping many renters stay afloat financially, but what happens when they run out?

Even if the payments continue to cover rent, a large number of tenants are only paying partial rent. This number has grown month-to-month, particularly in large metro areas like Atlanta, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Concurrently, the amount of partial rent paid has dropped. In Seattle, one of the first hot spots for the virus, those who paid partial rent by May 6 settled only 35% of the total owed for the month; this is down from April at 37% and January at 44%. Los Angeles saw a similar decrease. In response to partial rent collections, many landlords are enacting payment plans for their tenants.

Landlords are struggling, too

While these payment plans benefit tenants, they’re eroding at landlords’ finances, many of whom were already affected by the initial COVID-19 fee waivers. This has caused revenue per unit to go down for many property owners. One landlord stated their average was approximately $100 per unit, which could equal a significant loss for many, especially if they own an apartment complex with 250 units.

Leasing has begun to pick up again; however, rent prices have plateaued and some areas are affected by government-mandated freezes. Some in the rental housing industry suggest the slowdown in rent growth, coupled with the price cuts, is larger than many people realize.

To make matters worse, eviction bans are scheduled to expire over the summer, which could lead to a wave of eviction cases, displaced residents, lower occupancy rates, and postponed move-ins. On the flipside, multifamily property owners who have federally backed mortgages can receive up to 90 days of loan forbearance under the CARES Act. Unfortunately, the mismatch between eviction halts and loan forbearance could cause some landlords to become delinquent or even default on their loans.

Ultimately, the government’s financial aid for unemployment during COVID-19 is likely inadequate in the long run, especially given the large number of people who have been impacted. With residents unable to pay their rent, property owners and managers will be unable to pay their mortgage, property taxes, and fund payrolls. This could potentially trigger another wave of financial and economic hardship. Hopefully, government aid will be extended or additional stimulus payments will be issued; if so, will it be sufficient?

Posted by & filed under Property Management.

Working from home definitely has its advantages. The commute is short, your dress code is extremely flexible, and many people find they’re more productive without the typical office distractions. With more people working from home due to COVID-19, you may be wondering: can I be a successful landlord or property manager working from home? With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to manage your property from a virtual office. Here are a few things you’ll need to get started:

Online Marketing

Thanks to the internet, there are plenty of ways to effectively market a vacancy for your rental property. You could rely on word of mouth or flyers, but the best way to get your property in front of the most renters is to post online. Craigslist is one popular and easy to use option, and there are also other sites like Zillow or Apartments.com. Regardless of which services you choose to use, it’s important to make sure that your advertising and messaging is consistent across all channels. A personal rental property website is also a great way to directly market your vacancies.

Virtual Tours

Virtual tours are a convenient way to show off your properties to prospective tenants. There are a couple of ways you can conduct virtual tours. You can use 3D software (like this one from Zillow) to create panoramic photographs that applicants can zoom in and look around the property, almost as if they were there in person. This requires a newer smartphone or a professional camera with panoramic capability. You will need to go to the property to do this, but once you’ve created the tour, you can post it on your listing or email it directly to interested parties.

The other option is to do a live video tour. This allows you to walk around the property and show off the features just as you would in person. Live video tours have some advantages over a 3D tour. You can talk about small details that wouldn’t be as visible in photos and the prospective tenant can ask questions in real-time. By offering virtual tours, you may open your property up to applicants you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Click here for more details on how to create a virtual tour.

Online Applications

Online applications make things easier for you as well as applicants. There’s no paper waste, lost paperwork, and you can review the applications without needing to leave your home. Our RentalConnect and QuickScreen services are an easy way to screen your applicants and have them complete an application online – while passing the cost of the screening off to them.

Online Background Checks

6 Tools You Need For Virtual Management

Once you’ve received the applications and are in the process of selecting one, you should run a background check. This will help you verify whether the applicant fits your written rental standards, including income requirements. With our services, this can be completed completely online without any face-to-face interaction with the applicants.

Online Lease Agreement

Once you’ve found the perfect tenant, you’ll want to have them sign the lease. This can be done virtually in a number of ways, including using a free app like DocuSign. We offer free lease agreement forms online, or you can write your own.

Rent Collection

Online rent collection is one of the fastest, easiest ways to collect payments. Typically, an ACH payment will clear quicker than a check, and there are no concerns about misplacing a check or rent getting lost in the mail or stolen. Tenants are also held more accountable for paying on time, as they can set up reminders for the due date. Not to mention, younger generations like millennials and Gen Z prefer online payments over cash, checks, or money orders. Here’s a list of some verified services that make online rent payments hassle-free.

While it may feel daunting to start managing your properties virtually, these tools will help streamline your operations and make them more efficient, particularly during the pandemic. For more information about any of the services we offer, please contact us at 800-523-2381.

Posted by & filed under Background Check.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in restrictions placed on the use of criminal records to make rental decisions. With the concerns surrounding COVID-19, many local and state correctional facilities have released prisoners early, and many of them will be searching for housing. Could previously those with criminal records become a protected class? If so, what would change for the rental housing industry?

The current constraints on criminal record screening vary drastically. On the lowest end of the spectrum, some local governments only dictate when a criminal report can be processed (generally once a conditional offer is extended to the applicant) and the procedure after the applicant is denied. Some areas restrict the amount of time the criminal records can go back. For example, in Cook County, Illinois, landlords and property managers can only consider the past 3 years of criminal records.

The most extreme case of criminal record restrictions is in Seattle, Washington, where property owners are completely prohibited from considering criminal records, with the exception of screening through the National Sex Offender Registry.

If people with a criminal record become a new protected class, it’s likely that criminal record screening would become useless or even considered discriminatory. However, that raises a valid question: if property owners and managers are discouraged or prohibited from criminal record screenings, what are the liabilities?

Will People With Criminal Records Become The Next Protected Class

Property owners and managers have some legal responsibility for the safety of their tenants, and this goes beyond keeping the premises habitable and maintained. For example, you could be held liable if a renter commits a crime on the property or against another renter. If you’re unable to screen an applicant’s criminal records due to legal restrictions, would your property still be held liable?

While further restrictions on criminal records and the industry impact are still all up in the air, there are a few things you can do now to prepare for the future.

Review your written lease and rental criteria

There’s no question that the rental housing landscape is changing, so it’s important that your leasing criteria adapts along with it to prevent the possibility of illegal or outdated practices. Here are some things you should keep in mind while reviewing it:

  • Avoid making one set of rental criteria and applying to all of your properties:
    Your properties may be in different locations or cater to different types of tenants. Make sure that your policies are appropriate for each individual property and make any needed modifications.

  • Create clear leasing standards for all decisions:
    What are your standards for accepting an applicant or denying them? Have these clearly written out and make sure to also establish criteria for conditional acceptances.

  • Avoid creating strict, black and white rules that don’t allow applicants to give more explaination or explain:
    This would include adding a clause like “no felonies.” Stating no felonies across the board doesn’t take into consideration the actual conviction in relation to housing. Instead, state something more specific, like “no violent crime convictions.”

  • Base your rental decisions on objective information rather than subjective information:
    Using subjective information like your tenant’s social media presence, how clean their car is or how they look puts you at risk of potential discrimination claims. Objective information, like tenant screening reports, is the best way to make an unbiased, well-informed decision.

  • Keep an eye on rental housing laws affecting your property:
    As we mentioned, there have been many restrictions placed on using criminal records for rental decisions over the past few years, and this trend is likely to continue. As laws change all the time, it’s possible to go from having a completely legal lease to one that’s in violation of the latest regulation.

Make sure your rental criteria is being applied equally

This is one of the areas you should be most proactive, as it applies to potential discrimination cases. If you run a property management company, make sure to train your leasing staff on your rental criteria frequently, especially if you’ve made changes. All rental criteria should be written and readily available should an applicant or staff member request it. If an applicant asks about it, be transparent about your rental criteria and it factors into your final decision.

Have trust in your leasing process

It’s important to have faith in your leasing process and avoid bending the rules to make an applicant fit them. Bending the rules defeats the purpose of creating leasing standards in the first place, but even worse, it could be seen as discriminatory. If it’s appropriate, you can conduct a formal re-review of your standards. Are they effective? If not, make the necessary changes and apply the new standards to all applicants going forward.

We can’t say for certain that criminal history will become a protected class, but it’s essential to be proactive. By reviewing your rental criteria now with the possibility of further restrictions to criminal record screenings in mind, you can potentially save yourself some time and legal hassle in the future.

Posted by & filed under Landlords.

7 Financial Tips For Landlords During Covid 19

Times are tough for many around the nation right now, especially with a large part of the workforce being unemployed. While we can all hope that things return to normal soon, this “new normal” will likely be our reality for quite some time. Without an official end date for the COVID-19 crisis, many landlords are worried about being able to maintain their properties, pay their insurance and property taxes, and make mortgage payments. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to make sure that you’re still able to meet your financial obligations – while helping your tenants at the same time.

Communicate with your tenants

In many areas, tenants are required to give their landlords notice if they aren’t able to pay rent due to COVID-19. While it’s likely that many tenants will let you know, you may still want to check your local regulations to find out the timeframe they’re supposed to do this in. If you have tenants that won’t be able to pay rent, you may be able to work with them to set up payment plans while keeping in line with your local laws.

Ask for verification

It’s important to have some compassion and be willing to help tenants who need it, but you should still ask for verification if a tenant says they can’t pay rent because of COVID-19. Some tenants may have had a loss of hours, but can still afford rent; others may have lost their jobs completely. It’s unfortunate, but some people may try to take advantage of the situation.

If a tenant says they’re unable to pay rent but their verification says otherwise, you may still be able to serve a notice to pay or quit depending on your local laws. You may not be able to actually remove them until the state of emergency has ended, but it will send a strong message. Make sure that you’re also treating all of your tenants equally – especially if they’re living in the same building. Showing favoritism or discrimination could lead to legal issues.

Encourage your tenants to pay what they can

If you have tenants who are affected by COVID-19 in some way, work with them to see if they’re able to make partial payments. For example, if a tenant has lost half their income, offer them half off their rent until this is over. Be sure to let them know in writing that their partial payments don’t satisfy their full rent obligation, though. Once they’re working again, you can prorate the amount they owe over a period of 6-12 months and add it to their normal monthly rent payment.

Payment plans

If a tenant is unable to pay all or some of their rent, you may be able to work with them to come up with a payment plan. For example, if the rent is $1,500 per month, they may be able to pay $250 per over the next 6 months. If they still aren’t able to pay their rent the following month, you can extend the payment period for an additional 6 months. If they start working regularly again, you can tack on the additional $250 to their normal monthly payment until the full amount has been repaid.

Check with your lender

One of the biggest fears for many landlords right now is that the loss of rental income could lead to defaulting on their mortgage payments. If you’re concerned about this, reach out to your lender and be transparent about the situation. Let them know how much income you’ve lost per property, your monthly expenses, and how much you’ll be able to pay each month to avoid defaulting. Your lender may be willing to lower your monthly payments or help you qualify for a low-interest loan to help pay for the difference.

Check if you qualify for a government loan

If your lender is unwilling to work with you, you can look into whether you qualify for a government loan, like SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). This 30-year loan offers up to $2 million in assistance for rental property owners and is available in all U.S. states and territories. The interest rate is 3.75% and no payments are necessary for the first 12 months. The funds must be used for working capital needs.

Offer virtual tours and rental incentives

It may be difficult to fill vacancies right now, especially with social distancing. One solution is to offer live virtual tours of your vacant units. These can be done over Facetime, Zoom, or other video chat apps and work much the same as if you were showing the unit in person. You can point out the features of your property, like new cabinets or appliances, and answer questions in real-time. If you’re having trouble filling vacancies, you may also want to consider offering rental incentives, like a month of free rent, waiving the security deposit, or offering a free parking spot for a year.

Posted by & filed under Property Management.

States and counties across the country have begun the slow process of lifting COVID-19 self-distancing measures. Despite this, there still remain many areas where shelter in place orders and social distancing remain in effect. Jobs continue to lay off employees and unemployment claims continue to rise in unprecedented numbers. Most states and counties have enacted some form of moratorium on rent and evictions to counter the rising numbers of the unemployed, but we can’t help but wonder, what happens when the moratoriums are lifted?

According to Xochitl Maykovich, political director of the Washington Community Action Network, tenants have greater protections now than they did a year ago. Previously, landlords were required to give tenants a 14-day “pay or quit” notice, which meant they would have to pay their rent or leave the apartment to avoid eviction. Prior to 2019, tenants had a window of three days.

While it may seem like the current moratorium grants a free pass for tenants to stop paying rent, its purpose is to allow time for assistance programs to take effect. In a two-week period, the U.S. recorded 10 million first-time unemployment applications, far exceeding the previous record set by the 2008-2009 financial crisis. This large number of applicants has overwhelmed federal and state systems, causing technical delays.

While the first few rounds of payments from the $2 trillion stimulus package have started hitting people’s bank accounts, it will take a while for them all to go through. Individuals who have lost their job and make under $75,000 will receive a $1200 payment with an additional $600 to their unemployment check. This should hopefully give everyone a little more financial breathing room, but again, it may take time.

What Does All Of This Mean?

Legal And Practical Questions Arise With Rent And Eviction Moratoriums

Essentially, the moratorium is in place to buy time for renters to continue to stay housed while the government can initiate rent relief programs. “We’ve never had to do rent relief on this scale, and even before this, there wasn’t enough to meet the need for rent relief that existed,” Maykovich said. Without rent relief, tenants who have become unemployed recently could become thousands of dollars in debt once the moratorium is lifted – along with facing a 14-day eviction notice.

Edmund Witter, and attorney with the Housing Justice Project, said the number of potential evictions was his largest concern only weeks ago; in the ever-changing world of COVID-19, this concern has been replaced by illegal conduct revolving around stimulus checks. The organization has received multiple reports of one landlord who tried to make tenants give them their entire stimulus check to prevent future eviction – even though the moratorium is still in place.

Many problems are stemming from the fact that laws are changing rapidly. This makes it difficult for landlords and tenants alike to know what is or isn’t legal. The federal government, state governments, and even individual cities have passed eviction moratoriums, but the rules vary greatly. On a federal level, the eviction prohibition applies only to government-insured properties, which makes up approximately 40-50% of the market.

Unfortunately, no matter how much you like your tenants and want to keep them, the fact that they lost their livelihoods doesn’t negate the bills and mortgages you have due. Coupled with rules and regulations that change almost daily, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest developments in the rental housing industry. While property tax and mortgage deferments are available, it’s not helpful for every landlord’s unique situation. Landlords are going to need some form of relief in order to be able to extend relief to their tenants. Hopefully, it will be enacted – and soon.

Posted by & filed under Housing.

With continued concerns regarding COVID-19 outbreaks, some state and federal prisons have granted vulnerable inmates an early release – and many prisons that have not yet made that move are considering it. Recently, the U.S. Attorney General issued an order that allowed inmates who qualified for an early release the option of home confinement. That brings the question: where will vulnerable federal prisoners be housed? Even more importantly, how will these early prison releases affect rental housing, leasing policies, and criminal background screenings? While we don’t have answers to many of these questions yet, here is a closer look at how federal and state governments across the country are handling early prison releases.

Federal Releases and Home Confinement

In early April, Attorney General Bill Barr ordered federal prisons to release vulnerable inmates at facilities that were struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks. This specifically sped up the release process for prisons in Danbury Connecticut, Oakdale Louisiana, and Elkton Ohio, all of which were at the greatest risk of outbreaks. However, it’s expected that the prisoner releases will continue as other facilities become affected by the virus.

As of April 5th, the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) reported that home confinement cases had increased by over 40% since March and that these numbers would continue to increase. The Attorney General’s initiative also changed the criteria for which inmates are considered for home confinement. Previously, federal prisoners were eligible for home confinement once they had completed 90% of their sentences; Barr’s initiative pushed for earlier releases based on a non-exhaustive list of factors, including:

  • The inmate’s age and vulnerability to the virus under CDC guidelines

  • How much security the inmate requires, with priority being given to inmates in low and medium-security facilities

  • The inmate’s conduct while in prison; those who engaged in violent or gang-related activities in prison or who have incurred a BOP violation within the last year do not receive priority treatment

  • The inmate’s PATTERN (Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs) score; inmates with anything above a minimum score do not receive priority treatment

  • The inmate’s risk of repeat offenses and public safety concerns, including verification that the conditions the inmate would be confined in once released would offer a lower risk of contracting the virus than if the inmate stayed in the prison

  • An assessment of the crime the inmate was convicted for, as well as an assessment of the danger the inmate poses to the community. Some convictions, such as sex offenses, make an inmate ineligible for home confinement.

Before inmates are transferred to home confinement, they will be placed in a mandatory 14-day quarantine to ensure they are not showing any COVID-19 symptoms. In March, these inmates were originally released to location monitoring services and subject to supervised release. The new initiative from AG Barr authorizes the BOP to “transfer inmates to home confinement even if electronic monitoring isn’t available, so long as the BOP determines… that doing so is appropriate and consistent with our obligation to protect public safety.”

Early Prison Releases and Home Confinement

Without a doubt, the influx of prisoners released to home confinement will impact on the rental housing industry – even after the pandemic has ended. There are nearly 2 million people incarcerated in state prisons and local jails, but only 174,837 are in federal custody. This means there are many more inmates who are likely to be released by local governments, and that the eligibility requirements may vary from state-to-state.

State Level Releases

Since March, state and local governments have been conflicted over whether to grant prisoners an early release due to COVID-19 outbreaks. In Arizona, a state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has said that he feels the precautions being taken with the virus are already sufficient. Other states have gone back and forth regarding inmate eligibility, or on how many prisoners would need to be released to mitigate an outbreak. Some states have already granted inmates an early release. Here’s a deeper look at how some cities and states are handling early prisoner releases:

  • New Jersey

Stuart Rabner, New Jersey’s Chief Justice, signed an order that allowed the release of approximately 1,000 inmates from county jails. This applied to inmates jailed for probation violations, as well as people who were convicted in municipal courts or sentenced for low-level crimes in Superior Court.

  • Ohio

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced on April 7th that the state planned to release inmates in state prisons who were older, sick, or close to their release date. At that time, 141 prisoners were scheduled to be released within 90 days and there were 26 inmates 60 years old or older with chronic health conditions who had already served at least half their sentences. The governor also asked that the 60-day waiting period before being sent to parole be waived.

DeWine had previously asked courts to consider early release for 23 women who were pregnant or who had an infant in prison, as well as for 15 prisoners who were 60 years or older with 120 days or less left until their release date. In addition, county judges throughout the state have been working to reduce inmate populations by releasing nonviolent offenders. They’re also ordering police to issue citations rather than arrests and making a push for plea deals.

In March, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDRC) Secretary to stop the intake and/or transfer of inmates and youth offenders. The order also directs the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct all parole hearings through videoconferencing. This has led to the release of approximately 3,500 people who were serving sentences for non-violent offenses and were due for parole within 60 days. Additionally, the California Judicial Council has also voted to set 11 temporary emergency rules, which includes setting a state-wide of $0 for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies.

Colorado’s Executive Order D 2020 016 allows the state’s Department of Corrections to put a temporary limit on the number of prisoners it accepts. Prisoners that would have gone to those facilities are instead kept at pre-transfer facilities. The order also suspends cap and criteria for “earned time credits” and allows the department to refer inmates to a “special needs parole” program.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-29, which identified inmates who are potentially eligible for release from jails, including older inmates, those with chronic conditions, pregnant women, or people who are close to their release date. The order also includes those who are incarcerated for traffic violations or have been charged with failure to appear or failure to pay.

Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order that bars inmates who are accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released from jail without first paying bail. According to the Texas Tribune, there are reports that Harris County misdemeanor judges aren’t following the order and are instead abiding by a federal court’s order that allows for the automatic release of most misdemeanor defendants without requiring bail payment.

  • Alaska

Alaska has released temporary order for police to avoid jailing anyone for misdemeanor charges, exception for domestic violence or stalking. Inmates can also request a bail hearing if they are concerned about COVID-19. There’s also now a temporary bail schedule for misdemeanor crimes, which allows anyone charged with a misdemeanor (other than those listed above) to be released on their own recognizance. Judges may also factor in the pandemic when considering release.

  • New York City

In NYC, over 650 inmates have been released. The city’s eligibility requirements for release are inmates convicted of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies with less than 1 year left of their sentence. Inmates with domestic violence or sexual offense charges are ineligible.

If there’s anything we’ve all learned with COVID-19, it’s that things change rapidly. This makes it difficult to predict exactly what the future holds. The pandemic has effectively put a halt on evictions, reduced the ability for tenants to pay rent, and greatly impacted the economy. It’s also threatened the lives of many Americans, including those who were or continue to be incarcerated. The federal and state prisoner releases certainly add a complicating element to an already complicated situation. We will continue to watch how things evolve and keep you updated as official guidelines are released.

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Tips And Best Practices For Virtual Tours

Social distancing is being encouraged throughout most of the country, which means a slow-down in lease signings and tour requests for many landlords and property managers. However, even if you’re not able to meet with prospective tenants in person, you can still show them around your property with a virtual tour. Virtual tours are often quicker and more efficient than an in-person tour, and they’re very affordable. There’s no need for expensive equipment or a videographer.

What you’ll need:

  • A smartphone
  • A video calling app, like FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Skype (if you choose to do live video calls)
  • A 3D home app, like this one from Zillow (optional)

A benefit of meeting prospective tenants virtually is that it gives you an opportunity to learn more about the tenant’s needs, as well as focus on their areas of interest around the property. To make your virtual interactions go smoothly, be sure to show enthusiasm for offering the virtual tour. Once the virtual tour is scheduled, follow up to confirm the appointment via text or email.

Using Zillow 3D Home tours

The Zillow 3D Home tour app lets you capture and send virtual tours for free using an iPhone 7 or later. Potential tenants can click through the images, going room to room as though they were actually walking through the home. It provides an immersive experience allowing renters to clearly see the property’s layout and features. Zillow provides a step by step guide here. After you’ve created your home tour, you can add it to your listing using the Zillow Rental Manager.

Other virtual tour options

If you don’t use Zillow for your listings, there are other ways to provide virtual tours. You can offer video calls, where you walk through the property and answer the renter’s questions in real-time. Another option is to record a video where you walk through the property and talk about its features. You can send this to interested renters and then follow up with a phone or video call for discussion or to address any questions they have.

How to prepare

In many ways, you should prepare for a virtual tour the same way as you would for an in-person tour. Make sure the home is clean, orderly, and well-lit. Turn on all the lights and open doors and the drapes or blinds. Before you start the tour, plot your route. Select a starting point and the order you’ll show each of the rooms. Make sure not to overlook features like kitchen appliances, closet space, and parking. If you have any furniture at the property, you can do some “staging” with it to give renters an idea of what it will look like living there.

Video and live video call tours

Here are a few things you should keep in mind while you’re doing video tours:

  • If you’re pre-recording a tour, you may want to put your phone on airplane mode so the video isn’t disrupted from incoming calls or notifications
  • If you’re going to conduct a live video tour, check your internet connection at the rental property
  • Treat both types of video tours as you would if you were doing an in-person tour. Be professional, friendly, and authentic.
  • Narrate everything you see during video calls. Call out specific things that you know are important to the renter. Voice overs aren’t necessary if you’re making a video to send to renters, but if you do one, create a short script to ensure that all the important features are mentioned and nothing gets overlooked. If you choose not to do a voice-over, be sure to include good written descriptions of the rooms and features on your listing.
  • Don’t keep your phone at eye level. Make sure to pan up and down so the renter can have a complete view of the ceiling fixtures and floors.
  • Try to keep the video as steady as possible. Move slowly and take pauses so the renter can see everything well.
  • Don’t overthink – keep your tours professional, simple, and effective.
  • Ask for feedback at the end of the tour and if there is are any features they would like to see again or in more detail.
  • Follow up with the renters after you’ve sent or conducted the tour to keep them engaged.

Adopting virtual tours during social distancing will benefit your marketing and help speed up the rental process. You may even find that offering virtual tours increases the interest in your properties and decide to continue using them even once social distancing has ended.

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