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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 Relationship Creating 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.

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Rent control is here to stay in California – at least until 2030. On October 8, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Assembly Bill 1482, which caps annual rent increases at 5% and imposes rules on just cause eviction. The legislation is meant to address the rising cost of housing and increasing homelessness affecting the state.

California’s rent cap is particularly noteworthy because of the scale. There are approximately 17 million renters in the state; however, it’s estimated that only about 2.4 million California households will actually be affected by the new bill.  The signing of this bill makes California and Oregon the only two states in the country that cap rent increases statewide.

The bill goes into effect on January 1, 2020, and includes the following clauses:

Annual rent increases

Annual rent increases are limited to 5%, plus a change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for a maximum increase of 10%. Rent increases made between March 15, 2019 and January 1, 2020 that are above the 5% plus CPI restrictions have to be lowered to the rental amount of March 15, 2019, plus the 5% and CPI or by 10% – whichever one is lower as of January 1, 2020. Landlords and property managers won’t be required to provide refunds to renters for the rent collected before January 1. Vacant property rent costs can be priced however you like. Once a new renter has moved into the property, you’ll need to abide by the new rental cap restrictions.

Just cause evictions

The bill enacts “just cause” eviction rules for renters who have lived at a rental for 12 months (24 months if an additional renter moves into the same property). Evictions are separated into at-fault and no-fault. For no-fault evictions, landlords and property managers will need to provide the renter time to correct their lease or rental agreement violations before a notice of termination can be issued. If the tenant doesn’t correct their behavior within that time frame, they can then be served with a 3-day notice to quit.

Acceptable reasons for at-fault evictions include:

  • Failing to pay rent
  • Breaching the terms of the lease
  • Committing or permitting nuisance behavior as applicable to local nuisance ordinance laws
  • Failure to keep the property clean
  • The tenant refuses to complete a written lease extension or renewal on or after January 1st, 2020
  • The tenant participates in criminal activity on the property
  • Transferring or subletting the property in violation of the terms of the lease
  • Refusing to let the property owner access the property
  • Using the property for unlawful purposes
  • The property’s employee, agent, or licensee fails to vacate the property after employment is terminated
  • Failure to deliver possession of the property following a renter’s lease termination notice, which the property owner accepts in writing

No-fault eviction reasons include:

  • The owner or relative of the owner intends to occupy the unit. Relatives are considered the owner’s spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren, parents, or grandparents. Leases that were entered into on or after July 1, 2020 will require the tenant to agree to the lease termination in writing. Otherwise, the lease will need to include a lease termination for owner occupancy provision.
  • Withdrawing the property from the rental market.
  • Intent to demolish the property or significantly remodel it.
  • If the owner is complying with a local ordinance, court order, or government entity which results in the need to vacate the property.

No-fault evictions will entitle the tenant to relocation assistance or a rent waiver that’s equal to one month’s rent. The tenant must be notified of this right on their notice of termination. The relocation assistance or rent waiver must be paid within 15 calendar days of the termination notice. If the property owner fails to pay this within the time frame, the lease termination will be void. For lease agreements that are started or renewed on or after July 1, 2020, you must provide the following notice or addendum to your lease:

“California law limits the amount your rent can be increased. See Section 1947.12 of the Civil Code for more information. California law also provides that after all of the tenants have continuously and lawfully occupied the property for 12 months or more or at least one of the tenants has continuously and lawfully occupied the property for 24 months or more, a landlord must provide a statement of cause in any notice to terminate a tenancy. See Section 1946.2 of the Civil Code for more information.”

If this is given to the tenant as a lease notice, the tenant must sign a copy.

Rental properties that are exempt from this law include:

  • Owner-occupied duplexes
  • Properties that were built within the past 15 years
  • Single-family homes
  • Housing that’s subject to more restrictive rent control ordinances

If your property is exempt, you must provide your tenants with a written notice stating the following:

“This property is not subject to the rent limits imposed by Section 1947.12 of the Civil Code and is not subject to the just-cause requirements of Section 1946.2 of the Civil Code. The property meets the requirements of Sections 1947.12 (d)(5) and 1946.2 (e)(8) of the Civil Code and the owner is not any of the following: (1) a real estate investment trust, as defined by Section 856 of the Internal Revenue Code; (2) a corporation; or (3) a limited liability company in which at least one member is a corporation.”

This notice must be included in rental agreements started on or after July 1, 2020.

Additional Information on Assembly Bill 1482

The rent control policies of Assembly Bill 1482 will primarily apply to apartments and other multi-family buildings – with some exceptions – along with some single-family homes. Condos and other single-family homes will be exempt unless owned by a corporation or real estate investment trust. Duplexes that have one unit occupied by the owner will also be exempt.

If you live in a city that already has rent control, AB 1482 won’t override your local laws. It will, however, cover units that aren’t already subject to local rent control laws.

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Effective communication is an essential skill for property managers to have. You communicate daily with tenants, service vendors, and of course, property owners. While all communication is vital, the importance of clear communication with owners can’t be overstated. You should have a thorough understanding of the owners’ needs, and the owners should feel secure knowing that you’re being transparent and providing a valuable service. Even if you’re already a skilled communicator, you should always work to improve your skills. Here are a few easy ways you can improve your communication with clients.

Owner Involvement

Property owners are not one-size-fits-all. Some of them may want to be closely involved in the management of the property. They’ll want all the details about the work you’re doing for them. Others may take a completely hands-off approach, only expecting crucial updates. Many owners won’t volunteer how much they’d like to be involved, so as a property manager, it’s your job to find out. Ask them how much involvement they would like to have. The level of owner involvement is extremely important to know, as this will dictate how and when you communicate with the owner. You should learn where each owner falls in the range of involvement and be prepared to accommodate owners from across the spectrum.

Determine the Owner’s Goals

Healthy communication often doesn’t occur organically. Instead of wondering if your clients’ goals have changed, you should make a point to schedule a conversation with each of them every six months. This will give them time to discuss anything they may not think to bring up during your routine communications. They’ll appreciate having dedicated time set aside to discuss remodeling projects or property purchases. 

Explain Charges

Transparency is crucial to your relationship with your clients, particularly when it comes to financial matters. One way to communicate to owners that you value transparency is to walk them through the details of their first statement. Give them all the details, so they understand precisely what they’re paying you for. This will give them peace of mind and possibly prevent questions about their statements down the road. If the owner is tech-savvy, you can even set up screen sharing so you can literally be on the same page, line per line.

Communicate Understanding

This is more of an ongoing philosophy that you should try to apply to every interaction you have with owners. Sometimes your interactions with clients will test your patience. You may have a meticulous client who wants to know every single detail of the maintenance that was done, or one that’s disputing charges. Regardless of the situation, you should try to step back and look at things from their perspective. This doesn’t mean that you should only look at the property through their eyes. You should try to understand where they’re coming from and determine if you’ve earned their trust. Coming from a place of understanding rather than frustration or annoyance will improve your business relationship and make it more profitable.

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It makes sense to many landlords to invest in properties near their own homes, but it’s certainly not a requirement. Whether you’ve moved away from the area, or you found a great investment opportunity out of state, you can still be very successful as a long-distance landlord. The key is to outsource tasks and responsibilities. Here are ten ways you can effectively manage your property while maximizing the return on investment on your long-distance rentals.

Hire a Reliable Property Manager

Whether you live 30 miles away or 300, living far away from your rental property means you aren’t able to check up on the property regularly. That’s where hiring a good property manager comes in. Be patient when selecting a property manager, because they will ultimately become the caretaker of your property. Your property manager will be responsible for selecting and interacting with your tenants, as well as addressing maintenance concerns and requests.

Your property manager should have skills in communication, sales, administration, and technology. It’s worth it to pay more for a highly-skilled property manager, who can save you money in the long-run by helping you avoid property damage and problematic tenants.

Make Local Connections

If you don’t have any friends or family in the area near your rental, you should start networking. In case of an emergency, you’ll have someone you can rely on to check on your unit. Attending real estate events will allow you to meet local agents, inspectors, attorneys, or other rental professionals.

At some point, your property will eventually need maintenance and repairs. You may also want to make connections with some of the local handymen, electricians, and plumbers to make sure you have some reliable contacts to call if there are repairs that need to be fixed immediately.

Get to Know the Local Market

Every real estate market is different, so it’s important to understand the local market that your rental is located in. That will allow you to set a competitive price for rent. One good place to start is by reviewing the Zillow Local Market Report for your rental’s location. You can also use Zillow to research comparable homes in the area.

It’s also important to become familiarized with the local laws and regulations, as they can differ from place to place. You may also want to develop a relationship with a local attorney who can help you in case any issues come up. Staying on top of the local news will keep you up to date on any events or situations which may affect your renters.

Review Your Screening Process

Screening is always important, but it becomes even more so when you’re not meeting potential tenants face to face. It’s a good idea to review your screening processes and applications yearly to make sure that you have the right procedures in place.

Have an Ironclad Lease

Your lease is one of the most important factors in your success as a long-distance landlord. You can make sure that your lease covers all bases by having a local attorney (or one familiar with the area) review it. Be sure to clearly state who is responsible for what, payment due dates, late fee policies, damage assessment and collections, pet policies, and any other important clauses. This will ensure your property is fully protected should there be any issues. For tips on how to write a lease, check out Lease Writing 101.

Check in on Your Tenants

Even if you have a property manager, your tenants should feel comfortable talking to you. Developing a relationship with your tenants will also make them more likely to treat your property respectfully. Give your tenants a call or send an email to them every few months to check-in. Ask how they’re doing, if everything is working well at the property. This will allow you to have a good rapport with them and shows that you care about their comfort and needs. If you plan to travel or your tenant plans to be away for more than 3 or 4 days, make an agreement to let each other know so that you’re both aware of why you may not be able to get a hold of one another quickly.

Pay Attention to Expenses

Even if you rely on a property management company, you’ll still want to keep an eye on your expenses. Ask your property manager for a detailed, itemized statement every month. This will allow you to see exactly what you’re paying for. You should also review your property’s statements every month to keep track of repairs or other unexpected situations. You can plan for larger repairs by having an idea of when certain things will need to be replaced and getting local repair estimates. That way, you’ll know the likely costs you’ll be facing and can choose a vendor who can perform the work at a fair price.

Embrace Technology

Even as a long-distance landlord, your tenants will expect you to be available by text and email if they need to communicate. Some tenants may also want the option of being able to pay their rent online. Make sure that you have the technology – and the skills – you need to meet your tenants’ expectations. In some cases, you may be able to write off devices or software as a business expense.

Visit Your Property on Occasion

If you’re able, it’s recommended that you see your property in person a few times a year. Property managers often don’t visit the properties they manage on a regular basis, so there might be maintenance or repair issues that they aren’t aware of. No matter how thorough your property manager is, the best way to make sure you know exactly what’s going on with your property is to see it yourself. In some cases, you may be able to write off your travel costs as a business expense.

Find the Right Tenant for Your Property

Being a long-distance landlord can present some different challenges, but with the right tenants, you may find it’s not much more work than managing a property in town. Screening is an essential process of choosing the right tenant, and our screening services make the process easy. Our reports are available online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We offer several packages to help you make the most informed decision possible. Have questions? Give us a call at 1-800-523-2381.

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One of the most critical decisions you’ll make as a landlord is selecting a tenant from your list of applicants. Bad tenants can be costly. They may cause damage to your property, consistently pay their rent late (or not at all) or even move out before the lease is up. On the other hand, a good tenant acts like a caretaker for your property. They pay their rent on time, take care of your property, and notify you of any potential problems before they have the chance to become a major issue. Having an excellent tenant makes your job as a landlord significantly easier!

When trying to find the right tenant for your property, you can save a lot of time by conducting a prescreening interview. After you answer the prospective tenant’s questions about the property, mention that you have a few questions to determine if the property is a good fit for them. Here are some important questions you should ask:

  1. Do you currently rent? If so, where?

  2. How long have you lived at your current address?

  3. Why are you looking for a new place to live?

  4. What date would you want to move in?

  5. Where do you currently work?

  6. What’s your approximate income?

  7. Have you ever been late paying rent?

  8. Do you have any gaps in employment? If so, can you explain them?

  9. How many people would be living with you?

  10. Does anyone in your household smoke?

  11. How many parking spaces would you need?

  12. Do you have any pets? How many and what type? Are they trained/housebroken?

  13. Would your current landlord would give you a good reference?

  14. May I contact your previous landlords?

  15. Does your current landlord know that you’re planning to move?

  16. Have you ever been evicted?

  17. Are you familiar with our rental application process?

  18. Are there any issues I should know about before I run a background check?

  19. Have you recently filed for bankruptcy?

  20. Are you willing to pay our lease application fee of $__ if you fill out the application?

  21. Will you be able to pay the security deposit of $__ at the lease signing?

  22. Are you willing to sign a (your timeframe) lease agreement?

  23. Do you have any questions for me about the application or rental process?

Based on the answers the potential applicant gives you, you may be able to save time, energy, and money by weeding out those individuals that you feel won’t be a good fit. For example, if you have a no pets policy but the person has pets, you can both come to an understanding that their application would be denied. It’s also possible that the individual would learn something about the property that doesn’t suit them. In that case, they may decide that they aren’t interested in wasting the time to apply.

The ideal tenant will meet all your criteria and should have:

  • Monthly income that is three times the rate of your rent
  • A clean eviction report
  • A good credit score
  • Excellent references
  • Steady employment history

Create a Pre-Screening Survey

Another option to pre-screen applicants is to develop a pre-screening survey. One easy and free way to do this is by using Google forms. This can be sent to the potential applicant via email or accessed using a custom link on your rental listing. If the applicant fails to meet your criteria, they can get the decision immediately.

Follow Up Your Pre-Screening Interview with a Thorough Screening

Many landlords would like to go by their gut feeling about rental applicants. However, regardless of how an applicant answers the questions, it may not reflect reality. An individual may say they don’t smoke or have pets, but they may just be providing the answers that they believe will increase the chances of being selected to rent the property. That’s why it’s necessary to follow your pre-screening interview with a thorough background screening.

A complete tenant screening will protect your property and rental income. While screening tenants yourself can take a considerable amount of time, you can save time and energy by relying on our tenant screening services. We offer a variety of packages to help you make the most informed decision when choosing a tenant. We stand behind the accuracy of all our reports with a 100% money-back guarantee. All reports are online and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you have any questions about our services, contact us at 1-800-253-2381.

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Owning rental properties can be extremely lucrative, but it’s not entirely without risk. Tenants can and do, bring lawsuits against their landlords. Many times, these lawsuits can be avoided by following some property management best practices. Here are a few tips on how to avoid some of the most common situations that cause tenants to sue their landlords.

Set up an LLC

One way to protect your investment is to set your business up under the protection of a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC. An LLC will protect any personal assets if a tenant brings a lawsuit against the property. Having a well-drafted rental agreement or lease that dictates how the tenant is expected to treat the property is also essential. It’s recommended that you include a clause that makes it necessary to settle the dispute in arbitration rather than in court. For added protection, you can also get an insurance policy for the property that includes limited liability coverage. This would make it possible for the insurance company to defend you if the lawsuit went to court.

Comply with Local Codes and Conduct Routine Inspections

By complying with all local and building codes, you can avoid the likelihood of premise liability lawsuits. Schedule routine inspections of all the systems on the property, including fire alarms, CO2 alarms, and water heaters. Keep a record of all inspections so you have evidence they’ve been properly maintained, should you have to go to court. If you’re aware of any hazards on the property that haven’t been disclosed to the tenant or resolved, this could be grounds for a lawsuit as well. This includes things like tripping hazards, lead paint, or chemical leaks.

Avoid Discriminatory Practices

Discrimination of any kind is another issue that can lead to lawsuits. This includes discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, gender, or disability. Asking questions about any of these factors is strictly prohibited and may spur an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Make sure to familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to make sure that none of your rental practices or policies are discriminatory.

It’s also important to note that according to the FHA, all multifamily homes built after 1991 must be accessible to all disabilities. All reasonable modification requests must be granted. A reasonable accommodation is a change or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or property that allows a person with disabilities to have equal opportunity to enjoy the property. Some examples of reasonable modifications include a change in the “no pets” policy to allow for a guide animal or adding a grab bar to a tenant’s bathroom. Keep a record of all modification requests as well as your response.

Conduct a Walkthrough and Provide an Itemized List

Another common area of dispute between landlords and tenants are security deposits. Most tenants expect to receive their security deposits shortly after they move off the property. If the tenant disputes the amount of the deposit held for repairs or maintenance, it could lead to a lawsuit. To avoid any problems, it’s recommended that you conduct a pre and post rental walkthrough with the tenant present. During the walkthrough, provide them with an itemized list of the repairs that are needed. Having an itemized list in hand will reduce the chances of disputes or litigation. To add further protection, make sure you’re complying with your local laws regarding how you can use the deposit.

Create a Process for Screening Applicants

Busy landlords may decide that their risk of lawsuits is low and decide not to screen applicants. Or, they may worry about being accused of discrimination by a rejected applicant. Tenant screening is necessary to protect your property investment and may even help you avoid discrimination claims. The best practice for tenant screening is to consider all the reasons why you would deny an applicant. Create a checklist of your rental criteria and make sure that it doesn’t include any potential discriminatory practices.

Once you’ve determined how you’ll weed out applicants, use our tenant screening services to conduct a thorough screening. Use your checklist alongside our reports to make your decision. Keep a record of why the applicant was denied so you can point to a specific reason why you chose not to rent to them. If someone tries to sue you for discrimination, you’ll have well-documented proof that it wasn’t based on discriminatory reasons.

With proper precautions, investing in a rental property can be an extremely reliable source of income. By staying up to date on federal laws, property maintenance, and overall good business practices, you should be able to avoid many common issues that often lead to litigation.

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At some point, most landlords will probably encounter a situation where one of their rental properties still receives mail for a former tenant. It can be frustrating, particularly when the previous tenant didn’t provide a forwarding address. So, how can you make sure the mail gets to the right person – and stop it from being delivered to your property?

Simple and Effective Ways to Stop the Mail from Being Delivered

There are several ways to put an end to the unwanted mail. The easiest is to write “return to sender,” “no longer at this address,” or simply “moved” on the outside of the envelope. The post office will make a note that the individual is no longer at that address and return the mail to the sender. Hopefully, whoever sent the mail will update their records and stop sending mail for that person to your rental. Generally, the post office is very efficient about updating their records, so eventually, all mail for that former tenant should stop.

If you’ve tried the first step but are continuing to receive the past tenant’s mail, you may need to leave a note for the postal carrier. It should say something like, “[former tenant’s name] is not at this address,” or “Please deliver mail to [current tenant’s name] only.” Most mail carriers will take note and quickly learn to sort out any mail that’s addressed to the former tenant. If you find the mail carrier is still delivering the previous tenant’s mail, you can speak to them directly or visit your local post office to put in a direct request. More often than not, the post office ultimately sorts out the issue.

It’s important to note that no matter what, landlords should never open a former tenant’s mail. Even throwing mail away could be considered mail theft, so even if it looks like junk, it’s best to have the post office deal with the issue.

What if You Need the Forwarding Address?

The larger problem for landlords is when they need to have the forwarding address to return a security deposit or take the tenant to small claims court. Tenants who owe their landlord money often won’t provide a forwarding address, while others may simply neglect passing it along. The simplest way to find the new tenant’s address is to again, turn to the post office.

Start by sending a letter to the tenant’s last known address. Write “address service requested” underneath the stamp. If the tenant filed a change of address within the past year, the post office can provide you with the new address for a small fee. Landlords can also file a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the address from the post office. You’ll be expected to provide your personal address, contact number, and pay for a fee for the information. You won’t be expected to explain why you want their address but providing a reason may give you a better chance of receiving it.

Other Methods for Finding the Former Tenant’s Current Address

You can also contact your former tenant’s emergency contact or references they had listed on the rental application. There’s always a chance that they won’t give you any information, but in the case of returning a security deposit, they may be happy to help. Be sure to be upfront on who you are, as it’s illegal for landlords to lie about their identity. Landlords can also call their former tenants at work to request their new address unless the tenant has explicitly stated that they are prohibited from doing so.

If there’s a possibility that the tenant is being sued, getting a divorce, or other legal matters, you may be able to find their new address through the court system. Some courts post public records online, while others may require you to fill out a form and pay a fee to search the records.

Depending on the state you live in, you may also be able to:

  • Request their new address from the Department of Motor Vehicles

  • Search online public voter registration records

  • View online phone books or white pages

  • Contact the utility company for the new address

Please note that these methods aren’t legal in every state, so you’ll want to read up on your local laws to make sure you’re taking the appropriate, lawful actions. If you’re trying to find the address to initiate court proceedings or send the individual to a collection agency, you don’t necessarily need the tenant’s new address. Some states allow you to sue the tenant at their workplace, while other states allow landlords to publish a public notice in the local newspaper. Regardless of whether you need to get ahold of the former tenant or would just like the unwanted mail to stop being delivered, it’s best to start by working with the post office. In most cases, they’ll be able to get the issue resolved with the least amount of effort from you.