In years past, landlords could spend hours researching rental laws at the local library and sometimes still end up needing legal help. The Internet, however, has changed this to an extent. With just a few clicks of a mouse, you can find the legal codes of your state and even necessary legal forms to help rent out a property. There are certain legal documents, though, that should stay outside of the realm of "do-it-yourself." Randomly downloading these documents, or typing them up yourself, could land you in hot water.

Rental Application
The first insight you'll get into a potential tenant's life will be in the rental application. In many cases, it's easy to just download one of these via the Internet. Unfortunately, these are not always "one-size-fits-all." In fact, a rental application question that's OK to ask in one state could be against the law in another. Asking about a tenant's marital status in Wisconsin, for instance, is perfectly fine. In California, however, this question cannot be used to filter out potential tenants.
With this in mind, it's important to verify that a rental application stays within state guidelines. It's possible to do this through extensive research, but many landlords simply opt to use online property-management tools from providers like Landlord Station that give state-specific rental applications. Either way, this will help you "color inside the lines" of the law.

Tenant Consent to Reference and Background Check
If you mess up when getting consent to perform a background or reference check on a prospective tenant, you might end up in court. Fortunately, these consent forms are easily found online.

Rental Agreement or Lease Forms
The rental agreement, or lease form, could be the most important legal document you ever use as a landlord, and if you create your own or download an online template, you might just end up hurting yourself. As mentioned, state laws can vary greatly.
Once again, this means it's necessary to do a bit of research. If you're creating your own lease, look at a template specific to your state and choose what you want to include on your rental agreement. But be careful that the template you're using isn't outdated. Once again, property-management software can come in handy here.

Eviction Forms
The potential to get in trouble with eviction forms again stems from varying laws in different states. The eviction process in Georgia, for instance, is completely different from that in Florida.
A state's termination statute will lay out the groundwork for what a landlord must do when she wants a tenant out. Fortunately, online tools are also available that focus on state-specific eviction laws and legal documents.

Being a landlord has undoubtedly gotten easier over the years, but that doesn't mean that everything should be do-it-yourself. There are still certain legal matters that are best left to professionals, but fortunately, this doesn't always mean that hiring an attorney is necessary.

POSTED June 23 2015 2:01 PM

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