What responsibilities do you have when it comes to snow and ice at your rental property?

Throughout the winter season, snow and ice are common problems across many states. Even if clearing the streets is generally the responsibility of the municipality, there are often local guidelines mandating swift removal of snow and salting icy areas on sidewalks and other pathways to reduce the risk of accidents.

Property considerations

If your rental property is an apartment or multi-housing unit, you are likely responsible for clearing snow and ice in common areas such as stairs and walkways.

When it comes to a single-family property, the guidelines are less clear and vary between states and even cities within the same state. In some cases, the city or neighborhood clears ice and snow from the sidewalks. In others, this is the responsibility of the property owner.

In all cases, it’s important to do so as quickly as possible as liability for falls and injuries is a real risk. 

Lease language

To ensure that both the tenant and the landlord are clear on who is responsible for what, there are some key clauses to include in the lease, including but not limited to:

  • Who is in charge of snow removal and ice mitigation
  • Where the snow should be removed from
  • Where the snow should be moved to
  • How quickly the snow should be removed; this will vary by city so be sure to check with your local city government.
  • If your tenant is tasked with the responsibility, if you choose to provide snow clearing equipment or if tenants should provide their own

It should also be noted that liability may fall on you regardless of what is stated in the lease. Always be sure to check both state and local laws to ensure that your lease aligns with legal guidelines.

Winter maintenance

Cold weather, regardless of snow, can cause damage if not handled properly.

Before temperatures really dip, it is a good idea to visit the property and check on key systems and equipment such as the heating, water pipes, smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors. Ensuring that all equipment is in good working order before the season gets underway can reduce the risk of failures and early-morning emergencies.

You should also regularly check the seals on external doors and windows to ensure they are being maintained properly and are in good condition. Not only can old or broken seals damage the property if water and ice get in, but it can also impact the overall temperature of the property and put a strain on heating systems. 

In addition to your regular maintenance, you may wish to discuss ways in which your tenants can look after the property during the colder months such as best practices for using the heating system or how to avoid frozen pipes.

Remember, always check your local laws and ensure that you are following them. In addition to legal requirements, helping your tenants maintain the property throughout the winter months may reduce the risk of long-term damage.

Best Ways to Research New and Updated Local Landlord-Tenant Laws

As a landlord, it’s important that you stay up to date on the laws that impact you, your property, and your tenants. However, unless you are also a legal expert, it can be challenging to keep track of every landlord-tenant law and a consultation with a lawyer can get expensive.

Because each state and even each city has its own laws, you need to know where to look. While search engines are a useful tool, it’s important to understand which sources you can trust and where to find the most up to date information.

When researching local issues, keep in mind that while federal and state laws take precedence, local landlord-tenant laws adds an additional layer of regulation to further protect the municipality. Because of this, it’s usually best to start at the federal level and work your way to local. 

Federal Law

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a primary resource for landlord-tenant laws. You can use the search function on their home page or Google “your search term + HUD” to find information specific to your question.

Reviewing previous cases online can also be useful. The Legal Information Institute from Cornell University Law School interprets the law and specific cases by state or through various federal courts. The U.S. Code via Cornell University Law School provides helpful information on current statutes.

State Law

Once you have consulted federal laws, it’s time to move to state landlord-tenant laws.  This will govern most of the issues you’ll encounter regarding landlord and tenant rights.

  • First, check with your state attorney’s general website, which often includes basic information relating to landlord and tenant laws.
  • You can also visit the HUD website; under the “State Info” tab, you can select your state. Under “Get Rental Help,” you’ll find information about tenants’ rights and laws. This section deals with laws specific to that state and provides a list of tenants’ rights and landlords’ responsibilities.
  • Visit USA.gov for information about complaints with housing. While this site primarily offers tenant resources, there are some useful to landlords as well. The Fair Housing Act details many regulations for rental properties, especially in the area of discrimination. However, many states further define discrimination beyond this act, which is why you will also want to refer to the state statutes.

Local Laws Regarding Landlords and Tenants

Cities and municipalities often provide their own regulations and the best source will be through the city’s website. You can also contact a city office or the local library for more information. The local level is where you’ll find ordinances about noise or trash, public nuisances, and other regulations.

If your rental property is in a suburb or neighborhood association, you’ll have to also check with them for further guidelines. Some associations have bylaws on issues such as landscaping, outdoor decorations, and parking. These associations have regular meetings and officers. Bylaws don’t supersede city or state laws, but they often deal with specific aspects of rental properties, including where rental properties are allowed.

Other useful sources of information

Additional resources we reference: 

Conclusion

Understanding local law governing landlords and tenants begins with federal law and continues through to the local level and even down to an association level in some cases.

Following these laws as you manage your properties and tenants is essential and, as such, being able to find up to date information is crucial. Remember, when a question or concern arises, even if you have dealt with it before, you should check for any recent legal changes.

The State of the Housing Market

In 2020, despite the global pandemic, the number of home sales increased significantly and the housing market continued to boom throughout 2021. The nationwide nominal house price index is now 40% above its 2012 low-point and 4% above the peak reached in 2006.

Let’s take a closer look at the current state of the housing market in key regions.

New York and New Jersey

If you’re considering purchasing a property in the tri-state area, you’d better be ready to deal with a very competitive market. With demand rising and available properties in short supply, New York’s thriving real estate market showed no signs of slowing in the third quarter of 2021. Despite 18 months of rising property prices in New York state, prices remain lower than they were before the pandemic hit. The average rental price in Manhattan increased 8.3% between September 2020 and September 2021; in Brooklyn it dropped 5.8% and in Northwest Queens, it increased 1.7%

Mid-Atlantic Region

Those of you considering a property investment on the East Coast may wish to look at the mid-Atlantic region, from New Jersey to Virginia. Building permits are on the rise across the region with permits for new, single-family homes increasing by 32-50% during the first half of 2021.If you’re looking to set up a rental property, it’s best to examine the area on a city-by-city basis to ensure you can tap into a market willing to pay a profitable rental rate. Philadelphia hit a record high for apartment occupancy, with August of 2021 seeing a two-decade peak of 97.6%. Virginia Beach has also seen a steady increase with August 2021 seeing occupancy rates of 98.1%.

Southwest

The housing market in the Southwest has seen property prices skyrocket with Utah and Idaho witnessing the highest price increases nationwide. Rental prices have increased significantly with high demand, yet low availability of vacant rental properties pushing rent prices up even further. More people working from home during the pandemic translated to more people looking for spacious properties in the suburbs, and 2021 saw buyers frantically purchasing property in Texas where housing prices are over 30% higher statewide than a year ago. But, according to a research economist for the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University, the buying frenzy is over. 

Pacific

The white-hot Seattle-area housing market has started to cool with fewer properties being listed and prices dipping, though the market is still very competitive. Affordability is a big issue and The California Association of Realtors expects home prices to rise by 5.2% next year and housing affordability to drop. While national rent growth is still going up from 11% to 13%, it’s lagging considerably in California.

Overall, 2021 closed with mortgage rates at a record low, a strengthening job market on the horizon, and rents surging.

Lucrative Landlord Locales

If you’re thinking about investing in a new rental property (or two) there are several factors to consider. Perhaps one of the most critical factors and the first decision to make is where your property will be. This can have a substantial impact on being able to attract tenants and what rent you will be able to set. It’s important to do your homework on each location that you are considering. Here are five hot spots where rentals are in demand and command top dollar.

  1. Boise, Idaho

Home to rivers, mountains, canyons, deserts, and lakes, Boise is popular with those who love the outdoors. As coastal cities continue to grow and become more expensive, people are moving inland to find jobs and more affordable places to live.

With population and job growth triple the national average, low unemployment rate, and year-over-year rental growth, Boise could be a great place for you to invest in rental property. The Boise housing market was ranked as the #1 in the U.S.by Realtor.com in 2020 but slipped to #4 in their 2021 list. The average rent for an apartment in Boise City is $1,508 and 43% of properties in Boise City are rental properties. Best of all, Idaho has one of the cheapest landlord insurance rates, which means lower costs for your business.

  1. Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee remains one of the top locations to own rental properties. Located along the Mississippi River, the city is home to Elvis’ Graceland, the Blues Hall of Fame, and a bevy of tourist attractions.

There is also a high population of millennials, meaning that rentals are very popular. With Fortune 500 companies like FedEx and International Paper and AutoZone calling Memphis home, the job market is thriving. The average rent for an apartment in Memphis is $967 and 43% of property in Memphis is rental property.

  1. Tampa, Florida

Previously we listed Miami as one of the most lucrative landlord locales and, whilst it is still a great area to invest in, Tampa also deserves a look.

Tampa is an attractive metropolitan area and one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations. In addition, it is a popular relocation spot for retirees, providing many short-term rental opportunities. The average rent for an apartment in Tampa is $1,647 and 44% of property in Tampa is rental property. Also of note, a perk of owning property in Florida is that the real estate property tax rate is only 0.98%, compared to 1.08% nationally.

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale is a favored spot for Arizona State University professors and graduate students to live, as well as for retired Northerners to visit during the colder months. With more than 76,000 students (plus the faculty that teaches them), landlords in Scottsdale have a steady stream of tenants interested in renting, distancing themselves a bit from Tempe’s undergrad-saturated communities.

And it’s not just students, Scottsdale is also an emerging tech market with companies such as GoDaddy, Yelp, Paypal, and Indeed.com all opening offices in Scottsdale. The average rent for an apartment in Scottsdale is $1,914 and 44% of property in Scottsdale is rental property.

  1. Dallas, Texas

Everything’s bigger in Texas, they say, and in Dallas that includes the number of renters.

Dallas has a substantial single, upwardly-mobile professional population. This demographic is a landlord’s dream as young professionals tend to be responsible and reliable tenants.Things aren’t slowing down either with the population expected to double in the next 15 years. One of the reasons for this population growth is the large and diverse job market with leading industries in technology, financial services, and defense. The average rent for an apartment in Dallas is $1,383 and 43% of property in Dallas is rental property.

These hot markets are full of renters anxious to sign on the dotted line and find their next home.

How To Find Out What Liens Are On a Property

Property liens can be problematic for a wide variety of reasons.

They tend to be discovered during the sales process and must be cleared before the sale will be allowed to proceed.

Some jurisdictions will automatically notify property owners when a lien is filed, but this isn’t always the case.

If you think your property might have a lien on it, then here’s how you can find out.

1. Check Your County Recorder or County Clerk’s Records.

Many of these records are online so they can be instantly searched.

You’ll need to find the specific county website that applies to you.

If you cannot locate the website, then you’ll need to stop by the office in person and ask for the records that pertain to your property.

Online options are usually free, but in-person options tend to have an associated fee.

2. Look At Your Parcel.

Whether you’re looking at the paper file or an online listing, you’ll need to go through the Parcel ID to look at the history of the property.

There will likely be a heading called “Liens” to locate.

It may be under the “Book” heading or could be listed under property taxes.

Select the tabs or open the file up to see if there are any liens that are listed.

3. No Liens Listed Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Exist.

Liens can sometimes exist on a property even if they aren’t in their proper place because of a misfiled document.

Go through the entire “Book” section of the file and look for specific language about a lien that may be present to see what turns up.

Look for anything that may be associated with a creditor, even if it doesn’t actually include the term “Lien.”

4. Use A Search Service.

Many online real estate agencies today offer a free property report for prospective buyers to determine if there is a lien present.

Just pull up the property in question and you’ll get the information that you need.

Knowing how to find out what liens are on a property will help to save you a headache later on during the sales or ownership process if one exists.

Use these tips to avoid surprises and you’ll be able to find and/or clear a lien effectively.

How to Make Sure Your Favorite Tenants Stay

Having to replace a good tenant can be very expensive. The final costs of replacing a tenant can easily exceed $4,000.

Accordingly, it’s very important that you try to hold onto your favorite tenants for as long as possible. Offering competitive rental rates and keeping your property in good condition are obvious requirements in this effort, but consider these five suggestions for extra steps you can take to keep good tenants signed on.

Offer a Longer Lease Renewal

If you normally offer one year leases, try offering a two year lease (or even longer) the next time your favorite tenant is up for renewal.

While this is technically a market gamble for both of you, from your tenant’s perspective it will seem as if you’re offering them the opportunity to avoid rent increases for the next couple of years. This will encourage their loyalty to you and the property.

The income stability of a tenant with a good payment history can often outweigh the potential downsides of missing the opportunity to increase the rent for a few years.

Give a Lease Renewal Gift

The small things matter, and that can be especially true when you’re trying to keep a good tenant.

The next time a tenant renews their lease, offer them a renewal gift. It doesn’t need to be much, and even a $50 gift card to a fantastic local restaurant can be enough to make a tenant appreciate you. Pair this with a small gift for the holidays and you’ll generate even more goodwill.

Give Them Opportunities for Feedback

It’s important to make sure your favorite tenants feel that their concerns are being noted, and this requires more than simply waiting for them to call with a problem.

Be proactive about communicating, and actively reach out to them from time to time. If you’re renting a multi-unit property, make sure to have a comment box in a common area, along with a placard that reminds tenants of your contact information. It’s also a good idea to send them a letter two or three times a year letting them know that you’re available to discuss any concerns that they may have.

Offer an Apartment Update

Part of the appeal in finding a new apartment can be that vacant apartments have often been newly renovated, or at the very least given a new paint job and touch up.

To recapture this feeling for your favorite tenants, particularly if they’ve been renting for several years, offer them an apartment update for their next lease renewal. This can be a simple repainting, but it’s also a good opportunity to accomplish two objectives from things you were planning to do anyway. For example, instead of simply stating that you’re going to replace their stove (if you were already planning on doing so), tell them you’re doing it because they’re a good tenant and you appreciate them.

Offer a Cleaning Service

In the same vein, offer them a visit from a cleaning service when they renew their lease. A good, deep cleaning can make a difference that is just as dramatic as an actual renovation. Tenants will feel like they’ve genuinely stepped into a brand new apartment, but one with all the comforts of their familiar home.

Cancellation of Debt on Rental Property

There are a lot of unique tax circumstances that can hit an investor at any given time. One of the most common issues that landlords face is a cancellation of debt on a rental property. The removal of a debt is a good thing and it brings a sense of relief, but that’s not the end of the story. A debt cancellation is viewed by taxing authorities as earned income. In many circumstances, this must be reported at the end of the year and it can increase tax liabilities.

Mortgage Forgiveness Does Not Apply To a Rental

Many homeowners have been able to get out of large amounts of debt through the foreclosure process, deed-in-lieu, or through short sales thanks to the Mortgage Debt Relief Act. The only problem is that many landlords believe they can take advantage of this law, but they cannot. This income forgiveness does not apply to a rental property.

Here’s an example of the income liability that you’d be facing at tax season. Your rental property has a mortgage for $200,000 and a value of $250,000. You can’t get a tenant and so you can’t make the mortgage payments. The home goes into foreclosure and you lose the rights to the property because the bank takes it back. They sell the property for $165,000 on the open market and then forgive the rest of your mortgage.

Your total income that must be reported: $35,000. This is because having a lien holder taking possession of a property does not automatically remove a loan. Some landlords have also found this out the hard way as well. Instead of having the debt forgiven, they’re finding collection notices in the mail.

There Is One Exception To This Rule

The only time a rental property does not need to report a canceled debt as income is when that debt is $600 or less. In this circumstance, not enough income has been generated to warrant the filing. The same is true for income that is earned through traditional means as well. As long as the initial amount threshold is never met, then the money does not need to be reported.

When would a landlord have $600 or less in a canceled debt on a rental property? A forgiven utility bill is the most common place this is seen. Discounts or debt forgiveness from repair personnel would also potentially qualify for this action.

The only time a landlord would be able to have their mortgage debt canceled and the income forgiven is if they are living in the home as their primary residence. In this specific circumstance, a portion of the income or even all of it may qualify for debt forgiveness without the phantom income charge on taxes.

The cancellation of debt on a rental property can relieve a landlord of their primary responsibility, but that only lasts until tax season rolls around. Know how much income you’ll need to report and plan your tax payments accordingly so that you aren’t surprised by the final bill that becomes due.

Safety Options for Rental Properties

Your rental property is an investment. There are a few subtle ways to protect this investment, such as getting homeowner’s insurance. However, it’s also important to think about more direct safety options for your rental properties to protect them from burglars and vandals.

Here are three options for protecting your properties and your tenants:

Alarm Systems


Alarm systems use sensors and codes to protect your buildings.

The sensors will alert the authorities when a door is opened or a window is broken.

Codes entered onto keypads can change alarm settings and turn the alarm on and off as your tenants come and go.

Sensors


The sensors included in alarm systems must be installed.

This cost of installation can vary significantly depending on the type and number of sensors used. Some sensors can only measure when a window or door has been opened, whether by a tenant or an intruder.

These less expensive sensors throughout the home won’t alert tenants to dangers such as carbon monoxide, fire, flood, or broken windows.

The more expensive sensors can detect significant risks to your tenants and property. They can also alert your tenants when there is motion detected in the home. For example, someone may sneak into a home while the alarm isn’t armed. They then may hide until the tenants are asleep. The intruder may even watch from their hiding place as someone enters the code to disarm the alarm so that they’ll be able to disarm it before they start stealing valuables. They can them disarm the system, take valuables out of the home, and rearm the system. This scenario is possible for a system without motion detectors. However, with motion detectors, as soon as they intruder began to move from their hiding place, the sensors would trip, the alarms would sound, and the tenants would be alerted.

Gated Entry


Another option for tenant and property safety is gated entry.

This entails having a strong gate constructed all around the property line with just a few entry points (for instance, one in the front, one in the back, and one on the side), for tenants to use. The tenants would need a key card or gate code to gain entry onto the property.

The Gate


The gate you choose would need to be high enough so that no one could jump or climb over it. Yet, you’ll want to monitor the height, because costs of installing the gate increase as the height goes up.

Also, for aesthetic purposes, gates that are very high tend to make residential properties look like prisons, and this may turn off potential (or even current) tenants.

Video Surveillance


Criminals may be less likely to steal from or damage your property if there are cameras visible on the land. If they understand there is a greater risk that they will be captured because they are being videotaped, they are less likely to take the risk of getting caught.

Playback and Monitoring


You may not need to have a specific security professional viewing the security cameras of a single-family home throughout every hour of the day. There are ways to digitally record and store various amounts of video so that you have it on file and can play it back to see who spray-painted a garage door or stole a laptop from a home. Since most people notice an act of vandalism or theft has taken place soon after it happens, you may opt to store video that covers a limited date range.

Based on the property you’re protecting, its neighborhood, and your budget, use this information to make a decision about the best single-family unit security options for your rental situation.

Keeping your property safe protects the longevity and the value of the land and structure that you have invested in.

3 Dangers of Unscreened Tenants

Even if you screen every tenant that you accept into your rental property, there are other ways that unscreened tenants may end up living there. Your tenant might let a down-on-their-luck friend couch-surf while they get back on their feet. They may be caught up in a whirlwind romance that has their significant other staying at the property more often than not. Whatever the situation is, it can complicate things.

A guest staying beyond the reasonable time span you define in the lease agreement is essentially an unscreened tenant on your property.

You might not think it’s the biggest deal in the world, but there are some very real dangers unscreened tenants bring to your property.

1. Unknown background


You don’t know anything about the person who is living in your property.

When you bring a tenant onto the lease agreement, you probably check their credit and criminal background to ensure they can afford the property and they won’t use it for illegal activities. You don’t have that reassurance with a friend or family member that the tenant brings into your property. The tenant may assume that their friend or family member is trustworthy, but some people are very good at hiding bad behavior to get what they want.

You don’t want to kick out a good tenant because they won’t get rid of an unscreened visitor who stays past the lease agreement terms. You also don’t want to risk your property becoming involved in illegal activity. If the original tenant is interested in the guest staying on a long term basis, talk to them about screening the new addition to the apartment. They need to go through the same screening process the original tenant does to ensure everything is on the up and up. You don’t necessarily need to add them to the lease, depending on the situation, but you do want to do your due diligence to protect your property.

2. No security investment in the property

The unscreened tenant doesn’t have anything tying them to the property except the tenant that is on the lease. They don’t have a monetary investment, so they don’t have a direct incentive to keep up on maintenance and cleanliness. If they are staying for a significant amount of time, they add to the wear and tear of the property. They also run the risk of damaging the property, whether through negligence or malice.

3. No consequence for disruptive behavior

Your unscreened tenant also doesn’t deal with any consequences for acting disruptively. They aren’t the ones who stand to lose their apartment when they get into arguments on the front porch, hold loud parties, or ignore noise complaints coming from the next door neighbors. That’s all on the on lease tenant, who may not realize just how badly the unscreened tenant is behaving.

Avoiding Unscreened Tenants

You have no way to stop unscreened tenants from getting onto your property. After all, you can’t prevent your tenant from having guests.

What you can do, however, is restrict exactly how long the tenant’s guests can stay before they need to leave the property.

If you aren’t often at the apartment, you won’t necessarily know there’s an unscreened tenant on the property unless neighbors complain. However, it’s important to get this policy in writing so that you can enforce it. If the original tenant refuses to adhere to the lease terms, you have grounds to remove them from your property before a serious situation occurs.

How to Legally Tackle Skipping Tenants

Dealing with tenants who skip out on their lease can be a very frustrating endeavor; however, there are some steps that a landlord can take to recover the money that is owed to them. As a landlord, you have a right to collect money that is owed to you when a tenant leaves the rented property prematurely. A lease agreement with fixed terms protects you from tenants who skip out on their remaining rent. They owe you the rent on that lease for the duration of the lease period or until you are able to rent out the property–whichever comes first. It does not matter whether the tenant gave you notice or they vacated the property in secret; the process of collection is the same.

Create a Documentation File


It is paramount that you keep written documentation of communication between you and the tenant. If the tenant provided you with written notice that they were breaking their lease agreement, include that letter in their file. If the tenant did not provide notice but left in secret, simply type up a short note that explains when you discovered that the property had been vacated.
To achieve the best results, stay organized and detailed in the records that you keep throughout the process. Be sure to record dates, times, and phone numbers associated with any conversations that you have with the tenants. You will need all of this information when you attend the court hearing.

Send a Written Notice to the Skipping Tenant


Send a written notice to the tenant to remind them that they are responsible for paying the rent until the end of the lease or until you find another tenant. Be sure that the notice you send clarifies that they must pay the rent on time in accordance with the lease agreement. The notice should also include clarification that you will pursue legal action if the rent is not paid as required under the lease.

Inspect the Property


When a tenant provides notice that they are leaving before the end of the lease, inspect the condition of the property as soon as possible. Complete an inspection checklist and note any damage that has been caused by the tenant. You will also need to take pictures of damaged items, but normal wear and tear should be excluded from your list.

Prepare the Property


Make the necessary preparations to lease the property again. Once it’s ready for rental, begin advertising and interviewing potential tenants. You will also need to keep copies of any ads you post and the receipts and costs associated with those ads. You should place this information in the file with your other documentation.

Notify the Original Tenant of the Total Amount Owed


Once you have rented the place or the lease has expired, you will need to send the tenant a notice of the total amount owed. Make sure that you have identified a deadline by which the money must be paid. Let them know if the money is not paid by that time, you will be forced to file a civil suit for the purpose of collecting the money that is owed to you.

If you don’t receive the money by the deadline, you will need to visit the county clerk’s office to file the suit and have a hearing date set. On the date of the hearing, take all of your documentation with you. Once you present it to a judge or justice of the peace, it should be a quick judgment. Not only will you recoup the money for the lost rent, but the judge will most likely make the tenant cover your court costs as well.