Is Your Rental Ready for Winter?

It’s that time of year again. The temperatures begin to drop and you’ll see the first flurries of the season.

There’s a dusting on the roofs, on the grass, and on the tops of the cars left out the night before. The snow can be beautiful, but as more and more of it comes, it can cause a real problem, especially if you are a landlord and property manager.

As beautiful as snow – and even ice – may look from your window with the fireplace going behind you, it can cause some serious damage if you’re not prepared.

Even light ice and snow, if it sticks to more than rooftops and the grass, can cause slip hazards.

If you own an apartment complex or have outdoor stairs of any sort on the property, they could become very icy and dangerous, leading to potentially serious injuries if your tenant or a guest takes a tumble.

Locks on the doors and gates might freeze shut, making it hard or even impossible for your tenant to leave the property.

Piles of snow may also keep them housebound, if their car is snowed in or if the snow is piled in front of the door so that they can’t leave.

Water in the pipes that freezes may cause them to burst and too much snow on top of a roof can, eventually, cause it to collapse in due to the weight.

In the same way, branches become brittle with too much ice weighing them down and can damage cars, roofs, or passersby that are unlucky enough to be walking under at just the wrong time.

Don’t let the dangers of the colder months overwhelm you. There are precautions that you can take both before and after the snowfall to protect your tenants, your rental property, and everything inbetween.

Preparing for Snow and Ice

While you likely won’t be in the home when the freeze hits, as a landlord and/or property manager you can prepare your tenants to take care of the rental for you.

Your lease should detail out who is responsible for what.

If you own an apartment complex, you are likely responsible for de-icing stairways, common walkways, and possibly even a parking lot if you have it.

If you rent out a single-family home, your tenants will likely be responsible for these things.

Either way, it should be detailed out in the lease from the beginning so that everyone can be on the same page.

Make sure to check your local laws (both state and county) to ensure that your lease matches up.

One of the first things you should do as winter approaches is to schedule a time with your tenant to drop by the property.

You’ll want to check the furnace, the smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors.

You don’t want the heat giving out during a snowstorm or find that a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector has gone bad the hard (and dangerous) way.

When you drop by, you may consider providing your tenant with a written reminder of their responsibilities for the colder months.

Include tips and tricks that you have learned over the years to better help prepare for it.

If the temperatures are forecasted to drop below freezing that night, leave the faucets dripping. That will help to keep water moving through the pipes so that they are less likely to freeze. It doesn’t do you or your tenant any good to have a frozen or burst pipe. You’ll need to call a repairman and, depending on the pipe that burst, they may find themselves without water for a short time.

You may also want to detail in this letter (especially if it’s the first freeze for them in the rental) what you will provide and what you will not.

If they do not have access to snow shovels, you may consider having one that you can lend to them.

They should keep salt, sand, or even kitty litter to help melt the ice.

If they’re looking for a quick way to remove large areas of snow out of your pathway, consider laying out a tarp down before the snowfall starts to catch it. If this is done over a walkway or driveway, it can be moved the next morning after a heavy, overnight snowfall.

Snow shovels and snow blowers will also help clear walkways and driveways after the snow has fallen and keep the snow from freezing to the concrete.

Check with them to see if they have experience removing the snow.

If you have a snow blower that you’ve left on the property for them to use, make sure they are aware of both how to operate it so that they do not damage the machine, as well as best practices to make sure they remove the snow efficiently.

The last thing they’ll want to do is battle a snow blower first thing in the morning just so they can get to work and end up late because they weren’t certain how to use it.

Ways to Help Your Tenant

When applicants come to look at your rental to compare it to others in the area, you’ll want to make sure yours stands out above the rest.

If you live in a location where snow can become a real problem, this is a place that you can shine.

Check out the following projects that you may wish to consider to make your rental property more desirable, especially during the long winter months:

  • Make sure all doors and windows are sealed. Drafts caused by loose doors and windows can drive the electricity bill for the property up as the tenants attempt to warm the unit.
  • Update out-of-date heating systems. If the heating system in your rental still works, but not efficiently, you may consider updating that system. Newer units are less likely to break down in the middle of a freeze, giving your tenants an extra layer of security.
  • Clear the driveway. There are a few options here. If you live close to the rental and you’re a do-it-yourself kind of landlord, you may offer to help them dig their car out in the morning. If not, you may wish to simply have someone on hand to call for that. While it’s a nice gesture to have a referral for this kind of work, you may consider paying to have this done, adding an extra perk to your rental that may not be provided with another.

Winter affects parts of the country very differently.

While rentals in New England may have already seen their first big snowstorm and expect more to come, rentals down in Texas may simply have to take a few precautions on the occasional overnight freeze.

You’ll want to approach your own rental with your local climate in mind, but regardless of where you live, there will be steps that you need to take to protect your rental and the tenants that live there.

Where to Start: The First Steps You Should Take as a New Landlord

As a first-time landlord, you want to get organized from the beginning to make your life easier.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge into owning rental properties, your next steps will determine your chances of success.

1. Utilize Property Management Software

Keeping records of all your payments and expenses is an essential part of being a landlord.

Tax time will go much smoother if you have organized data, and you’ll be more likely to increase your deductions if you have maintained your records all year instead of scrambling last minute to find receipts.

You may also use property management software to advertise your property as available on listing sites, send and receive documents, collect rent online, and more.

It often helps you streamline your process and limits the number of programs you use to keep up with the aspects of your rental business so that things do not become mixed up.

2. Learn State Laws

Take some time to read the laws on tenant-landlord relations applicable in your state.

While this may not be the most entertaining reading you could do, it will help you know what is allowable and what isn’t.

You don’t want to accidentally overstep your boundaries because you weren’t aware of current regulations.

Always keep in mind that while some laws are federal laws and will cover everyone, there are often state and even city laws that you will be required to know as well.

Make sure that you do not cut corners when it comes to keeping up with the legal side of property management.

3. Inspect the Rental Property

While you probably had an inspection completed when you purchased the property, you’re now looking at it through the eyes of a landlord and prospective tenants.

Consider updates that need to be made to attract tenants and keep them long-term. Look at the appliances and think about replacing them if they are older and not energy efficient.

Make sure the carpet or flooring is in good shape and that all windows and doors work properly.

Take a look at the exterior as well.

The outside of the unit will be the first thing that the potential tenant sees when they look over the property, and their first impression may be a deciding factor if they apply or not.

It will be easier to rent your property if everything is in working order and not too old.

4. Meet the Tenants

If you’ve purchased a rental property that already has tenants, you’ll want to make meeting them one of your top priorities.

Introduce yourself and make sure they know how to contact you.

Let them know if any changes will be made in the near future.

Having a new landlord can be a frightening concept for some people and may cause them to look for a new place.

To prevent this from happening, take time to get to know your tenants.

5. Be Insured

If you didn’t get insurance coverage as part of your purchase, make sure you do it now.

You’ll want to protect your investment in case of damage.

You’ll also want to maintain liability coverage for your property for injuries or damage to tenants or guests.

Even if you obtained a policy when you were financing the property, you may want to review it now to determine if you need higher coverage.

Also make sure that you have the correct coverage.

Some policies are meant for property owners that live at the property and may not cover damages if you are not a resident in that home.

Check with your policy and make sure that it allows for renters.

6. Determine Maintenance and Payment Schedules

Now is the time to set up a business that’s efficient and productive.

Decide who will be responsible for maintenance — whether you’ll take care of all issues or hire someone.

Set up a list of contractors and companies to call for various issues, such as heating or air conditioning, plumbing and electrical problems.

When you work with one company, it will respond faster when you have a work order.

You also want to decide about payment.Set up a payment system that works for you and your tenants.

You may want to hire an outside company to manage payments and late notices.

You’ll also want to have an accountant to deal with your finances if you have multiple properties.

You may even find it beneficial for your accountant to take care of a single property if you plan to expand in the future.

Start out your business on the right foot, and you can eliminate many of the problems landlords face.

You can focus on keeping your tenants happy or finding new tenants and making money from your property.

How to Make Money as a Realtor

Everybody knows there’s a huge potential to make lots of money in real estate. But if you’re working with a brokerage, the pressure to close a sale can be killer. And if you’re the individual running the brokerage, you take home a larger sum of money with each sale, but the nonstop work of acquiring properties, finding referrals and closing sales is enough to make even a seasoned professional’s head spin.

It’s important to educate yourself about the basics of how to make money in this potentially volatile, exciting field.

Read on to learn some basic tips on how maximize the amount of money you make in real estate.

Remember: You Work on Commission

Some brokerages work differently, it’s true. But if you’re like most realtors, you only get paid when you sell a house. Never lose sight of that. Your goal is always to close a sale.

Most jurisdictions require that, as a realtor, you learn the basics of real estate law and ethics.

They won’t teach you how to close a sale or make a property look most enticing. It’s up to you (and your brokerage) to teach you that, so grab a book (or find an experienced broker to tutor you) and start educating yourself.

Don’t Be Afraid: Network!

Early on, when you’re just breaking into the business, it can be very difficult to make the connections you need to make a sale.

That’s why networking is so vital.

It’s easy to conceive of your relationships with other realtors as strictly competitive, especially if you’re working in the same area.

And to be fair, an element of that does exist.

But don’t forget about referrals.

Houses aren’t identical commodities. If someone knows they can’t close a sale with a potential customer, and they know you have a property that’s more in line with the customer’s needs, they may very well send the customer your way — so long as you’ve forged a positive relationship with them, and are willing to pay a portion of the resultant commission.

Likewise, if you can’t meet a client’s needs, reach out to someone else in the area and offer to hook them up in exchange for a portion of the commission.

The going rate may depend on your area, but many brokers charge up to 30 percent for a referral.

Reach Out to FSBOs

People who try to sell their home themselves are typically trying to avoid having to pay a brokerage like yours to do the legwork for them.

But the fact is that the legwork is exhausting, and is often best left to the professionals.

If you’re aware that a for-sale-by-owner house has been on the market for a while, you may want to reach out to the owner and see if they’re interested in switching things up and going through your brokerage.

Make it clear what you have to offer and why it’s to their benefit.

If you succeed in convincing them, you’ll make a percentage of the money they get from the sale – how much, exactly, is something for the two of you to negotiate.

Consider Becoming a Broker or Branching Out

While laws vary from place to place (and the precise names used to refer to each profession may vary), many jurisdictions draw a distinction between real estate agents (who work for a brokerage) and real estate brokers (who are able to run their own brokerage, and have greater independence in general).

If you’re serious about making it in the field, and have the time and money to spend on the additional education required, you should think seriously about taking steps to become a real estate broker as soon as you can.

By starting your own real estate brokerage, you’ll be able to work independently and make decisions about what properties you acquire, and how much money goes into your pocket. There’s more potential for risk here, and you’ll have to learn how to make wise investment decisions, but the rewards can be great.

Investigate the laws in your area, but be aware that if your brokerage is holding on to properties you can’t sell, it may be better to try to rent them out instead.

And if you’re having a really hard time finding clients, in a lot of jurisdictions you can take your talents — and your real estate license — and work as a property manager instead or on the side.

Conclusion

There’s a stereotype that real estate brokers make a ton of money.

While many of them do, many of them don’t.

It takes time to find your sea legs as a broker, and it’s all about building connections, refining the art of closing deals and figuring out exactly what each customer needs.

You may not make a lot of money for your first year (or your first several!) in the industry.

And if you’re operating your own brokerage, you’ll swiftly find that finding properties to sell (or acquire) can be far more taxing and expensive than you’d estimated. If you’re actually acquiring the properties, you run the distinct chance of actually losing money.

But be patient.

Stick with your work, network, research and continue to educate yourself.

You’re getting better, and success will come over time. Good luck!

Building The Rental Marketplace of the Future: Why We Acquired RadPad

There has been a notable shift in the rental market in the last few years. The Millennial generation has come of age and is trending heavily towards renting rather than purchasing their homes, and this has opened up a new set of needs for the marketplace to allow landlords and tenants to more easily communicate and do business with each other. Renters took their search online years ago with sites like Zillow and Trulia, but are now demanding more than just the ability to look at listing sites for possible places to live.

More than any generation before them, Millennials are transacting on their mobile devices, not just looking for information, which is why we believe that the future of the rental business, especially for the independent landlords who make up more than 50% of the market in the US, is not a software (like Yardi or Realpage) or a lead gen media site (like Zillow/Trulia) but a transactional marketplace; effectively a 12-month long Airbnb.

This is why we acquired RadPad.

A new generation of renters needs new ways to pay rent, find a home, build their credit, get insurance, and interact with their neighbors. While LandlordStation was building a position as one of the largest service providers in the country for independent landlords and property managers, RadPad was busy innovating for renters. With a cutting-edge technology platform, RadPad had begun to change the way that renters approached this market, and adding that technology to our existing base of landlords, as well as some of our insurance and utility products, was the best way to push both platforms even farther.

So what is a “rental marketplace”?

One of the biggest shortcomings that we see in the old way of doing things, is that the time period from vacancy to first rent payment is a series of awkward introductions, cold leads, and mistrust. Renters and landlords find each other semi-anonymously online with no real knowledge of the other’s history. The landlord demands that the renter go through a background check and bases their decision off a credit score (which is not necessarily built as an indicator of a good tenant). This system worked when people signed one or two leases in their entire lives prior to buying a home. But for a generation that is renting well into their 30s, it’s like the car buying process x 10.

Radpad’s solution to this is simple and elegant: allow renters to build their profiles within a confined rental marketplace, and thus build trust within a verified community. Renters can verify all aspects of their rental lives from ID, social security number, credit score and income to Facebook, Linkedin, and contact information, and they can share those verifications with landlords with a single click from their iOs or Android app. They can log in socially so they can see if they have friends who are in the community, or if they share a friend with their potential landlord. They can message within the apps, so they can avoid giving out their mobile number to every listing they come across. And they can build their credit history by opting to have their rent payments reported to the credit bureaus in the same way that mortgage payments are.

On the landlord side there are similar benefits. In markets with a critical mass of tenants like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas, landlords can fill vacancies faster, with warmer leads, and verified tenants. They can shorten the process of rental applications and background checks because they are effectively built into the renter’s shareable profile. Their listings on RadPad look and feel better than on other sites because they are free of ads, promoted real estate brokers, and pay-to-play pitches, all of which leads to a clean interface that drives higher engagement and better lead generation for the landlord.

The best part about the marketplace model is that there is no barrier to entry for either party. The system is completely transactional and based on success. Our goal is to be the platform that is the default transaction processor for the rental market, from listings, leads, and background checks, to rent payments, insurance and utilities. Each individual rental unit produces more than 75 individual transactions annually, and RadPad + LandlordStation has the ability to process them all.

With its most innovative feature, RadPad also allows the tenant to pay their rent online with a credit or debit card even if their landlord does not accept online rent payments. The payment is made through the RadPad app, and if the property does not to accept payments online, RadPad simply sends a check through the mail with a guaranteed on-time delivery to the tenant.

Combining RadPad’s technology and listings traffic with LandlordStation’s product expertise and more than 80,000 existing landlord accounts will pave the way to a single transactional marketplace allowing for a seamless experience for renters, landlords, and the various vendors that serve this market; making things easier, quicker, and cheaper for all parties involved.

We look forward to the many challenges ahead in building the rental marketplace of the future.

Guide to Screening Tenants

Bonus: How to Read a Credit Report

Choosing a new tenant can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a new landlord or have had the same tenant in a property for several consecutive years.

It’s always good to remember that while vacant properties cost you money, delinquent tenants can cost you more.

While renters are looking for the right property to rent, as a landlord and property manager, you are looking for the right tenant for your property.

Not every applicant will be right for your property.

That’s okay. Don’t get discouraged.

A good game plan will help you streamline the process and take some of the stress of choosing a new tenant from the equation.

Screening a Potential Tenant

Tenant screening is an absolute must when you are looking for a new tenant to fill your property.

If you skip this vital step you are opening yourself and your investment up to terrible losses that could severely hurt your income.

Knowing who resides in your home begins with an application.

You may choose to use a physical version that you can hand to the applicant when you meet with them or, more likely, an online version that allows you to save time and paper.

Gathering application fees to run full tenant screenings on every single person that shows interest in your property can be difficult and time-consuming, so begin with a prescreening.

This begins with letting your applicants know what your expectations are.

Your listing should include information such as the rent rate, smoking policies, pet policies, and any credit/income requirements that you may have.

Letting your applicant know these things up front shows them that you are going to be honest with them and will allow them to bow out gracefully if they know that they will not be the right fit for your property.

You should have all of your policies in writing and they must apply to all residents that apply.

Sticking to your policies that you’ve created will help to hedge against appearing as if you are discriminating against an applicant.

Meeting an applicant face-to-face allows you to handle several items of business.

As the second round of prescreening, it allows you a chance to ask questions, give a quick tour of the property, and collect the application fee for the full tenant screening.

While this does not always hold true, if an applicant shows up late, does not have the full fee on hand, or is untidy in their appearance, you may think twice about them as a future tenant.

Do keep in mind that just because an applicant appears to be everything you’d ever hoped for, this is no reason to skip the tenant screening.

It is your first line of defense.

A full tenant screening should include a credit, criminal, and eviction report.

This will give you a fairly well rounded view of the history of person that wishes to rent your property from you.

You’ll want to watch for negative tradelines that indicate late or non-payments, as well as bankruptcies and collections owed on.

When you read over a credit history it is always a good practice to look at the details and not focus entirely on the score or recommendation given.

Verifying employment and checking with prior landlords are also part of the screening process, though a tenant screening company may not cover these.

Even so, if your applicant passes the credit, criminal, and eviction check, you still should not leave these two things to chance.

The sad truth is that people do lie about their income and past experiences.

An eviction may not be on the records yet if it is in the process of being filed for the property that they are currently in or the landlord may have decided to take another route that might not show on a typical tenant screening.

Reaching out to employers and asking for pay stubs help to give you peace of mind that the applicant is gainfully employed.

Checking with prior landlords (usually two or three back) ensures that they are not trying to slip past your safeguards.


If you’re on the fence between two or three qualified tenants you may have a difficult time choosing between them.

Some landlords are turning to social media for an alternative form of tenant screening, but you should always be careful with this.

While it may give you a great outlet to check on an applicant’s lifestyle – are they partiers? Tidy? Slobs? – and if they have any pets that they may or may not have mentioned to you, a landlord or property manager should tread carefully so that they do not appear choose one applicant above another using something that may be deemed illegal according to the Fair Housing Laws.

If you choose to take this route, make sure you are up-to-date with all of the laws associated with it. Social Media is a great tool, but you don’t want to risk landing yourself in trouble.

Follow the Law

There are local and federal laws that dictate the process that you will need to follow to find, screen, and accept a tenant.

While the federal laws will cover the country, you’ll also want to check in on your state, county, and even city laws to make sure that you are fully informed.

Ignorance is not an excuse that can be used if someone claims that you’ve broken the law as a landlord or property manager, and it can cost you in money, time, and reputation.

These laws are meant to help you both, so being fully aware is a must.

They are consistently changing and updating to meet the needs of landlords and tenants and better help to regulate that relationship.

The Fair Housing Act touches on situations from the moment that you start marketing your property and all the way into the actual tenancy and was put into practice in 1968.

It has been updated as different situations arise.

On whole, it’s meant to keep people from being turned away from housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, though some local laws will add to these, so it’s best to make sure that you are well aware of all laws that apply to your property.

You will want to be very careful in how you word your advertisements for your properties as well as what questions that you ask those that apply.

If you even appear to be leading them in one direction or another – for example, indicating that an apartment close to the playground would be better for the applicants when you find out that they have children and not offering to show other properties as well – that may be seen as discriminatory.

Refusing a disabled applicant reasonable accommodations such as a service animal in a property that does not allow pets may also be seen as discrimination.

There are also exemptions to the FHA that might com into play.

Once you have found an applicant that appears qualified and has passed the pre-screening, you will need to receive permission to run a tenant screening on them.

While criminal checks are performed on public criminal records, it is a good practice to be upfront and clear with what kinds of reports that you will be running on your applicant.

You will need direct permission to run a credit report.

Some tenant screening sites make it easier on you by reaching out to the tenant directly for this permission, but you may consider keeping a signed permission slip on file for your records as well.

State-specific documents such as these are easy to purchase and download online.

Finally, once you have chosen the best applicant to become your tenant you will sit down with them to sign the lease.

This is a legal document that should always be signed by both parties before the tenant is allowed to move into the property.

The lease will dictate what is expected from all parties involved so that if there are any questions at a later date, you may refer back to the document. 

This will be one of the most important ways (aside from the screening process itself) that you’ll protect your property and your investment.

It legally binds you both to the promises made and will help to simplify your landlord-tenant relationship.

Conclusion

Finding that perfect tenant can be stressful, but you’ll find the policies that work best for you with each time that you go through the process.

Speak with other landlords and ask advice. While learning from your own mistakes is a necessary part of growing your business, learning from others so that you can avoid the mistakes that they made is even better.

Choosing a great location that will appeal to the types of tenants that you’d like to attract, going through a full and detailed tenant screening process, and abiding by the laws set up to govern the landlord-tenant relationship will help set you and your new tenant on a smoother path and encourage a great working relationship.

Bonus:
How to Read a Credit Report

When you open your rental property up to a person it is safe to say that you’d like to know that you are making the best choice in the tenant that you accept.

You have gone through the first steps of the screening process: you have asked the interested individual to fill out an application, have spoken to them briefly about their qualifications, and have collected the screening fee.

This process has likely helped to narrow your pool of applicants down to a serious few and now it’s time to look over their credit and criminal repors.

If you are a new landlord or are switching the service that you use to run tenant screenings, you’ll want to make sure that the tenant screening that you order provides, at minimum, a full credit report and a nation-wide criminal check.

Some HOAs that your property may be apart of may require a certain level of criminal check to be performed in order to rent to an individual within that community.

Overall, it’s safer to conduct a full, nation-wide criminal search rather than rely on your applicant to provide you with accurate information of the areas that they have lived in.

A credit report may include somewhat varying information, but you should look for one that includes a credit score, tradelines, and public records (which should also include collections).

Below we’ll go through what is included in each of these, as well as a few other options you may wish to persue in a credit history.

For consistancy’s sake, we will be using LandlordStation’s sample report, though if you pull a report directly from a credit agency it may be formatted differently.

Credit Score

A credit score is provided by the credit bureau that the report is pulled from. For LandlordStation, this is Trans Union.

There are three major credit agencies in the United States, and while those scores may differ slightly depending on the information found in the agency’s database, they should be fairly similar.

Credit scores tend to range from around 300 to 850, though 800 is considered near perfect.

The tradelines found below the credit score will detail out what information the credit bureau has used to formulate the score itself.

Most tradelines will affect the score up to seven (7) years and will affect it less and less with each passing year.

In other words, if the year is 2015 a negative tradeline from October of 2014 will weigh heavier against the credit score than a negative tradeline from October of 2010.

Score factors are often detailed out next to the score provided.

These are notes that the credit agency will provide that explain what went into their calculations.

There will be times that no score is provided.

If a score cannot be calculated, this often means that the individual does not have an extensive or recent credit history.

Individuals that pay in cash, do not use credit cards, and do not take out loans will likely have a very bare credit history and a score may not be available for them.

This does not necessarily make them a poor canidate, though you may wish to focus more on other forms of screening (such as references and their criminal and rental history).

If your applicant claims that they should have a credit history or they find a discrepency in the history that was provided, they should contact the credit bureau immediately.

Credit Summary and Tradelines

A credit summary will be where you will see the summarization of the different items found on the credit report. The tradelines will be the details of that summarization.

There are five (5) catagories under the summary on LandlordStation’s credit reports.

1.    Closed with Balance – This will be a summary of any tradeline that was closed with a balance still open. It may have been a loan or a credit card. The reasons that it was closed before it was paid off may vary, and those details will be found in the tradelines.
2.    Revolving – A revolving balance will change. This is not a set amount, such as a loan, but one that is often being paid on and added to such as a credit card. The important thing to note here is the percentage of the debt that is being used at any given time. A person who have been approved for $100,000 of revolving credit and is using $10,000 is in a much better position than one who is approved for $5,000 and is using all $5000 of it.

3.    Installment – Installment balances are lines of credit that will be paid in installments, such as an auto loan or a student loan.
4.    Mortgage – Lines of credit for a mortgage stand apart from other installments.
5.    Open – The open category is simply anything that is still active and has not been shut down either by the creditor or the invididual that the report is being run on.
Under the summary the individual and total amounts will be listed for the balance, high credit, and monthly payments.

Tradelines will provide details on the information under the credit summary.

Each tradeline (both open and closed) will provide information on the name of the creditor, the loan type (ie if it is a credit card, auto loan, student loan, etc etc), current rating (meaning if it is currently being paid on, if it is late, etc), the balance, if any money is past due, and what the credit limit is. It will also note the high limit, meaning the most owed on that tradeline.

This will include any fees associated with late dues.

Dates will be provided for when the tradeline was opened, closed, and also when it was most recently reported to the credit bureau.

Collections

Collections are lines of credit that were shut down by the creditor and the debt was sold to a collection company.

The collection company may be awaiting payment, and if so it will be noted in this section of the credit report.

The collection section of the credit report will note the name of the original company owed, the balance owed (this should be looked at for the current balance over the ‘past due’ section), the high credit, and the agency that currently holds the debt.

The collection will have a date opened section that will show when the tradeline was placed for collection, and if it has been paid and closed it will note that next to the open date.

If the collection shows a balance and does not have a paid or closed date, it likely is still an outstanding debt owed.

As of 2014 medical collections do not impact a credit score as heavily as other collections might.

Public Records

Public records will include any legal proceedings that affect the applicant’s credity-worthiness.

This may be a civil judgement, a tax lien of some kind, or any number of things.

These are all considered negative marks against the applicant’s credit history.

Other Options

Some credit reports will offer various other options such as previous address history, known aliases, and employment history.

This information can be vaulable when fact-checking your potential tenant, as they will often provide this information on the application that they bring to you.

How Private Are Tenant Screenings? (Part 2)

In the first installment of this series, we started examining the laws and ethics surrounding the information contained in tenant screenings.

In the course of a tenant screening, you and your employees will handle sensitive information.

Handling and relaying that information in an ethical, responsible way can be very difficult.

State-by-State Privacy Laws

As we discuss the legal aspects of handling sensitive information, keep in mind that privacy laws can be different from place to place, and may change as laws are passed and repealed.

If you ever have any questions, it’s always best to do your own research and check with a lawyer.

Federal regulations apply in most states, but some have a more strict legal stance on privacy.

California, Texas, and New York all have added protections under the law.

California Privacy Laws

As a landlord, you need to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and any state laws that govern the collection, usem and dissemination of nonpublic personal information (NPI) when you run a tenant screening.

NPI includes social security numbers, employment history, and any financial information collected.

If you make a rental decision based on a credit report or a tenant report, you have an obligation to disclose the fact that the rejection was based on these reports and offer the applicant an opportunity to obtain a copy of the report used in the decision.

In California, you can not ask about citizenship status. This is a hot issue in California, so be sure to leave off all questions related to immigration.

Texas Privacy Laws

As another state that prioritizes privacy for their citizens, Texas has also taken a more strict stance on privacy than the federal government.

In Texas, you have the right to know about a company’s privacy policy before they collect your NPI.

As a landlord, you have the right to use the collected information for the specified purpose, but you don’t have the right to resell, reuse, or disseminate the information to third parties.

Essentially, you and in-house employees can use the information to complete the tenant screening, but it should not be shared with affiliates or marketing partners.

Once your use for the information is complete, it should be destroyed.

In this case, complete would refer to the end of a lease term and after the return of the security deposit to the tenant.

If you have an ongoing business relationship, you should always maintain the tenant file for reference.

New York Privacy Laws

New York treats the information collected on a rental application similarly to California and Texas.

NPI collected for an application is single use only. Tenants sign a document allowing you to use their social security number and other information to collect financial information related to making a rental decision. You may not use or sell the information for any other purpose.

The laws protecting the use of NPI are fairly clear.

Make sure to only provide NPI on a need to know basis, store it in a secure location, destroy data as it becomes unnecessary and stay up to date on changing privacy laws.

With increasing concerns about privacy and the growth of identity theft, states are starting to enact more and more legislation to protect consumer financial information.

Keep track of changes as they occur, so you are always compliant.

If you have any questions about legal issues involved in running a tenant screening, find a local legal professional to help.

 

What Is a Rent Stabilized Increase

In New York City and other urban areas where the free market rental rates can be higher than what some residents can pay, rent stabilized units are available at varying levels of vacancy.

These units are not controlled by landlord-tenant negotiations or the free market conditions of scarcity.

They are instead governed by a controlling board or group that oversees how much a landlord is allowed to raise their rent every year.

If an apartment, flat, single family home, or other rental unit does not have rent stabilization, then most jurisdictions allow a landlord to raise the rent on that unit to whatever amount they want.

If a tenant doesn’t have a rental agreement in place that guarantees them a specific rate, then they are forced to either pay the new rate, leave voluntarily, or face an eviction process.

Rent stabilization avoids much of this, but that doesn’t mean tenants in these units won’t face an increase amount of rent.

What is a rent stabilized increase?

It is a specific percentage that the governing board or group states is allowed for all stabilized rental contracts over a specific period of time.

It Is Possible to Have a 0% Increase

Rent stabilization is often based on factors like the local unemployment rate, annual average household income, and other economic factors.

The supervising board or group will allow a rent increase based on the increase or decrease of those factors.

If a community is struggling to find employment and household incomes are low for a year, then a 0% increase may be a very real possibility.

Most rent stabilized increases tend to be in the 2-5% range.

One exception to this rule is if a landlord is charging less than the maximum rent amount allowed.

They are allowed to raise the rent to the maximum during the next period, no matter what the rent stabilized increase happens to be.

Tenants may not be able to control how much they pay in rent from year-to-year in many situations, but rent stabilization increases do limit the damage in high population urban areas.

Most increase demands are received with 60 days’ notice, but it is up to each tenant to know what they may be expected to pay in the next 12 months with this type of living situation.

Contact your local authority with any questions.