Landlords in the Know: Tenant Rights 101

The landlord/tenant relationship is just as important to the landlord as it is to the tenant.

If entered into with care, the lease agreement will protect both you and the renter.

Following are basic tenant rights you, as the landlord, should be aware of when preparing to rent a property.

1. A Positive Landlord Review from the Beginning
Savvy landlords will have current and previous tenants willing to talk to prospective renters about living conditions in the rental unit and area.

Prospective renters have the right to an understand of what it’s like living in the rental and dealing with you as a landlord.

For example, potential tenants may learn that a landlord responds quickly when the rental needs repairs or the building needs maintenance.

It is like free marketing for the landlord.

2. Conduct a Walk-About
Before your tenant signs the lease, you are wise to make sure the tenant does a thorough walk-through of the premises.

Some landlords will accompany the potential tenant on a property tour to document in writing and take pictures of anything broken, damaged or worn.

In some cases, the landlord may give the potential renter a key to let him or her do a walk-through alone. You must change the locks once the property is rented.

A professional landlord documents damages and wear before the tenant enters the apartment alone.

Prospective tenants can document any damage or wear-and-tear they find, and the landlord and tenant will agree to a final reconciled damage list.

You and the tenant should sign and date the document to make it part of the lease package.

3. Landlord and Tenant: Know Thy Lease
Renters must read and understand the lease.

It is advisable to sit down with the tenant and review the lease clause-by-clause.

The tenant can initial each of the contract sections, indicating he or she has read and understands the terms.

Brief the tenant on privacy notification guidelines, conditions for the return of the deposit, and conditions for and consequences of breaking the lease.

4. Landlords: Know What You Can’t Do
Certain landlord actions are illegal, and it is important that you know they are illegal.

  • Refusing to make repairs that affect a tenant’s quality of life or safety
  • Demanding arbitrary rent increases outside the terms of the lease
  • Threatening to evict
  • Preventing tenant associations from meeting in the building’s common room
  • Turning off utilities
  • Locking out a tenant by changing the locks or putting a lock box on the doorknob
  • Placing the tenant’s belongings on the street

Although it may be tempting to lock a tenant out when repeated damage is done to the property, or the tenant falls behind in rent payments or engages in illegal activities on the property, you risk a lawsuit for trespass, wrongful eviction, emotional distress, and even assault and battery, depending on the events.

In every case, you as the landlord must inform the tenant via some type of termination notice.

The names of these documents differ by state, but they may include the “Pay Rent or Quit Notice,” the “Cure or Quit Notice” or the “Unconditional Quit Notice.”

5. When the Landlord Wants the Rental Back
To avoid a claim that a tenant was wrongfully evicted, the lease includes a description of the process to be followed should you want the rented property back for personal reasons.

If the property is rented on a month-to-month basis, the landlord only needs to give appropriate notice to the tenant that the lease is terminated.

If the lease has a fixed term, the landlord must honor the term but does not have to renew it.

The only exceptions are in the rent-control states of New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.

There are limits on your rights to evict tenants to move yourself, or relatives, into the rental.

For example, in San Francisco, the landlord can evict a tenant to move in a relative as long as the person rents within 3 months and lives in the rental unit for at least 36 months.

Understanding Landlord Harassment

As a landlord, you can be accused of harassment if your actions motivate a tenant to willingly abandon the lease.

This usually occurs when a landlord wants to evict a tenant but doesn’t want to go incur the cost and trouble of a legal eviction.

Landlord harassment generally involves interfering with a tenants’ privacy or making them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

Breach of Responsibility
If you fail to properly maintain a property, a tenant may have a claim for landlord harassment.

A rental agreement implies a “warranty of habitability,” which means that you have accepted a responsibility to keep the property properly maintained.

If you willingly withhold maintenance, such as routine repairs, garbage collection, or landscaping (if that is part of your rental agreement), you are not fulfilling your responsibility as a landlord.

It’s easy to imagine a situation in which a landlord might withhold maintenance if they are dealing with a difficult tenant.

However, it’s not a good idea to expose yourself to this kind of liability just to send a message to a tenant.

Creating a Nuisance
Another type of landlord harassment involves creating a nuisance, such as sending a lot of verbal or written complaints about a tenant’s behavior.

Other examples of creating a nuisance include damaging or defacing the rental property or a tenant’s belongings, or doing something to make the tenants feel uncomfortable, like purposely making a lot of loud noise.

If you want to evict a tenant for improper behavior, do not try to intimidate the tenant into moving out.

It’s always best to follow the proper channels to communicate problems with a tenant.

Entering the Property
Entering the property can also qualify as landlord harassment.

Local jurisdictions generally have laws that limit how often and for what reason a landlord can enter a tenant’s property.

As a landlord, you have the right to inspect the dwelling a few times per year for the purpose of maintaining the property.

However, this doesn’t give you the right to snoop through their things while you’re there.

It’s also important to remember that even though you own the property, the tenant has legal possession of it.

You must give the tenant proper notification that you need to enter the dwelling, and the frequency of your visits should be reasonable depending on the repairs or maintenance needed.

Stating Rights to Access in the Lease
Some jurisdictions require leases to explicitly state the circumstances under which a landlord may enter the premises.

Even if you are not required to do so by law, you should consider putting a clause about this in the lease.

State in the lease that you have the right to enter the residence for the purposes of making an inspection, making repairs or to show the residence to a prospective tenant or purchaser.

Be aware that the tenant has the right to limit these visits to a reasonable frequency, and you never have the right to enter the property without an appointment.

Abandonment of the Property
If a tenant appears to have abandoned a property, you can get a court order that allows you to enter it.

However, this can be tricky in a few cases.

For example, when tenants are moving out, they may leave things in the apartment with the intention of returning to clean it up.

But if you think they have vacated the premises, you might come in ahead of them and try to charge them for cleaning up the mess they left.

Tenants may also travel for extended periods of time, and this can cause confusion about whether or not they have abandoned the property.

Encourage your tenants to communicate with you to avoid confusion in these situations.

In general, you can protect yourself from being accused of harassment by keeping the lines of communication open between you and your tenants.

If you have a problem with a tenant, don’t try to handle it on your own.

Always follow the proper procedure for documenting tenant problems and notifying them of any problems.


Marketing Effectively to Prospective Tenants

There are certain selling points for your property that may make perfect sense to highlight: a dishwasher, a walk-in closet, or a big backyard. These are great amenities, but are they all your prospective tenants are after?

Just because you, as the landlord or the property manager, think a given feature makes a unit stand out doesn’t mean that’s actually the case.

Since you view the unit from your unique perspective, you might be missing a truly standout feature that would make tenants sign a lease in a heartbeat.

How can you effectively identify a unit’s marketing points?

Look at Comparable Units’ Listings
Check to see what other landlords and property management companies in your area are highlighting in their units. Ideally, this will give you an idea of what tenants are looking for.

After all, if properties weren’t renting, their landlords would find other features to point out in listings.

Of course, following their lead can backfire. There’s no guarantee that other landlords understand what their tenants want either, and if you follow other companies’ listings too closely, you’re not going to stand out from the crowd.

Look at other listings to see what else is out there — and presumably renting out — but write your own descriptions.

Consider Demographics
Consult census and other demographic data on the area to learn more about the people you’re renting to.

When you do this, be careful not to fall into the trap of stereotyping your prospective tenants.

Keep in mind that fair housing regulations ban you from writing listings that exclude a protected class.

If you look at the data carefully and with sensitivity, you can form some hypotheses about your prospective tenants.

For instance, if your area is a college town that doesn’t have a lot of married renters or renters with children, you might want to place less emphasis on how your unit has a big backyard.

Be Sure You’re Being Accurate
Don’t misrepresent your property.

At the very least, it will get tenants upset with you and earn you a bad reputation around your community.

At worst, you’ll get dragged to court for violating false advertising regulations.

It’s always better to describe the good things your unit has rather than making up or embellishing information.

Consider touring the property yourself before you write the description.

If you own several units with different layouts or features, or if a given unit’s been occupied for some time, you may have forgotten some of its most marketable features.

Walk through, and look at it from a tenant’s point of view. What’s worth getting excited about?

Talk With Other Landlords
You might consider other landlords or property managers to be your competition, but they don’t have to be.

Making professional connections is part of any business.

If you have business contacts you trust, don’t hesitate to ask them what tenants react well to in listings.

Remember, you can’t legally lie about your property, and you can’t take that information and fabricate something with it.

Don’t Forget the Intangibles
When you maintain a property day-in and day-out, it can be easy to forget about some of its best assets.

It’s easy to think in terms of things that you put into a property, such as stainless steel appliances, an in-unit washer and dryer, or natural light, but are these the most important?

Ask yourself, “Is the property within walking distance of a business district?

Is it accessible via public transportation? Is the rent affordable compared to the rest of the neighborhood?”

These are things that matter to nearly all tenants, so don’t hesitate to draw upon them when writing your listing.

Just Ask Your Tenants
Outright asking your tenants what they look for may seem gauche, but it can help remind your tenants that you care about their needs.

As you’re touring the unit, signing the lease, or when you’re in conversation with your current tenants, ask, “What makes this unit stand out to you? Why did you choose to tour (or rent) this one, rather than another one? What’s important to you when you rent? Why do you continue to stay here?”

Be sure to ask a number of tenants so that you can get a complete picture of what they want.

If you phrase your questions carefully, you may see trends about what tenants don’t want.

What’s being omitted from people’s explanations of what they love?

When asking follow-up questions, be polite, and don’t make them feel pressured.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula when it comes to discovering what your tenants want and how best to market your unit.

You’ll likely need to experiment to figure out what draws prospective renters in, and even then you might find that what people want changes over time as the neighborhood evolves.

With the tips above, you should be able to make a good guess at what your renters want.

From there, you can experiment and work to refine your listings until they’re truly attention-grabbing.

How To Verify an Identity

Whether it is for a job, a rental property, or for a child care supervision need, knowing how to verify an identity is essential knowledge for today.

Identity verification helps to protect your interests because you’ll know the person you’re considering really is who they say they are.

The most common way to accomplish this is with a background check, but there are some other options available to you as well.

1. Request Identification That Can Be Validated.

There are several forms of identification that can be used to determine if someone is actually who they say they are.

In the United States, a Social Security card is one of the most common pieces of identification that are used.

A driver’s license, a military identification, or a passport may also be used to help determine the validity of an identity.

2. Use Reverse Email Searches.

If you have someone’s email address, even if it is a public email system like Outlook or Gmail, it can be used to trace down someone’s identity.

You’ll need to hire someone to do this task for you, but it can work when information is difficult to locate.

3. Look For Public Records.

There are many public records that are open for examination and many people don’t realize this.

Any time there is a judgment, there will be a public record of this.

Marriage records are also public records, as are divorce records.

Sometimes even birth records are public, although the specific data may be limited, such as the birth date.

4. Consider Ancestry Software.

Genealogy has exploded in popularity, which means access to public records that can trace a person’s movements are also easier to access than ever before.

If your background checks are coming up empty, try using the available data you have about someone and then match it up with the data from their application.

In most instances, if someone’s identity cannot be verified, then you do not have to hire them or agree to rental terms.

Follow these steps and you’ll be able to verify the identities of most individuals.

How adding hardwood floors ups the value of your rental property

Owners are often wary of making upgrades to their rental units, and for good reason.

Why spend loads of money on things that can be damaged or otherwise devalued as soon as they are added?

There are a couple of upgrades you can make that will not only add value right away but for years to come, and will make maintaining the property even easier than it was before.

One of these is taking out the carpet and adding hardwood floors.

Thankfully this is a relatively simple process that pays off in the following ways.

Instant Property Value Increase
As soon as you replace carpets with hardwood floors, the entire apartment or house looks classier and cleaner.

These aesthetic changes also translate into cold hard cash, as a recent survey of realtors found that 82 percent agree that simply adding hardwood floors meant that properties sold faster and for more money.

For rental property owners, the advantages are even better, as this is not just a one time value increase but a way to continue to get more for the property every time it is rented out.

Because the property is now more attractive to renters, you not only get more money for it, but you may have more interested potential renters.

Long Term Savings
Hardwood floors may cost more to put in than simply carpet, but over the long run most landlords with hardwood in their properties will end up paying less overall than those with carpet, and enjoy the higher rental income as well.

This is because carpets usually need to be cleaned after a guest moves out, which often involves a professional service of shampooing, vacuuming and drying.

Hardwood floors on the other hand can be quickly cleaned with a mop and some good sterilizer and hardwood-safe spray.

Carpet also will need to be replaced at some point, especially if the property gets a lot of turnover.

It is only a matter of time before a major spill or accident takes place.

Once again, hardwood floors rarely stain and are not as susceptible to damages from cigarettes or other burning material and therefore withstand the test of time much, much longer.

Hardwood Floors and LEED Credits
For those that would like to get their property certified as a green building by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), getting hardwood floors put in is often a necessary step.

A green building is one that uses a certain amount of environmentally friendly products or materials in its construction, and in doing so contributes positively to the environment.

Green certified buildings also tend to fetch higher price points on the rental market, as the supply of them is limited and those that demand them tend to be willing to pay more.

If you have a historic building that is made of wood, stone, or other natural materials, simply replacing the carpets with hardwood floors may be all you need to do to earn the LEED green building certification.

For newer buildings however, there are many more areas of the edifice that may need to be replaced before it can be considered green.


Dealing with Tenants That Refuse to Show House

As a property owner, it can be difficult enough to try to sell/rent a home when there are tenants living there. Potential buyers/renters like to see a home as a blank slate instead of how someone else has decided to use the space.

When tenants won’t give you permission to enter the house to show it, the process becomes even more difficult. Landlords in just about every jurisdiction are able to enter a property to show it for sale upon giving reasonable written notice to the tenants. Having a tenant present who doesn’t want the property to sell, however, can be just as much of a deterrent to a sale as a messy property can be.

If you’re dealing with tenants that refuse to show a house, here are some of the best ways to turn that situation around:

1. Offer Compensation

In the landlord/tenant relationship, if a property is sold to a new owner, there is nothing of value that comes to the tenant. They gain nothing from the transaction. Not only is there the potential of a new owner of whom they know nothing about, but it could mean they’d need to find a new place to live if the new owner no longer wishes to lease the property out.

If a tenant has nothing to gain, then they have no motivation to show the property. Make a deal with the problematic tenant. If the property sells, give them a small percentage of the sale for keeping the property in show condition.

2. Avoid The Eviction Process At All Costs

Evictions can cause three undesirable outcomes.

  1. It creates a risk that a tenant may destroy the property before they are forced to move out of it, making it not ready for sale until extensive repairs occur. This may cost you time and money.
  2. It may turn away a potential investor who wants the rental income from a good tenant.
  3. It creates conditions where the tenant may seek retribution, including claims of theft, that must be resolved before a sales contract will go through. Again, this may cost you time and money.

Think of it like this, even if you just have to wait until the end of a lease before showing the property, the only issue you’ve got is a need for more time. For the tenant, they’ll need a new place to live. Sometimes waiting it out is the best course of action.

3. Know Your Landlord/Tenant Law

For some jurisdictions, a tenant can actually break their lease and move out of a property when it goes up for sale. Others require tenants to maintain a show-level condition at all times when the property is for sale.

Make sure to do your research and know what to expect so that you don’t get an unpleasant surprise with a lease-breaking notice that you can’t do anything about.

4. Avoid Needless Showings

The problem with showing a house to prospective buyers/renters is that it can become quite cumbersome for the tenant. If you are showing the home three times per week, that’s a lot to be asking of the tenant even when they’re being cooperative especially if those showings fall at times when the tenant is at home.

Consider doing a video walkthrough of the property instead. This will give you the chance to let people see the home without having to show it in person as often. You could offer video walkthroughs as a first option and then in-person showings to those who are still interested after they have seen the video.

5. Address Their Concerns

The problem that tenants generally have with a showing is that potential buyers/renters tend to snoop around. They open cabinets, closets and pantry doors because they’re curious about the space. To the tenant, however, this is often seen as a violation of their personal privacy.

Another problem that tenants have with showings is that they often happen in the evenings and at weekends. When the tenant is at work all day, they want the opportunity to relax at home in the evening which isn’t possible when you are showing people around their home.

If you can address their concerns and create limits that can address the issues, such as the time of day you show people the property, the tenant may become more agreeable to showing the house.

6. When All Else Fails, The Eviction Process Still Works

As long as your lease allows you the right to entry with reasonable notice, a tenant who is refusing to cooperate with you is violating the lease. If you’ve tried mediating the issue, offering incentives and nothing seems to be working, then what you’re left with is a formal eviction.

Because this isn’t a non-payment of rent issue, there may be a 7-14 day notice required to explain the violation. Most tenants will let you in to show the property after receiving this notice because it stops the eviction process as they’ve rectified their violation. If, however, they are still refusing to cooperate, you’ll need to file for an unlawful detainer or similar hearing in your jurisdiction over the matter. You’ll need to present your case before a judge if it goes that far, pay for the filing fees and pay a process server to deliver the summons. It works, but it could take more than a month and if the tenant suddenly complies before the court orders them out of the property, you could be out legal fees and wind up starting all over again.

Dealing with tenants that refuse to show a house can be a headache, but these options can help you to be able to address the situation quickly and effectively. As long as you give a tenant some incentive to help you out, you’ll be able to show your house to find a buyer for it without much hassle at all.

How To Replace a Fuse And Reset Your Breakers

Just about every landlord will deal with a loss of power in their rental at some point, and often the cause is a blown fuse or a tripped circuit breaker.

If you know what you’re doing, you can fix these problems yourself quickly and easily. Here is a guide to dealing with both issues, allowing you to do a little DIY handiwork around your own property.

The Basics Behind The Problem
There can be many reasons behind a power failure.

For example, an entire city can be hit with a blackout that really has nothing to do with your own power usage. However, in most cases, an electrical problem from within your rental unit will be the cause.

Often, a blown fuse or circuit breaker that trips is the culprit, and results from too much electrical energy flowing through your wiring.

This will cause the fuse or circuit breaker to automatically shut down the power in order to avoid your electrical wiring from overheating and potentially causing a fire.

This problem often comes about due to too many appliances running at the same time, such as a toaster, hair dryer, and air conditioner, all of which can cause too much energy to flow through your wires.

Replacing a Fuse
Fuse boxes are common in older homes and apartments.

They’re usually located in a basement or garage, and located in a square box built into the wall. Inside, you’ll often find 2 to 8 fuses in place.

The fuses are round and much like a light bulb, they screw into position. If a fuse has blown in your property, first turn off all your lights and remove any electrical appliances that you think may have contributed to the blown fuse by unplugging them.

You’re dealing with electricity here, so exercise extreme caution.

Your hands should be dry and you shouldn’t be standing on any type of wet surface.

Usually, you can identify the fuse that needs replacing by looking if the metal inside the fuse has melted.

This will cause the fuse to look purple, burnt, or discolored.

Unscrew this specific fuse by turning counter-clockwise.

You now want to replace this fuse with a fuse that is basically a copy of the one you took out, with the same amperage and size of the damaged fuse.

When in doubt, just bring the broken fuse to a hardware store and ask for an exact match.

Then, simply screw the new fuse in and your electricity should be functioning again.

Fixing a Circuit Breaker
Circuit breakers are the more modern device installed in newer homes and apartments.

They basically perform the function of a fuse box, but are easier to reset and fix.

Inside a circuit breaker box, the actual circuit breakers basically look like smaller versions of a light switch.

They are usually arranged in rows that can either run vertically or horizontally.

When your breaker is tripped, the circuit switch will switch directions.

Depending on your circuit breaker’s design, it will either go up or down.

However, the key to finding which one has been turned “off” is to simply compare it to others and find the one that is switched in the other direction.

Simply reset this specific switch until it’s aligned with all the others, returning it to the “on” position.

When To Call An Electrician
If your circuit breaker keeps tripping or your fuses blowing, it’s important to move appliances around to reduce the electricity burden on one particular breaker or fuse.

Also let any specific tenant suffering from this problem to go easy on their electricity usage to reduce their chances of future problems.

However, if you keep suffering from the same problem despite making these adjustments, it might be time to call a licensed electrician, as you might have a more serious electrical issue.

9 Tips for Verifying References of Potential Tenants

An important part of any interview process is obtaining references, but how do you know these references are legitimate?

Here are some helpful tips to ensure you’re getting honest renters!

1. Your First Point of Reference: Interviewing the Tenant
Always interview a potential tenant first before calling references.

Some critical questions to ask:

  • “What is your monthly income?” – Verify this information with their current boss.
  • “What are your monthly debt obligations?” – Verify by running a credit report after they sign a consent.
  • “What do you think your former boss (and/or landlord) will say about you?”

Specific questions like the above will help you notice any discrepancies between what the tenant says and what their former boss/landlord actually shares when you call them.

2. Find Your Own Contact Number
For employment references, instead of calling the number given by the tenant, Google the business name and then ask for a person in HR and/or your prospective tenant’s supervisor.

This will ensure that you have a legitimate reference to interview.

3. Use an Online Tenant Background Service
Double-check all the information a tenant has given you with an online tenant background service.

If they have supplied any incorrect information, this should be a red flag that their references may not be legitimate.

Any discrepancies with the background check are indications of a potentially deceptive tenant.

4. Confirmation
Ask every reference to confirm their relationship with the tenant.

If possible, have the reference send you an email from a business email address that matches with the business the tenant listed.

5. Always Call
Written references are much easier to forge by potential tenants, so always call!

Never rely solely on a letter.

Furthermore, there are many subtle clues that are lost when a reference is in writing.

You may not get the full tone of a comment, and you don’t have the opportunity to question something you’re unsure about.

6. Don’t Limit Yourself
You don’t have to exclusively call the references given by the prospective tenant.

Do your own investigating.

For example, go to their former residence and speak to their neighbors.

Leverage your own social circle; maybe someone you know and trust has known your candidate for a long time and can provide you with a candid reference.

7. Ask References for Additional References
Expand your circle even more by asking the references you speak to for more names of other references.

This will give you a variety of insights into the true nature and character of your applicant.

For example, you could say, “Thank you Mr. X for your time, can you please provide me with the contact information for another individual who has closely worked with my applicant?”

Then start contacting these secondary references to verify what you have already learned.

8. Check Public Records
If the landlord reference is an individual and not part of a management company, be sure to check public records to ensure that the landlord is who they say they are.

9. Read Between the Lines
Omitted information is very telling, so always look for any blank sections on the application.

When an applicant knowingly does not provide a former employer or former landlord on an application, it’s probably a red flag.

To encourage them to complete this section, consider asking for at least two former bosses and two former landlords.

Their current landlord may be trying to get rid of them, so it’s always better to speak with a former landlord.

Top 7 ways to ensure a tenant’s smooth departure

The best way to ensure tenants’ smooth departure is to begin planning for it before the tenants move in — before you have even met them.

Starting early allows you to attach a rider to the lease, so tenants will know what to expect when they move out.

If you did not prepare early, the good news is that it is never too late to start.

Here are seven effective ways to ensure that tenants depart smoothly.

  1. When tenants sign their lease, attach a rider that amounts to a checklist of expectations the tenants must meet to get their security deposit back when they move out. The list can be numbered with a blank space to the left of each item for tenants to check.
  2. Send the tenants a move-out reminder no more than 30 days before their last day to thank them for giving notice of their departure. The reminder should also contain the checklist from the lease rider, if you have one, or a list of your expectations, such as removing personal items, vacuuming the carpet, reporting any damage in writing, and returning the keys to you after vacating the premises. This reminder should also wish the tenants luck in their future home.
  3. Schedule an inspection to take place three to five days before the tenants’ last day. The move-out reminder letter or checklist can request that the tenants call or email you to schedule this. Try to accommodate the tenants’ schedule as much as possible; while it is not strictly necessary to have a walk-through before they move out, it is a good idea.
  4. If you did not attach a checklist to the tenants’ lease or to the move-out reminder, create one now. You can also use a template. Landlord Station has pre- and post-lease inventory checklists. Your checklist should contain essentials such as walls being clean and the same color as when tenants moved in (unless prior permission to paint a new color was given), electrical systems working, windows cleaned and smoke alarms working properly.
  5. Show up on time for the walk-through inspection. If the relationship has been pleasant, bring the tenant a small token of thanks as a gesture of goodwill. One possibility is a gift card for $20 to $100. Alternatively, depending on your relationship with the tenant, you could bring a handmade gift or baked treats. If you anticipate major issues with the walk-through, it may be best to wait until afterward to see if a gift is appropriate.
  6. During the walk-through, give the tenant a copy of the checklist, and discuss any items that come up or requirements that cannot be met. Depending on the situation, the tenant may be able to remedy something before moving out. If there is damage, take photos that show the date or use a Polaroid camera with images that print out immediately. Have the tenant initial them.
  7. If you expect that you will not be able to return part or all of the tenants’ security deposit, explain why and estimate how much. If the tenants end up owing you money, provide them with various payment methods. If necessary, explain that you will send them a bill, and ask for their new address.

Bonus tip: Know the difference between damage and wear and tear.

Landlords cannot subtract wear and tear amounts from security deposits.

Examples of wear and tear include a thinning carpet, faded paint, and small scratches on the wall.

Examples of damage include permanently stained carpet, water spots on the wall caused by hanging plants, and an excessive number of holes in the walls that will require patching or repainting.

Adding a Pet to a Lease

Pets are a part of life for many Americans.

In fact, The Humane Society of the United States reports that more than 164 million Americans own pets.

When you’re seeking tenants, you don’t want to rule out this large subset of the population by banning pets from your unit. At the same time, you don’t want a dog or cat to damage your rental.

The key, then, is offering a pet-friendly unit with an ironclad lease that protects your rental from potential damage.

Several methods allow you to protect your investment and attract pet owners at the same time.

Pet Security Deposit
You probably already collect a security deposit from your tenant to help fund any potential repairs.

If your tenant has a dog or cat, consider adding a pet security deposit to the lease as well.

This deposit might not be as high as a full month’s rent, but you might charge several hundred dollars so that your tenant can have a furry friend.

You can make this deposit refundable (pending a thorough inspection of the unit when the tenant vacates) or nonrefundable.

This security deposit can go toward any cleaning expenses or structural repairs, such as erasing scratches on the door or walls.

Pet Rent
Consider the pet another tenant and charge pet rent.

Specify precisely how much rent you intend to charge per month for the pet.

This pet rent is typically established in lieu of a pet deposit.

Tenants might prefer a modest monthly pet rent fee rather than paying a lump sum security deposit upon move-in.

Thus, in a competitive rental market, pet rent can be an appealing option and may help you attract tenants.

Consider setting the rent based on the pet’s size.

For example, a larger and potentially more destructive dog might carry a higher monthly rent than a small cat.

Protective Measures
Add language to your lease that specifies the condition in which the tenant must leave the unit.

For example, you might request that tenants with pets have the carpets professionally cleaned before vacating the property.

On the other hand, you may prefer to have the carpets cleaned yourself, in which case you will want to note that the cost of carpet cleaning will be deducted from the security or pet deposit.

Also, the lease should list specific pet-related damages like chewed windowsills, scratched doors, or holes in the walls and explain that the tenant is responsible for the cost of such repairs.

Penalties for Unreported Pets
In your lease, you should also make the effort to deter tenants from not reporting their pets and paying the specified deposits and rents.

Consider adding language to your lease that stipulates that the tenant will be assessed an unreported pet fee or have to pay for past months of pet rent should you find an animal living in the unit.

This clause will encourage tenants to be upfront with you, which will allow you to collect the necessary fees to protect your unit from potential damage.

Welcoming pet owners into your rental unit broadens your options for tenants.

Creating a lease that specifically addresses the problems that pets may cause allows you to confidently hand over the keys to a pet owner, knowing that your investment is well protected in case of pet damage.