Tenants with Disabilities

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 61 million adults in the US live with some type of disability. This can cover a wide range of both visible and invisible conditions including issues with mobility, vision or hearing impairments, cognitive disabilities, and more. Whatever kind of disability an individual copes with, they will be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, if they’re applying for your rental, they’ll be considered a Protected Class under the Fair Housing Act. You will need to make sure that you understand what is expected of you as a landlord or property manager to ensure that you’re following the law.

Let’s start with the basics.

The Do’s and Don’ts

Odds are that you won’t actively try to discriminate against an individual with disabilities that is applying for your rental property, but that doesn’t mean that your actions can’t be viewed as discriminatory in the eyes of the law. The best way to make sure that everything is being handled fairly is to brush up on the do’s and the don’ts of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act as they pertain to both rental applicants and current tenants.

In general, you’ll treat a tenant with disabilities as you would any able-bodied tenant. The exception to that could be if they put in a request for special accommodations. If they do, here are a few things that you, as the landlord or property manager, may do to cover yourself: 

1. If the tenant’s disability is not clear, ask for proof.

There are times when you may find that your new tenant’s disability is not readily visible, and in those cases you can verify the disability in a couple of ways: 

  • Proof of supplemental security income or social security disability insurance
  • Information or a statement by a doctor, medical professional, peer support group, or a reliable third party

If the disability is obvious (such as an individual using a wheelchair for mobility issues), you should not ask for proof. 

2. If your tenant intends to make physical alterations to the rental, make sure that they know to provide you with proper notice.

3. Ask for the required permits (if needed) to be obtained for any alterations made and that any construction should be performed by a licensed and bonded professional.

Here are a couple of things you shouldn’t do while working with tenants that have disabilities:

  1. Ask someone details about their disability. 

While you may need to request certain documentation or verify if something is there to help with the tenant’s disability (don’t worry, more on this later!), you should never ask for details about the individual’s disability. Not only can your curiosity come off as rude, it can easily be flagged as discriminatory if the tenant chooses to pursue that.

2. Deny someone or alter the terms of the lease because of their disability.

A tenant is allowed to make reasonable requests for accommodating their disability. If they are otherwise qualified for your rental you cannot deny them based on that request. We’ll go over what is considered a reasonable request below.

What is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation?

The kind of requests that you may receive from a tenant with disabilities could range from a slight adjustment in your policies to physically altering your rental property and everything in between. In general, a reasonable accommodation should be something that doesn’t cause a financial burden to the landlord.

Here are a few examples of requests that you may see:

  1. Preferred parking and/or a ground floor apartment in a multi-family property –

Tenants with mobility issues may require closer parking, parking spots that can accommodate a wheelchair, or ground floor access to their rental home. As long as you have these options available without kicking another tenant out of their spot, these are requests that would be considered reasonable in most cases, as they shouldn’t put a financial burden on you. 

An example of an unreasonable request would be to ask that you remove another tenant from a ground floor rental so that they may rent the unit or ask that you install a private elevator so that they can access a top floor unit.

  1. The ability to mail their rent payment –

A variety of disabilities may make it cumbersome for a tenant to get to an office and physically hand you their rent check every month. With the increased ease of accepting rent through online portals or having your tenant mail the check in each month, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to find an option that works for all parties involved.

An example of an unreasonable request would be if your tenant asked you to accept only part of the rent. As with any other tenant that has signed a lease for your rental property, a tenant with disabilities is not exempt from full, on-time rent payments.

  1. Allowing a service animal into a rental that otherwise wouldn’t allow animals.

A service animal (we have more on this subject below) is not considered a pet and should not be treated as such. Even if you have a no pet policy for your rental, you will need to allow an exception for a service animal.

An example of an unreasonable request would be if your tenant’s service animal caused damage to the rental or has a proven track record of violence. 

A more complicated request will be if a tenant asks to physically alter your rental. What they are wanting to alter will go a long way in deciding who is responsible for the alterations and how to proceed with the request. A few examples of what a request like this may include would be:

  • adding railings throughout the home to help with mobility
  • installing ramps to provide wheelchair access 
  • lowering cabinets to provide better access

You will want to check your local laws to see if there are any details for your specific situation, but in general the tenant will be responsible for more expensive alterations. In many cases, they may need to put money into an interest-building escrow account so that the rental may be returned to its original state when they move out.

An example of an unreasonable request would be if a tenant had a temporary disability such as a broken leg and asked to make major modifications to the property. 

Service Animals

Many individuals living with a disability are assisted by a service animal. These animals are treated as a medical aid and their use is protected under the law. It’s important to understand that a true service animal is not a pet and should not be treated as one. This means that you cannot deny a qualified tenant with a service animal because of a no pet policy in your rental. You also will not be able to charge any fees such as a pet deposit or pet rent to cover the animal’s stay.

A growing concern among landlords has been if the tenant’s animal is truly a service animal or what is often called a support animal. Support animals can also be called therapy, comfort, or companion animals, and there are differences between the two classifications.

A service animal (typically a dog) is protected by the ADA and is defined as “trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” This training may be done through a professional organization or at home, but training is a key requirement for a service animal. Examples of tasks they may have been trained to do are:

  • Assist a visually impared individual (often referred to as a seeing eye dog)
  • Detect ailments such as low/high blood sugar, seizures, panic attacks, etc etc…
  • Remind an individual to take medication

A support, therapy, comfort, or companion animal is not considered the same as a service animal under the ADA. While they may help an individual with a disability, the key difference between them and a protected service animal is that the support animal has not received training. They provide help by simply being there for the person rather than performing specific tasks. 

While these types of animals are not protected by federal law, you will want to check your local laws before denying a tenant with a support animal outright. If you are uncertain about an animal that a tenant claims should be allowed into the rental without fee under the ADA, you may ask two questions to confirm that it is a service animal:

  1. Is the service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the service animal been trained to perform?

That’s it. You should not request to see documentation for the animal, ask to see the animal perform a specific task, or question the individual about their disability. 

A few additional things to be aware of on the topic of service animals:

  • Any breed of dog may be trained as a service animal. You may not deny an applicant based on the breed of their service animal. The animal must have a proven record of aggressive or dangerous behavior to deny them.
  • Service animals are not protected by the ADA until they have been fully trained.
  • While service animals often wear a vest or other identifying marker, the ADA does not require that they do so.
  • The ADA does not require documentation that the dog has been trained as a service animal.
  • The ADA does not exempt service animals from required vaccinations. 

Conclusion

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed if you haven’t had prior experience with the Americans with Disabilities Act or its corresponding sections of the Fair Housing Act. It’s important to remember that these laws were designed to allow individuals with a variety of disabilities the same access as their able-bodied neighbors, not to trip you up as a landlord or property manager. 

Make sure you follow the above recommendations and that you stay current on changes to both local and federal laws so that you may adjust your policies as needed. If in doubt, seek legal advice. It will always be better to verify rather than find yourself on the wrong side of a discrimination lawsuit. 

Are Tenants Protected Against Owner Move-In Evictions

Depending on where you live, you may terminate a lease if you or a family member needs to move into one of your rental properties.

Laws governing these evictions will vary by city, making it pertinent that you check your local regulations.

Read on to learn in which circumstances you may perform an owner move-in eviction (OMI).

Individuals Protected From OMI Evictions
Only certain cities, usually those with rent-controlled apartments, allow for OMI evictions.

Pay close attention to the wording of the law.

Even when these evictions are allowed, there are certain individuals who are protected against them.

One of the primary populations protected against OMI evictions are the elderly.

In most instances, individuals over the age of 60—who have lived in a residence for a certain period—cannot be OMI evicted.

In New York City, for example, an individual over the age of 62 cannot face this type of eviction.

The same holds true for disabled people and those who have been in the apartment for over 20 years.

These rules also usually true for disabled or terminally ill tenants.

Additionally, tenants with children who have lived in a rental property for a set amount of time are also afforded protections.

Looking at San Francisco, families with children who have been in a residence for at least a year are protected.

Always double check your local laws to see the necessary qualifications of protected individuals.

Exceptions
Although the elderly, disabled, and families with young children are often protected, these rules have exceptions in certain circumstances.

For example, San Francisco landlords are allowed to evict families with children as long as the school year has passed.

Again looking at San Francisco, an OMI eviction is permitted against a family with a child if the owner—or their family member—plans on moving in with a child.

This exemption exists for elderly occupants as well. In essence, the party that’s moving in must meet the same requirements that protect the current inhabitants.

These protections are often linked to how long tenants have lived in the rental property.

While an elderly renter may be exempt from OMI evictions after living in a unit for several years, it’s not likely they will have the same protections if they had moved in six months ago.

When OMI Evictions Aren’t Legal
There are also instances where a landlord simply won’t be provided the option to begin an OMI eviction.

In most cases, the landlord must have no other property in which their family member or themselves could move. If the landlord does have another empty rental unit, they must use that one instead of the property that’s occupied.

This is true even if the occupied unit doesn’t have individuals who fall under a protected status.

Additionally, the law often dictates that you must live in the same building as your family member.

If you live in Topeka, for instance, and you’re trying to do an OMI eviction at a property in California, it’s unlikely that the law is on your side.

Undertaking an owner move-in eviction is a difficult process.

When these situations arise, however, there’s a good chance that you or your family member will have a place to stay, so long as you’re undertaking the eviction in good faith.

Can You Deny Prospective Tenants Based on Their Jobs?

Landlords can reject applications for all kinds of reasons.

At the same time, they are not allowed to discriminate based on certain criteria.

These two statements leave a lot of gray area for landlords when it comes time to review the applications of prospective tenants.

Requiring an Applicant to Have a Job
A landlord can require tenants to have jobs and to disclose their employment information.

You are allowed to ensure that the people you rent to can afford to make the monthly rent payments and pay for utilities.

In addition, you can require a minimum income to ensure that your tenants have sufficient funds for renting the apartment.

While a landlord can set the rules, the general rule of thumb is that the rent payment should be no more than one-third of the tenant’s monthly income.

While this isn’t technically the same as turning down an applicant because of their job, it does impact the kind of jobs a tenant can have.

For instance, a landlord who charges $1,000 a month in rent for an apartment wouldn’t accept a person making only $900 per month unless he or she would have a roommate.

This is just common business sense, and won’t get you in trouble.

Another issue that goes back to affordability is job stability.

If the job is seasonal or the person switches jobs often, you may not feel that they are a good risk as a tenant, and you would be within your rights to turn him or her down.

Other Reasons Not to Rent to a Tenant Because of a Job
Other than a lack of sufficient income, you may have other reasons you don’t want to rent to someone because of his or her job.

For example, you may not want the unit to be unoccupied because someone travels for work a lot.

Maybe he or she works odd hours and would disrupt the rest of your tenants when returning home.

Whatever reason you have for not wanting to rent to a tenant because of his or her job must be applied to all applicants. In basic terms, landlords have the right to refuse to rent to anyone as long as they don’t discriminate against someone because of a protected class.

A job doesn’t technically fall into that category, but you have to be careful in case it can be linked to one of those protected criteria.

If you were to turn down an applicant because of his or her job and it had anything to do with their age, color, race, religion, or other protected criteria, the applicant could claim discrimination.

A simple example would be to reject the application of a preacher, priest, or rabbi.

The key to protecting yourself and your property when screening applicants is to set your requirements in writing.

Follow those standards when interviewing all applicants, so that you may be fair in your reasons for rejecting applications. It is also a good idea to show your stated minimum requirements to an attorney who specializes in this area to ensure that you are not breaking any state or federal laws.

Landlords have the right to feel good about the people they rent to.

And they shouldn’t have to worry about their tenants being able to afford the rent.

At the same time, they want to make sure they aren’t breaking any laws and practicing illegal discrimination in rejecting an applicant based on his or her job.

 

How to Handle Threats from Tenants

Bad tenants are a fact of landlord life.

You do what you can to minimize the risk of bad tenants through credit checks and screening services, but a great tenant on paper may be a nightmare to deal with in person.

Tenants may threaten you for several reasons, such as attempting to avoid an eviction, stopping you from realizing they’re breaking their lease clauses, and attempting to intimidate you.

How you handle threats from tenants depends on the situation and the consequences for taking action.

Violent Threats
If a tenant is physically threatening you, you have a few judgment calls to make.

Your safety and well-being are your top priority in any situation.

If you’re in the same physical location with the tenant while he’s making these threats and you’re unable to defuse the situation, leave the property.

The tenant may need some time and space to cool off after you delivered an eviction notice, is having a bad day in general, or has anger management issues.

By removing yourself from the situation, you reduce the risk of physical harm to yourself.

You do run the risk of your property being damaged, so consider involving the police department if the tenant seems likely to take his anger out on your rental unit, or he has tried to physically harm you.

If the tenant is making threats over the phone, make a record of what he said to start a paper trail.

Save emails or texts if the tenant communicates with you through those channels.

Documentation is important if you have to take your tenant to court due to the threats.

Legal Threats
Tenants may make legal threats for discrimination, eviction protection, or constructive eviction.

If a tenant is threatening legal action and states she’s involving a lawyer, cease the conversation unless it’s through a lawyer.

If the tenant is bluffing, you stopped the conversation from continuing in an unproductive fashion.

If the tenant isn’t bluffing, you have a heads up to prepare for a potential court case and retain your own legal counsel if necessary.

You want to be prepared in case your tenant goes through with a legal threat and takes you to court.

Threats Against Other Tenants
A tenant may threaten other tenants instead of communicating calmly about problems.

While it’s ideal when tenants can work out internal disputes with each other, especially those sharing rental units or common areas, the conversations don’t always work out nicely.

You don’t want a tenant feeling unsafe due to an angry tenant, so it’s important to mediate if the conversation goes badly.

A tenant who is creating an unsafe environment for your other tenants may need to be evicted from the property, or may need a strong conversation on how to properly communicate issues with other tenants.

While stress and anger can lead to harsh words, there’s a difference between a tenant having a bad day and one who is making your other tenants feel unsafe.

Bad tenants who threaten you or other tenants need dealt with appropriately.

In some situations, you can let the tenant cool down before addressing the problem.

In other cases, you need to involve a lawyer or the police.

Knowing when to use each option is important for handling a threatening situation appropriately.

What Extra Measures Can You Take to Make Sure You Are Not Liable for Your Tenants’ Pets?

Many people like to get cats, dogs, or even exotic pets to live in their apartment or other rental.

Some landlords allow these pets to entice more applicants to their properties.

However, you must protect yourself from the liability that comes with animals.

1. Tenant Liability
In most cases, the tenant is responsible for the pet they choose to keep.

For example, you have a tenant with a medium-sized dog named Fluffy. Fluffy is usually friendly and wags her tail at everyone who comes by. One day, Fluffy bites a visitor for seemingly no reason.

The tenant is responsible to pay for any medical costs from the incident and the landlord isn’t likely to be held liable.

2. When the Landlord Becomes Responsible
If Fluffy had been a breed considered dangerous and had a history of aggression, the landlord could be held liable if they knew about it.

If the landlord allows a dog breed banned by a city ordinance, he or she could be liable if an incident occurs.

A landlord could be held responsible if they receive complaints about a dog and no action is taken.

While any pet can be a problem, dogs are most often the animal that causes problems for other tenants or outsiders.

If the renter keeps the pet and it creates an incident while in their care, they could be held responsible.

3. How to Protect Yourself
State laws vary based on what they interpret as a landlord’s responsibility.

It can be helpful to review previous cases involving dogs to learn how they were resolved and who was held responsible.

You can also check with on a potential tenant who has a dog to see if any previous cases have been made against the owner for the animal.

If you find a civil or criminal case involving the dog, you have grounds to refuse the application.

Another way to protect yourself is to require certain paperwork.

You can ask for tag numbers, proof of vaccination and rental insurance that covers dog bites.

By having this information in the tenant’s file, it shows you took reasonable action to ensure the safety of other tenants when you accepted a dog on the property.

If you have a tenant with a dog that has proven to be viscous, unsociable, and a possible menace, you can require the tenant to get rid of the dog or evict the tenant.

Your ability to take this step will depend on local and state laws, so check with an attorney or another expert before taking drastic measures.

You may not want to move right to eviction if you can find other methods of protecting yourself and others.

You can build a fence around the property—either bearing the cost or sharing it with the tenant.

You can post signs warning passersby and visitors of a dog on property.

 

The decision to allow tenants to keep a dog in their rental units can be a difficult one.

There are many aspects to consider, not the least of which is whether the landlord will be held liable if an incident happens with the dog.

Make sure you know your level of responsibility and take any extra measures to protect yourself.

Options for Approaching Tenants With Short-Term Needs

Temporary or short-term tenants have very specific needs, but they can be a gold mine for landlords.

Short-term leases often carry premium pricing and, depending on local laws, the rates can jump significantly at the end of the lease term.

The trick is finding these tenants to keep your short-term vacancy rates as low as possible.

Add these simple amenities and follow these three strategies to help keep all of your short-term rentals full, all year round.

Adding Amenities
Short-term renters might be in town for a season or even six months with a contract job.

The shorter term of their leases often means that they will need a furnished apartment.

Working with a furniture rental company can give you the flexibility to offer an apartment furnished or unfurnished, on demand.

If you want to avoid the added expense, you can always furnish the apartment yourself.

Keep in mind that better furnishings can help draw in higher-end tenants.

Another major amenity to keep in mind is connectivity.

If a tenant is traveling for business, they may be working virtually around the clock. Make sure all temporary units are already wired for Internet service and include the cost in the monthly fee. This helps your tenants avoid wait times for installation.

Consider rolling all monthly expenses into the rental fee for short-term leases. Some companies pay the living costs for temporary housing, so a rental agreement that builds in electricity, heat, hot water, and any other utilities can be worthwhile to business tenants.

How to Attract Temporary Tenants
Once you have the unit ready, it is time to start lining up prospects.

There are many ways to connect with short-term tenants, and here are three that can boost your existing campaigns.

1. Contact companies
Start any search for temporary tenants by touching base with local companies that often use seasonal or contract workers.

You can set up an agreement directly with the company for a specific number of units.

This has several benefits, not the least of which being that even if the unit is not filled, you still collect rent. If something does happen to a unit, it might take longer to collect damages from the business, but you are much more likely to be paid without spending time in court in order to collect.

Other benefits of renting directly to the business is less time and money spent acquiring tenants. You won’t need to run multiple tenant applications or advertise as long, or at all.

2. Add “short term” to your ads
The easiest way to connect with short-term renters is often just adding the keyword to all of your materials.

Make sure that prospects see that you offer these types of leases, so you can leverage all of your advertising toward filling any type of vacancy.

3. Post on job boards
If you don’t want to work with companies directly, you can still take advantage of their hiring practices by advertising in the same places they do. If a local company routinely advertises for jobs on a specific board, add your own materials in the same place.

This will make sure every new contract employee also sees a place where they can go to find temporary housing.

When adding materials designed to attract seasonal or temporary renters, be sure to distinguish between short-term and month-to-month leases.

A month-to-month may not offer enough security for prospective tenants, but they may want to have the option available at the end of their longer term.

Offering both options can be a bonus when working with those who can’t say for sure how long a job will take.

Should You Ever Accept Cash from Tenants?

Many landlords wonder about which types of payment options they should accept from their tenants.

What if your tenant doesn’t have a bank account or use checks?

Is it safe to accept cash from tenants?

Every type of payment option has its benefits and downsides, so it’s critical to assess what’s most important to you, whether it’s transaction fees, security or convenience.

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of different payment options:

Cash
Many landlords prefer cash payments for several reasons.

Unlike a check, you don’t have to wait for it to clear, and there is no risk of a bounced check. While cash is a safe option, it’s extremely important to provide your tenants with a receipt (make sure to keep a copy for yourself) so you have a clear paper trail if any discrepancies arise in the future.

The main drawback to cash is that you or someone who works for you has to meet with the tenant in person to collect the money, a time-consuming task if you have a lot of tenants.

It can take even longer if you’re driving to different properties. Even if you ask your tenants to come to you, they may accidentally or purposefully miss the meeting time.

For all of these reasons, cash typically works best if you have very few tenants, and the tenants live close by.

If time isn’t an issue, however, collecting cash payments gives you a good opportunity to check in with your tenants.

Money Orders
If your tenant does not have a bank account, you may also consider accepting money orders.

These are considered safer than personal checks because they are backed by a third party.

Tenants will have no trouble obtaining one, as they’re available at the post office, big retailers and many drug stores. In addition, money orders can be mailed to you, so you don’t need to waste time and energy personally meeting with all of your tenants every month to collect payment.

The downside is that, even though it’s difficult to cancel a money order, it’s still possible.

Also, your tenants will have to pay for the money order each month, which they may not be happy about.

Money orders are a good option if you have several tenants and want the convenience of having payments mailed to you.

Just make sure your tenants understand that they need to purchase one every month.

Credit Cards
If you’re dealing with tenants without bank accounts, you can also accept credit card payments.

It’s very simple to set up a basic merchant account with PayPal.

The site is completely secure, and you don’t have to worry about checks or money orders getting lost in the mail.

Tenants find it very convenient and easy to use, as most people are already accustomed to paying their bills online. You can also send invoices electronically.

Just be aware that PayPal will charge you a small transaction fee, so this option is best if you don’t mind paying a little extra for convenience.

If your tenants don’t have bank accounts or don’t want to write checks, you can still find a payment option that works for everyone.

Just make sure you carefully consider the benefits and costs of each method before deciding which payment options to accept.

Top 10 Things to Make Sure Your Lease Covers When it Comes to Tenant Responsibility

A good lease is the foundation for your success as a landlord.

When tenants understand your expectations, they are more likely to live up to them.

Furthermore, if tenants disregard some aspect of your agreement, a solidly written lease will give you firm legal ground for pursuing your rights.

Here are 10 elements to include in your lease to ensure that it covers all the essentials:

1. Names of every tenant
If you rent to several people, you should not allow them to decide among themselves whose name will go on the lease.

Every adult in the dwelling, married or not, should be included on the lease.

This is helpful to you because it makes every person on the lease financially responsible for the entire amount owed to you.

It is also helpful to list children’s names, simply as a way of being specific about who is occupying the dwelling.

Occupancy should be limited to those people whose names are on the lease, and the issue of subletting should be specifically addressed.

2. Local landlord-tenant laws
Each state, county, and city has its own set of landlord-tenant laws, so you need to make sure that your lease follows local requirements.

These laws cover many topics, including the amount of notice that you must give before you enter the property, how you must handle security deposits and what rules you must follow if you need to evict a tenant.

If you have purchased a boilerplate lease, it’s essential that you change the parts of it that don’t comply with your local laws.

3. Rent payment expectations
Your lease should spell out exactly when, how, and where your tenants are supposed to pay the rent.

These specifics should include:

  • Amount of rent
  • Due date for rent payment
  • Form of payment: Will you accept cash? Money orders? Checks? Electronic payments? You may have a preference for a certain form of payment — for example, you may not want to accept checks because they can take a long time to clear — and it’s important to let your tenants know what you expect.
  • Place of payment: To avoid disputes related to a tenant’s unsuccessful effort to submit payment, it’s helpful to state the location at which payment must take place.

 

4. Utility responsibilities
This section of the lease is highly variable from one residence to another.

In some cases, tenants may establish their own personal accounts with city utility companies.

In other situations, landlords may set a flat fee for utilities and ask tenants to keep their usage within certain limits.

For example, you may pay the trash removal bill, but limit your tenants to a certain size of trash can.

If your tenants will have responsibilities such as putting trash cans out or calling for a new oil delivery when the heating oil level is low, it is very important to spell these out.

5. Pet Policies
Your lease should cover which types of pets (if any) you allow. It should also specify quantity.

If you allow cats, does that mean you would permit a tenant to keep eight of them? Also, do you allow snakes? Parrots and other exceptionally loud birds?

Be sure to clarify your pet deposit policy, including any situations in which you find out about a pet after the fact.

6. Lease-breaking criteria
If your tenant wants to move out before the lease is expired, will you require them to pay for the full lease period? Or would you ask them to pay until you find a new tenant?

Landlords have various opinions on this matter, so you need to clearly communicate your expectations.

Likewise, you should spell out your right to terminate a tenancy if the renter breaks certain clauses of the lease.

Don’t forget to check your local landlord-tenant laws to see if there are guidelines you’re required to follow.

7. Maintenance responsibilities
What is your tenant responsible for maintaining the property? Are they expected to water the lawn, replace fire alarm batteries, or shovel snow off the sidewalk?

You can’t hold a tenant responsible for doing work that you never put into writing.

Furthermore, you should mention that they must notify you if any household system stops working.

In most cases, you will be responsible for keeping the heat, hot water system, and basic safety elements in functional condition, but you should spell out what manner of collaboration you expect from your tenants.

8. Security deposit details
Security deposits create fertile ground for landlord-tenant disputes.

To head off trouble, spell out exactly what the security deposit may be used for.

Be sure to check your state and local laws before setting the amount of the deposit, and clearly state the fact that your tenant may not use the deposit for the final rent payment.

Likewise, clarify which part of the deposit is refundable, and how soon you will refund it, following tenants’ departure.

9. Tenant alterations
Although a lease cannot foresee every potential alteration a tenant might make on the dwelling, you can create categories of changes that require your permission.

Do you want tenants to be able to paint interior walls as they wish? Can they install shelves, burglar alarms, or overhead light fixtures?

10. Emergency notification procedures
If the washing machine floods the basement, or there is a fire, the tenants need to be able to reach you right away.

Be sure to include your emergency contact number, and describe the nature of emergencies that would give you permission to enter the tenant’s dwelling without notice.

 

3 Tips to Verify Tenants’ References Are Real

Almost all rental applications ask for references.

Unfortunately, references are maybe one of the easiest things for an applicant to fake.

Some tenants will just put down the names and contact information of friends and family on the application, so that their loved ones can vouch for them.

Many landlords and property managers go as far as to essentially disregard references during the screening process, or they at least put minimal weight on positive recommendations from references.

But if an application is marginal, or if you’re investigating a previous eviction or other black mark on the tenant’s record, you may not have that luxury. How can you, as a landlord, distinguish between a real rental reference and a fake one?

Make Sure the Consequences of Falsification Are Clear
As you put together the rental application, make it clear to your tenants what the consequences of lying on the application are.

Most landlords handle this by making it clear that if a tenant is caught lying on an application, the application will be rejected outright and no subsequent application will be considered.

You’ll still get applicants falsifying information, of course.

But with this warning, you’ll discourage the more honest applicants from embellishing their application, or adding a false reference.

Research the Reference
Before you get on the phone with a reference, don’t hesitate to check the Internet for information about the reference and the property they (supposedly) manage.

Does the individual have any other properties in the area? Are they in a line of work that implies that they have the money to own and maintain a rental property? Can you determine whose name it’s under, and does that information line up with what you’re seeing on the application?

If you see any discrepancies or suspicious information, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the applicant is lying.

The property may have changed hands recently, for instance, or the owner may have undergone a name change, or may be doing business as a different entity.

But keep these in mind as you contact the reference.

Interview the Reference
Talking with the reference is one of the most important steps you can take in this process.

Call them up and start asking them some basic questions, including: what were the start and end date of the lease? How much rent was the tenant paying, and was it paid on time? Does the tenant have any complaints? Would they rent to the individual again?

Listen carefully for hesitation.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the individual is lying — plenty of people feel uncomfortable talking on the phone, after all – but if they’re hesitating and their details are vague, you may be dealing with a falsified reference.

Remember that you can always bring up any discrepancies you’re seeing.

Don’t accuse the reference of lying, but you might choose to make casual mention that you’d seen that the property was owned by someone else, or you might ask them if they own any other properties and where they are.

Finally, listen for any bad information.

If a reference presents their information in vague, glowing terms, that may indicate that they’re falsifying.

Conclusion
Unfortunately, you don’t necessarily have any indication that a tenant’s reference is a real one, so you may want to place less weight on that part of the application than other, arguably more important ones like credit score and income verification.

But if you need to determine that a reference is legitimate, these tips, plus your intuition, may help.

 

What to Do If Your Tenant Shuts Off Communication

Not even the best landlord on earth can avoid running into a situation where a tenant refuses to respond to your requests or won’t answer the phone or even the door.

It can be a very sticky situation for you, especially if the matter that needs to be resolved is not necessarily a breach of the rental agreement that allows you to begin the eviction process.

If you find yourself trying to communicate with a tenant who you think is trying to avoid you, try these methods of getting in touch before you start stressing out.

1. Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt
Just because the tenant didn’t return yesterday’s text or phone message, don’t jump to the conclusion that they’re avoiding you.

They may be on vacation, busy with personal affairs, or even experiencing a medical emergency.

If you don’t hear back from a tenant after a couple of days, stop by the property or send an employee/official personnel — such as a custodian or property manager — to check on the tenant.

If there’s still no answer, check to see if the mail has been collected and ask neighbors if they’re aware of any travel plans or other things that may be causing the tenant to ignore your attempts at communication.

2. Document Your Calls
It’s always a good idea to record any message you leave on voicemail or an answering machine via a method that can time and date stamp it.

This provides a record of your attempts to contact the tenant in case a situation arises where you have to take the tenant to court over an issue that they claim they weren’t informed about.

If the situation leads to an eviction, the fact that you can prove that you tried to contact the client and they didn’t respond to you will be favorable for you.

3. Send Registered Mail
If you’re sure that your tenant is completely avoiding you but you still need an issue to be resolved — like trash in the yard or a noise complaint — the best way to notify them is by certified or registered mail.

This forces them to provide their signature when they receive the piece of mail or package — in this case, your letter informing them about the issue.

Give them notice of all lease violations and let them know that the eviction process will start on a specific date if they don’t remedy the situation.

If the tenant still refuses to accept your communication via registered mail, at least you still have an official record of the event that can later be used in a court of law to prove that you could not contact them by any means.

4. Start the Eviction Process
If the tenant is refusing to correct the issue and will not communicate with you, it may be time to start the eviction process.

Make sure that you take steps to publicly notify the tenant, including pasting a copy of the note on their door where it will be obviously visible when they come home.

Photograph it with a time and date stamp for your records.

Make sure you know the laws and familiarize yourself with the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act before you begin the eviction process.
It can certainly be frustrating to deal with a tenant that simply won’t get back to you, but don’t let it get your goat.

There’s a chance that they may be going through a hard time in life and, while that is not an excuse for bad behavior, it is a reminder not to take things personally.

Keep all interactions on a business and professional level and chalk up even the bad experiences to learning new things!