Things are about to get interesting. Our tenants from our single family rental have been consistently late on their rent for over a year (but always came through with payment!). Last month, their rent check bounced. Our management firm hassled them for the rent consistently on our behalf, but sadly, no money came to fruition.
So, remember my friend, the would-be, could-be landlord? Well, he couldn’t sell his house for what he wanted for it, so he decided to give landlording a shot, for a couple of years until the market turned around. He found a family that was interested in renting his house, did a credit report (which didn’t turn out all that well, but he figured that a family looking to rent in his part of town wasn’t likely to have perfect credit anyway). He signed them on for a year lease, and they moved in.
I just received an email today from Landlord2Landlord, my screening agency, saying that TransUnion had changed its requirements, which creates big problems for me. Previously, of the three main credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax), only one allowed small landlords to pull credit reports on potential tenants without having an “on-site inspection” of their property management office — to ensure that credit reports were dealt with in a professional and confidential manner, kept locked up securely, etc. In the case of a small landlord whose “office” was in his or her residence, Experian and Equifax required an inspection to ensure that the “property management office” was separate from the living area of the residence, and that it was “secure”. This all sounds fine and good, but I have exactly ONE rental unit. They want me to have a totally separate, locked room to store credit reports for my ONE rental unit, or else I just can’t pull them at all?
Selecting tenants is really one of my most important decisions as a duplex owner. If I screen poorly and select the wrong tenants, I could find myself with property damage, police calls, noise complaints, and even worse – an eviction case. If I select the right tenants, everything should go smoothly and I’ll hardly know they’re there. So I have to be choosy, but there are a lot of restrictions on the ways in which I can do so — I have to be sure not to inadvertently violate federal Fair Housing Laws.
When selecting tenants, I have a limit of three people for my rental unit. Local zoning laws state that I cannot legally rent my unit to “more than three unrelated persons,” which means that a family of 5 or 6 (or more) could legally live in that space. However, even though it is a three bedroom apartment, it isn’t very large. Also, there is only one water heater for the duplex, AND I live below the rental unit, so I like to keep the number of people as low as possible. As far as I can tell, it IS legal to tell someone you can’t rent to them because they have too many people. However, you CAN’T tell someone that you won’t rent to them because they have kids — that violates fair housing laws.
My new tenants gave me their security deposit, and signed the lease tonight, which means I got to take that “FOR RENT” sign out of my yard. The lease itself, I’ve hemmed and hawed over since the beginning. I’m still not sure I’ve got it just right.
WHERE TO GET A LEASE
There are many standard lease forms out there. There are, of course, many online sources to sift through. My local multi-housing organization sells a standard form for a couple of dollars. I also have a book called Every Landlord’s Legal Guide that includes a standard form. My tenant screening service offers a lease. And, of course, my city’s tenant’s rights organization offers their own version of a standard lease, for free. When I first bought my duplex, my boyfriend at the time (who also owned a duplex) was using a lease drawn up by his father, a patent lawyer who had been renting out investment property for years. He claimed it was “bulletproof.”