As I sat at my desk thinking about an article for this publication, I began to ponder just what I have learned in 30 years as a lawyer. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the more you think you know, the more you need to learn! Landlord Tenant law is always evolving and as landlords, and for me as a landlord lawyer, we need to stay on top of this evolution.
Hence, my thoughts have led me to look at the big picture that landlord’s should be aware of. First, you must thoroughly vet, meaning screen your applicants. Still today, after hearing so many horror stories, I have landlords come to me with no background paperwork on their tenants. Please obtain a complete application from every occupant. Then check their information out. Credit reports, backgrounds check, landlord references etc. You will save yourself a lot of heartache someday😊 Second, only accept bank checks, money orders or cash for the initial move in payments and security deposits. Do not hand over keys without good funds in hand. If they don’t have the money, you should rethink your decision to rent to them. Third, do not barter or negotiate with the tenant to make the premises rentable. This inevitably leads to issues about value, payment, liability etc. It is your property, make it tenant ready and have the tenant acknowledge that they have inspected it and agree that the premises are in good condition. Fourth, use a written lease. Whether it is a weekly rental or a one-year lease, it allows you to memorialize the agreement, as well as, the rules, regulations and financial terms. Fifth, follow up with the tenant after move in. Tenants should know you are an attentive and serious landlord who cares about her property and the people living there. Perform routine and regular unit inspections. As part of the tenant occupancy, keep a log for each unit you rent and document communications, whether they are by phone, in person, letter, email or text. This consistent business practice will serve you well should you ever end up in litigation. Sixth, enforce the terms of the lease and your rules consistently and timely. Landlord’s who become “soft” or want to “help” tenants will ultimately find that nice guys don in fact finish last and you should not turn your real estate business into a charity. Seventh, stay up to date on the law! Your landlord group and your fellow landlords are dealing with law changes on a regular basis. Attend seminars and become educated. I am seeing many instances where the landlord is acting in good faith but losing cases because they have not followed the law. I urge you to re-read the bedbug statute for an example of a law that many landlords still do not understand or follow. Eighth, make sure you work with a lawyer who is experienced in landlord/tenant law. When it comes time to end a relationship with a tenant through eviction, you can’t afford mistakes. More summary process cases (evictions) are dismissed by the court than any other cases, simply because of technicalities. Ninth, keep your documents in an organized fashion so you are ready when they are needed as evidence during an eviction or collection proceeding or as proof as to security deposit accounting. I also always encourage my clients to take before and after pictures of every move in/move out and save them in a tenant folder for future use. Tenth, and finally, ask for guidance from your professionals. In addition to belonging to trade organizations such as CCOPO, you should have a team of professionals to draw from when you are a landlord. Every landlord should have a tax accountant, landlord and real estate attorney and commercial insurance broker on board to assist and guide them.
I encourage every landlord, be a mentor to a new landlord and if you don’t have a mentor yet, ask someone you respect to mentor you. The benefits, both professionally and personally will last a lifetime.