June Questions & Answers

Q1

Can I legally prohibit waterbeds in my rental units?

A1

That depends, mostly on the terms of your lease agreement. Most states will allow a landlord to prohibit waterbeds if the lease agreement so states. Unless there is a state or local law that says otherwise, a tenant would be allowed to have a waterbed unless prohibited in the lease. Some states specifically allow a landlord to require an additional deposit for waterbeds in addition to the maximum security deposit otherwise allowed by statute.

Landlords can also protect themselves without eliminating potential applicants, who are otherwise qualified, by requiring that such tenants carry renters insurance that includes waterbed coverage. In any case, a tenant would usually be responsible for any damage resulting from presence of his waterbed, but including a specific lease clause regarding this issue would give additional protection. Check the landlord-tenant law of your state to see if waterbeds are explicitly covered in any way.

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Q2

I’ll soon be closing escrow on my first rental property and when looking at several possible application forms, I see differences in info required. Can someone give any ideas of the most important info?

A2

You are right to be concerned about what is on your application form, as the first line of defense against bad tenants is having an adequate application form. An adequate form is one that requires the applicant to provide information that can be used to verify his identity, obtain a credit report, verify employment and wages, verify other sources of income, contact previous landlords regarding rental history, check eviction records, perform a criminal background check, verify bank accounts, and interview personal references. The form itself and the associated collected information are also useful if it ever becomes necessary to track down a tenant in order to collect a debt related to his/her tenancy. Each adult in any group of residents should complete and sign a separate form.

At a minimum, landlords should require that:

Each applicant is of legal age (or emancipated minor),

Each applicant sign an authorization of release of personal information form for credit reports, employment, rental history, eviction report, and criminal history, for both at the time of application and in the future, and

Each applicant should be required to present at least two forms of personal identification, with at least one being a government-issued photo ID and you should make copies of the IDs.

We suggest that the following information be requested on an application: 

First, last, middle name of applicant, including other names previously or currently used;

Social Security number;

Current residence address;

Telephone numbers, including current home, cell, and work;

Employment history (name, address, telephone number of current employer, supervisor’s name and telephone number, dates of employment, job title);

Monthly gross employment income and/or other income amounts applicant wants considered;

Driver license number - make a photocopy of the driver license;

Vehicle information including make, model, year, color, license plate number for each vehicle;

Date of birth (for identification purposes only, so only of those filling out applications);

Debt obligations (including loans, credit accounts, and spousal or child support);

Financial institution accounts, including name, address, account numbers;

Past rental history (property address, dates at the address, landlord name, landlord telephone number, reason for leaving);

Personal references;

List of additional occupants (include everyone who will live in the rental property);

Emergency contact information, names, addresses, telephone numbers, relationship to applicant (can be useful for tracing a skipped tenant);

If pets allowed, what types and, for dogs, the breeds and sizes;

Describe any water filled furniture;

Has tenant ever filed bankruptcy? If so, which chapter, when, and why?

Has applicant ever been evicted? If so, when and why?

Has applicant ever been convicted of a felony crime? If so, for what and when?

Avoid asking for information regarding age (except as above), birthplace, religion, marital status, relationships among occupants, physical or mental conditions, arrests that did not lead to a conviction, or any other item that might be prohibited by federal, state, or local fair housing laws.

A social security number is important for verifying identity and obtaining various tenant screening reports. It is permissible for an applicant to be asked to divulge their Social Security number as part of the application screening process and it is legal to refuse consideration of an application or to deny an applicant simply because the applicant refuses to provide the number.

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Q3

Can I limit the number of vehicles that a tenant may have?

A3

You cannot limit the number of vehicles a tenant may own, but you can limit the number that are simultaneously allowed to be parked on the rental property when there is not unlimited parking available. The tenant would then be required to park any additional vehicles elsewhere, for example, on nearby local streets. To avoid any tenant charges of favoritism or even possible claims of fair housing discrimination, it is important that you treat all tenants equally regarding the parking issue. In any case, as with most issues, it is always best to cover the parking issue adequately in lease agreements.

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Additional Information

Most of the issues discussed in these Q&A’s are covered in considerably more detail in our eCourses and/or in our Mini Training Guides.

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