Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What are some benefits of online rent payments?

October, 2020

When rent payment procedures are easily understandable to tenants and simple to use, there is a greater likelihood that tenants will pay as agreed.

Online rent payments may offer a best practice solution to timely rent payment that benefits both landlord and tenant by a more efficient processing of rent payments. An important decision is whether to use an integrated portal (all-in-one) or a separate processing module. An all-in-one system can integrate core property management functions such as applicant processing, tenant screenings, deposits and fees, rent collection, payments history, maintenance requests, and landlord-tenant communications into a full service package that benefits landlords and tenants. Generally a stand-alone payment processing module is a basic accounting/reporting system that can deliver management reports, rent receipts, monthly tenant statements, payment history, past due reports, and rent reminder alerts on demand, helping to reduce administrative costs and provide real-time data for analysis and projections.

By choosing an online payment processing system a landlord can help reduce his operating expenses and help increase his property cash flow. In addition, many online rent payment systems offer the convenience of expanded customer services with 24/7 access to system options.

Some of the benefits of an online rent payment processing system include:

  • A more efficient rent collection process
  • Improved property cash flow by moving money more quickly into the landlord’s account
  • Increased likelihood of full and timely rent payments
  • Reduced administrative time and paperwork associated with processing in-house payments and collection duties for late, missed, or partial payments
  • Tenants prefer to pay rent online
  • More payment options such as credit card, debit card, bank transfer, other types of electronic payment services
  • Convenient access for rent payment at any time or from any device
  • Security of transaction
  • Reduced risk of check fraud and theft including identity theft
  • Ability to schedule recurring payments
  • Co-tenants can synchronize payments for single rent payment to landlord
  • Automatic notifications and reminders of rent due dates, account status
  • Account access 24/7
  • Reduce tenant late fees, missed payments
  • Digital records for payment history and deposits
  • Notification of new charges or fees

By reducing time and effort in the rent payment process, an online payment system can help reduce stress and improve the landlord-tenant relationship.

Very few of our tenants choose to renew their leases. What could we do to increase tenant retention?

October, 2020

There can be many factors that influence a tenant’s decision to stay in place or move. A tenant may need to move for personal reasons, e.g., family, health issues, job relocation, or changes in income.

Generally there are three key factors that influence the tenant’s decision to renew:

  • Local market conditions
  • Physical condition of the rental unit and rental property
  • Property management and rental policies

A landlord must stay current with local market conditions. Without market knowledge, a landlord has no idea if his business is competitive, or could be competitive with additions or adjustments to his business plan.

In conducting market analysis, a landlord will need to compare his properties with comparable local area properties for rents, amenities, rental policies.

Deferred maintenance or requests for maintenance that are ignored can be a major motivation for tenants to move. An objective assessment of the physical conditions of the rental property to identify needed repairs and improvements followed by subsequent action to implement needed changes could have a positive influence on renewal decisions.

Good property management and customer service can be a significant factor in attracting tenants and retaining tenants. Good communications between management and tenants and prompt responses to questions and requests can keep tenants satisfied during the current tenancy and increase the likelihood of renewal.

Tenant screening, as a core practice in good property management, also can have an impact on a tenant’s decision to renew a lease. Good tenants want to stay in good properties. They want to be sure that the management continues to screen for more good tenants. Tenant retention has been shown to be higher in properties where landlords conduct complete and comprehensive screenings for selection.

Enforcement of rental terms and conditions is another way that landlords can attract and retain good tenants. Good tenants leave when a landlord does not enforce his rental policies allowing lease defaults, dangerous conditions or illegal activities to occur on the rental property.

To improve tenant retention and maintain a satisfactory market position, the more tenant feedback that can be obtained, the more a landlord can improve his position in the marketplace. As an example, an exit interview or move-out survey of departing tenants is a marketing research tool that can provide valuable information on the tenant’s reason for moving and suggestion for improved tenant services.

What is landlord retaliation?

October, 2020

Unlawful landlord retaliation occurs when a landlord uses his authority to punish a tenant who exercises his legal rights. Tenant protection laws in most states provide tenants legal protection from retaliatory eviction and other landlord retaliatory actions.

While state laws prohibiting landlord retaliation may vary by state, most commonly, statutes address issues regarding tenant complaint to a landlord or government agency; tenant involvement in a tenants’ organization; tenants’ exercise of legal right; and presumed retaliation if negative reaction by landlord is within a specified time of a tenant’s action.

In many states, tenant protection laws presume a landlord has a retaliatory motive if the landlord takes action to evict the tenant or takes some other retaliatory action within six months after the tenant has exercised a tenant legal right.

As examples of a tenant exercising a legal right:

  • Tenant filing complaint with the landlord or a public agency regarding the condition of the rental unit, including issues of habitability, fair housing discrimination, health and safety, and repairs
  • Tenant notifying landlord of the use of repair and deduct remedy for defective property conditions
  • Tenant notifying an appropriate public agency for health, safety violations, and/or requesting property inspection and remediation of conditions
  • Tenant initiated lawsuit against landlord for defective conditions of rental unit

Landlord retaliatory conduct can take many forms. A landlord is generally considered to be retaliating if he takes any of the following actions after a tenant has exercised a legal right:

  • Refusing to renew a lease
  • Filing an eviction proceeding
  • Increasing the tenant’s rent
  • Restricting the tenant’s use of the premises
  • Refusing to provide or reducing essential services
  • Terminating a tenancy
  • Threatening a tenant
  • Harassment or hostile behavior toward a tenant
  • Interfering with the tenant’s rights under the lease agreement

Business Insurance

October, 2020

Business insurance policies are important to protect landlords from financial losses resulting from unexpected events such as accidents, natural disasters, injury claims, or other liability issues.

There a number of decisions that a landlord must make to determine the appropriate policies and coverages for his business.

Coverages

While insurance coverage against almost any possible loss could be purchased at some cost from some company, what a landlord wants to do is pay for only the coverage for events and losses that are most likely to occur on his property. To do so, a landlord will need to understand insurance policies’ coverages, terms and conditions in relationship to his known business risks and financial condition.

There are two types of insurance coverages related to real estate. One is to protect the rental property from casualties, i.e. the physical losses or damage to the property caused by any of many potential events including fire, storms, theft, and vandalism. The other is to protect the landlord from liability for damages to other people or property. Adequate liability insurance includes coverage for injuries or losses suffered by others as a result of defective conditions on the property and legal costs of defending personal injury lawsuits. Liability insurance is important because judgments resulting from a lawsuit can be potentially larger than losses from casualties and the cost of defending against a lawsuit is often significantly greater than the ultimate award of damages.

Limits and Deductibles

Insurance premiums can be a significant cost of property ownership, but insufficient insurance can result in financial disaster. With the help of an experienced insurance agent, a landlord can evaluate important types of coverages, determine how high a deductible is acceptable to his business operations, and choose how large the coverage amount should be.

The more rental units and tenants, the more liability insurance is required to cover the risks, with all other factors remaining the same. Liability coverage can be much more important than all the casualty coverages put together. Exposure to financial loss due to physical hazards is actually limited, although the limit can be quite high. As a bottom line a landlord should obtain the highest possible liability limit even if it means accepting high deductibles on casualty coverages.

It is often more cost-effective to increase liability protection through the use of excess liability coverage, known as an umbrella policy. An umbrella policy takes over after the limit of another policy has been exceeded. It is often recommended that landlords purchase a moderately high basic policy liability limit and a high limit on the umbrella policy. When possible, it is best to obtain an umbrella policy from the same company that handles the underlying liability insurance in order to avoid possible conflicting strategies on how best to defend in litigation.

A deductible is the amount of money that is paid out of pocket before the particular insurance coverage begins to pay. Deductible amounts for casualty insurance range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. The maximum deductible to be considered would depend on a landlord’s risk tolerance, financial condition, and as applicable, the maximum allowed by the landlord’s mortgage lender.

Anytime that there is a deductible for a particular type of insurance, there is the opportunity for reducing the premium by accepting a larger deductible. This allows a landlord the option to use the money saved with a higher deductible to buy other types of coverages that are important to his business.

Costs

The type and amount of insurance coverages can affect the costs of insurance premiums. Some of the factors that affect premium costs are:

  • Location of the property
  • Identified risks in the geographic area of the property
  • Type, age, construction, condition, and size of the property
  • Number of rental units
  • Building codes compliances and inspections
  • Fire safety measures
  • Burglar alarms and security monitoring systems
  • Swimming pool on the property
  • Gated access and entry/exit routes of the property
  • Rental policies; e.g., smoking policy

Casualty Insurance

Dwelling insurance provides casualty coverage for physical damage to building structures caused by unexpected events such as fire, lightning, windstorm, hail, ice, snow or other covered peril.

Many landlords choose a policy which provides the broadest level of protection and covers a property against all losses except those specifically excluded from the policy.

Named Peril vs. All Risk Insurance

Casualty insurance is first party coverage for the insured’s own property against a wide variety of common perils.

First party property insurance is usually available in two types of coverage, named peril and all-risk. Under a named peril policy, a landlord must prove entitlement to collect under the policy whereas, under an all-risk policy, a landlord is assumed to be entitled to coverage unless the insurer can prove that there is some reason why coverage can legitimately be denied.

Named Peril Coverage

Named peril coverage relates to direct physical loss caused by specific named perils such as fire, hail, lightning, wind, or water damage. If the peril is not named, the coverage does not exist.

All Risk Coverage

An all-risk policy, called an open peril policy, covers all forms of direct physical loss that are not explicitly excluded from coverage, as opposed to coverage of a single peril or a combination of perils written as single coverages. Four elements have to be proven for the insured to be entitled to benefits under an all-risk policy:

  • Occurrence of physical damage,
  • Damage occurred during the policy period,
  • The insured or covered property was damaged, and
  • A covered peril caused the damage.

Both Named Peril and All Risk policies will only cover losses that are sudden and accidental. Losses that occur over a period of time are not covered as they do not meet the test of sudden and accidental.

Replacement Cost vs. Actual Cash Value

Insurance policies can pay the insured for losses in one of two ways:

  • The actual cash value of damaged or destroyed property which is the cost of replacing property less physical depreciation, or
  • The replacement cost which is the amount it would take to replace, rebuild or repair damaged or destroyed property with materials of like kind and quality without deducting for physical depreciation.

In general, replacement value coverage offers greater protection against significant loss.

Liability Insurance

Liability Insurance is designed to cover against lawsuits, settlements, and judgments up to the amount of policy limit, including the cost of defending lawsuits. This includes coverage for injuries or losses suffered by others as a result of defective conditions on the property and legal costs of defending personal injury lawsuits

Usually the policy states a dollar limit per occurrence and an aggregate dollar limit for the policy year. Liability insurance should cover both bodily (physical) injury and personal injury.

Bodily injury is physical based and encompasses a variety of injuries or related problems that might be suffered by tenants or their guests.

Personal injury is offense based and encompasses a variety of injuries that might be suffered by tenants or their guests.

Liability insurance will not cover intentional wrongdoing such as arson or assault, but will cover negligence and strict liability.

Occurrence vs. Claims-Made Policies

Liability insurance is available in two versions: occurrence and claims-made. An occurrence policy covers events occurring during a specific policy period no matter when the claim is made.

A claims-made policy covers claims that are made during the policy term, no matter when the actual incident occurred. An extended reporting period can be added to a claims-made policy in exchange for an extra premium to cover claims that arose during the regular policy period but were not reported to the insurer or asserted against the insured until the extension.

Duty to Defend

Under a liability policy, the insurance company also has a duty to defend the insured against any allegation covered by the policy.

 Optional Coverages

There are optional coverages that could be important for business operations that are not covered in standard business insurance policies. As an example, some landlords choose a Loss of Income policy to compensate for lost income in the event that a rental property becomes uninhabitable due to a covered loss.

Annual Review

While insurance policies coverages are generally automatically adjusted annually to ensure that the policies are kept current on replacement costs, a landlord should also conduct periodic reviews of insurance coverages to ensure his properties are adequately protected.

What determines a landlord’s negligence and likelihood of being held responsible for a tenant’s injury?

October, 2020

Negligence is determined by facts of each situation. As an example, if a landlord violated a law requiring a safety measure and the violation led directly to the tenant’s injury, the landlord will likely be held liable. A landlord does have a general duty to take reasonable precautions to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal acts and property crimes. In evaluating a tenant’s claim, whether or not the landlord will be held responsible for the injury depends upon answers to several key questions.

To determine whether there was a dangerous condition on the rental property that the landlord had the legal duty to address (a duty of due care), the following questions are raised:

Did the landlord control the area where the tenant was hurt or control the item that caused the injury? A landlord will be held responsible for injury if he was legally obligated to maintain and repair an injury causing factor.

Was the accident foreseeable? A landlord may be held responsible for an injury if the tenant can demonstrate that an accident was foreseeable.

How difficult or expensive would it have been for the landlord to reduce the risk of injury? A landlord is likely to be held responsible for an accident if a response/action at a reasonable price could have avoided an accident. If there is a greater risk of injury, a landlord is expected to spend the amount of money it takes to avoid an accident. If there is a great risk of injury, the landlord knew about the risk, and failed to repair or remedy the risk, the landlord would be held liable for any accident that did occur.

Was a serious injury likely to be the result of the problem? If a major injury would likely have been the result of a dangerous situation, a landlord would be expected to immediately remedy the problem.

If answers to the above questions prove a landlord’s legal duty to remedy a condition on the rental property that posed a danger to tenants, the following questions apply.

Did the landlord fail to take reasonable steps to prevent an accident? A landlord is required to take reasonable precautions to shield tenants from conditions that pose some risk.

Did the landlord’s failure to take reasonable steps to keep tenants safe cause an injury? There is a critical connection between landlord negligence and tenant injury. Not every dangerous situation will result in an accident. A tenant has the burden of proof to show the injury was the result of landlord negligence and not as a result of some other reason.

I’m considering hiring an apartment security service for my rental properties. What are some of the benefits?

October, 2020

Apartment security services can protect a rental property through a variety of active security measures. What measures should be taken as part of a security strategy should be customized to a particular rental community. Active security tactics such as having an on-site physical presence helps deter and prevent crime. With visible security measures in place, tenants feel more safe and secure living at the property. The security measures can be considered a tenant amenity that adds value to the rental property. Potential tenants are attracted to well maintained, safe, secure properties and current tenants being protected by security measures are more likely to renew their leases.

Security needs vary by apartment community size, location, layout and other factors such as the neighborhood, crime rate in the area, likelihood of incidents, and the contract term. Security measures can include active measures such as highly visible lighting, gating, and controlled entry/exit points, pro-active measures such as vehicle patrols or standing guards, or reactive safety measures such as security cameras.

It would be a best practice to request a quote and consultation with several security services providers to evaluate their recommendations and pricing structure for proposed security measures. While price is important to a landlord’s business operations, price should not be the deciding factor at the cost of lesser security services that fail to fully protect the rental community.

Duties and responsibilities of on-site security officers may include:

  • Protecting rental property 24/7
  • Responding to emergencies
  • Enforcing rental policies rules
  • Controlling access to buildings
  • Monitoring alarms and surveillance systems
  • Patrolling areas and performing security checks and lock-ups
  • Preventing vandalism, theft, or other crimes
  • Preventing trespassing and loitering
  • Greeting visitors at check-in and check-out
  • Parking regulations enforcement

What are the landlord’s responsibilities to provide safe rentals?

October, 2020

Many states have general safety and security requirements that hold the landlord responsible for clean and safe housing. Under the implied warranty of habitability, the landlord is obligated to provide premises that are fit and habitable for human occupation including provisions for essential services such as electricity, plumbing, heating, ventilation, sanitary systems, trash/garbage removal, and running water.

A landlord has a legal responsibility to take reasonable care to protect tenants from foreseeable harm. Legal obligations for tenant safety may be specified under state statutes, local ordinances, building and housing codes, and case law.

The landlord has the duty to enforce his rental policies and take appropriate action against illegal activities on the rental premises. For dangerous situations that cannot be prevented, a landlord has a duty to provide timely warning to tenants about the dangers or potential danger so that tenants may take their own appropriate safety precautions.

Proactive safety measures such as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, deadbolt entry doors, locking windows, security bars, door viewers, and adequate exterior and interior lighting are commonly required under local ordinance or municipal codes.

A landlord is not required to provide security measures other than those devices or safety measures required by law. Alarm systems, security cameras, or security patrols may add to the security measures taken by the landlord to protect tenants and the property. However providing such additional measures obligates the landlord to ensure that the security measures are kept in place and devices maintained in good working order at all times.

Once the landlord has determined the minimum legal requirements for his property, he must then determine whether his property meets or exceeds the standard. An inspection of building, grounds, and units should be conducted to assess the current safety and security conditions.

Regular, periodic scheduled inspections of unit interiors will point to needed repairs or replacements. Tenants should be encouraged to report items or conditions requiring service as soon as issues are discovered. Failure of the landlord to promptly correct issues by repair, replacement, or other appropriate measures leaves the landlord open to liability for tenant harm, particularly so if the landlord has ignored tenant notifications of issues.

Regular, periodic inspections of the building structure, building systems, and grounds are due diligence practices for maintenance, repair, or replacement issues. Common areas and community use facilities must be well maintained with adequate lighting. While landscaping adds to the curb appeal of the property, shrubbery, trees, and plantings must be maintained and controlled properly for security reasons.

Physical safety and security devices and property assessments do help to protect tenant interests and help to lessen landlord liability. It is equally important that a landlord incorporate safety and security measures into rental policies and procedures to control property management operations.

Employee Handbook

October, 2020

A well developed and maintained employee handbook can protect the best interests of the company. Used to communicate important company policies and procedures including the company’s legal obligations, the handbook, in clear language, sets out the company’s expectations for employees and the benefits and support the employees can expect from the company. The handbook tells the story of the company and introduces employees to the company’s culture, core values, mission, and market served, and helps employees understand their place in the organization. It sets the standard for the employer-employee relationship by communicating employer and employee responsibilities, the company’s legal obligations, and the protections of employee rights.

The handbook provides guidelines to address a variety of employment issues to consistently apply appropriate actions to ensure all employees are treated equally and fairly in accordance with company policies, practices and applicable laws.

A legally compliant, current employee handbook can provide a first line of defense against employee lawsuits, such as claims of wrongful termination, discrimination and harassment. The handbook can show how the employer exercised reasonable care to inform employees of the company’s policies and practices and made available company support resources to help employees with questions, concerns, and assistance. Employees in turn acknowledged receipt of the handbook, their understanding of company policies and procedures, and agreed to follow terms and conditions of employment as set by the company.

There can be a possible risk that an employee handbook can create a legal issue for employers and employees. The issue is whether employee handbooks are legally binding. If the language in the handbook can be interpreted as promises or guarantees made to employees, employers could be legally bound to those promises whether or not that was the intention of the employers.

Employers should ensure the employee handbook contains specific language that the handbook is not to be considered a binding contract. If the handbook does not directly address the issue of contract, then the employee handbook could potentially be considered a legally binding document between employer and employee. Due diligence by employers is required to determine if there is applicable state law on this matter and how it is addressed.

The language used in the handbook to detail company policies and procedures can affect the interpretation of those policies and the employer’s intent regarding those policies. The choice of words used in policy statements could be the difference in determining whether the policies are considered legally binding. For example, the words “will”, “shall” or ““must” are definitive by nature and can be interpreted quite differently than words such as “may”, “could”, or “might”. The latter choice of words is more suggestive of a best practice of the company without implying a contractual obligation to perform a certain task.

Employers should review the language used in the handbook and revise the language accordingly for clarification of employer intent. Without the proper language, an employer could be vulnerable to employee lawsuits alleging that the employee handbook is indeed a legally binding contract. Legal consultation for document review and revision may be an appropriate best practice to protect the company from this potential risk. It is always a recommended best practice to have a legal professional review a company’s employee handbook before it is published and distributed to employees.

There is a difference between a business policy and a business contract. Business contracts are legal documents detailing terms and conditions of an agreement between the business and a client/employee. Business policies are rules and regulations drafted to govern business operations in a consistent manner.

The difference between business policies and business contracts is also a matter of enforceability. If a party to a contract breaches the contract, the breeching party can be held liable for damages. A policy is regarded as a proposed course of action, not a law. Unless a business policy has been designated as an essential term of a business contract, a policy is generally not legally enforceable.

The use of disclaimers in employee handbooks adds to clarification of company policies and procedures and can help prevent liability claims, or misunderstandings by employees. The issue of at-will employment should be stated in the employee handbook to make sure employees are noticed regarding company policy. The statement may use language such as: “either the company or employee can terminate the relationship at any time, with or without notice, with or without reason, to the extent allowed by law.” Employers may want to check with a legal professional to ensure correct and appropriate language and notification requirements.

Many employee handbooks include a disclaimer that the handbook is not to be construed as a legally binding employment agreement. The handbook is a reference manual of company policies, key procedures, benefits and guidelines and does not make any promise for continued employment. The handbook does not create a contract, either express or implied, between the employer and any employee and does not guarantee employment for any specific term.

An employee handbook may have a disclaimer regarding previous policy documents. The disclaimer may use language to the effect that this employee handbook supersedes and replaces all previous policies and procedures. This may include but is not limited to all written policies or memoranda that may have been issued on subjects covered in this handbook.

It is important to note in a disclaimer that the policies and procedures in the handbook may be subject to change as new laws are issued and current laws revised. To that end, the policies included in the handbook are guidelines only and are subject to change as the company deems necessary and appropriate. Employees will receive notifications from time to time of new policies or modified policies, procedures, benefits, or programs.

To protect the business, it is important that employees are required to acknowledge receipt of the employee handbook. This is done by their signature and date on an acknowledgement page. The signed acknowledgement should be kept in the employee’s personnel file. The employee by signature and date also acknowledges that he/she is aware that the referenced employee handbook contains the policies and procedures by which the company conducts its business. The acknowledgement should also state that the employee understands his/her responsibility to read the handbook, familiarize himself/herself with the contents, and follow all policies and procedures, terms and condition of the employer as set forth in this handbook or elsewhere.

As new policies are created and old ones revised or deleted, the handbook should be updated to reflect the changes. Whether the handbook format is a hard copy or online digital file, the entire handbook should be reviewed at least annually, revised as needed, and re-issued as applicable. All employees should receive training on updates to the handbook for new and revised policies and procedures as well as new and revised employment laws. Each employee should sign a new acknowledges of receipt of changes to the handbook and the acknowledgement filed accordingly in the employee’s file.

Employment law frequently changes and updating rules and regulations at the federal, state and local level is important to reduce liability risk and financial harm from employee claims. Outdated or incomplete company policies can also create liability regarding legal compliances.

A key point for employers in drafting an employee handbook is that the handbook needs to reflect the scope and manner in which company conducts business. If an issue related to business operations is important to the company, there should be a company policy that addresses that issue, including how that policy will be enforced.

The employee handbook provides employees with the information they need to perform their work, utilize company benefits, and protect their legal rights. The employee handbook documents the company’s commitment to meet legal obligations and provide a safe workplace for employees with fair, equal, non-discriminatory policies and procedures.

Rental Applications

October, 2020

Rental applications are the most efficient means to gather relevant background information about a prospective tenant in order to begin the rental qualification process. Customized to a landlord’s business requirements, the rental application form is a screening document that asks questions in standardized format about an applicant’s background, such as rental history, credit history, employment, and income, to assess the likelihood of lease default if the applicant were to be installed as a tenant. Questions are designed to help the landlord determine if the potential tenant has the ability to meet rent obligations in a timely manner and comply with rental rules and regulations. A rental application should be completed by each prospective tenant age 18 or older who intends to live in the rental unit.

The standardized format helps to ensure the screening process is conducted in a non-discriminatory manner. Every applicant receives the same application form to be processed in the same manner according to rental practices. There can be no selectivity or preferential treatment of one applicant over another applicant.

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. State and local fair housing laws can provide even broader coverage of certain protected classes. These laws surpass federal law to address additional protected classes such as age, ancestry, marital status, veteran and military status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and source of income. A landlord is required to comply with the level of law that affords the most protection against discrimination.

A landlord must be knowledgeable of fair housing laws to understand what questions are permissible to include on the application form and what questions cannot be asked. Questions that violate the rights of protected classes are illegal. Questions, even if asked informally during a conversation, may not stray into issues that are legally protected rights of applicants and tenants.

A good rental application is not only compliant with applicable laws but organized in an easy to read and understandable format that allows the applicant to fully answer the questions.

A basic rental application will organize requested information into categories, such as applicant personal data, household information, income and employment, rental history, credit and financial accounts information, references, and other background information. Applications can be submitted to the landlord in person or directed by the landlord to a online rental portal or online rental services provider. When accepting applications, landlords must require the applicant to furnish proof of identity. The industry standard requires two forms of identification preferably with one document having a photograph of the individual.

For example, a rental application may request:

Applicant personal information

  • Legal name
  • Aliases or other names used
  • Social security number
  • Contact phone numbers
  • Email address
  • Driver’s license or state identification number, including state where issued
  • Expiration date of driver’s license or state identification card
  • Emergency contact name and phone number

Household information

  • Additional occupants who will live in the rental unit
  • Pets in household including description, breed, size, weight
  • Requested move in date
  • Vehicle make, model, and license plate number
  • Oversize vehicles, boats, or trailers

Employment

  • Current employer’s name and address and any previous employers in the past three years
  • Applicant’s job title
  • Applicant’s monthly gross income
  • Length of employment
  • Supervisor’s name, phone number

Other income

  • Source document
  • Gross income amount

Rental history

  • Current address and any previous rental addresses in the past three years
  • How long at each address
  • Monthly rent
  • Security deposit
  • Cotenants
  • Names and contact information for previous landlords
  • Reason for leaving

Credit and financial accounts

  • Credit cards and monthly payment
  • Installment loans and monthly payment
  • Bank accounts checking or savings

References

  • Personal
  • Professional

Other Background information

  • Bankruptcy filing
  • Judgment
  • Tax levy
  • Eviction history
  • Party in a lawsuit

Applicant signature

The applicant’s signature and date on the application attests that all information provided by the applicant on the application form is truthful to the best of the applicant’s knowledge. A separate signed applicant acknowledgement and consent to contact current and previous landlords, personal references and employers may be requested by the landlord to verify information provided on the rental application.

Disclosures

When landlords use consumer reports to aid in tenant decisions such as applicant screenings, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) obligates the landlord to certain regulated practices to ensure FCRA compliance for the protection, privacy, and accuracy of consumer personal information. This may include a separate notice and disclosure requirement for applicant authorization and consent per FCRA requirements. Due diligence by a landlord is required to determine what is needed to ensure FCRA compliance.

Additionally there may be required landlord disclosures by state statute or local ordinance that apply when a landlord receives a completed application. Disclosures could include the landlord’s written rental qualification criteria, tenant screening policies and practices, standard rental policies, fees and deposits, utility responsibilities, or other statutory requirements.

The application form should state that the applicant’s failure to provide all items of information requested or providing incomplete or inaccurate information are in themselves grounds for rejecting the application.

Section reserved for landlord use

For liability protections and risk management, a landlord should reserve a section on the application for management use only. This section can contain the date and time the application was received, the property address, the rent amount quoted, deposits and fees quoted, receipt of deposits and fees paid at time of application, unit availability date, and requested move-in date. With the applicant’s signature on the application, the document serves as confirmation of oral discussions at time of application or during a prior contact. A landlord should not leave himself vulnerable to a misunderstanding of terms and conditions of tenancy or rely upon landlord or tenant memory as to details of discussions of move-in requirements. Showing proof of date and time of application is a first in time practice that provides some protection from claims of discriminatory treatment.

State and Local Laws on Rental Applications and Tenant Screenings

There have been recent legislative actions by some states, cities and counties that have impacted tenant screening policies and practices. In those jurisdictions there are now state statutes and local ordinances, as examples, the Fair Chance Ordinance, the Rental Application Fairness Act, the Renter Protection Ordinance, the Fair Access in Renting Ordinance, and the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, that limit, restrict, or prohibit certain tenant screenings at time of application or during the screening and selection process. A landlord will need to research current laws applicable to the state or city/county governing his rental property location to develop legally compliant screening practices and, accordingly, associated rental documents for qualification and screening.

Document Safety and Retention

The information collected from an applicant imposes responsibility on the landlord to use the information in accordance with all laws, and to safeguard that information throughout the term of the tenancy and the required retention period following tenancy. The landlord must properly dispose of tenant records containing personally identifying information in a compliant manner as addressed by statute at expiration of the required retention period or other applicable statutory requirements,

The application process properly conducted and documented can reduce the risk of claims of discrimination in the screening and selection of applicants. The signed rental application and the tenant screening results support the landlord’s decision to offer tenancy to the selected applicant.

What are the first steps to take if a hurricane damages my rental property?

October, 2020

Once a landlord has determined his tenants are safe, the next priority is to assess the rental property damage followed by contacting his insurance agent.

When the weather emergency has ended, and authorities have declared it safe for owners and residents to return to a damaged property, a landlord should inspect the property to determine the extent and type of damage to the property. Inspection should include a thorough inventory of damage to the building(s) for structural damage including roof, walls, and foundation, and interior damage to contents including furnishings and appliances. There may be flood damage as well. During the inspection a landlord should document the damage by taking pictures and/or a video recording. This documentation will aid in the processing of insurance claims.

To help prevent further damage to the property until repairs can be made and to prevent injury to others, a landlord should secure the property by covering damage to the roof and walls with plastic sheeting or plywood board. This measure is to prevent additional loss; the landlord should not proceed with removal of debris or to repair damage. Until the landlord has contacted his insurance agent, filed a claim, and the insurance company has completed their property inspection and damage assessment, the landlord cannot begin work to repair or restore the rental property.

Insurance coverage for hurricane damage to rental property can vary among insurance carriers and the coverages purchased by the landlord. Available coverage can depend on the property location, the type of property (single family, multi-family, etc.), the number of units, policy type, policy limits, policy exclusions, and whether the policy is for replacement cost or actual cash value.