If you ask an experienced landlord what their most useful online tool is, they’re probably going to say tenant screening. Running a background and credit check on the people who want to move into your place is the easiest way to avoid a bad situation and make sure you make money on your real estate investment.
Look for prior evictions, any history of bankruptcy, and felonies involving other people or finances. Those are all good indicators that someone might not be a stable tenant. Rentler has a tool that will collect applications and screen tenants all in one step.
If you choose to further screen tenants in-person through an interview, be aware of the questions you can and can’t legally ask. Most state laws echo the Federal Fair Housing Act laws and say it’s okay to ask people if they have pets, if they smoke, and the income, age, and number of people who will be living with them.
However, you can’t ask the nature of the relationship between roommates, ethnic background, or religion.
In some states, like Utah, you can’t ask if an applicant receives public assistance or where their income comes from. Know the laws before you have anyone fill out paperwork or come in for an interview by reading this primer on housing discrimination laws.
Besides discrimination laws, there are several other legal aspects of renting that you’ll want to be familiar with. Rent control, building codes, and eviction process are all going to vary based on state laws. The best way to to make sure you’re following the best practices of the state you’re renting in is to join their local apartment owner’s association.
The National Apartment Association (NAA) is recognized group with local chapters nationwide. Their affiliate directory is a good place to begin searching for a local legal guidelines. You can also Google “[state] apartment owners associations” to find more chapters of local landlord groups.
Nolo is a legal website with a section for landlords that has a list of laws by state. Bookmark it, I can almost guarantee it will come in handy when you need a credible answer to questions about rental laws.
When you’re a DIY landlord there are two routes you can go for rental maintenance and repair: stick to the do-it-yourself approach or call in the pros and pay a little more. If you feel confident in your skills, online sites like Home Repair Tutor have clear instructions and plenty of videos to help. The American Apartment Owner’s Association also has a pretty comprehensive directory of topics, but you have to be a member.
If you’re looking for a licensed professional, Angie’s List is the largest directory for reviews and information. The Better Business Bureau is another place where you can get information and see any complaints filed against a business. To make sure anyone who works on your property is legit, you can double-check their credentials by state on this site. Most states also have a licensing section on their official websites where you can get more information before hiring someone.
(For more info on what you should tackle and what to get some help with, read this.)
Are there any websites that have been a lifesaver for you as a landlord? Share your secrets with us!