Being a landlord is a multi-faceted endeavor; and it involves so much more than just collecting money and making a few plumbing repairs. Federal and State Governments are much more involved with the legalities of rented or leased real estate than ever before; and virtually every aspect of a landlord’s business is connected with a ‘higher power’, which means your need to know the law in order to stay out of hot water, is imperative.
Here are a few pointers to consider if land-lording is your forte`. These are things you need to avoid!
1: Using Non-Legal Forms:
Many landlords have made the mistake of using generic or ‘over-the-counter’ rental agreements that anyone and their uncle can purchase at an office supply store. Though it may feel empowering to ‘set the rules’ according to a purchased rental-agreement, that same rental agreement may not be legally binding. It can short-cut tenants’ rights and even impose additional restrictions on you, the landlord, than your own state might enforce. Bottom line: become thoroughly familiar with the landlord laws of your state and draw up a legally-binding contract that reflects your state’s guidelines.
2: Asking Loaded Questions:
Any prudent landlord will ask a prospective tenant any number of questions to get a feel for the person’s level of responsibility and overall character. After all, no tenant wants a renter who becomes notorious for paying rent late or trashes a piece of real-estate with wild parties. Asking seemingly innocent questions about a person’s disability or a couple’s marital status can come back to bite one if that particular person or persons feels the answer they gave you to a particular question is what has kept them from acquiring the rental property. Believe it or not and like it or not, that unmarried couple who didn’t get accepted because you asked if they were married, can file a grievance with the Fair Housing Commission stating you have displayed discrimination, even if you didn’t. So now you have a legal issue you have to contend with. You have better things to do with your time.
3: Showing Bias Towards Childless Renters:
Whatever you do, do not put out a rental ad designating your preference for families with ‘no children’—big ‘No, No’. Don’t even verbally state you prefer childless couples. It is absolutely, without exception, 100% against the law to discriminate against a family’s status. Again, if you spoke with parents with kids that responded to your rental ad and you turned them down for a reason that had nothing to do with their very polite, quiet children, the family might think differently (due to your ad) and you could find yourself digging into your wallet for yet another lawyer’s visit to contend with the Fair Housing Commission which received the family’s complaint.
4: Making Promises You Don’t Keep:
If, in your eagerness to accept a renter, you make a verbal promise that ‘makes’ the deal and you choose to ignore that promise, the renter who chose your property, based on your assurance, can come back to sue you or legally break the lease. Perhaps a college student is willing to lease your small rental house because you agreed to paint the current purple walls neutral beige within a month of her moving in. If you or someone else never shows up with paintbrush in hand, you can find yourself in trouble, once again. And don’t think that ‘since it’s not in writing, it isn’t legally binding’. Don’t assume to know the law and don’t learn the hard way.
This is a mere sampling of ‘what not to do’ as a landlord. With great resources available like Dun Hill Homes and many others, it is not difficult to become savvy and safe by learning all the legal in’s and out’s.
About the Author
Writing occupies much of Karen’s retirement from teaching in Nebraska. From real estate companies to tamales, she has become a wealth of information.