Finding a Solution
As a rental owner much of your focus will be on residents. Without residents, a rental property won’t make money. Because vacant rentals don’t generate income you will want to fill your vacancies with good, stable, rent-paying tenants that can pass a tenant screening as quickly as possible. Just as any other business depends upon attracting customers, rental ownership requires attracting good residents. To bring people into retail businesses managers rely on numerous marketing tools, including newspaper advertising, internet listings, special promotions, targeted publications, etc. A rental owner advertises rental vacancies, highlights special features of the home, and so on with the end goal being an apartment rental agreement.
There are several ways to find suitable residents, all involving some form of marketing. You may have the best property in the world, but it won’t rent itself. You must make your property’s availability known.
Attracting great residents
Step 1. Prepare the Property
Develop a plan to get each vacant unit in top condition so that it will be attractive. You should have system in place to make each unit “rent-ready” so that when someone answers your advertising they will be suitably impressed with what you have to offer.
Step 2. Plan
Developing a marketing plan that you put in place immediately upon knowing you will have a vacant unit will reduce your worry and headaches significantly. If you exactly what steps you will follow each time you need to put a unit on the market you can take quick action steps that will save time and money.
Step 3. Select the media
There are many different media for advertising: TV, radio, newspapers, industry publications, and many others. No matter which medium you use you must let people know you are there. You cannot rent property that no one knows about, no matter how great it is. Begin by comparing prices of each medium for your area. Get distribution information from each. Think seriously from a resident’s point of view. Is this a medium that will reach the type of resident you would like to attract?
Step 4. Develop your USP (unique selling proposition – what sets you apart)
Think about the things that make your property unique and especially attractive to a prospective resident. Be creative – maybe it is access to schools, shopping, transportation, and so on. Think of any special features the property has such as landscaped yards, garage, fireplace, and others. It is important to draw attention to any features that will make your property stand out from others. Let prospective residents know that you can offer them a home that would be better than the others listed.
Step 5. Think outside the box to expand your potential market
Remember that there are traditional and non-traditional methods as well. You can use print ads, signs, online ads and even special relationships such as Section 8 or corporate placements.
Qualify a Tenant
Selecting the right resident is the most important decision a landlord makes.
It’s difficult to precisely describe an ideal resident; however, good residents do have some things in common. As a landlord association, we have seen these common characteristics and tendencies in good residents.
- They pay their full rent on time each month.
- They care for the property as if it were their own.
- They are stable and tend to renew their lease. They abide by any policies you may have regarding acceptable noise levels, guests, use of common areas, or other matters.
- They will leave the premises in as good condition as they found it, or better.
To find a high quality resident you need a system. If you follow specific steps, including:
- establish solid selection criteria
- a qualifying conversation at the outset
- a thorough screening process that includes a
- credit check
- criminal background check
- a call to previous landlords
- a detailed description of your standards, policies and house rules
you will be well on your way to setting the stage for a great tenancy.
Keep in mind that all processes and standards MUST be applied equally. Be sure to follow all Fair Housing guidelines in your qualifying process for house rental agreements. Your landlord association should have a listing of these guidelines.
Begin your house rental agreements process by qualifying prospective residents over the telephone when they respond to your advertising.
- In this preliminary interview, find out as much as you can about their lifestyle and apartment expectations.
- Strike up a friendly conversation.
- Ask a lot of questions.
- For example, find out
- what they do for a living
- how many people will occupy the apartment
- why are they moving
- what apartment features are they looking for and so on
Qualifying is essentially conversation used to establish a rapport with prospects and put them at ease, and to inquire about the prospects’ backgrounds and needs.
Next be prepared to thoroughly screen your tenants. Decide between an instant screen and a more comprehensive investigative screening. Screening should include
- Credit check
- Eviction report
- Criminal background check
- Office Foreign Asset Control report
Lease to a Tenant
You have advertised your property, received the applications, screened the potential residents through a tenant screening, and have found the perfect resident for your rental and are ready for an apartment rental agreement. Now all you have to do is move them in. There are just a couple more steps to the process of renting right.
- Review and sign the lease.
- Perform the move in inspection.
- Hand over the keys to only those on the lease.
The rental agreement, or lease, that you and your new resident sign forms the contractual basis of your relationship and formally specifies the terms of the rental agreement binding the owner and the resident.
Most of your obligations are governed and limited by the conditions contained in a lease or rental agreement. Given their importance it is crucial to use effective and up to date legal agreements with your residents. All contractual leases, to be upheld in court, must be fair and equitable. With or without a written lease, the business of owning and leasing rental property is also subject to state and local municipal statutes and ordinances.
Your state may dictate certain policies, rents and other major factors concerning your apartment rental agreement. Even if you have been a rental property owner for a long time you will also want to periodically review your state landlord tenant law or landlord association as things do change from time to time.
Leases and rental agreements cover the basics of the terms of tenancy including
- Amount of rent
- Date rent is due
- Resident obligations
- Landlord obligations
- Any covenants or agreements between the two parties
However, although you may be tempted to put every detail into the lease, a better option may be to use addendums or exhibits to meet the different needs of different residents.
Unfortunately, most residents are not knowledgeable or made aware of their obligations. This problem is solved by thoroughly communicating these responsibilities before the resident moves in. It’s up to every owner to create a list of policies and to communicate those policies to all residents. The more clearly you explain your rules, procedures, and expectations at the start, the less chance there is that you’ll experience misunderstandings later.
With the lease you should also have a list of “house rules” with rules and regulations that spell out what you expect from your residents. Make these rules clear and review each of them in detail as you go over the apartment rental agreement. Have the resident initial next to each one and sign the overall list before handing over the keys.
Keep a Tenant
Every business finds its true success in working with people. From retail sales to manufacturing you must deal with people as employees and as customers. Being a property owner is no different. You can save money with free rental agreements and find the right people with good tenant screening, but your interpersonal skills are vital. Your first step in being a successful owner is to recognize the part that people play in your business and learn to deal with people effectively. If you only had to deal with the building, and the upkeep related to it, property ownership would be easy and everyone would want to do it. There is more to successful management than dealing with leaky plumbing and record keeping. Even if your tenant aces the tenant screening process, your relationship can still be volatile if you’re not a personable landlord who is fair and trustworthy.
The foundation of every business is its customers and in the property ownership business your customers are your residents.The eighties began the era of customer satisfaction and it applies to our business also. The benefits of customer service are numerous, but first on the list is the lack of overhead costs and stress in needing to constantly replace residents. Keep in mind that you may not be able to replace especially good residents with those equally as good. Additionally, dealing with resident turnover can be costly. National surveys estimate that an owner can lose approximately two months’ rent every time a resident moves out. This amount is based on the possibilities of losing money from cleaning and redecorating for new residents; advertising expenses; processing paperwork; damage to common area walls, doors, halls and so on by movers; time spent showing vacant apartments; lost income from vacant apartments and commissions to apartment referral services.
As an owner you won’t be able to eliminate turnover completely.
However, you can minimize it by maintaining a good relationship with your residents. Here is a checklist on developing strong resident relationships and keeping your residents satisfied:
- Show interest in them and their needs during the rental interview.
- Follow through on your promises about repairs and decorating. Don’t offer something you can’t deliver.
- Give residents your work and cell phone number or other numbers to use in case of emergencies. Provide them with a list of other important phone numbers for emergency repairs or services.
- Respond promptly to requests for service. Even if you can’t meet their demands, let them know where you stand on the issue. Communication is the key to maintaining good relationships.
- Let the residents know in advance what you expect from them and what they can expect from you on such items as rent payment, lease provisions, pets, complaints, services and so on.
- Respect their privacy and right to peaceful possession of their home during their lease period. (Peaceful possession is a legal term that means the right to use the premises without harassment or interruption.)
- If you must enter an apartment when the residents are not at home, and without prior notice, leave a note stating that you were there and why. In general, do not enter a resident’s apartment without giving at least 24 hours’ notice.
From the moment you meet prospective residents until the day you refund their security deposit upon termination of the lease, you are faced with maintaining good resident relations. The kind of relationship you develop with your residents can dictate how much peace of mind and profit you derive from your investment property.
Your first meeting with a prospective resident is crucial to the success of the owner-resident relationship.
You want the resident to respect you and the property, while keeping your relationship on a strict business level. The image you want to project is one of a professional property owner who is congenial, friendly and welcoming. Above all, you want to maintain control of the relationship at all times.
Some of the more prominent problems between owners and residents are communication problems.
When the communication is with a problem resident it is especially important to keep it on a strictly professional business level. No need to be aloof or to appear cold hearted but do not let your sympathy interfere with your common sense or sound judgment. As we mentioned earlier owners have been labeled as the scoundrel throughout history. Please do not give your resident a reason to believe the stereotype holds true.
It is only natural to be proud, and therefore protective, of your property. You are correct in requiring your residents to treat it with respect. The best way to do this is to set a positive example. Keep your property well maintained and create a positive image in the resident’s mind from the very first day they inquire about the property. It is not only permissible to let the new resident know how you feel about your property, but encouraged. Present the unit as their home and help them to feel it is truly in their best interest to take care of the property as if it were their own.
Remember that residents pay rent that in effect pay for your asset. Without them you wouldn’t have a business and the benefits, both short and long-term, that accompany it.
Recycle a Tenant
Eviction — the legal procedure for forcibly removing a resident from an owner’s premises— is probably the least-liked aspect of the rental business. It is a costly, time-consuming, complicated process that should be undertaken only as a last resort and that frequently requires the services of an experienced attorney. Before initiating an eviction, you need to understand the process thoroughly to be sure the effort and expense will be worthwhile. To help you, we identify the main reasons for evictions, explain the key steps involved, and suggest a few alternatives to eviction that sometimes work.
When you should consider evicting a resident
When an eviction becomes necessary, it is usually for one or more of the following reasons:
- the resident has not paid the rent;
- the resident is not complying with the provisions of his or her lease or rental agreement;
- the resident is engaging in illegal activity on your premises;
- the resident is creating a major nuisance; or
- the resident refuses to vacate the premises after his or her legal tenancy expires.
You may not evict residents to retaliate against them for contacting government services like the Board of Health or the Code Enforcement Department to enforce their rights. Nor may you evict a resident because you would prefer to rent his or her unit to a friend, a relative, or someone willing to pay higher rent.
No one wants to go through an eviction. It’s not easy for the owner, and certainly the resident isn’t looking forward to that day; but evictions are a normal part of managing property and the more you know about them, the more comfortable you will be and the more efficiently you will handle the situation.
Actually having to evict a resident is very rare, but it does happen and you should be prepared.
Eviction procedures vary slightly from state to state and it is best to consult with your attorney prior to initiating any action. Some legal fees can be assessed to a wrongful resident and you may be able to recover your out-of-pocket expenses.
Where you should initiate an eviction
In many states, Small Claims Courts handle evictions. However, in other areas, other courts such as Housing Courts or Housing Sections of Superior Courts may hear eviction cases.
Before taking any legal steps, you should call your local government information office to make sure you are aware of the proper court. If an attorney does not represent you, you may wish to visit the court and consult with any available court personnel prior to undertaking any eviction action.
How you should conduct an eviction
Although the laws that govern the eviction process differ from location to location, they generally require the same basic steps. Once you are familiar with these steps, you will find it much easier to understand the fine points of the particular laws in your area.
It is extremely important to understand these laws.
Eviction cases can often be delayed, or even dismissed, because of technical errors on an owner’s part. Simple mistakes like using the wrong form, providing a name different from the resident’s, serving notice improperly, or submitting a form late, could hold up your case.
An attorney specializing in evictions can help you avoid mistakes like these. He or she can also guide you through the considerable “red tape” involved in each step of the eviction process.
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