How to locate a safe neighborhood

Buying or renting a home is one of the biggest investments you can make in your lifetime. With the average cost of buying a home in the United States being around $379,800, it is very important to research the different neighborhoods before selecting the neighborhood that fits your lifestyle, will make you happy and will be a financially sound investment. In a growing number of cities, a significant portion of the population spends between 40% and 50% of their income on rent alone.

Nothing affects the value and enjoyment of your home as much as the surrounding neighborhood. When you and your family are moving into a new neighborhood, you need to ensure that it is safe and child friendly.

neighborhood crime rates

Here are the top 8 tips to find out if a neighborhood is safe:

1. Check the neighborhood crime statistics before moving

You can access local crime reports and statistics through various websites. Knowing what crimes are being committed in the neighborhood you are planning to move is the best way to protect yourself, loved ones and your possessions. Thankfully, there are a number of online tools that can help you find out if the crime rate in the neighborhood is low and acceptable. The following are some of the best crime mapping websites to find a safe neighborhood.

2. Check the National Sex Offender Public Website

The United States Department of Justice maintains a database of convicted sex offenders (https://www.nsopw.gov/). The NSOPW is an esteemed tool to identify the safety of a potential neighborhood. Like more general crime mapping services, the NSOPW allows you to enter an address to see how many sex offenders live nearby.

3. Look for clues in the neighborhood

The number of homes for sale in an area can be an indication of its safety. In certain cases, a large number of homes being unoccupied or vacated may be a sign of residents fleeing the area to escape a seriously rising crime rate. However, people might also be leaving the neighborhood because of a downturn in the market. Always try picturing yourself and your family living in the neighborhood. For example, ask yourself the following questions: Is it safe for my kids to walk to school? Can I go for a run or a walk in my neighborhood early in the morning? Is there a club or bar nearby that might get annoying at 2 a.m.? The answers to questions like that will give you a good idea if this neighborhood is for you.

4. Talk to people who already live in the neighborhood and who live in adjoining neighborhoods

Talking to the people in your potential neighborhood and asking their opinion about the neighborhood is a great way to learn about the safety of the neighborhood. After all, who knows better about the neighborhood than the neighbors who are already living there? You will also want to talk to some people in adjoining neighborhoods to get their perspective on the neighborhood you are checking out. Small talk will give you lots of information and the more information you get the better.

5. Visit the neighborhood several times at different times of the day before moving

With no doubt, you should get to know the neighborhood before moving into it. Visiting your potential neighborhood at different times of the day and/or in the evening and weekends will provide some insight into whether or not an area seems safe, child friendly and theft free. It will also show you if a neighborhood is very crowded, noisy and so on.

6. Pay attention to the neighborhood conditions

The general state of repair can say a lot about the neighborhood and its overall safety. A safe neighborhood is usually well kept, with residents who care about how their neighborhood looks and will put some effort into making it look presentable. When touring a potential neighborhood, look for signs like broken window, overgrown yards, run-down homes and broken fences. Drive through the neighborhood and then through the town and carefully look for clues that indicate that the city might be having financial trouble. Are the streets clean? Are the parks well maintained? Trimmed lawns, pruned bushes, nice flowerbeds, and absence of litter on the sidewalk/streets means that people in the area are responsible of their surroundings and take pride in maintaining it.

7. Sign up for safety alerts from authorities

Local law enforcement and fire departments can provide information about a neighborhood’s safety through public safety alerts. Some departments keep residents up-to-date on crimes via text message, e-mails or automated phone calls. This relatively new form of alerting residents might not be available in every city. Check your local police and fire department’s website or call to ask for automatic safety alerts. You must sign up to receive alerts and although the service is usually free, you may incur text message fees from your phone provider.

8. Research neighborhood organizations, groups and regular meetings

Neighborhood meetings and groups are usually a sign of a tight knit community. If you find a neighborhood group, attend a meeting or two to meet people and ask questions. Find out what the topics of the meetings are to get to know what is important in the neighborhood and what concerns people have.

Making sure a neighborhood is safe before moving there or investing in it, will make your family happier and will secure your investment.

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Preventative Property Maintenance Tips For Landlords

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Wear and tear is a fact of life for every landlord. It is important to uncover any issues before it’s too late as it can save you time, money and most importantly headaches down the road.

A preventative maintenance plan, with regularly scheduled inspections should be part of every residential landlord’s or rental property owner’s policies and procedures. Thorough preventative maintenance programs can have significant economic benefits, namely:

  • Lower utility bills
  • Prevention of expensive emergency repairs
  • Extension of the life of HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), plumbing and electrical systems
  • Lower taxes as maintenance and repair costs often can be used as tax deductions
  • Lower tenant turnover as a well maintained property keeps tenants from moving

Here are some tips to improve your preventative property maintenance procedures:

  •  Always keep in stock frequently used supplies like paint, plaster, floor polish, door knobs, latches, hinges, blinds, linoleum tiles, etc.
  •  Develop good relationships with your contractor which will help you out in the long run because most vendors will go out of their way to help out their best customers.
  •  Insist on a walk-through of every vacated home yourself. Take time to get an overview of your property to assess what needs to be done.
  •  Make a checklist of all wear and tear items during your own personal walk-through. A wear and tear checklist will include inspections of air conditioning units, water heaters, any electrical outlets, toilets, roof and the walls.

We also suggest to add the following to your checklist:

  •  Check all door knobs and locks to ensure they are working and are not loose.
  •  Open/close closet doors and check if they are on-track.
  •  Look for any cracks or water stains on the ceiling and walls.
  •  Check carpeting for dirt, spots and other signs of wear.
  •  Check carpet seams to ensure they are not coming up at the edges.
  •  Make sure wood, tile, and vinyl doors are not scuffed, scratched, thinning, or loose.
  •  Check counter-tops for cracks, damage or scratches.
  •  Check floors for cracks and other damage.
  •  Check windows for any sticking or rotting sills.
  •  Make sure all wallpaper is securely applied.
  •  Ensure that blinds and shades are in good condition and working order.
  •  Make sure all windows, latches, and screens are in good condition.
  •  Check faucet handles and other hardware.
  •  Check toilets for leaks or running water.
  •  Check for faded, chipped or cracked paint.
  •  Check if smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in proper working condition and replace batteries regularly.

With yearly inspections and preventative maintenance, you can keep your rental property in great shape. You can also make costly items like the roof or the furnace last much longer, hence saving a lot of money. It is always good to encourage the tenants to let you know whenever a small issue occurs and needs to be repaired immediately. Thus, you can always stay ahead in the game.

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Houserie Inc. Simplifies Tenant Screening By Offering Three Packages

Pleasanton, California (May 12, 2016) – Houserie Inc., simplifies the tenant screening process for individual landlords and large property management companies by offering three convenient packages. Assessing prospective tenants by investigating their history and background is important for a plethora of reasons. For instance, an in depth tenant background check can help determine the trustworthiness of a potential tenant, lower risks of evictions or issues of misconduct, and even make the process of rental application easier. Continue reading

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Tips for landlords on dealing with pets

Pets are a gateway to handling responsibility, a parenting precursor of sorts. There is a long tradition of parents asking their children to raise pets in order to cultivate the habit of assuming responsibility. Many people see pets as their companions so it is only natural for tenants to expect pet friendly environments from their landlords. Like everything in renting, accepting pets comes with its fair share of risks and irks.
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Why should you rent to a pet owner?
If you are the sort of landlord who is not fond of pets, your preference for keeping your property pet free should not deter you from accepting that perfect tenant who is fond of cats. Just make sure he/she uses a litter box for that cat. A pro-pet attitude widens your tenant pool. Statistically,
trust able pet owners end up being very responsible long term tenants.

The importance of being thorough
Well begun is half done and you can definitely improve your odds of landing responsible pet owners as tenants by following these tips during your tenant screening process:

• Take into consideration every type of pet a tenant can possibly keep; be decisive on how many in numbers they can keep, their size, threat indicators like sharp nails, teeth, etc. and exclude those which you believe are a strict no-no. Being confused about saying yes or no to a pet during tenant screening only amplifies issues later.

• Check with the potential tenants whether they own pets before you sign the lease and if they do, whether they have the necessary licenses and documents needed to keep them. Please note that several pets such as primates are not recognized as service animals by the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed in 2010.

• State your pet policies clearly and in detail in your lease and tenant agreement. Make sure to include cautionary pet damage deposits as a part of the lease to be proactive about any potential damage from pets to your building or housing units.

• References are always useful. Make sure you get references from a previous landlord and/or a veterinarian about the pet’s health. This will provide a lot of information about the tenant’s tendencies about pet care.

After renting out to a pet owner
Once you have made the decision to rent to pet owners, things can easily get out of hand if you don’t act swiftly when pet related problems start.

• Make sure that pet owners always clean up after their pets especially in the common areas. Posting signs and providing free disposal bags will be helpful.

• Respond to complaints about barking and other loud pet noises immediately. Talk to the pet owner and ensure that they are trying to resolve the issues right away. Always, keep written warnings documented in case of repeat problems which will help in the eviction process if things don’t improve.

• Make it a priority to house your tenants who are pet-allergic as far away as possible from tenants with pets.

• Always inform potential tenants about the presence of pets in your housing units. They may be allergic to pets and will need this information to make their decision.

There is no middle ground when it comes to pets. As a landlord one can’t claim he/she is neutral about pets. Everyone has a preference– they either love pets or hate them. Irrespective of their choices, making informed decisions, being proactive, and staying on top of things certainly eases the pressure on landlords when it comes to accepting pets.

We hope you enjoyed our blog on pets. Stay tuned for more exciting articles from Houserie.com

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8 Steps To Finding The Perfect Tenant

The hardest part of being a landlord or a property manager is by far how to find the perfect tenant. The perfect tenant is a person

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• who will take care of your property as if it is their own
• who will be a good neighbor to other people living in the same community
• who will have a steady job and will pay their rent on time
• who will commit to renting your property for a longer period of time
• who take care of minor maintenance issues themselves and notify you if something is broken in your property
• who will ask you for permission if he/she wants to make changes to the property
• who will give you plenty of notice when planning on moving out
• who will not engage in criminal behavior
• who is honest

And so on……..impossible to find? ……… maybe…….maybe not!

Choosing a tenant to fill your vacant property shouldn’t be a rushed process! A bad tenant can cost you a lot of time and money, so it is better to take your time finding the right tenant. Every prospective tenant should be screened in a systematic way so in the end you can make a decision based on a set of information that is the same for every applicant. This will also be helpful when trying to stay compliant with all the federal, state and local fair housing laws.

So here are 8 steps to follow to find that perfect tenant;

Step 1: Set standards that every applicant must meet to be “qualified”
Creating a set of standards that applicants must meet to qualify is extremely important. This set of standards can be different for each rental unit dependent on the quality and location of the rental. Standards could include things like verifiable income 3 times the amount of the rent, a credit score of 650 or above, never been evicted, maximum number of people who can live in the property, a pet policy and so on. As a landlord you get to determine what those criteria will be as long as they stay within the bounds of all fair housing laws. Then once you have your set of standards you will have to apply them consistently.

Step 2: Talk to applicants on the phone
When potential tenants contact you to tell you they are interested, make sure you talk to them on the phone before inviting them to visit the property. This is where the actual rental screening process starts. With a short phone interview you can quickly weed out tenants that are not serious and/or not qualified.

Put some effort in asking the right questions based on the standards you have set. Questions like what kind of pets do you have and how many people will be moving into my property are some of the questions to ask. Other questions could be; When are you looking to move? How long do you want to rent for? How long have you lived at your current address? Why are you moving? and so on. Make sure to mention the rent amount and the deposit amount and ask them if they can afford those amounts. Make sure to take notes and listen for inconsistencies in answers and applicants who are trying to avoid answering certain questions.

After filling out the pre-qualification form for all potential tenants that are still interested in the property, review the information and invite the most serious prospects to a scheduled tour of the rental.

Step 3: Show the rental property
realtormeetIt is hard to believe but sometimes applicants want to rent your place without even having visited the property! Please do not agree to this. You do want to meet applicants in person no matter how perfect they sound. Usually you get a lot better idea of what type of person someone is by meeting them. Here are some things to look for during the showing:

• Are they on time?
• Do you like them?
• Do they fit the profile?
• Do they seem to be very interested?
• Re-ask them some of the questions you asked them during the phone interview and see if their answers match?
• Do they look clean, put together?
• What is your gut feeling?

Based on this information you should have a pretty good idea of what type of person you are dealing with. So if it feels right, and the potential tenant is still interested, hand them an application and ask them to fill it out right then and there.

Step 4: Have the applicant fill out a rental application and charge an application fee
Personal information such as name, current address, Date of Birth and SSN of all renters above the age of 18 should be part of the rental app. Other information to request is the current and last two landlords, current and last two employers, monthly income, and pets if any. In addition, a reasonable application fee should be charged. Just make sure you follow all the local laws with regard to the application fee. In addition, make sure the application includes an authorization to do a complete background screening on the tenant including a national criminal and eviction check and a credit history check. The filled out application and the collected fee will be a good indication if the potential tenant is serious about renting your property.

Step 5: Review the applications
When reviewing all the applications, make sure that you comply with both federal laws (Fair Housing Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act) as well as the local ordinances that apply to the location of your property. Some landlords use their gut instinct to select their tenant but when you are facing discriminating charges in court this will not be a good defense. Make sure to store all applications of all interested tenants for several years, use the same rental application and use the same criteria for all applicants. This way you can prove that you did not discriminate and you can also objectively and fairly analyze and compare all prospective tenants to select the best one.

Make sure to read all rental apps carefully and pay attention to all the things that might disqualify an applicant such as no income, no employment, large pets, no previous landlords listed, no employers listed and so on. Do not believe everything you see on an application. Compare the application with the background check you will run in Step 6 and you will get a good idea if the applicant has been honest on their application.

Step 6: Run a comprehensive background screening report including a credit history
criminal checkSo you have pre-qualified the applicant; you like the person, the applicant has filled out the application, paid the fee and passed with flying colors. Don’t stop your screening process here. As previously mentioned, not everyone is honest on their application and during the pre-screening process! Background screenings should include a SSN trace, previous addresses, National Criminal and Sex Offender Search, National Eviction Search and an in depth Credit History. Running a comprehensive background screening report on potential tenants is an absolute must and is pretty easy to do these days.

Houserie.com is an online tenant screening company that will provide you with a comprehensive report that has all the criminal, eviction and credit background information you would need to make an informed decision on a tenant. We offer pay-as-you-go pricing and packages ranging from $19.99 though $29.99. It is all online and you can have the tenant fill out their own information online or you can decide to fill out the tenant information yourself online. When ordered during business hours the report should be available within a few hours sometimes even faster. Check out the Houserie ultimate sample report for more information.

When reading the report please pay close attention to issues that may disqualify your applicant based on your set of criteria such as certain criminal offenses, evictions, poor payment history, low credit score, bankruptcies and many collections/charge offs. The credit score range will tell you if the potential tenant makes payments on time, owes a significant amount of money, the number of tradelines used and the length of their credit history. If applicants have a history of not paying credit payments on time, they might not pay their rent either!

Step 7: Check references
You are almost done finding the best tenant possible, but do not stop here. Checking employment and landlord references listed in the rental application is one of the most important steps in screening your applicant. This should include contacting the last couple of landlords, their current employer, and any personal references if available. This sounds time consuming but it is the best way for you to develop a better picture of what your tenant is really like.

References from previous landlords. If an applicant has listed previous landlords, please call them and ask them questions like “Did the tenant pay their rent on time? Did you encounter any problems with this tenant? How long did the tenant live in your property? Please be aware that sometimes tenants will give “fake” references, meaning they will list a friend as a previous landlord! Also when talking to their current landlord, be aware they might not be always truthful as they might be trying to “get rid” of a difficult tenant.

References from current employer. Hopefully your applicant has been employed for a longer period of time with their current employer. To verify income, please request the tenant to provide you with a copy of the most recent paystub. You should also call the employer to get more insights. Many companies have rules and regulations on what information they’re able to disclose about their employees, so asking questions that require a yes or no answer might get better results than open ended questions. At least try to verify the information given on the application.

Step 8: Make a decision
rentedFinally you have reached the end of the tenant screening process. Now it is time to make a decision. After reviewing all the information in detail and comparing this information with the standards you set, you can now make your decision. Hopefully you have found that perfect tenant and you can have the applicant sign the lease and agree to all the rules and regulations. Congratulations on finding the perfect tenant!

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Why Landlords And Property Managers Should Require Renters Insurance At Lease Signing

New landlords often are overwhelmed with the work that is involved in renting out a property. One of the most often overlooked issues is renter’s insurance. They make sure to buy landlord insurance to protect their property but they do not think about liability and damage to tenant’s belongings until they run into legal issues with tenants that are trying to sue them. This is when renters insurance comes into the picture! It covers the tenant’s belongings, covers against damage caused by tenants, and it usually also provides liability coverage for medical and legal costs if tenants/guests injure themselves on your property.
Many landlords and property managers have asked themselves if they can legally require tenants to buy renters insurance. The answer is YES! You just have to make sure that you include it as a stipulation in your rental contract for all your tenants and that you require proof of insurance for the lease term within several days of lease signing. You can even specify the minimum amount of coverage as long as it is reasonable.
renters insurance
Renters insurance provides benefits to both the tenant and the landlord. Here are some reasons why landlords and property managers should require renters insurance at lease signing:

1. It reduces financial liability
When tenants experience a loss due to a fire or maybe a burglary, landlord insurance does not cover the tenant’s belongings. Without renters insurance the tenant would have to pay to replace all their stuff and that might put a large financial burden on them which could result in them not being able to pay the rent on time. In addition, when a tenant moves out and leaves your property damaged, the security deposit may cover some of the expenses, but might not cover all of it. Renters insurance will cover the remainder of the expenses. Finally, the fewer claims landlords or property managers make on their own landlord insurance, the lower the premiums for this insurance will be!

2. It reduces legal and medical liability
Image you own a duplex that you are renting out to 2 families. A fire breaks out in one of the units due to tenant negligence but it spreads to the other unit and damages their personal property and injures one of the tenants in the other unit. Without renters insurance the tenants of the other unit would likely try to sue you, the landlord, for the medical bills and legal expenses. With both sets of tenants having renters insurance this would most likely not happen as their insurance would pay the bills.

3. It minimizes conflicts
Renters insurance gives both the tenant and the landlord peace of mind in case of a disaster. When a major loss occurs regardless of who is at fault, disputes about who is responsible for the costs and who should pay can be avoided by having insurance in place. Fewer arguments between landlord and tenant are beneficial to both parties and might keep the tenant from leaving their current rental and looking for a new place to live.

4. Quick insurance payouts reduce stress, uncertainty and cleanup time
Benefits under renters insurance are usually paid out immediately. Especially in case of flooding or fire when displaced tenants need money to cover temporary housing and associated expenses. This way the landlord or property owner can concentrate on damage repair and cleanup instead of on the loss the renter has incurred!

It is clear for many reasons that it is a good idea for landlords and property managers to require all their tenants to have renters insurance. It is the landlord’s responsibility to educate their prospective tenants about the benefits renters insurance will offer them. Many tenants might be apprehensive and believe that this insurance will be very costly and unnecessary but that is not true. Even for tenants the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. Besides the peace of mind it will bring them, renters insurance is very inexpensive and is easy to obtain. For about $200 a year a tenant can buy a policy that will cover up to $15,000 in property damage and up to $100,000 in liability coverage!

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How Landlords Can Handle Tenant Versus Tenant Problems

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As a landlord or property owner, you face a multitude of problems. One of the hardest problems you may face is a tenant versus tenant disagreement. Here are some great tips and suggestions to help you mediate and solve a tenant versus tenant dispute.

Make Yourself Available

When your tenants initially move in, it’s a good idea to let them know you’re available for them if they encounter any problems. If they do encounter a problem, let them know they should contact you first.

Also, let them know what time you’re available and how they can contact you. Letting your tenants know that you’re there for them will make it easier for them to contact you for help if an issue does arise. This will help you greatly if a tenant does approach you with an issue involving another tenant because you will now be able to act as mediator, which allows you the opportunity to defuse. The earlier you know the easier it may be to fix.

Keep Yourself Safe

It’s very important as a landlord or property owner to always keep yourself and your tenants safe. Sometimes some problems are just too big for one person to handle, and you may not have the resources to correct them. If you ever feel unsafe about talking to or encountering a tenant, you may need to get the proper authorities involved. Always remember that there are some problems that are just too big to handle for even landlords and property owners.

Always Be Professional

No matters how out of hand a situation between tenants has gotten, you need to make sure that you always stay professional. You don’t ever want tenants to feel that coming to you with a problem is a bad choice. Be sure that you are listening to the tenant. and let them know that you are taking their problem seriously. Handling a situation in a professional manner is the right thing to do and is also a good way to show the tenant that you do care about what is going on.

Figure Out What the Tenants Want to Happen With the Situation

Once tenants have approached you with an issue and have told you their side of the story it’s a good idea to find out what they want to happen. A good example is a tenant complaining about another tenant being too loud. The tenant may be complaining about the timing of the noise, not the noise itself. The tenant may ask you to see if the tenant can keep the noise down during certain hours of the day. With this information you now know what to say to the other tenant to help remedy the situation and keep both parties happy.

Try to Work Out Disputes as Quickly As Possible

As a landlord or property owner, you need to get tenant disputes taken care of as soon as possible. Taking care of something as soon as possible is a good way to show your tenants that you care and are looking out for their well-being. The sooner a tenant versus tenant dispute is taken care of, the better it will be for all parties involved. Getting a situation taken care of quickly will also be one less thing that is hanging over your head.

Every Situation Should Be Treated Differently

Not matter what dispute a tenant has with another, be sure to treat each dispute as if it’s the first time you have handled it. What worked out in the past may not work for the present problem in front of you. Also, what worked for other tenants may not be what your current tenants want. Each situation is different and should be treated differently.

Check Back on Tenants to Make Sure the Problem is Solved

Be sure that after you have helped tenants resolve an issue that you contact them later to make sure everything is still okay. You hope that when you help tenants fix an issue that it stays fixed, since there is a chance it may not. Checking in with them to make sure both parties are keeping up with their side of the bargain is a very good idea. If they are not, it’s a good time to remember what they had agreed upon.

Conclusion

Tenant versus tenant issues can come up at any time and can range from simple issues like a tenant worried about a noisy neighbor to more extreme problems. Being ready for these problems is a huge step into getting these problems resolved. Hopefully with these suggestions you will be ready and better prepared to handle tenant versus tenant issues if and when they arise.

 

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Tenant Screening in a Galaxy Far Far Away

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Tenant Screening In a Galaxy Far Far Away

Even if you are in a galaxy far far away you should still be performing tenant’s screenings on any potential tenant. We wondered how some of the most popular Star Wars characters would fare in a tenant screening. Here are the results. Would you rent your space property to them?

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan is one of the most popular Jedi’s in the galaxy. No matter his popularity you will still need to run a tenant screening on him. Here is what you most likely will find on Obi-Wan’s tenant screening report.

Social Security Number Trace – Obi-Wan’s trace should bring up some of his other aliases, Ben Kenobi and old Ben. The trace should show Obi-Wan’s previous place of residence, a small isolated hut in the mountains of Tatooine.

Criminal Background – Obi-Wan has a very clean background. The only thing that could possibly show up on his criminal record is a charge of breaking and entering when he snuck onto the Death Star.

Eviction Search – He currently lives in a deserted area of Tatooine by himself. We don’t know if he pays rent or owns his hut. He has been out there a long time so some may say he owns the property due to “Squatters rights.”

Quick Tenant Credit Score Card – Obi-Wan didn’t have any credit issues before he went into hiding. His credit score may be low due to inactivity.

Boba Fett

Boba Fett is known as one of the most ruthless bounty hunters in the galaxy. No matter how ruthless he still needs a place to live.

Social Security Number Trace – A social security number trace would be a must for Mr. Fett as he does come from a batch of clones. You would see that Boba’s only known residence is located in his home town Kamino.

Criminal Background – Boba Fett may have a long criminal record depending on the state you’re in. Performing bounty hunting duties is not a crime in some states.

Eviction Search – Boba Fett can be described as a bit of a workaholic. He is usually just flying around from place to place fetching bounties. He has no prior evictions.

Quick Tenant Credit Score Card – Boba has a low credit score due to the fact he only uses cash. A lot of the bounties he’s collecting are for some not so trustworthy people like Jabba Da Hutt. No surprise he only deals in cash.

Princess Leia

Princess Leia is a Senator of Alderaan and heir to the Alderaanian throne. No matter the royal ties she still needs a tenant screening.

Social Security Number Trace – There is nothing to worry about when Leia gets her social security number trace. She has no other aliases and has lived in a home with senators her whole life.

Criminal Background – Princess Leia’s criminal background is very clean. If you’re a part of the evil empire you may see her as a thief for stealing plans to the death star.

Eviction Search – Princess Leia has no prior evictions on her record. She has lived in a palace on Alderaan her whole life.

Quick Tenant Credit Score Card – Princess Leia has an outstanding credit score card. She is a member of a royal family, so don’t expect to see any red flags here.

Han Solo

Han Solo is known as one of the most wanted smugglers in the galaxy.

Social Security Number Search – Hans Solo’s trace may not reveal many previous residences. He is constantly on the run and can be found on the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca.

Criminal Background – Han Solo is going to have a very long criminal background. Most of Han’s clientele are mobsters and gangsters. He is usually not smuggling legal cargo. Solo may also be wanted for the murder of Creedo, depending on who you think shot first.

Eviction Search – Han has no previous evictions due to the fact that he has no previous residences. He is usually just found flying around in his only known residence the Millennium Falcon.

Quick Tenant Credit Score Card – Han has a very low credit score. Han is paid mostly in cash and pays mostly in cash. Han wouldn’t want to leave a paper trail that bounty hunters could pick up.

Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker is a young farm boy from Tatooine. He will later become one of the most well known Jedi knights.

Social Security Number Search – Luke Skywalker’s social security number trace will not reveal very much. His only known residence is with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru.

Criminal Background – Luke has no criminal background.

Eviction Search – Luke has no evictions on his record. Luke’s only known previous residence is in Tatooine.

Quick Tenant Credit Score Card – Luke is young so he may still be in the process of building up his credit. A big thing that works against him is that he doesn’t have a paying job.

Darth Vader

Darth Vader is known as the biggest villain in the galaxy. He is a well known Sith Lord and the right hand to the emperor.

Social Security Number Search – Darth Vader’s social security scan should include his alias, Anakin Skywalker.

Criminal Background – Vader has a very long criminal background. He has murdered over 200 people and assaulted many co-workers. He has also ordered the destructions of entire planets.

Eviction Search – Darth Vader has traveled all over the galaxy, but has just one residence, the Death Star. He has no former evictions.

Quick Tenant Credit Score Card – Darth has a very low credit score card. He usually doesn’t use any type of money, he takes everything by force.

Now that you have the screening reports on some of the most popular characters in the Star Wars galaxy, you can decide if you would take them on as tenants. Who would you want as your new tenant?

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Screening Tenants: A Guide for Landlords

Tenant Background Screening

Finding a suitable and respectable tenant is one of the hardest jobs a landlord faces. Vigilance in searching for a potential tenant will lead to finding one who is trustworthy and reliable, and won’t end up trashing your unit or leaving and breaking the lease contract. There are too many landlords out there who never screen applicants before approving tenants, leading to many issues and headaches later. Thankfully, there are many ways for a landlord to screen tenants, and with new and emerging technology, landlords can now check backgrounds and run credit checks much quicker and easier than in the past. Remember, there is no excuse not to screen your potential tenants with so many quick and easy ways to do so.

  1. Create a paper application process (if you don’t already have one). Make sure to include all pertinent information that you will need from the tenant, including: full name, date of birth, Social Security Number, their current address, background information, employment data, rental history (this is important so you can contact previous landlords to see how the tenants have done in the past), income and also personal references. If you don’t have an application form, you can create your own simple version, or you can get a free one from the local real estate association. Once the tenant has filled out the application, here are a few things to look for:
  • Income. You need to make sure that the potential tenant’s income will be sufficient to cover the amount of rent they would be paying. Keep in mind they have other bills to pay as well.
  • Current (and previous) employers. Check out how long they have been with their current employer. Have they had multiple jobs? Do they have long gaps in between jobs?
  • Lifestyle clues. Take a look to see if the potential tenant has any pets, or other information that might be pertinent to whether or not they would make a good tenant.
  • Financial data. In order to do a thorough background check, you will need to ask the tenant for their financial information on the application. A full financial picture of the potential tenant is key to finding a reliable tenant.
  • Any personal references. Be sure to check up on any personal references that the tenant gives on the application. References should include the references’ names, phone numbers and how long they’ve known the tenant. Don’t just look it over, make sure to call at least one or two to verify they know the tenant and perhaps ask a few questions, such as how long they’ve known the tenant, their relationship with them and how they know them (Church? Work? Family?).
  1. Do an online search for the potential tenant. Searching online (using Google or Bing, or another popular search engine) will tell you a lot about a person; make sure to see if the tenant has any social media profiles, a website, or a blog. Decide by looking at everything online whether the tenant would be right for your property. If they don’t happen to have anything online to look at, then just skip this step.
  2. Run a comprehensive background check on the tenant. A comprehensive background check will reveal the tenant’s history and give a detailed report on any evictions, criminal activity and charges, and public records as well. You can order a background check through several different companies. Online reports are also available. If you’re watching your budget (most companies charge a fee for this service), you can do your own background check by contacting the local courts or police department, however this might be a very time consuming process.  As a side note, some states don’t allow landlords to reject a potential tenant based solely on if they have a criminal history (you will have to check with your state to see if this is enforced in your state).
  3. Run a credit check. There are three major companies that you can run a credit check through: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. A credit check will let you see a tenant’s credit history for the last 7-10 years, and will give you an idea of the tenant’s credit activity (such as if they’ve ever declared bankruptcy, have any late payments, charged-off credit cards, etc.). To simplify this background screening process and to get comprehensive information on the tenant, you can use a service like Houserie.com to get not only a credit check, but also a comprehensive national criminal and an eviction check for a low fee.
  4. Reach out to previous landlords. Once the tenant has “passed” the first four steps, now it’s time to contact the tenant’s past landlords. Questions to ask include: Did the tenant always pay their rent on time? Did they ever damage the property? Did they get along with their neighbors? Was the property clean and undamaged when they left? All of these questions will give you a clearer picture of the tenant and how they will behave if you allow them to rent your property.
  5. Contact the employer. Once you have talked to the tenant’s past landlords, have a short phone conversation with the tenant’s current employer. A few important questions to ask might include the reliability of the tenant, verify that they do indeed work there, the tenant’s salary (some employers or Human Resource workers won’t give out this information; in this case, make sure to get two or three past pay stubs from the tenant) and if termination is in process.
  6. Set up a face-to-face interview with the potential tenant. Once you have completed all of the above steps, the final step would be to set up an interview with the tenant. Here are a few important questions to ask the prospective tenant:
  • Do you have any pets? How many do you have, and are they housebroken? (If you don’t allow pets, make sure the tenant knows this upfront.)
  • Do you smoke? If so, do you smoke outside or indoors?
  • Do you have people who stay the night frequently (family and friends)?
  • Do you have any children? If so, how many and what are their ages? Remember you cannot reject a tenant based on familial status, i.e. whether they have children and if so, how many children they have.

Now that you have completed all of these steps for screening your potential tenant, go over the lease contract with the tenant in detail. Then when both parties agree have the tenant sign the lease and move in! This whole process might seem like a lot of work but in the end finding the right tenant will save you time, money and a lot of stress.

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Tenants’ Rights in Foreclosure Cases

foreclosure3Rights of the tenants in case their rental house gets foreclosed on

With the downturn in the economy, numerous homes have gone into foreclosure. This is mainly because people have defaulted on their mortgage payments, and can’t refinance due to underwater homes. Since last year the foreclosure rate has declined. It is not only the homeowners who face the consequences of foreclosure, but the tenants as well. The tenants are the ones who actually get evicted when the homeowner defaults on the loan. So, aren’t there any rights for the tenants, in the event a property gets foreclosed on? There are, but the rights differ based on the situation.

What can happen to the renter during a foreclosure?

The laws and rights of the tenants vary depending on the residential or the rental agreement and the local laws. Some laws specify that the tenants should not suffer simply because the landlord couldn’t make the timely mortgage payments and thus could not manage to retain the property. In fact, a new law was passed a few months back in Illinois to protect tenants in the event of foreclosure. Illinois State Senator Jacqueline Collins stated that “Tenants should not suffer for the financial troubles of their landlords,” and “this legislation extends our foreclosure relief efforts to renters, who make up 40% of households affected by foreclosure.” This law requires the new owner to either provide a 90 day notice to the tenant prior to eviction or to evict the tenant only after the end of the rental lease.

A similar law was enacted in 2009 in the US. This law is known as the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA). According to this law, the tenants have the right to remain in the property until the lease ends. Furthermore, the owner will also have to provide a 90 day notice period before evicting the tenants.

Another great thing about PTFA is that it does not preempt state and local laws. This means tenants will be able to enjoy the protection of the state and local laws if those are stronger than the PTFA.

Limitations on PTFA are:

  • The actual tenants on the lease cannot be the mortgagor, the mortgagor’s spouse, child or parent.
  • The amount of rent paid cannot be considerably less than what has been paid for other such properties within that area or what is considered fair market value. Only if the rent amount was reduced due to a state or federal rental subsidy, can the tenant still be eligible for the PTFA benefits in this case.
  • The lease or the arrangement will be scrutinized carefully if there are “special provisions” in the lease, such as an unusually long lease period or pre-payments, before deciding if the lease is eligible for PTFA protection.

Renters have rights in the event of foreclosure and in most cases cannot be evicted right away. However it is crucial for the tenant to be informed about the local and state laws as well as the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) so they can protect themselves from being evicted.

Sam works as an article writer for an Illinois based mortgage community called Mortgagefit. For more information visit here http://www.mortgagefit.com/

 

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Renting versus Buying

Print

Considering whether to buy or rent a home will be one of the biggest decisions in your adult life. However, how will you know which one is best? For many, this decision is based largely on external factors such as credit score, other financial commitments, and desired location. Adding personal touches to your home will probably also play a role as to whether you are buying or renting. And what about your little pooch? Certainly you’ll need to take into account accommodating your pets. There are multiple pros and cons both for renting a home, or buying a home. Ultimately, the final decision will be yours, and should be based on what will benefit you both in the short term, as well as the long term. If you need a bit of help in deciding, take a look at this infographic for a comprehensive overview of reasons for renting vs. buying.

Buying a home, especially if it’s your first time, is an exceptionally rewarding experience. Some of the benefits are pride of ownership, all the mortgage interest and property tax deductions, and appreciation you will be getting from owning your own home. For many, these reasons are more than enough to convince them that buying a home is the right choice for them. For others, the perks and amenities that renting has to offer, as well as the appeal of affordability is more than enough to select renting.

Whichever path you choose, take comfort in the fact that soon you’ll be relaxing and enjoying your own personal space!

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Creating a Solid Lease Agreement: Three Top Tips for Landlords

Lease Agreements

One of the most important and essential steps for a new landlord is crafting a solid, yet easy to understand lease contract. This will help avoid issues and potential tenant evictions. For many landlords just starting out, this particular step can seem like the most difficult. Although it might seem like a daunting task, it can be easy to create a good lease agreement. We have outlined three important tips to help create a solid lease agreement, which will help you avoid a tenant eviction.

  1. Know the laws and regulations that apply in your state. In order to build an airtight lease contract, a new landlord will most definitely need to know their own state’s rules and laws regarding the landlord-tenant relationship.
  2. Clearly define the most important elements on your contract. This includes, but is not limited to: which party is responsible for paying utilities (water, septic, etc.); the appliances that are included or not included in the property; the contract duration; your particular details about fees and deposits; and fees/penalties for early termination of the lease agreement.
  3. Have a lawyer go over the finished product. It’s so important to have a lawyer or professional go over the finished lease agreement—simply because they can catch errors, point out additional items to add, reference new state laws that have gone into effect, include rules that may have been forgotten, mention important elements (such as a pet clause or early termination details), and even update current eviction practices.
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Steps In The Tenant Screening Process

steps

Once you have your prospective listing ready to be rented, how do you find good tenants? Screening potential tenants with proper and lawful screening techniques can cut down on problems you could possibly face. The following are some steps in the tenant screening process to properly screen potential tenants:

 

1. Have Tenants Fill Out Rental Application

Having tenants fill out a rental application is a good way for you to first get information about them. You will be able to obtain information, such as their social security number, current address, and if they are currently employed.

2. Pay For A Tenant Screening

Most landlords will charge an application fee that can go towards paying for a tenant screening, rather than paying out of their own pocket.

3. Screen Your Tenants

There are tenant-screening services that landlords can use, such as Houserie.com (www.houserie.com). Screening a tenant yourself can be very time consuming and not always accurate.

4. Receive Screening Results

If a landlord uses an online service such as Houserie.com, the results can get back to them as soon as 24 hours. Depending on the screening you get, you can find out a tenant’s criminal background, if they have any past evictions, a summary of their credit, and a tenant scorecard.

5. Making The Final Decision On Tenants

The landlord will always have the final decision of whom he wants to rent to. With a proper tenant screening, he can now be better equipped to make that decision.

 

Finding good tenants will always be a coin toss. Screening possible tenants can help you find out who a potential renter really is, based on their background. It will also cut down on possible problems you could face in the future.

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How Landlords Can Save Money

saving money

Completing regular property maintenance can save both time and money in the long run for landlords. From small repairs to fixing leaks, and more major maintenance like repairs on cracks in the foundation and even room renovations, all of these can enable a landlord to save a lot of money in the long run. Here are some ways for landlords to save money by doing these simple repairs and renovations:

  • Regular property checks for leaks and/or water damage. Make sure to check for leaks and damage after a big rain or snowstorm. Look at windows, showers, toilets, under sinks, and also the roof, walls, and ceilings. By checking regularly, you can avoid pricey repairs in the future since you’ll be repairing small leaks before they become a huge mess to fix.
  • Monthly exterminations. Most everyone hates seeing bugs in their home, so be sure to exterminate your units and property at least once monthly. Keeping up with killing bugs regularly will prevent a larger pest problem than if you just let it go, allowing a larger bug population to take up residence at your property.
  • Change and test all of your property’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. This not only saves money, but it can also potentially save lives. Always test the detectors to make sure they’re working properly, and install new ones if they don’t work. This saves money for the landlord by ensuring that a fire is detected before major damage occurs. This also ensures that your renters’ lives are not put in danger.
  • Clean or replace air filters. A simple $5 filter for a furnace or air conditioner can potentially save a landlord hundreds of dollars in repairs. Replacing a filter can prevent cleaning or repairing the furnace coils caused by the build-up of dust and other debris.
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How Screening Tenants Helps Reduce Crime in Your Neighborhood

Reducing crime in neighborhood

Most landlords know that screening potential tenants will reduce the likelihood of renting to a “problem tenant.” What they may not know is that it also helps to reduce and prevent crime in the entire neighborhood. By doing complete tenant screenings, landlords can weed out those tenants who have a criminal background, a history of violence, have bad credit history, or have a background of loud and noisy behavior – all of which can be predictors for future crime. Here is how your neighborhood will benefit from screening tenants:

  1. Criminal checks can keep unsavory characters out of the neighborhood. Landlords generally perform criminal and/or background checks on prospective tenants to make sure they’re not renting to those who have been convicted of a serious crime, or who has a history of noisy or violent acts in a previous rental home. Although some criminals may try to hide their past, a comprehensive criminal and background check will reveal their history and a landlord can then choose to reject their application in order to keep them from living in the neighborhood.
  2. Screening helps prevent high rental turnover. By screening their prospective tenants and choosing only the most qualified renters, landlords are preventing high rental turnover by matching their property to a tenant’s specific needs. Lowering this turnover creates a closer sense of community since renters who stay longer tend to get involved in the neighborhood and get to know their neighbors.
  3. Always ask for valid photo identification during the screening process. Doing so will not only verify that the person is who he says he is, but will help reveal whether he has stolen another person’s identity (perhaps to hide his own criminal background). Also ask for past utility bills to make sure the addresses match, and also request that the potential tenant give any prior names they’ve used in the past.
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Right and Responsibilities of Residents of Federally Assisted Housing – Department of Housing and Urban Development

RIghts and Responsibilities of Tenants by the Department of Housing and Urban Development

There are various rights and responsibilities that come with being a tenant. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides and list of topics you should be knowledge about when renting.

This article contains vital information for those living in HUD-assisted housing.

The rights of the tenant are broken down into three categories, involving your apartment, resident organizations, and nondiscrimination.

Involving your Apartment

-The apartment must consist of a clean and safe environment, free of hazardous chemicals.
-Necessary repairs must be completed in a timely fashion.
-Property mangers and/or landlords must notify residents reasonable ahead of time for non-emergency inspections or entries into the dwelling.

Involving Resident Organizations

-The ability for residents for organize without retaliation or backlash from the Property Owners and/or Management.
-The right to post informational material in the forms of leaflets, etc. in common areas.
-The right to meet with the Property Management and/or Property Owner present. As well as the ability to use common space or facilities (with reasonable HUD-approved fee).

Involving Nondiscrimination

“The right to equal and fair treatment and use of your building’s services and facilities, without regard to race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status (children under 18), national origin (ethnicity or language), or in some circumstances, age.”

A tenant of HUD-assisted housing as responsibilities to their property manger and owner as well as to the project and fellow residents.

To Your Property Owners or Management Agent

-Following the rules and guidelines outlined in the lease agreement.
-Paying the correct amount of monthly rent on time.
-Providing accurate information to the owner, including changes in the family income.

To the Project and Your Fellow Residents

-Not disturbing your neighbors.
-Not littering in the common areas as well as keep your unit clean.
-Not engaging in criminal activity.
-Keeping the apartment in the same physical condition as when you moved in.
-Reporting any environmental hazards present in your unit or within the property.

Source: http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/mfh/gendocs/mfhrrr.pdf

 

 

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Easy, Effective Ways to Respect Your Tenant’s Privacy

Tenant's privacy

Landlords need to be respectful of their tenant’s privacy regardless of any state laws that give them permission to enter the unit. Respecting your tenant’s privacy not only keeps the relationship on good terms, but it may also earn the tenant’s trust, thereby giving you a long-term tenant for your property. Here are four easy and effective ways to respect their privacy, while still keeping up-to-date on the condition of your rental space.

  1. Call first if there are repairs or maintenance to be done to the property. A landlord cannot just show up to a property and expect to do repairs without giving the tenant notice beforehand. You need to call and set up a time to do the repairs or maintenance based on the tenant’s availability.
  2. It’s up to the landlord or property manager to set up privacy boundaries. Although many states have certain laws and rules in place to protect a tenant’s privacy, some do not have any regulations set up for this and the landlords must arrange privacy clauses under the lease contract. Make sure you notate any these provisions in the rental agreement before the tenant moves into the property.
  3. Have set business hours. Having business hours that are the same time every day will help tenants know when to reach you in case of repairs or emergencies. It will also set boundaries for respecting their privacy in case you need to reach them or make a visit to the property.
  4. Knock more than once and then wait. Many states require a landlord to knock at least once and then wait a period of time for the tenant to respond. Unless there is an emergency, landlords cannot just knock once and then go right inside without the permission of the tenant.

 

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Five Main Reasons to Screen Tenants

Finding the right tenant

One of the most important steps for a landlord to take when renting their unit is to screen each and every potential tenant. Doing so will hopefully prevent renting to a problem tenant, thereby saving the landlord a lot of stress arising from rental issues. Here are the five main reasons why landlords need to screen all of their prospective tenants:

  1. Tenant history will tell of any past issues. When screening a tenant, make sure to check out their background history to see if they have a criminal background, have damaged past properties they’ve lived at, or ended a rental contract early. Usually, if they’ve done it before, it is more likely that they can do it again.
  2. Late payments. Check out a tenant’s credit history to see if they have a bad habit of paying rent or other bills late. Talking to past landlords will also give any insight into whether they will become a problem tenant in regards to paying the rent.
  3. Property damage or loss. By screening a tenant and doing thorough background checks that include criminal and eviction history, a landlord can weed out the tenants who might possibly be violent or cause damage to the unit.
  4. Liability. Tenant screening can also ensure that a landlord won’t be pursued legally in case a tenant engages in illegal activities in the unit or property. For example, if a tenant sells drugs out of the apartment, a landlord can possibly be held liable, even though they don’t live there and only rent out the property.
  5. Early lease termination. Screening a prospective tenant and reaching out to past landlords, current employer, and professional or personal references can increase the odds that the tenant will not break the lease early. If past landlords cite there was a problem with early lease termination or with late payments, reject the tenant and let them know exactly why.
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Four Ways for Tenants to Improve their Credit Score and History (Tenant Screening)

Tenant Background Check

It’s common knowledge that your credit score is one of the most important things that can adversely affect so many events in life. From buying a house (or renting an apartment) to purchasing a new car to being approved for a credit card, your credit score will directly affect all of these major decisions. Here are four easy ways to improve your credit score for your future tenant screening, some of which you can even start doing now.

  1. Request a copy of your credit report. Yes, it may seem simple, but many people have no idea what their credit history says or even what their credit score is. By checking it out, you can make sure that the history is correct. There are some cases that a person has found identity fraud or that their credit card number was stolen, causing unknown charges on their credit history. Identity fraud can wreak havoc on a person’s credit history, which directly impacts their credit score.
  2. Reduce your debt. Although much easier said than done, reducing the amount of debt that you owe is actually a very important step in improving your credit history and, ultimately, your credit score. First, make a list of all your credit cards and check what the balance on each one is, and also what the interest rates are. Then, set up a plan to start paying down on one that has the highest rate and don’t use any of them at all until they’re paid off. Once all your credit cards are paid off, you can continue using them if you can ensure that you pay off your entire balance each month. This will indicate that you are fiscally responsible with your spending, and it will increase your credit score over time.
  3. Set up payment reminders. Use a calendar to write down and track all of your credit payments, including credit cards, mortgage, vehicle loans, etc. By doing this, you can eliminate late payments, which show up on your credit history. Alternately, set up automatic payments, so that everything gets paid hassle-free.
  4. Keep credit card balances low. A high balance can adversely affect your credit score. Having a low balance with on-time payments can get you a better credit score and look good on your credit history as well.
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Four Ways to Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

scam

With the large number of foreclosures, bank repossessions, and declining home rates, people are forced to rent rather than buy. But the increase in renting also increases the risk of rental fraud.

There are two common types of rental scams: the outright con job that’s been going on for dozens of years and the more recent foreclosure scam. The classic rental fraud involves the scammer asking for the first and last months’ rent and sometimes the security deposit as well. The scammer then vanishes with the money, leaving the renter out of a lot of money and with nowhere to live. The second scam entails the scammer actually renting out a home or other property (such as units in a converted home or an apartment complex) that is already in foreclosure. The renters have no idea that they are renting out a foreclosed property until an eviction notice shows up from the bank, and by then the scammer is long gone with the money.

So what can an expected renter do to protect themselves from frauds and scams? There are many questions to ask and steps to take in order to make sure you won’t be scammed. Listed below are several protective measures for prospective renters to take.

  • Verify the landlord’s identity at the county assessor’s office. This simple action will let you know if the person actually owns the property you’re looking to rent.
  • Check with neighbors of the property. See how long it has stood vacant, as a longer time period might indicate a foreclosure property.
  • Make a visit to the county recorder’s office. This will let you see if there has been notice of default recorded for the property.
  • Be wary of a landlord who uses an answering service. If you pick up the phone to contact the landlord of a property you’re interested in, and an answering service answers the phone, you should be very wary. There are a lot of scammers who use an answering service, and then respond back via email. If the prospective landlord does this to you, you definitely need to take more steps to verify them.
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Questions Landlords Cannot Ask Their Prospective Tenants

tenants

Interviewing prospective tenants can be a nerve-wracking time for many landlords—especially if it’s their first time renting out an apartment—but they still need to make sure of the questions they can and cannot ask their potential tenants. Learn what not to say or ask a prospective tenant during your interview process:

  1. Any question that could potentially violate fair housing laws. This would include, but not be limited to, discrimination against the seven classes: color, race, sex, religion, national origin, family status, and disability. For example, you cannot ask a potential tenant about their sexual orientation as this could potentially lead to a discrimination claim. Also, a landlord needs to keep up-to-date on their particular state’s protected classes.
  2. You cannot ask if a tenant has ever been arrested. You can, however, ask if they have ever been convicted of a crime, which is different than if they’ve been arrested. By law, a tenant who has been convicted of a crime must answer questions about that conviction. Alternately, you can use a thorough screening process such as the one Houserie.com offers to get a comprehensive background check which includes a tenant’s criminal history as well.
  3. Don’t ask questions that aren’t part of your usual qualification or interview process. Have a prearranged set of questions that you ask all potential tenants and don’t stray from them. If you ask questions that are different than those you normally ask, a tenant can accuse you of discrimination.
  4. Landlords cannot ask if a tenant plans to have (more) children. This question would be considered discriminatory. A landlord should not care how many children a tenant might or might not have in the future and choosing a single professional over a family will make a landlord liable for discrimination claims that may arise.
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Five Ways to be a Good Tenant

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All tenants want to leave a good impression on their landlords and, more importantly, maintain an excellent relationship with the person who owns the home they live in. Knowing how to be a good tenant will not only make your life with your landlord better, but it will also give you great references later when you move.

  1. Read and understand your rental/lease agreement. By fully reading and actually understanding the lease contract you’re about to sign, you can obey the rules of the landlord and keep them happy. By signing it, you must adhere to their rules and stipulations or risk eviction.
  2. Give all requests for repairs or improvements in writing to your landlord. Keeping good records of all repairs that were requested and fixed by the landlord is beneficial down the road in case of disputes.
  3. Keep your home or apartment tidy and clean. You don’t have to deep clean every single day, but be sure to make your space tidy and keep it clean. The look of your home reflects back on you and you want to make sure the landlord knows you are keeping their unit nice and neat.
  4. Try to love (or at least tolerate) your neighbors. Not only will this make your life easier, it will also keep any disputes or fights from happening with those who live around you.
  5. Buy a renter’s insurance policy. Landlords will really appreciate if you purchase a policy that will cover any loss. They will be saving money and you’ll be covered if anything should happen that damages or destroys your belongings.
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Most Effective Ways to Handle Problem Tenants

notice-eviction

All landlords, whether amateurs or seasoned professionals, may have to deal with problem tenants at some point in their careers.  It’s a seemingly inevitable part of the landlord business. There are effective ways of dealing with tenant issues, and there are methods that just don’t work. Listed below are some of the best ways to deal with problem tenants.

  • Professional behavior. First and foremost, you need to always behave in a professional manner, even if the tenant is screaming and/or making a scene. Be polite and nice to the tenant and hopefully they will calm down to discuss the issues. Always remember that this is a professional relationship.
  • Better communications. Strive to start and maintain communications with the tenant, even if they don’t seem to want to talk to you. Many times—and especially if money is involved—the tenant will try very hard to avoid you. Make sure to keep the lines of communication open, and try different methods of contact, such as their cell phone, email, and face-to-face visits.
  • Be aware of any potential problems. Visit the unit and listen to any issues from neighbors. Also keep an eye out for any maintenance issues or damage you might see on the visit. By learning of any issues as soon as they occur, you can evaluate whether you want to renew the lease for the tenants after their current lease period is up.
  • Accurate and up-to-date records. By keeping accurate records of everything that occurs at your property/unit, you can refer back to them at a later date if you need to (for legal action, etc.).
  • Purchase insurance. And not just for the property or unit, but also for contents (especially on units that come already furnished), accidental damage and even an emergency help insurance policy.
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Three Easy Ways to Identify a Problem Tenant

1328102012_Find

Bad TenantsThe skills to recognize a bothersome tenant can be invaluable to most landlords, as most people don’t just become a problem overnight. A certain behavior pattern will definitely show up when you start delving into their background, and there are a few tell-tale signs to look for when you begin your search of the potential tenant’s past history.

  1. Interview past landlords. Call and speak with the applicant’s past landlord(s) and listen carefully to their answers. If the applicant listed an individual as a landlord instead of a property management company, you need to be sure the person is actually a landlord and not a friend or family member. All too often, a problem tenant will try to hide their past bad behaviors by using a friend to act as the landlord.
  2. Confirm employer information. As with past landlords, problems tenants have been known to use friends and family to impersonate past or present employers, especially if they have recently lost their job. Make sure to have the potential tenant give at least two recent pay stubs. Also, call the current and even past employers to verify the tenant’s employment dates.
  3. Run a credit check. Another powerful insight into potential “problem” tenants is if they have little or no credit. Of course, younger tenants will more than likely not have a lot of credit, simply because of their young age. However, if an older tenant has no credit, be sure to run a background check and complete these other steps to ensure they are who they say they are. Many times, people who have an unsavory past, owe money to past landlords, have been evicted, or have a criminal background, will steal a social security number and use it to rent a unit. Houserie.com offers comprehensive background checks, including social security verification, credit checks, criminal history, and eviction checks.
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Why Online Tenant Screening is Becoming the New Normal

Tenant Background Screening

Completing tenant screenings takes time and money, and it becomes quite a headache for landlords. From credit checks, background checks, and even a criminal record check, doing online screenings is becoming a new way for landlords to easily complete these tedious screening duties. Here’s why it’s the better way to go:

  1. Saves time. If you use an online company that specializes in tenant screenings, you can let them handle every aspect of the screening process. They will run all of the credit, background, and criminal checks for you. They can even pull eviction records on the potential tenant. You are then able to focus on other aspects of your business and make the final decision once they get back to you with the report findings. A site like Houserie.com provides exactly this for landlords.
  2. Saves money. Usually for one upfront fee, you can have an online screening service conduct all the checks that you need, instead of having to pay separate fees for each background check, saving you money. This also simplifies the process for landlords.
  3. Liability issues. By using these online services, such as Houserie.com, a landlord never sees a tenant’s social security number, bank account numbers, and other sensitive personal information. This creates less liability for the landlord since the online service company stores all of this information securely for the landlord.
  4. Quicker results. Some online screening companies can have results back to you in an hour; this can make the entire process much quicker than if you conducted the screening yourself, thus enabling you to rent your property faster.
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Top Reasons to Keep a Tenant’s Security Deposit

Tenant Background Screening

There are certain reasons that allow landlords can keep their tenant’s security deposit. These are also things that tenants should watch out for, so that they can ensure that they get their deposits returned. A security deposit is essentially a sum of cash, usually equivalent to one month’s rent, which is given to the landlord to cover any damage that might occur to the property during the tenant’s occupation of the home. Tenants are able to retrieve this money when they leave, as long as they have followed all the rules of the lease agreement that they have with their landlord. There are a few situations where the landlord can keep all or some of the deposit. (Each state has its own laws regarding security deposits, and landlords should be up-to-date on their state’s regulations.)

  1. Property damage. One of the most common reasons that landlords keep a security deposit is property damage. The type of damage that would warrant a landlord to keep the deposit is not just normal wear and tear – it’s large and noticeable damage, such as large holes in walls, stains or holes in carpeting, major water damage to hardwood floors, damaged or missing smoke detectors, broken windows, broken doors, cracked countertops, and keys that aren’t returned at the end of the lease.
  2. Default rent.  If a tenant refuses to pay or just leaves without paying their rent, landlords have the right to keep all of the security deposit, since most states stipulate this as a legitimate reason for keeping the security deposit. Keeping the deposit allows the landlord to cover the cost of the lost rent.
  3. Early rent/lease termination. Breaking a rent/lease contract allows a landlord to collect the full or part of the security deposit to cover the costs of the broken lease. However, this must be noted clearly on the rent/lease contract in order for the landlord to collect the security deposit.

 

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Five Great Tips for New Landlords (Tenant Screening)

Tenant Background Screening

A landlord’s responsibilities run the gamut of planning, maintenance, safety, and legalities. Most new landlords just don’t realize how much really goes into renting their property. Safety is one of the most important priorities, but a new landlord should also be careful about choosing the right tenant, keeping the property safe and clean, following state laws and regulations, and even creating a solid lease agreement.

1. Safety. Before even thinking of leasing out your property, bring in professionals to make sure it is safe and suitable for a tenant to live there. In particular, hire someone to look for bug infestations, electrical issues, gas leaks, plumbing problems, building code violations, and fire safety issues.

2. The contract. This is another of the most important steps a new landlord can take. The lease agreement is a great way to specify your rules regarding rent payment, policies on pets, damage, and renter’s insurance. It is also good to outline the eviction process you have in place and any other specific details you have for your property.

3. Insurance. Landlords must have special landlord insurance on all of their properties to cover the buildings and sometimes even the contents inside if the property is being rented furnished. You may need to check with your state, as most states have differing rules and regulations regarding landlord insurance.

4. Repairs and renovations. As a new landlord, you must get the property for rent suitable and ready for habitation. This can mean making necessary repairs, changes, renovations, and improvements to the property before even beginning a tenant search. This could also potentially attract a lot more interested potential renters.

5. Screen tenants thoroughly. Always be sure to check references (past landlords) and income information, and to run a credit and background check. If they’ve had any past bankruptcies or foreclosures, both should come up under the credit check. This is one of the most crucial steps for new landlords, and many do not conduct a strenuous tenant screen like they should. Houserie.com can help landlords perform comprehensive background checks quickly and easily, with minimal paperwork or time wasted! You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your tenant is reliable.

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Five Reasons Landlords Raise their Rent

rising rentAlthough many landlords feel that if they raise their rent, their tenants may become angry or cancel their renter’s contract, there are many understandable reasons to raise the rent. From cost of living increases to property tax increases and more, there are many reasons that landlords raise the rent on their properties.

  1. The tenant’s special move-in rent has ended. If you advertised a special introductory rent for potential tenants, you may raise your rent amount once that certain time period (usually three months) has ended. Make sure to note this on the rent contract so tenants are well aware of the increase when it occurs, and they aren’t faced with a rude (and expensive) surprise!
  2. Property improvements or repairs. Everyone knows that repairs and improvements are costly, and sometimes this justifies the cost of a rent increase, especially when the tenant would greatly benefit from the repairs and improvements. This is also something to be stipulated on the renter’s contract.
  3. The cost of living has increased. Inflation and cost of living is one of the most common reasons for rent increases, along with property improvements and higher taxes. Landlords have to stay competitive with the rental market and keep their income at a place where it covers any rising costs.
  4. Tax hikes. This second common rent increase reason is because the landlord has to cover the cost of rising taxes to both their business and their property taxes, which can create a very large monetary burden.
  5. Neighborhood value improvement or gentrification. If the neighborhood that your property is located is suddenly being improved or gentrifying, the overall worth of the neighborhood will increase as well. Landlords must go with the value of the neighborhood to stay competitive with other landlords in the area to keep current tenants and snag potential tenants. This will also help them cover any property tax increases that may also come with the gentrification of the area.
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Five Main Reasons to Require Renter’s Insurance

Tenant Background Screening

Both experienced and amateur landlords know that renter’s insurance can prevent a tenant from becoming angry or even leave the property because of damage to the property itself or their personal belongings. Fires, floods, and even natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes can create a lot of loss, and having renter’s insurance can save a lot of money, headache, and heartache for the tenant and the landlord.

  1. It covers loss from fires, floods, and other incidents. This is the major reason for requiring renter’s insurance, as stated above. The amount of money to be saved from these common disasters usually covers the amount of money to be spent on the insurance itself.
  2. If your tenants have to be out of the property while any repairs and/or renovations are being made, the insurance may actually provide them immediately with a hotel to stay during the repairs/renovations to their home or may later reimburse them for a hotel room.
  3. Renter’s insurance can also cover loss and damage from negligent tenants. If a tenant floods the unit or causes a fire, the insurance will cover the repair and renovations from that damage.
  4. Having tenants with renter’s insurance will save the landlord from claiming the loss or damage on their own insurance. This will also save the landlord money in the long run on their insurance policy.
  5. Dog bites may also be covered. If a tenant has a dog that bites someone visiting the home, the renter’s insurance will cover the claim.
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Effectively Handling Tenant Complaints

Tenant Background Screening

As the landlord of your properties, it’s up to you to handle your tenant’s complaints in a friendly and effective manner. There are so many common complaints that a tenant can have, including plumbing, cracks, leaks, and more. Here are some tips for handling these complaints easily and efficiently.

  1. The noisy neighbors. Tenants seem to complain about raucous and noisy neighbors all the time. Do your best to address this issue as soon as possible, since tenants are very sensitive about their peace and quiet. They also get worried if the noisy neighbors seem to be loud and violent.
  2. Property maintenance issues. There are always going to be maintenance issues for tenants to complain about. Make sure you go over all maintenance plans and needs in your rental agreement, or speak with the tenants when they first move in to set expectations.
  3. Always be available. This will make your tenants feel secure that all their issues will be taken care of in a quick, efficient manner. Being available to your tenants will also let them know you care and are willing to quickly take care of any issues.
  4. Listen. Just genuinely listening to your tenants will help with communication, the landlord-tenant relationship, and also building trust with the tenant. Listen to what your tenant has to say in regards to any issues and complaints. Your tenants will be more likely to renew their lease contract if they trust and enjoy their landlord.
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The 4 Most Common Mistakes That Landlords Make (Tenant Background Checks)

Tenant Background CheckAll business owners make mistakes when it comes to their companies, and landlords make a few that are all too common. From being too lenient and lax with rent to not conducting thorough checks on their tenants, here are the four most common mistakes to steer clear of:

  1. Lax background checks on tenants. Making sure a potential tenant is qualified is one of the most important steps a landlord can take. Failure to conduct a thorough background check can cause lots of problems down the road, especially if the landlord decides to rent to a tenant who has had renting troubles in the past. Always be sure to check the tenant’s credit history, rental history, criminal history (for risk of violence or other felonies), and if they have ever been evicted before. Houserie.com can help landlords conduct all of these background checks in a fast, easy, and secure manner.
  2. Failure or leniency with collecting rent. Any successful business owner will tell you that to continue being successful, you have to get paid. Landlords need to collect rent as their source of income, and failure to keep up on rent collection is just not a good business practice. Have a rule set in place that the tenant will have a late fee if they don’t pay by a certain date.
  3. Not evicting a tenant when needed. If you have a tenant who is always late with their payments or who violates the terms in any other way, you need to evict them. Don’t put it off just because you don’t want to deal with an unhappy or angry tenant.
  4. Handling business accounting by yourself. If you’re not good at math, don’t attempt to handle your business accounting and expenses yourself; instead, hire a competent accountant or CPA to deal with this for you, and you can concentrate on other aspects of your landlord duties.
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5 Simple Ways to Hold onto Good Tenants

Good tenantsOnce you find qualified, trustworthy tenants, you want to keep them in your properties as long as possible, since it’s often very hard to find good tenants. Listed below are simple, easy ways to establish a friendly, long-lasting relationship with your tenants, so they will want to renew their contract with you year after year.

  1. “Housewarming” and welcome gifts. When your tenants first move in, gift them with a houseplant, restaurant gift certificate, or even a nice bottle of wine. Place the gift in the foyer or hallway before they move in, so they’ll get a nice surprise on their first night in their new home. For a more personal welcome gift (most appropriate after about a month after they first move in), give them a small home decor piece like a vase or maybe even a gift for the kitchen such as a utensil set or nice towels.
  2. A contract renewal gift. When your tenants renew their rent or lease contract, show your appreciation by giving them a gift certificate or a gift card. Give this gift in person instead of placing in their mailbox to show you truly care.
  3. The holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are a great time to show your tenants that you care and are a thoughtful landlord. For Thanksgiving, it would be a gracious gesture to give your tenants a frozen turkey for them to cook for their family meal. You can also give a bottle of wine or a floral holiday centerpiece they can use. For Christmas, you could send a nice card with a personal handwritten note, along with a gift card or restaurant gift certificate.
  4. Property management emergencies. If at all possible, make sure you take care of any maintenance issues as soon as you can; this lets your tenants know that you are responsible and willing to fix any issues promptly.
  5. Long-term tenants. For those tenants who have lived in your property for longer than three or four years, give a larger item of appreciation such as a new carpeting, a new dishwasher, or put in new light fixtures.
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Maintaining Good Communication with Tenants

Lease Agreements

The tenant-landlord relationship has gotten a bad rap due to the number of dishonest landlords out there. However, with the right communication skills, both tenants and landlords can have a good relationship with each other that will benefit both parties. Here are a few tips and ideas to keep the lines of communication open.

  1. Customize the rent/lease agreement. Although you can purchase a basic lease or rent form from an office supply store like Staples, it’s a better idea to customize your own form using tenant-specific details. For example, make sure you note any pet restrictions, rent dates, late payment fees, or penalties, etc.
  2. Make sure you get more than one contact number from the tenants. It’s good to get more than one phone number and means of contact from your tenant so you can easily keep in touch with them. Ask for a home phone number, cell phone number, and even their e-mail address.
  3. Call or drop by every month or so to check on your tenants. This will let them know you truly care and are open to any issues that might come up. Some landlords never visit their tenants, which could make tenants feel as if the landlord doesn’t care at all and doesn’t want to hear about what’s going on. At the same time, do let the tenants know ahead of time that you’re planning on dropping in, so that they don’t feel like you’re “checking up” on them too often or disrespecting their privacy and space.
  4. Clearly communicate your intentions and expectations of the tenants. Make sure you tell the tenants what you expect of them; this will hopefully keep the lines of communication open and prevent headaches down the road.
  5. If you have a tenant who constantly is late on payments, approach them and ask them what the problem is. Did they lose their job? Do they have other money problems? Getting to the root of why they are always late with their payments will keep your relationship from souring and it might even get your late rent fee.
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Pros and Cons of Accepting Pets into Your Property

Tenant Background Screening

One of the biggest issues landlords face is a potential tenant who has a pet. Should they accept pets and impose certain conditions to the rent agreement, or should they not allow any pets at all? It’s a big question for landlords to mull over, and there are both pros and cons to allowing pets in your property.

Pros:

  1. Since there are not many landlords that allow pets, you may get a larger number of potential tenants for your property if you do decide to allow pets. Landlords will have a much larger pool of qualified tenants to choose from.
  2. If your potential tenant has a cat, they are excellent at taking care of rats and mice – a cheap and easy way to exterminate these rodents from your property.
  3. Dogs can help discourage vandals and burglars from your property, especially if it’s a larger dog.
  4. If you do allow pets, your tenants can potentially stay longer since it’s very difficult to find another landlord who will accept pets.
  5. You have the option of only allowing a smaller pet. Cats and small dogs may cause less damage to the property than larger breeds.

Cons:

  1. There are some dog breeds to beware of – not because of any behavioral tendencies, but because some homeowner insurance companies will cancel the policies if there are these types of dogs allowed in the property. These breeds include Dobermans, Rottweilers, Wolf Hybrids, and Pit Bull breeds. Be sure to check with your own insurance policy.
  2. Cats and dogs can both destroy property, such as carpets, stairs, stairwells, walls, doors, and more. Landlords must think about this and really ask the potential tenant if the pet is well-behaved and definitely check references from past landlords. Sometimes the safety deposit just will not cover the costs the damage.
  3. Pets making loud noises, such as whining, barking, howling, or yowling (cats and dogs), can disturb other tenants or neighbors and cause a lot of trouble for the landlord.
  4. Sometimes a tenant may sneak in other pets once the landlord agrees to one. If you do allow pets, be clear and firm that no other pets are allowed without express written consent.
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4 Effective Marketing Techniques for Landlords

Tenant Background Screening

Rising vacancy rates in certain cities and the current state of the economy are two good reasons for landlords to invest in an effective marketing plan. Whether you have just a few rental properties or hundreds located across the country, having a marketing plan in place is a sound business decision. Listed below are four effective ideas for marketing your rental properties and your business.

  1. Create a website. If you don’t already have one, create a website for your business. This site can show off your rental properties, tell potential tenants a little about you and your business, and attract tenants all at the same time. If you don’t want to spend a small fortune on a website (for those landlords with only a few properties), search for a site host that is free or very low-cost. For example, Weebly is a good choice for a simple, free website. Or try GoDaddy.com for an easy, low-cost website option.
  2. Social networking sites. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all useful mediums for marketing. Once you have your website up and running, start using these social networking sites to advertise your rental properties by adding relevant posts, articles, and videos for potential tenants to look at. Ask your friends to recommend your site to anyone they might know who are looking for a rental home or apartment.
  3. Online ads. Create nice online ads for your rental properties that are currently vacant. There are many online classified sites that are free or low-cost. Make sure to include pictures of the property and your contact information. A good, safe bet to try is Rentalroost.com. Another one is craigslist, but be careful of putting your email address in your information, because of spam and other unwanted email.
  4. Use a rental property manager. Though it can be expensive, hiring a property manager can definitely pay off in the long run. You can let them handle the marketing plan for you, and they can also complete tenant searches for your vacant properties.
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5 Guidelines of Choosing the Right Tenant

Tenant background screening

Tenant Screening Made Easy

Because of the current state of the economy, more people are being forced to rent since owning is becoming exceedingly expensive. This creates a situation with most landlords where they have to choose from a pool of extremely qualified tenants. Follow these five guidelines to choose the right tenant for you and your property:

  1. Always check references! This is one of the most important steps you can take when choosing a tenant. Call each reference and have a list of questions handy to ask them about the potential tenant.
  2. Perform a credit check. With this part of choosing a qualified tenant, run a credit check and see their bill-paying history, their income to debt ratio, any past convictions (bad checks, etc.), or if they have ever filed for bankruptcy. Houserie.com allows you to choose from a variety of credit and background check options.
  3. Run a criminal background check. Since a tenant’s criminal information is open to public record, you can search to see if they have any criminal history (theft, violence, etc.) to make sure the tenant is a safe choice. Houserie.com not only offers a national criminal background check, but also an eviction check to see whether a tenant had been previously evicted.
  4. Check out the prospective tenant’s overall lifestyle. On their application, note if they have moved around frequently, or if they change jobs a lot. Steer clear of tenants who do either, since they might break their lease and move after just a few months. Or such a tenant may suddenly become unemployed again, thereby unable to afford their rent payment.
  5. Go over the rental contract with each potential tenant. Doing so will cut down on misunderstandings and miscommunications in the future.
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The Importance of Using a Rental Agent

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Using a rental agent to list and show your vacant property can be a huge time and money saving step. While a rental agent does generally take a certain percentage of the rental income, the time saved by letting them handle the process of choosing a tenant, marketing, and other duties will definitely offset the cost. Here is a breakdown of why it might be advantageous for you to hire a rental agent:

  1. Choosing a tenant. A rental agent can handle the entire process of finding and choosing a tenant for your vacant properties – a process that is a hassle for many landlords. Because most experienced agents already have a procedure established, the risk of renting to an unqualified tenant is low, thereby reducing the hassle of eviction later down the road. This can also help with reducing late payments, damage to property, etc.
  2. Property management. A rental agent can also take care of everyday management of the property, including small repairs, renter questions, and any conflicts that might arise.
  3. Marketing. Listing ads, using social media like Facebook, or creating a website are all some of the tasks that a rental agent can do to market your properties.
  4. Collection. For landlords who live out of the state from their rental properties, having a rental agent who can collect rent is an invaluable benefit. The agent can coordinate with the renter to collect the rent – usually either in person or in the tenant’s mailbox. The rental agent can then deposit the income directly into whatever account the landlord has set up for this purpose.
  5. Saving time and money. By hiring a rental agent, landlords can focus on other parts of their lives while the agents handle the choosing of tenants, marketing of the business and vacant properties, rent collection, and minor property management issues. For those landlords who do not live locally, a rental agent is an important and effective solution.
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Welcome to Houserie!

HouserieLogoRenting properties can be a daunting task for both tenants and landlords. Houserie.com hopes to remove some of the difficulty by providing the safest, most secure way to obtain tenant background checks.  By verifying both the identity of the landlord as well as ensuring that the tenant’s detailed credit information isn’t revealed in its entirety to the landlord, Houserie.com protects tenants’ privacy. At the same time, by running a thorough background, criminal, and eviction check on tenants and providing a scorecard to landlords, Houserie.com gives landlords the peace of mind, knowing that they are renting out their apartment to a reliable individual who will likely be a good tenant based on his/her history.

Background checks aren’t necessarily the only things on landlords’ and tenants’ minds when entering into this relationship. There are a multitude of other concerns for both parties, including whether pets are allowed, whether a rental agent should be used, and effective communication between the two parties to avoid future issues. We hope to address these areas and more in our blogs!

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