What Should Every Landlord Know
At the WWKC Law Blog, we like to discuss issues that concern our clients directly, and in today’s economy, new landlords are on the rise. Today approximately thirty-five percent (35%) of Americans are currently renting the home/apartment they reside in. To respond to this demanding number of American renters, more and more people are considering becoming landlords. There are several basic questions that need to be addressed before becoming a landlord concerning finances, property, and tenants.
Q: What is the most effective way to find tenants to rent your property?
A: Finding tenants to rent out your property is probably one of the most important tasks in your job as a landlord. You need reliable tenants in your property as fast as possible so that you can start generating cash flow from your property. In these days, listing rental properties on the internet has become part of the norm. This allows a vast number of people spread across the world to view your property; this is much more effective than word of mouth. You can post your property as well as the features, location and asking price each month on sites such as www.craigslist.com, www.zillow.com, www.move.com, or even social networks such as facebook.com.
With these advertisements it is very important that you do not violate the Fair Housing Laws. You cannot focus on the type of tenant that you want to rent your property, but rather the focus on the property itself. As a reference, you can go to Ohio’s Development Services Agency (Office of Housing and Community Partnerships) website.
Q: How can I screen a perspective tenant legally?
A: It is important to remember that you should not discriminate against potential renters that are interested in your property. You should not suggest to one potential renter to fill out an application for the property and neglect to suggest it to another potential renter. It is suggested that you, as a landlord, put in writing all of your rental rules so that you are able to prove your prospective tenants are all being treated equally.
An example of a legal way to go about screening a tenant: If you establish a rule that there are no dogs weighing in excess of 20 pounds permitted in the rental unit, you are permitted to ask the prospective tenant if he/she has a dog weighing over 20 pounds. If the tenant does have a dog weighing over 20 pounds you may reject their application and you may not allow them to rent your property.
Q: What are important questions to ask a prospective tenant?
A: The appropriate way to ask for the following information is to put all questions in writing on an application. Questions on the application should consist of the following:
- Tenants full legal name, address, and phone number
- Tenants name and phone number(s) of previous landlords, and the length of time the tenant resided in the properties
- The name, phone number, address of the tenants employer
- The length of time the tenant has been employed under the current employer
- Professional and personal references
- Tenants social security number
- Monthly income of the tenant
- Authorization to consent for a background and credit check
In addition, to prove that basic information provided by the prospective tenant is accurate, you should ask for a photo ID such as a driver’s license. To verify employment information, a good way to check the accuracy is to ask the prospective tenant to provide a pay stub. The pay stub will show the name of the company, address, telephone number, and amount paid year to date by the employer and may also provide a social security number as well.
Q: Do I need to use a written lease when renting out my property?
A: YES, YES and YES! Without a written lease agreement many legal issues can rise and there is no way to prove that a tenant violated specific rules to a judge. Some courts will not recognize a lease’s existence without a physical written document. It is advised to consult with an attorney when drafting a lease agreement.
Q: What is a move-in inspection?
A: A move-in inspection is where you, the landlord, go through the unit prior to the arrival of your tenant. Document (be very detailed) the condition of the unit from the floors, walls, light fixtures, appliances etc. Have the new tenant sign this document so that you are both aware of the condition of the rental upon the tenants move-in. You could also take pictures of the unit before the tenant moves in, and in case a dispute about the condition of the unit arises, you have proof of the condition.
Q: Can I evict a tenant for something other than nonpayment of rent?
A: Yes, you may evict a tenant for violating one of the other rules listed in your lease agreement. It is important to give your tenant written notice of the violation and give them a chance to comply. Also, include in your notice that failure to comply may result in eviction. Keep a copy of all written correspondence between you and the tenant so that you are able to demonstrate to the court that you properly notified your tenant of the problem. Verbally warning the tenant will not be sufficient when appearing before the court.
Q: What federal and state laws must I know as a landlord?
A: Familiarizing yourself with federal and state laws are absolutely required when becoming a landlord. Federal laws such as Federal Fair Housing and the Civil Rights Act include criminal and civil penalties; these will provide a landlord with an understanding of what not to do as a landlord. Another important act for landlords to familiarize themselves with is The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 which makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against potential renters.
State laws concerning landlords and tenants vary on a state by state basis. These laws are set in place to control the relationship between a tenant and a landlord, and
places responsibilities on BOTH parties, not just the landlord. For reference to state laws concerning Ohio landlords and tenants you can view Chapter 5321.01- 5321.19 of the Ohio Revised Code http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/5321.
Q: Are there local municipality laws and health codes that I need to know as a landlord?
A: Regarding municipality laws, some municipalities do not have existing laws while others have extensive ordinances. It is important to familiarize yourself with your local laws. Your city/county may have a website available to demonstrate the existing laws in your area.
Health codes have been enacted in many jurisdictions nationwide and they can be enacted by your local, county and state governments.
Example: For landlord/tenant municipality laws and health codes for Summit County specifically are located at http://www.fairhousingakron.org/Tenantresource.htm.
Q: How does a landlord legally evict a tenant?
A: First, it is important to understand the process of eviction is a legal process, it is important to contact an attorney before evicting a tenant, and counties laws on eviction may vary. You should first ask the tenant to leave the premises with their personal belongings voluntarily. If the tenant refuses then seek a court order to force the tenant to leave. After the eviction has been served on the tenant, if they still refuse to leave by the time allotted to them, the court will use officers of the court to remove them. Some counties (such as Portage County) provide residence with information regarding the necessary steps to follow when evicting a tenant.
Example: Portage County provides Eviction Procedure Information at http://www.co.portage.oh.us/clerk_pdfs/Eviction%20packet.pdf.
Peter C. Kratcoski, Esq.
Riley Martin, Researcher