Renting out your property sounded great at first.
All the headlines said rents were on the rise and inventory was scarce. There were a dozen applicants for every rental in some places. A quick online ad and a blank lease, and you figured you were set.
You were until a tenant asked about a security deposit, called the cops when you showed up unannounced to inspect the property, and threatened to sue you for discrimination. Being a landlord is a lot of work, and there’s a lot you don’t know. To keep yourself out of small claims court and make sure you have great (and paying) tenants, take a look at the four most common things that get landlords in trouble.
Not Following Fair Housing Laws
The federal Fair Housing laws are pretty clear. You cannot discriminate against a potential tenant on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status, and physical or mental disability (including alcoholism and past drug addiction). You may already know that, but did you know that discrimination can be more than refusing to rent to someone? Asking questions about when a couple will have children, what church a tenant goes to, and what country they’re from can all potentially be considered violations of the Fair Housing laws.
When you question tenants, only two considerations truly matter. Can they pay their rent and where and how will you find them if they don’t? You have to be careful about the questions you ask that don’t determine either. You also need to remember that whatever questions you ask of one potential tenant, you need to ask of all of them, in order to avoid the perception of discrimination.
Violating the Rights of Your Tenants
The on-going argument of who has more rights – landlords or tenants – will likely never be solved with each side thinking they have less. Regardless of how you feel about the amount of rights a tenant has in the state of Florida, you must know them and abide by them. This includes giving 12 hours’ notice before coming to the property, explaining why you’re coming, and only showing up for specific reasons while notifying the tenants ahead of time.
Any violation of a tenant’s rights could be seen as a violation of the lease. In doing so, you may lose the steady rent of the tenant, the security deposit, and any legal recourse you may have had in your lease. Before you rent, you need to know what you can and can’t do on the property.
Misunderstanding Security Deposits
Nothing is more fraught with angst than security deposits. Tenants want to know when they’ll receive it back, and landlords want to know if you have to give it back. Some landlords don’t understand what they can use a deposit for, either. It all adds up to a big mess for everyone, and sometimes, you wind up in small claims court.
A security deposit is to be used for wear and tear on the property, cleaning the property, and any unpaid rent. If there’s any amount leftover after that, it goes back to the tenant. In Florida, you have a month after the tenant moves to send their security deposit back to them, and you need to be able to show how any portion was spent. What you can’t do is use the security deposit for upgrades, remodels, and any cosmetic changes. Refusing to return the security deposit or taking your time in getting it back to them are not allowed either.
Not Fixing Major Problems
As a landlord it’s your responsibility to maintain the property to meet, at minimum, basic health and safety standards. Your property must be liveable for your tenants. You should also want it to be in good condition so you can continue to ask fair market rent and attract high quality tenants. Keeping a property in good shape isn’t just a legal requirement, it makes good business sense.
Some landlords don’t realize their legal obligation and either ignore tenant reports of problems or delay fixing them. You are required to make important repairs for things like burst pipes or broken heaters in the winter to broken down air conditioners in the summer and everything in between. You also have to deal with environmental hazards that can make the property uninhabitable like mold.
Landlords must also respond when your property becomes a target for or is surrounded by crime. In some cases, tenants who’ve had their home broken into multiple times with no response by the landlord have been awarded damages by the courts to be paid by the landlord. While you’re required to do it for the tenant, remember, you’re also protecting a huge financial asset that you want to continue creating an income for you.
Does it seem a little overwhelming? You might have thought renting your property was as easy as putting out a “For Rent” sign and buying a blank lease from an office supply store. There’s much more to it than that. When you become a landlord, you must follow the law to the letter and do what’s right for your tenants and your property. Managing property can be a full time job, and if you’re unprepared, you can end up in court because you were unaware of a single change in landlord/tenant law.
You don’t have to give up on the dream of renting properties and creating a second income through real estate. What you need is a property management company who understands Florida and federal law, will protect your investment, find the best possible tenants, and always work to keep you and your property in compliance. You need ERA American Real Estate.