The weather is warm; the kids are out of school – it’s moving season! Summer tends to be pretty active for landlords, with old tenants leaving and new leases being inked. Heading into the heat, here are a few tips for landlords to keep in mind so they can avoid getting burned.
- Self-Help only Hurts. When landlords find their tenants in default, they sometimes decide to take matters into their own hands to “encourage” the tenant to move out, instead of following the statutory rules for removing them. They do things like changing locks or shutting off water and power to the property in order to provide a little more incentive for their scofflaw tenants to leave. Rookie mistake! The statutes set out specific steps that a landlord must follow to address a tenant’s default, and they provide stiff penalties for landlords who ignore those steps and resort to self-help instead.
- Dot the I’s; Cross the T’s. If a landlord gets to the point of considering legal action against a tenant, they should consult with an attorney. The statutes provide very specific requirements to take action against a tenant, and those requirements are different depending on why the landlord wants to take action. For instance, one statutory notice is required if a tenant is late on rent, and a different notice is required if they are violating non-monetary lease provisions. The statutory rules aren’t all that complicated, but judges do demand strict compliance with them – otherwise a landlord can turn a solid case against a tenant into a solid case in the tenant’s favor.
- Lights, Camera, Action! When your tenant has moved out and you find your rental property in deplorable condition, you may think that you’ve got a dead-bang case against the tenant for damages, or at least to keep their security deposit. But the condition of a rental when a tenant moves out is only one half of the equation – a landlord will also need to be able to prove to a judge what the condition of the property was when then tenant moved in. After all, if the tenant received the property in terrible condition, and returns it in the same condition, they are not responsible. Virtually every landlord carries a little video recorder in their pocket every day (think: iPhone), and they should use it! A 10-minute video showing the condition of property before a tenant moves in and after they moved out is very compelling evidence to present to a judge, should it ever be necessary. It costs the landlord nothing but a few minutes of time.
- How Secure is that Deposit? A vital statutory notice that landlords are required to provide deals with a tenant’s security deposit – if that notice isn’t provided the right way, and in the right timeframe, a landlord loses the right to keep any portion of a security deposit. Worse, they may subject themselves to a lawsuit from the tenant to have the deposit returned. If you are considering retaining some portion of a deposit, you need to ensure that the items that you seek to deduct money for are proper under the law (for instance, you don’t get to deduct any amount for normal wear and tear). You also need to be sure that the statutory notice to your tenant is sent on time, and in the right way.
- One Man’s Trash… Your tenant has moved out, but they’ve left your property chock-full of crummy furniture, dirty dishes, broken appliances, and old clothes. You can just send that stuff to the dump, right? Unfortunately, the legal answer is “nope.” The statutes allow residential landlords to haul all of that junk to the property line (where it will eventually be picked up and taken to the dump, after it has been picked over by local drive-by vultures). If a landlord follows that statute, they have no liability to the tenant. If they take other action, that statutory protection does not exist.
- Are you in Good Hands? A rental property is a pretty big investment, and most landlords are smart enough to protect that investment with insurance. Does your insurance cover everything that it needs to? Most policies will cover casualty damage to the property, and will cover any claims for personal injury that occurs on the property. Some policies will also cover the landlord’s personal property within the residence, late rental payments by tenants, or damage done by tenants. For a landlord, ensuring that you have insurance in place is a must. But just as important is ensuring that your policy covers what you think it covers – talk to your insurance agent to make sure that you are receiving the coverage that you expect, and if your current policy doesn’t cover everything that you want it to ask your agent to find a policy that does.
As always, if you have any questions involving landlord/tenant issues or rental properties, please contact your local real estate attorney for advice.
Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC
Article Authored by Andrew Conaboy, Esq.,email@example.com
This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.
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