Does Your Landlord Website Help or Hurt Your Business?

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More and more landlords have been staking out their own corner of the Web by launching a landlord website. If you're one of these landlords, or if you've been considering launching a landlord website, you already know that it can be a useful tool to promote your business, communicate with tenants, and draw prospective tenants to your property.

You should also know that running a website comes with risks -- especially when it's used in connection with a business. If you don't put much thought into the features you include or the text you write, your landlord website might not be helpful. Worse, a quickly or poorly constructed website may even harm your business.

Build an effective website, and avoid problems, by following these tips.

Use Photos to Market Your Property

Written descriptions of your property and its amenities are a key component of any landlord website. But, to be effective, your website should also include photos. The combination of text and photos will improve your website's look and feel, and it will help attract potential tenants by allowing them to see what the property looks like.

Here are some pointers for adding photos to your landlord website.

Use a wide range of quality photos . Take photos of scenes that you believe will give prospects reason to want to live at your property. For example, include a photo to show off your spacious lobby or the fact that you have a doorman posted in the foyer. Include indoor shots, such as photos of your fitness center, library, or business center, and outdoor shots, such as photos of your courtyard or garden in the sun or snow. Finally, add captions to your photos to let prospects know what they're viewing.

Portray your property in a positive, accurate light. Your photos should present an accurate, current depiction of your property. If you include a photo of your playground but then remove your playground from your property, promptly remove that photo from your website. Don't use photo-editing software to modify your property's appearance. For example, if a walkway on your property contains several cracks in the pavement, don't remove the cracks from the photo. Finally, stay away from stock photos, which may cause confusion and mislead prospects as to what your property looks like and exactly what facilities it offers.

Show your diversity. When including photos of tenants enjoying your property, choose ones that depict your property's diversity. Photos that show people from different racial or ethnic backgrounds send a message that you welcome all prospects to your property and don't discriminate.

Use Text That Promotes Your Property But Doesn't Discriminate

Sometimes, what you don't say is as important as what you do say. When writing text for your website, avoid language that could be construed as discriminatory. Do make your commitment to fair housing clear.

Don't Describe Your Ideal Tenants

It's not a good idea to suggest the type of people you think would be best suited to live at your property. Avoid phrases such as "ideal for" or "perfect for" that could be interpreted as showing a preference for a certain group of people.

Example #1:Your property is located next to a very popular church, so you think that prospects of that church's denomination might like to rent from you. Proximity to a landmark or popular locale is certainly a draw, and you shouldn't hesitate to mention it on your website. But don't include statements such as "Perfect for churchgoers," which may imply that you illegally give preference to certain applicants because of their religion.
Example #2: You only offer one-bedroom apartments at your property, which is located down the block from several popular nightspots. Point out how close your property is to excellent nightlife, but don't say "Ideal for young couples." This type of statement implies that families with children (a protected class under federal law) may be less welcome at your property than young couples.

Don't Give Specifics on Apartment Availability

It's fine to indicate on your website that you have apartments available (and even add that they won't stay available for long). But getting specific about the number or types of vacancies isn't just unnecessary, it's also unwise. If you get specific and don't update your figures each time they change, you're asking for trouble.

Example: A family with children asks about the two-bedroom apartment they read was available on your website. You tell them it's no longer available and you just haven't had the chance to update the site (and then promptly do so). A month later, the family notices your website again indicates that a two-bedroom apartment is available but when the family calls to inquire, you must admit the same error again. The disappointed and angry family wonders whether you just don't want children living at your property, and they file a fair housing complaint.

Make Your Commitment to Fair Housing Known

In the past, HUD regulations required landlords to include the fair housing logo and a statement of nondiscrimination in their marketing materials. Although these regulations are no longer in force, including both the logo and a nondiscrimination statement on your website is still highly advisable. It's a proactive way to show prospects, tenants, and HUD that you take fair housing laws seriously.

To download the fair housing logo, visit HUD's website at www.hud.gov (click "Program Offices," "Fair Housing/Equal Opportunity," "Library," then "Equal Housing Opportunity Logo").

You may copy HUD's suggested nondiscrimination statement or use it as a model for your own. Here is the text of HUD's statement: "We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. We encourage and support an affirmative advertising and marketing program in which there are no barriers to obtaining housing because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin."

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