Top Ten Tips for Landlords

Simple suggestions to help your landlord or property management business run smoothly.

As a landlord, it can be difficult to manage all the different aspects of renting an apartment or a house. Here are the top ten things you can do to ensure your relationships with tenants remain on good terms.

1. Screen tenants.

Don't rent to anyone before checking credit history, references, and background. Haphazard screening and tenant selection too often result in problems, such as a tenant who pays the rent late or not at all, trashes your place, or lets undesirable friends move in. Use a written rental application to properly screen your tenants. For more information, see How to Screen and Select Tenants FAQ.

2. Get it in writing.

Be sure to use a written lease or month-to-month rental agreement to document the important facts of your relationship with your tenants—including the basics about rent payment and tenant responsibilities, as well as when and how you handle tenant complaints and repair problems, how much notice you must give to enter a tenant's apartment, and so forth. For what to include in a lease or rental agreement, see Ten Terms To Include in Your Lease or Rental Agreement. Not sure which to use? See Leases and Rental Agreements FAQ.

3. Handle security deposits properly.

Establish a fair system of setting, collecting, holding, and returning the amounts tenants pay up front as a security deposit. Inspect and document the condition of the rental unit before the tenant moves in, to avoid disputes over security deposits when the tenant moves out. Check our your state's law to ensure you are handling security deposits correctly.

4. Make necessary repairs.

Stay on top of maintenance and repair needs and make repairs when requested. If the property is not kept in good repair, you'll alienate good tenants, and they may be legally entitled to the withhold rent, repair the problem and deduct the cost from the rent, sue for injuries caused by defective conditions, and/or move out without giving notice. For more information, see Repairs, Maintenance, and Entry to Rented Premises.

5. Provide secure premises.

Don't let your tenants and property become easy marks for a criminal. Assess your property's security and take reasonable steps to protect it. Often the best measures, such as proper lights and trimmed landscaping, are not terribly expensive. For more information, see Criminal Acts and Activities: Landlord Liability FAQ.

6. Provide notice before entering a unit.

Learn about your tenants' rights to privacy; see Repairs, Maintenance, and Entry to Rented Premises. Notify your tenants whenever you plan to enter their rental unit, and provide as much notice as possible, at least 24 hours or the minimum amount required by state law. For state-by-state information, see Chart: State Laws on Landlord's Access to Rental Property.

7. Disclose environmental hazards.

If there's a hazard such as lead or mold on the property, tell your tenants, either before they move in or as soon as you become aware of the problem. Landlords are increasingly being held liable for tenant health problems resulting from exposure to environmental toxins in the rental premises. See Lead Disclosures for Rental Property FAQ. Check your state law for other landlord disclosures.

8. Oversee property managers.

Choose and supervise your property manager carefully. If a manager commits a crime or is incompetent, you may be held financially responsible. Do a thorough background check and clearly spell out the manager's duties so as to help prevent problems down the road.

9. Obtain insurance.

Purchase enough liability and other property insurance. A well-designed insurance program can protect you from lawsuits by tenants for injuries or discrimination and from losses to your rental property caused by everything from fire and storms to burglary and vandalism. For more information, see Tenant Injuries: Landlord Liability and Insurance FAQ.

10. Resolve disputes.

Try to resolve disputes with your tenants without lawyers and lawsuits. If you have a conflict with a tenant over rent, deposits, repairs, your access to the rental unit, noise, or some other issue that doesn't immediately warrant an eviction, meet with the tenant to see if the problem can be resolved informally.

If that doesn't work, consider mediation by a neutral third party, often available at little or no cost from a publicly funded program.

If your dispute involves money, and all attempts to reach agreement fail, try small claims court, where you can represent yourself. Small claims court is good for collecting unpaid rent or seeking money for property damage after a tenant moves out and the security deposit is exhausted. For more information, consider talking with a landlord-tenant attorney and check your state rules on handling security deposit disputes in small claims court.

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