Help us find good tenants
May 7, 2009 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Mrs Baggers and I are now landlords, and we are looking for new tenants. What resources would you recommend to help us pick good tenants?

Mrs Baggers and I bought a 2-family house near Boston last year, which came with a tenant in the ground floor flat. But her lease is nearly up, and she's moving out. So, we are looking for tenants. What resources can you recommend (associations, groups, etc) that can help us to find good tenants?

What I am most concerned about is the application, credit check process, etc. Any pointers for that?
posted by baggers to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a list of Massachusetts landlord associations. I'm sure one or more of them would be a fantastic place to start networking.
posted by valkyryn at 6:18 PM on May 7, 2009

This is more of an anecdote than a resource, but a friend used to rent out a house which he was quite fond of and wanted to protect from lousy tenants. So his approach was to say that he could only show the house to prospective renters very early on weekend mornings. This weeded out most of the drunks, slackers, and general lowlifes who were just dragging their hungover selves into bed around then.
posted by Quietgal at 6:59 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recieved some advice from a friend's father who did quite well as a landlord and was able to roll it into a very profitable side business.

#1. small children described his job as "he mows lawns" because that's what he did every weekend (not he's a CFO - which is what he does 5 days a week)
#2. If your water heater dies, you can suffer. If your tenant's water heater dies, you can be sued. Fix your tenant's problems first. When there is income in reserve, then fix your problems.
#3. Expense everything - lightbulbs, window blinds and toilet seats.
#4. Consider a rolling 60 day lease as opposed to a 1 year lease. With a rolling lease, if you have bad luck with your first few tenants, you can give them the boot early (after a few late rent payments, or after they throw a loud party every weekend). With a year lease, you are both obligated to abide by it. With a rolling 60 day notice (assumed continuance of terms unless notification is present). Get a First/Last/Security.
#5. expect your appartement to be vacant for up to 3 months between tenants. (hence the 60 day notice from step 4.)
#6. No pets. Even if you yourself have 3 great danes, 4 cats and a turtle.
#7. Always get a credit report. Require a letter of reccomendation. Do not assume that a letter or a credit report is enough. There's a horror story of a law clerk in San Francisco that refuses to pay rent and basically uses the eviction policy to blackmail the prior landlord into writing a reccomendation so that he'll leave. I'm thinking I heard about it on This American Life...
#8. A good tenant pays their rent on time. A bad tenant pays it two days late. A good tenant tells you when the heat is having problems. A bad tenant waits until it dies at 2:00AM on a saturday night during a snow storm.
#9. If your tenant fixes something in their appartment on their own which you will cover the cost of, make sure your tenant always pays the full rent, and then write the tenant a check to compensate their expense. It may seem odd, but it saves you accounting work at the end of the year.
#10. Know your lead status - especially if you rent to a recently married couple.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:00 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

To bring another side to Nanukthedog's advice, as I'm a tenant...

#1-2, definitely good ideas. Tenants like these.
#4: If you're not willing to commit to me for 1 year, I'm not willing to commit to you for 60 days. I want to know my rent will be stable for 365 days, that I'm not just filing "temporary" change of address forms with the post office and that I can actually unpack my boxes. I do not know your motivations behind a 60-day lease, so, as a tenant, I won't consider your property. It may remain vacant longer if more tenants think like me.
#6: Again, much like #4, if you do not allow pets, even just a cat or small dog, no dice. You will find there are a lot of tenants who treasure their furry family members and will not consider your property. Plus, tenants of landlords who do allow pets and are reasonable about them (i.e. don't sock me for a $1,000 "non-refundable deposit" for "cleaning" in a 1BR apartment) will remain fiercely loyal and probably renew a lease for years.
#7: Usually a good idea, but be willing to be flexible about bad credit, or at least ask for an explanation, especially these days.
#8: Absolutely. As a tenant, I pay my rent on the day I get paid, which is the last business day of the month. If you don't have it by the 2nd of the month, assume I'm dead and act accordingly. :)
#10: In my state, a lead paint addendum is required to be given and there's fines if it's not.
posted by fireoyster at 8:58 PM on May 7, 2009

First off: You're asking the right question. Last Landlording thread, I reccomended this book, and I'm just going to mention that it has two chapters on finding decent tennants, and most of the rest of the book involves techniques for keeping the good ones and (legally) getting rid of the bad ones.

Going to disagree with the landlording association reccomendation above - They're a valuable resource, sure, and make sure to get everything you can from them - Particularly any briefings on local laws or similar, but don't expect them to tell you any great tips on how to get reliable tennants - They are comprised of your competition, after all.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:40 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend rents exclusively to students. His only requirement is proof of a 3.0 grade point. He may just be incredibly lucky, but he's never had any problems, after many years.

And I agree wholeheartedly with fireoyster: if you're not willing to give me a year's lease, I'll look elsewhere. And the gratitude of renters with pets can more than make up for problems.
posted by kestralwing at 11:09 PM on May 7, 2009

I rent, and it's always a giant pain in the ass finding someone who will take me with my golden retriever and basset hound, despite the fact that they are 100% non-destructive middle aged dogs.

I think the pet thing should be on a case by case basis, I see a lot of blanket rules that seem silly (i.e. no pets, or no dogs, or pets <2>
I will note that I just recently moved and the pet thing was much less of an issue than it was the last time I moved (in 2007). Might have just been luck, might have been the economy, not sure. People seemed super eager (desperate even) to rent to me this go round compared to last time.

The rolling 60 day lease idea seems hard to believe, I'm surprised anyone would ever go for that.
posted by imabanana at 2:44 AM on May 8, 2009

As a renter, let me add that your flat should be in exactly the condition you want it to be in when the next people move out--before it is rented. The biggest jerk landlords I've had have essentially rented me crap and expected it to be miraculously fixed by the time I moved out, without compensation or conversation.

Try to match your tenants to your neighborhood. If you live in a quiet area, odds are aspiring rock stars aren't the right fit, or vice versa.
posted by maxwelton at 4:07 AM on May 8, 2009

There's a lot of derail here (much of which is very bad advice-- 60 day leases?).

Anyway, you specified you are interested the application and credit check process-- in order to get reliable tenants.

I've been a landlord for 5+ years and I have never run a credit check. What I do, however, is call PERSONAL and EMPLOYMENT references in addition of course to PREVIOUS LANDLORDs.

To be honest, I have never felt like a credit report would be super helpful, since if they didn't pay rent it wouldn't necessarily be reported to the credit bureau. Of course it would weed out the really unreliable folks but that's easy enough to do by calling previous landlords and employers.

So far we've had outstanding tenants. I do think the personal references are super helpful.
posted by miss tea at 4:41 AM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Coupla observations as a lifelong renter:

#4. Consider a rolling 60 day lease as opposed to a 1 year lease.

I would actually save this for prospective tenants who already show some red flags during screening. As someone who has rented for almost 20 years, no evictions, no drama, I would probably not agree to this under most circumstances.

#6. No pets. Even if you yourself have 3 great danes, 4 cats and a turtle.

This is a tough call, so be careful. You obviously want to minimize potential damage to your property. On the other hand, landlords lose more good prospects because of 'No Pets' rules then they probably realize. Trust me.:)

If I see a blanket 'No Pets' rule in an ad, I will not even contact the person to discuss it. Even if the property is perfect.

If you're not thrilled with pets, consider treating them on a species-by species or breed-by-breed basis, and also consider the nature/location of the property. For instance, a Husky and a 2-bedroom flat in the city are probably not a good match. A couple of neutered, housebroken cats would likely be fine. Of course, a lot depends on the pet owner as well, especially with dogs.

As far as deposits go, I will not pay a non-refundable pet deposit, nor will I pay extra monthly rent for my pets. No exceptions. I would consider a refundable deposit, within reason. A thousand bucks? Get lost. A couple hundred? Maybe.

#7. Always get a credit report. Require a letter of reccomendation. Do not assume that a letter or a credit report is enough.

Credit reports are good for finding out about judgments, liens, etc.--things that may or may not come back and bite you later on. But don't read too much into it. It may be that that they have had credit trouble in the past, but faithfully pay their rent off the top every month as their first priority.

If I'm having money problems, rent comes first. Utilities next. Groceries after that. And then I'd worry about the credit cards.

Verifying employment and income would probably be much more valuable then a credit score or report. Also, having a conversation with the person's previous landlord would be worth it's weight in gold.

One thing my current landlord did--when we contacted him about the property, he came and visited us *at our current home* to do the application. Said he did that for his initial contact with all prospective tenants, so that he could see for himself how they live currently, and get an idea about how they would treat his property. Good idea, I thought.
posted by spirit72 at 6:11 AM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

A note on my #4 and philosophy behind it - as it seems a concern for many. The rolling 60 day, which my mentor did on all his properties, are rarely vacant. If you went with this, you should state it at the time of viewing the appartment, not in an advertisement for it, nor only at the lease signing.
From my mentor's experience, tenants stay in them for more than one year, and generally more than three or four. That means the potential 3-month empty cycle is distributed out over 3 years worth of income as opposed to a 13 month rental cycle (1 year + 1 month to fix damages between tentant changes). He does not rent slums. The goal from a rolling 60 day should make a bad tenant nervous, as it effectively allows a landlord to dump them much sooner and with a lot less court hassle. For a good tenant, they should know that it affords them greater flexibility in their end date, so they can reasonably look to purchase a first home at the 3 year mark without worrying about closing the house deal at the end of their lease.

This is effectively a contracted 'at will' status - meaning the tenant is protected in their ability to move, and the landlord is protected in the eviction process should things go south of kosher quickly. The goal is effectively to keep the appartment always filled and rent always paid. Particularly in Massachussetts, Tentants have many many legal rights - some of which can be easily abused. By paying effectively the initial deposit, and a minimal percentage of an additional month's rent periodically (15% comes to mind) - it is possible to stave off eviction for well over half a year. Yes, the tenant screws their credit score in the process (though a truly evil tenant could find a way to negotiate out of that even).

A rolling 60-day contract means that tenant doesn't resign at the 60 day mark, but that when they say "Hey, this isn't working out, this is my 60 days notice." They can leave without a hassle. That means:
A. less chance of unexpected subletting by a tenant; in MA, summer sublets are prevelant - and you can wind up with a very unexpected new tennant
B. Your tenant who is hopefully upwardly mobile, leaves after 25 months instead of 2 years. You have 60 days of notificication and are able to find both a new tenant and schedule your maintenance.
C. Your tenant who looses his job and has to move can easily bow out of his lease instead of stay and struggle or risk eviction.

Understand: effectively you'll almost always get the full year. What you also get though is a lower stress transition to the next tenant.

6. No pets. We have a husky and a german shepherd and have an infant in an appartment. My wife stays at home, and I have a good regular paying job. I would never rent to myself. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that
We try to be responsible pet owners (as we have always tried to be); however, for prior landlords I have replaced decking, lattice work, kitchen subfloors and have cleaned up dog vomit and incontinance (he was sick). I would consider my pets to be 98% of the time good pets. Even with a responsible tenant, pets increase the liability on the property. Additional anecdotal: Old neighbors of mine once had a neighbor that had a dog. The dog jumped their 6' fence while still being on a line. The dog hung himself on the fence. They sued the property owner and wound up settling out of court for a supprising chunk of money as ridiculous as it sounds, and yes it was simply "my dog killed himself on your property."

#7. I should have included "Verify employment." It is good to hear some people say "If I have money problems, rent comes first"; however, this is not the case with every tenant - hence the #4.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:26 AM on May 8, 2009

Ah lead paint and kids. (I missed something).
If the couple renting your appartment is in their late 20s/early-mid 30s and they are taking steps to settle down, if your appartment isn't de-leaded already, you may have to have it de-leaded for them.

As such, if your appartment is not de-leaded, and you don't have a ten grand or so on hand to go through the process, this should affect the "desireability" of the prosepective tenant.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:32 AM on May 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, all. My concerns are not so much on finding the tenants as on judging the applicants and avoiding deadbeats, etc. As to the other questions:

- we allow pets, but insist on meeting the dogs before we accept an applicants.
- We are doing a 1-year lease. I take some poster's points about the 60-day option, but I'd rather get someone who is comitted to a place for at least a year.
posted by baggers at 12:31 PM on May 9, 2009

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