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December 14, 2012 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Asking for my parents: What advice to you have for first time landlords, especially with regard to the rental agreement? Details inside.

My parents moved into their retirement home in Vermont a few years back. The property has a nice little cottage on it, separated from the main house. It was in bad shape when they moved in, but they’ve invested a lot of time and money into transforming it into a very comfortable single-person home/apartment. Today, after very little time on the market, my mother gave me the good news that they have a great potential tenant lined up who wants to move in ASAP.

To my surprise, they do not seem to have any paperwork ready at all in preparation for the new tenant moving in. When I asked my mother about it, she indicated she would simply “look up a template on the computer” and “work from that.”

Now, my parents are smart folks, and I’d like to trust that they will cover themselves appropriately in their rental agreement. But bless them, they are also extremely trusting of people, at times to a fault. They already seem to have taken a liking to the potential tenant, and I am afraid that this is going to lead to them glossing over the nitty-gritty of prepping the rental agreement, leaving themselves open to legal problems in the case that things don’t work out.

I’d really like to provide them with useful advice on the matter, but I know absolutely nothing about renting out property or drafting rental agreements. (Unfortunately, I don’t my initial reaction of “OMGfortheloveofchrist make sure you protect yourself before signing anything!” is really going to help them.)

YANMPL, but do you have any advice or information that can serve as a starting point for them? In case it’s also relevant, they currently rent another property in a different state, which is managed by a professional rental company. This will be their first experience as landlords with an on-property tenant, however.

Many thanks in advance for your time and help. Mods, if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep this anonymous because I may send this AskMe link to my parents and I don’t want them reading my other posts.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My first suggestion is that your parents should look up landlord/tenant regulations on her state attorney general's website--there will probably be a downloadable booklet that she can save for reference.

My second is to check her specific county's website for additional regulations, as they can vary somewhat within a state. (for example, that's how I discovered that my county of residence requires me to have my rental property in this county inspected at my expense, and that I need to pay an annual fee for a renter's license. This is true where I live, but not true everywhere where I own a rental property).

She should also look for location-specific tenant's rights organizations, which can be a wealth of information on what she as a landlord is responsible for.

Boilerplate leases are fine, they're easy to find state-specific ones that cover any quirky bases.

There are companies who do background checks for landlords. The company I use (in Minnesota) charges anywhere from $25-60 for a variety of different checks ranging from credit check, eviction history, criminal records check. Your parents should do this, and they can charge the applicant for the service (I'm guessing this isn't any different where they live).
posted by padraigin at 2:58 PM on December 14, 2012

Boilerplate state leases are the most defensible leases, for the most part.

But god, yes, background check the daylights out of prospective tenants. I'm not exactly sure how or why one didn't get done on my most recent tenant, but it sure would have saved me a lot of misery.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:18 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

As the tenant of a first-time landlord:

-Take some time to reflect on the difference between a tenant and a house-sitter, and similarly the difference between your "home" and your "income property."

-Meet with a lawyer and make sure you understand your local landlord-tenant laws.

-It's fine to use a lease of the internet, but please read it and make sure it actually says what you mean. If there are references to things that would clearly only apply to a large apartment building (or something), take those out. Make sure the lease doesn't say "No boats." if you've advertised "waterfront property with boat launch!" Or something like that.

-Put EVERYTHING you care about in the lease or an addendum. If there's some kind of maintenance or upkeep or specific use of specific spaces you want done, WRITE IT DOWN. Don't assume the tenant agrees with you that, for instance, no object should be placed in the driveway other than your car or your feet while walking to your door. As a corollary to this, make sure you know what demands the law allows you to make of your tenants.

-Respect their privacy. Unless they're actually violating the lease, you really can't tell them how to live their lives.
posted by juliapangolin at 3:29 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah be sure to check for specific state and local government rules that apply here. There are often requirements like inspections/permits (as padraigin mentions), but also more mundane rules that require you to provide smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms, a deadbolt and a peephole, locking mailboxes, etc...
posted by zachlipton at 3:35 PM on December 14, 2012

nthing the above and adding:
- run a credit check and a background check
-request past *landlord* references that you can call
- limit/disallow subleasers
- require tenant carry renter's insurance policy
posted by quince at 3:37 PM on December 14, 2012

Tell them to seek out a landlords' / property owners' association in the area. These are very common in urban and even suburban areas, as well as anywhere there's a college campus; I realize that Vermont is very rural in places and this may not apply. But check. This organization will usually have template leases, etc., as well as resources for property management help and legal help, should those things ever be necessary.

They should also speak to a local attorney who practices real estate and/or landlord-tenant law to vet whatever lease agreement they contemplate using. Just get a consultation for a couple hundred bucks; it's totally worth it as a one-off. They should specifically ask him/her about the tenant protection laws in the area so that they make sure to comply with all that stuff - it's just good practice, for one, and it's important to be on the right side of that if something goes wrong later and they need to sue or evict.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:20 PM on December 14, 2012

I think it would be worth paying for an hour or two of a local attorney's time - it shouldn't take long at all for an attorney to draft a lease for them. That and a quick consultation is likely to be all they need (the attorney can advise them more specifically), and is a much better idea that modifying something from the internet.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:20 PM on December 14, 2012

They should definitely consult with an attorney to get some advice.

I was just court this week evicting someone and in the case prior to ours the judge threw it out because the landlord's mailed eviction notice did not include an extra 3 day for mailing. If he'd posted the notice to the door (securely at eye level!) his notice wouldn't have needed the extra three days and the tenants would have been out. Now, he's got to re-notice them and wait another 30+ days.
posted by vespabelle at 5:41 PM on December 14, 2012

See a local lawyer who specializes in real estate. Find someone who specializes in evictions in your exact jurisdiction. This is important because landlord/tenant law is hyper local For example, I manage properties in Syracuse, but in the next town over the specific laws and eviction procedures are very different. Most attorneys will have a rental agreement they recommend or can look over yours.

I am a property manager and have rented 100s of properties. Tenants can start out great and they turn out not so great or downright scary bad. Even people who seem super nice and are people you think are really fun and interesting and would like to be your friend.

So the same way that I don't think I will have a fire in my house but I still have smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher, I make sure that I am protected by knowing the law as well as possible, having a good lawyer and a strong rental agreement.

Going to the local landlord/investor association is a great idea too.
posted by Melsky at 6:49 AM on December 15, 2012

I used to be a landlord; 2 family house where I lived in 1 unit. IANAL The most important meeting is the 1st one, where you are clear about your rules - Rent is due on the __ of the month, period, no exceptions, and here is the fine if you are late. Parking, noise, # of people who can live there, pets, are all topics to cover. Here is a previous post on this topic.

Renting in Vermont Information Handbook for Tenants & Landlords
Sample Lease Agreement

Get & check the references of potential tenants. Take pictures of the the unit before rental. Don't be too trusting, but once you have tenants, be cordial and businesslike. Keep good records, as some tenants will pay erratically, and firmly believe they paid more than they did. Good tenants may become friends, which is nice, but it's not the primary goal of the rental.
posted by theora55 at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2012

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