Finding residents for your property is only one task among many faced by a landlord or property manager. You’ll also need to ensure that your management practices fit with local laws, which are typically in flux. Ignorance won’t gain any sympathy for your case if you happen to face legal ramifications from complaints lodged by your residents.
Fair housing practices
Originally passed in 1968, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to give any kind of discriminating treatment “based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap” to individuals either renting or buying housing.
Make sure that all of your property-showing practices and advertising, as well as renter acceptance or rejection policies, are in accordance with this act. If you have certain required criteria for approval — such as preferring prospective residents to show twice the amount of rent in their checking account — make sure you can show that you’ve enforced this requirement across the board for all your properties, if necessary. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep records of why you reject residents as well as those you approve so that you can justify your decisions in writing, should a rejected resident take legal action against you.
Long a hot-button issue, rent control is an ever-evolving topic. Rent-controlled areas are limited by how much the rent can be raised and when, usually based on cost of living increases, with capital improvements factored in. Check with your local government to see whether you are subject to rent control or stabilization laws for your rental property.
In some areas of the country, landlords have a ceiling on what they can charge residents for utilities, such as electricity and water. If utility costs are itemized in your resident’s rent, it might be time to consider having them pay their own utilities directly to service providers, if this is technically feasible. Consider, as well, whether you might realistically be able to outright cover the costs of utilities for residents by raising rents.
Charging a special fee for use of amenities such as a pool, gym or grilling area is illegal in some states. In these instances, landlords are allowed to charge first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit and perhaps a key installation fee. If your local jurisdiction disallows an amenity fee, be sure you are rolling costs you want to recoup into the monthly rent. Accept, too, that in hot rental markets, offering amenities is the cost of doing business, necessary expenses to beat out the competition for desirable residents.
It can be challenging just keeping your rental properties well-maintained and rented, but don’t forget about your obligation to keep up with local laws. A little time spent regularly consulting with an attorney or trusted legal resource might save money and time down the line!