Every landlord knows, renters often need a lot of information before they sign the dotted line.
Just when you think you’ve heard every question out there a renter will come up with a new one. Can I install a solarium? Do you allow pot-bellied pigs? Do you mean, I’M responsible for cleaning the oven? Most building-managers have heard it all. While you can’t anticipate every question, there are many you can. Here are the 12 basic renter questions every landlord should be prepared to answer.
Whenever you show space to a potential renter, you need to help them understand the scope and responsibility of being a tenant. Good communication and clarification of renter questions up front helps avoid problems later down the road.
Every landlord knows the best policies are always in writing. This saves you major headaches in the future. When money changes hands and people’s basic needs, like shelter, are on the line, it’s important you do the research and spend time to create strong policies. Always consult with your local laws and familiarize yourself with tenant rights. Some of these rules may seem overreaching but they’re there to protect both your rights and the rights of renters.
Smart landlords see the merits of reviewing their rental contracts with a lawyer before they put it in front of a potential renter. This can protect you from larger concerns in the future and ensure you’re obeying fair housing laws and other guidelines.
Generally speaking, there are some standard renter questions every landlord should be prepared to answer during the rental process.
1. What is the rent, deposit, and are there any additional fees? Is there a credit check?
Many times, renters want to verify that the advertised price of the apartment matches the expected monthly rental fee. If your fees change, update every listing and ad for your building to avoid discrepancies. Rental charges should be clearly outlined and easy to follow.
Requesting a rental deposit is common practice but check your state and local laws regarding the refundability of the deposit. In certain states, landlords aren’t allowed to charge a non-refundable deposit. In most case,s you’ll also want to run a credit check on your potential tenant. You may also wish to ask for references and renters should prepare to give you at least three contacts who will vouch for their character.
2. How is payment expected and what’s the due date? Is there a late fee?
It’s good practice to establish a set policy on the rent due date (typically a few days after the first of the month) and to let tenants know the payment process. Tenants may want to set up an EFT with their bank, so rent is automatically deposited right into your account. This is a convenience for both building owner and lessee.
Should you choose to accept payment via check, include a policy (in writing) about your charges for a bounced or returned check. Rent is often one of the highest monthly expenses a tenant faces and unfortunately, sometimes returned checks happen. Establish up front, who is responsible for the fees if they’re incurred. If a tenant falls behind with the rent, what are the consequences?
3. When does the lease start and what’s the duration? What’s your lease termination fee?
Before the handshake and signature on the dotted line, the terms of the lease should be very clear. When is the space available for the tenant to move in? When exactly, do you need the deposit and first month’s rent? What is the duration of your agreement?
Most landlords plan for a yearly lease, but in college towns or popular tourist areas, a three, six or nine-month agreement may serve you both better. It’s tempting to lock good tenants into a contract for at least a year, but students who are leaving for the summer may inevitably break their lease when the school year is up. If you’re looking for ways to attract more tenants, shorter lease agreements may help you boost your occupancy.
4. Is subletting allowed? When the lease is up, will it go month-to-month?
Subletting can seem like a great way to take the pressure off when it comes to keeping a space filled. After all, it’s the tenant’s responsibility to find the new occupant and fill the space, right? Unfortunately, sometimes subletting means you’ll have an unscreened tenant and even face legal issues.
Many landlords choose to allow subletting as long as it’s above-board and all parties are aware of the situation. You may want to run a credit check on the new sublessee and go through the same screening process and requirements for a regular tenant. Allowing tenants to sublet their space is convenient for you both, if you go through proper channels. Similarly, allowing a tenant in good standing to continue to rent on a month-to-month or quarterly basis may help you attract good tenants and keep your building occupied.
5. What is the average cost of utilities? Are any utilities included?
This is one of the easiest renter questions to answer and one most landlords are well-aware of, but it’s a big concern for potential renters. If a lessee is new to apartment living, them may have no idea what to expect when it comes to electricity, water and other building expenses. Having a ballpark figure will help them with planning.
Knowing the average cost of utilities in your building can also help you identify maintenance concerns early-on. Problems with wiring, plumbing, HVAC and other inefficiencies can first show up on a tenant’s monthly utility bill. Urge them to alert you to any sudden spikes in charges or unusual usage. Help tenants save by increasing the energy efficiency of your building as well. Little repairs to cracks, windows, doors, and insulation can decrease your heating charges and help the whole building save.
6. What appliances and furnishings are included in the apartment?
There’s nothing like getting an angry call from a new tenant who didn’t realize there were no laundry hookups in her apartment, or thought the microwave was included in the rental. Be very clear about what furnishings and appliances are included as part of your rental package.
Should you provide furnishings and appliances, it’s also important to note who is responsible for the maintenance and care of these items. Don’t assume a first-time renter knows to clean the lint trap on the dryer regularly. Walk them through the expectations and let them know their responsibilities for repair beyond regular use, wear and tear.
7. Is parking included?
As the owner of a building, the question of parking is always tough. If you’re lucky enough to have a lot included as part of your property, then the parking parameters should be very clear. Does each tenant get access to one space? Are the spaces reserved? Who is responsible for the security of vehicles in the lot?
Similarly, you should have a plan in place for snow and ice removal and clearing the lot if needed. The lot is an extension of your property and you may be liable if someone slips and falls on uncleared, icy pavement. While a parking lot is a great amenity and draw for renters, it also comes with responsibilities and concerns to address.
8. Are guests allowed? Where do visitors park?
The question of guests and particularly, overnight guests, is a sticky one for landlords. Clearly outline the answer to this question in your lease agreement (after reviewing the tenant rights in your state). Building owners may choose to restrict the number of overnight guests allowed, the number of nights guests can stay, or set other parameters.
It’s important to set this rule out ahead of time and look at all sides. Limiting the number of guests a tenant can host will keep the noise down in the building and keep them from disrupting other tenants. At the same time, it’s not reasonable to expect everyone in your building to avoid guests all together (and chances are it will be a tough rule to enforce). After a guest stays for a few weeks or months, they’re essentially living in your building and should sign on as part of the lease. Clearly set rules on where visitors should park and the restrictions on overnight guests. This will go along way to preventing blow ups between neighbors and help you keep tabs on exactly who occupies your building.
9. How are maintenance requests handled?
Another area that calls for clarity is maintenance. When should a tenant call you and how quickly can they expect a response? What maintenance should they handle themselves (such as plunging a toilet) and at what point do they need to call you immediately (such as a broken pipe or flooding)?
Your tenant should know how to reach you at any time, day or night. If the building catches fire or there’s a break-in, you may need to be at the ready. At the same time, urge your occupants to call the authorities when it’s an emergency. Outline a clear plan with examples of scenarios, so occupants are clear about when they need to reach out.
10. What is your policy on building-wide maintenance and visits?
Renter questions often include, “when are you allowed to come into my apartment unannounced?” or “how much notice will you give before performing building maintenance?” While tenants should expect a reasonable degree of privacy, there are situations where you may need to enter the apartment on short notice (24-hours is usually the shortest customary notice for non-emergency situations). Write this out so both parties are clear.
Should you need to shut off a water main, heat, or electricity to your building, keep disruption to a minimum and give plenty of notice. Emergencies happen, of course, but any time you can offer up extra information and keep your tenants in the loop, you’ll both be happier.
11. Are pets allowed and what are the terms?
Pets are a very common tenant concern. Offering pet-friendly rentals is a big trend among property-owners. Pet-owners are often responsible tenants who are willing to pay a deposit and keep disruptions to a minimum if they’re allowed to keep Fifi or Fido on the property.
If your building is pet-friendly, clearly outline this in the rental agreement. If you do allow pets, specify the types of pets you allow, how many, the size, and expectations. If fish and lizards are okay, but cats and dogs are a no-no, there should be no ambiguity in your policy (or renters may look for loopholes when they find a cute kitten who needs a home). Of course, you may want to allow exceptions on a case-by-case basis, but always get the agreement and parameters in writing.
12. What are the security features of the building? The neighborhood?
Tenants want to feel safe and secure in the building. The security of both the building and the neighborhood are reasonable renter questions and will probably come up among potential tenants. Even if the neighborhood surrounding your building isn’t ideal, there are many steps you can take to increase the safety and security of your property.
Keep up on maintenance and repair locks, windows and doors as needed. Keep shared spaces and the outside of your building well-lit and well-maintained. Consider installing security cameras in your building and a keycard system to limit access. Encourage community-building among your tenants, so they get to know each other and keep a watchful eye on their neighbors. Urge your tenants to report anything unusual as well as safety concerns so you can quickly address the issues.
Be prepared to answer these renter questions with clear, honest, and well-thought-out responses. Of course, you can’t anticipate every question a potential renter may come up with but covering your bases with standard guidelines will help keep the building safe and pleasant for everyone (building-owner, included)!