Rental forms are key to good property management. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your landlord forms:
1. Rental ad
Not all landlords see the rental ad as a part of the leasing package, but the ad is a tenant’s first impression and sets the stage for the entire tenancy. Sure, the ad announces a vacancy, but it can do more.
Make your rental ad do double duty by including this simple warning: Tenant Background Check Required. Problem tenants are looking for low-hanging fruit — a landlord who doesn’t screen tenants. Including those four words may be enough to make a nightmare tenant look elsewhere.
2. Prequalification checklist
If you don’t have one of these, you are not alone. Many landlords wing it when it comes to talking to prospects for the first time. There is great risk in not asking the same questions of every applicant, and there is a lost opportunity in not writing down the applicant’s answers so these can be compared to the rental application.
Every applicant should be asked why they are moving and whether they have provided notice to the current landlord. That puts the tenant on notice that rental history will be investigated. If this tenant is angling to move in quickly and avoid a pending eviction, that question can stop them in their tracks.
3. Rental application
The application not only contains the information needed for tenant screening, it also requires the tenant to make crucial legal promises, including a declaration that the information provided is true and complete, and consent to a tenant background check. That’s strong protection for the landlord, but that language doesn’t appear until the end of the application, after the tenant already has fudged their answers.
Provide a warning to the applicant via a cover letter or instruction sheet that points out the pitfalls of tenant fraud before the tenant completes the application. Tie fraud to rejection of the application, eviction or even referral for criminal prosecution. That’ll get their attention — and may prevent them from risking fraud.
4. Lease agreement
The lease commonly is viewed as the flagship of every tenancy, and landlords tend to take it seriously. One of the most common — and problematic — provisions found in leases is a long grace period for the payment of rent. Rent is due on the 1st, but, hey, you have until the 5th before there are any consequences. And then you may have to pay a late fee. For tenants, that’s easier — and in some cases cheaper — than a cash advance. The lease may as well say “pay me when you can.”
Instead of using that anemic language, sign up to Report Rent Payments, and include the Notice to Tenant in the lease agreement. Rent is due on the 1st. If it’s not paid, it will be reported to a credit bureau. That’s clean and simple and provides incentive to pay rent on time rather than dragging it out until the landlord comes knocking.
5. Move-in checklist
Tracking the condition of the rental at the time the tenant moves in may be the only way to prove the tenant caused damage and seek reimbursement.
If there is a legal dispute over security deposit deductions — the most common reason landlords are sued — what better evidence could the landlord present than the tenant’s own words? Walk through the unit with the tenant on move-in day, and then leave the completed checklist with the tenant for a few extra days. Ask them to note anything they didn’t see during the move-in inspection, sign the form, and return it. That way, the landlord can debunk future claims that the damage was there when the tenant moved in.