If the Sue Fits…

It’s a sue happy world out there, and landlords are more susceptible to this misfortune than the average Joe. Getting sued almost seems like a rite of passage these days. As a Landlord, arm yourself with knowledge, and you can minimize or avoid the impact of getting sued. Awareness and education is power.

Demand Letters

Demand letters are often written in a temper, blown in with a lot of hot air. Allowing your tenant to vent may be all they need. Always respond calmly and ensure your communication is in a recorded format. You may need to refer to it later. Ideally, you’ll avoid any demands by honoring the lease. You should always refer back to the lease when you respond to a demand letter. The lease is the main foundation you have to stand on in such situations.

A good example is the security deposit. Think twice before withholding the security deposit. Are you being petty? Is it justified? Is it worth getting sued over? This is a situation that landlords commonly find themselves in. This can be a long nasty battle, particularly if you don’t have firm ground to stand on. Here are some guidelines about reasonable wear and tear and legitimate reasons not to return a Security Deposit.

Protect Yourself, but… Protect Yourself

If you decide to reject an application, be cautious about the reasons you give. It is not always necessary to give a reason, and better in most cases to not provide one. In concurrence, be careful about the qualifications you provide when listing. Study the laws of your state and ensure you are not in any way discriminating. If it exists, people will find it, and they will sue. However, you also need to protect yourself by screening your tenants. Do not accept a tenant who has questionable history, or gives out uncomfortable vibes. Follow your gut, but do it legally.  Bottom line- Know the laws of your land!!  Peruse this resource about legitimate and lawful reasons to reject an application.

Don’t be an Ignoring Machine!

The simple act of regularly checking in on your tenant is a good way to stay in tune. Send and email, shoot a text, make a quick phone call. Additionally, do not ignore a tenant when there is a problem. If your tenant solves a problem before you can, be sure to follow up for incurred costs. Don’t risk violating your lease, even for a moment. In a sue happy world, immediate communication is essential. It will build a relationship that is not ready to collapse into a lawsuit in a moment of frustration. A little communication goes a long way, even if you do not have an instant concrete answer. Even an answer like “that depends” , is better than none. Ultimately, people just want to know you are hearing them. Words to the wise: procrastination is not a key to success.

Uninhabitable Unit, Wrathful Renter

Consistently check in with your tenant and visit your properties. As a result, you will learn about small problems before they become disasters. Ultimately, this will help prevent disasters such as an uninhabitable living space. As dramatic as it may sound, something as small as a bug infestation, or a leak, could classify your property as uninhabitable. If the health department pays a visit and declares a property as such, you’ve just started a potentially long recovery.

Stay ahead of weather conditions that create hazard for your tenants! For example, if your lease agreement includes snow and ice removal, you are potentially liable for tenant injuries. Negligence is a serious matter. Similarly, summertime hazards such as hornets nests and overgrown brush are liabilities. If landscaping duties are in the lease, don’t slack! Don’t build a foundation that ultimately supports lawsuits. This BaseRent article gives some tips and tricks for landscape maintenance.

Entering Property Illegally

You may have a team of maintenance people employed to upkeep your properties. Depending on what projects are in progress, this may require entering of the properties randomly.   Most states have laws requiring landlords give their tenants 24 hour notice before entering property. This would include monthly or yearly inspections. Your tenants will have grounds to sue if this is violated. Check your state laws for the specifications. Laws aside, it is simple courtesy to give your tenants notice when strangers will be invading their house. Conveniently enough, this is another gesture that will keep your relationship on a positive road.  Even a normally laid back tenant might turn on you if a stranger walks in on them unannounced.

 

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