The Internet has made a lot of things easier than most of us could ever imagine. If you need a phone number, you no longer have to dig out the phone book. If you need to know the capital of Slovenia, you no longer have to make a trip to the library and look for an encyclopedia. Similarly, the Internet has made it easier for both landlords and prospective tenants. That’s especially true if you’re moving to a new city and looking to conduct an apartment search from two or three time zones away. There are things both landlords and tenants should know about that process.
The Right Connections
There are a variety of approaches that people who are moving to a new town will take when searching for a place to live, but it’s common for people to hire brokers, especially if they’re headed to a big city with a hot rental market. Hiring a broker allows a tenant to take advantage of the local knowledge apartment brokers already possess. Sure, it’s also a good idea for them to research the market on their own, but if they have the money, it can be worth it to have a broker do a lot of the legwork for them.
“As a landlord, you don’t have to work with a broker if you don’t want to, of course. Some landlords prefer to only have contact with the person or persons who will be living in the property.”
As a landlord, you don’t have to work with a broker if you don’t want to, of course. Some landlords prefer to only have contact with the person or persons who will be living in the property. That’s an understandable impulse, but it’s going to be harder to pull off if you’ve got property in Seattle and a prospective renter who is moving from Chicago. An out-of-towner may have more questions and want to see more photos than a person who can just swing by the property and take a tour of it in-person. They’ll also probably have a few more questions about the neighborhood and what the local real estate market is like. Even if they’ve done some research on their own, they’re still going to view local landlords as a valuable resource. That’s flattering, but it can also be a bit tedious, especially if you have a lot of other units to attend to. The best thing you can do to help people coming from out of town is to have a lot of photos, information, and forms already available through your property’s website. Even people who live a couple of miles away will appreciate the opportunity to fill out a free rental application online. Putting up several photos of the property is a good way to make sure people get enough information. However, if someone expects you to film a half-hour video tour of the property and post it online, then that’s a bit much. It may also be worthwhile to invest in a property cleanup & restoration service prior to posting your listing.
Fair Housing Laws
Landlords have a fair amount of leeway in deciding who they want to rent to, but there are certain laws that they can’t violate. Any landlord who is not familiar with the Fair Housing Act is asking for trouble. For one thing, the Fair Housing Act covers most housing, but it often exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units. So if you live in a house with a mother-in-law suite that you want to rent out, then you may be able to refuse to rent to a family with a newborn baby. However, you still can’t post a housing ad that says, “No babies, please.” Make sure you’re not posting an ad that discriminates against protected classes. How does the Fair Housing Act affect renting to out-of-towners? In theory, the landlord of a 20-unit apartment complex could refuse to rent to someone from Chicago if they really hate the Cubs, but they can’t refuse to rent to someone from Chicago if they’re a Muslim. Religion is considered a protected class; being a Cubs fan is not.
Putting up several photos of the property is a good way to make sure people get enough information. However, if someone expects you to film a half-hour video tour of the property and post it online, then that’s a bit much.
If that feels complicated, it’s because it is, and you’re really better off talking to a local real estate lawyer than trying to figure this out on your own. One or two appointments with a lawyer will cost money, but sometimes you have to spend a little money to save yourself from paying a lot more money in fines down the line.