If renting your home right now is a better choice for you than selling it, the market for tenants is as active if not even more so than for prospective buyers. This is a brief overview of the advice I will offer to you as a potential landlord. You can browse more resources for landlords on the Welcome! page.
There may come a time when you decide that rather than sell your home, you want to rent it to someone. Maybe the market is not right to sell, or maybe you just want to keep the home as an investment property. Either way, renting it is a big step that should be taken after serious consideration, but it’s not as complicated a process as you would think.
Getting your home ready to rent
First of all, your home must be ready for a new tenant. Many people don’t realize that a rental property has to be in better condition than one that is being offered for sale. This is because a buyer is more likely to repaint a new home, change the carpets, perhaps remodel the kitchen and get new appliances. A tenant cannot do those things, so he expects the home to be in absolutely move-in condition. Everything in the home must work perfectly, and there cannot be even minor items such as window blinds in need of cosmetic repair.
Finding a tenant
As you are getting your home ready for rent, I will help you market it and find tenants. I will check comps in the development and township to determine a fair range for the monthly rent. A prospective tenant may want to negotiate the amount, and this is something that we will discuss and take into consideration. I will also give you a copy of the New Jersey Truth in Renting booklet, which contains invaluable information on the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants. You must read this booklet thoroughly, as it will answer most of your questions about being a landlord and dealing fairly with tenants.
One important consideration is whether or not you will allow a tenant to have a pet or several pets. This is a personal and practical decision, and I will discuss it with you in detail. One myth I do want to debunk is that a landlord can ask for and get a “pet deposit” from a tenant. New Jersey law is very clear on this point: the most that you can ask a tenant to give as a security deposit is one and a half times one month’s rent. You cannot ask for that amount plus an additional pet deposit; it is illegal, and a tenant can report you to the township and win a judgment against you.
Your home will be shown to prospective tenants either by me or by other licensed real estate agents. Just as if it were listed for sale, the home will be listed on a number of multiple listing services and websites such as Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow, etc. I will discuss with you the best way to communicate requested showings to you and your options, depending on whether the home is currently occupied or not.
At some point you will get an interested potential tenant, someone who wants more information or is even applying to lease the home. I will work with the other agent to make sure everything is done correctly and smoothly, keeping your best interests in mind. If the prospective renter is asking for a lower rent or whether or not he can have a pet, I will discuss these points with you.
A lease application consists of the application form itself, a credit report on the tenant or tenants and employment verification for all persons responsible for paying the rent. You are interested in knowing more about the people who possibly will be living in your property, whether or not they are trustworthy and have been paying their bills on time, and are their combined salaries sufficient to cover the rent. This information will be gathered by either me or the other agent if she has brought the prospective tenants to us. I will review all the documents with you and help you decide whether or not to lease your home to this tenant.
New Jersey law states that you cannot discriminate against prospective tenants when making a decision whether or not to accept a lease application, and these guidelines are spelled out in the Truth in Renting booklet. However, there are many legitimate reasons why you may not wish to lease your home to a particular tenant, and I will help you make this determination at the appropriate time.
Every township has laws regarding being a landlord, and each one may be slightly different. You must contact the municipal office of your township in advance to find out what these laws are and follow them to the letter.
One typical law is that every landlord has to be registered with the township and provide information as to whom the tenant should contact in case of an emergency. This is meant to eliminate confusion when something happens in the home and a tenant is not able to reach the landlord. Another typical law is that every home must be inspected by the township before a new tenant occupies it.
A township inspection can be as simple as the fire inspector checking to make sure that the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly, to a much more involved inspection of health and safety issues. It is important that you contact your township early and find out exactly what they will be checking so you can make repairs as needed and not fail the inspection.
There is a fee to the township for inspecting the home, and the inspection itself must be scheduled ahead of time. Some townships require that the home be completely vacant before the inspector arrives. For this reason it is important to build in some time between signing a lease and allowing a tenant to move into the property.
The lease agreement
Once you have accepted a prospective tenant’s application, a lease will be prepared by either me or the other real estate agent. Leases must conform to New Jersey law, but there are several points that can be included to protect you and your property. I will work closely with you and the other agent to prepare a lease that will be in your best interest.
A common question by landlords and tenants is, Is it better to have a two-year lease than a one-year lease? This is a double-edged sword, as there are pros and cons to doing it either way. My opinion is that a two-year lease protects the tenant against a rate increase after one year, and at best offers the landlord some assurance that he will have a tenant for two years. This is a good arrangement if the rent is fair, the tenant takes care of the property and both parties get along well. I will discuss with you my personal experiences with landlords and tenants and help you decide on your best course of action.
Initial payments due
When the prospective tenant presents a signed lease to you, it will be accompanied by checks for the first month’s rent and the security deposit. If the tenant will be taking possession of the home in the middle of a month, the initial rent amount will be adjusted accordingly. The tenant will also give you a Form W9, which you will need to open a bank account for the security deposit. The Truth in Renting booklet spells out your responsibilities regarding the security deposit, and every bank will be familiar with the procedure for opening a landlord account for you.
Transfer of utilities
An important step to take before the tenant moves in is to contact your utility companies to discuss transferring billing to the new occupant. In some cases this may be straightforward, such as for electrical, gas and cable service. Water and sewer services may be more complicated, as some companies will only bill the owner of the property, not a tenant. In such cases you will have to pay the utility bills and arrange to have the tenant repay you on a monthly basis.
Once the township has inspected the home, your new tenant will be able to move in. I will meet him at the home and help him conduct a full inspection of the property. We will be checking for damage that is more than normal wear and tear—things that the tenant should not be responsible for when he moves out a year or several years later. Every item we find will be noted, and I will prepare an addendum to the lease listing all such items that you and the tenant should sign. This is a very important document and you should keep it with the lease, as it will be your only proof in the future that damage to the home was caused by the tenant and not present when he moved in.
Renting a property can be a pleasant experience, as long as a tenant and landlord abide by simple principles: courtesy, communication, cooperation and common sense. If the tenant has any questions about the home, he should ask you for clarification. You will let him know if it will be OK to put nails in the walls to hang pictures or if he can paint a room in a different color. Some of these questions should be addressed and resolved before the lease is signed. Also, the tenant must let you know immediately if something breaks or is damaged; after all, the home belongs to you and you will want to protect your investment.
And my role in this transaction will not end after I hand the keys to your new tenant. Please feel free to call me any time with any possible questions you have about the home, the lease, the tenant or your future real estate plans. You can be assured that I will be your professional contact for as long as you have any needs or concerns about home renting or ownership.