Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.
Looking to rent your property? After going through the process of marketing and showing your property, it is important not to drop the ball once you get to the application and lease process. Even if you’ve done it on your own before, you need to make sure you are doing everything by the book to save headaches later.
Arlington County offers a Landlord Seminar, and the County also has several helpful documents on their website with regard to renting units within Arlington County and Virginia. It is important to note there are different rules for landlords owning 5 or more units within the state, so be sure to read which rules apply to your situation.
So, what is the process once you have someone interested in renting your unit?
- Application – There are resources for rental applications all over the internet, and of course you are welcome to develop your own. At a minimum, the application should include the applicant information such as name, current address, birth date, and SSN. It should include current landlord contact information, as well as employment information. Other helpful items include the property address, rent amount, lease term, other applicants/occupants, and pet conditions. The application should also include a signature section that authorizes you to run credit and background checks as well as permission to contact the current employer and landlord. If you ask the applicant for proof of employment, such as paystubs or an offer letter, it can save you a step. Each adult over the age of 18 should fill out an application.
- Credit Check/Background Check – At a minimum, you should run a credit check. There are several services out there that offer a tenant screening service. The cost of these services is covered by the application fee so be sure to research the cost of these services in advance. While there is no rule on how much to charge for an application fee, you don’t want it to cost much more than the screening fees. A fee too high will turn off potential renters. It is important to review the rules on application fees as well, because if you deny the renters or they choose not to rent your unit, you owe them back part of that fee. Be sure to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
- Lease – Once you approve the applicants, you must draw up a lease. Again, there are several options out there where you can buy a standard lease document. It is important that you use a document that complies with the rules of the state and locality where your property is located. It needs to include information regarding the rent term, rent price, security deposit, landlord contact information, emergency contact information, how and where the tenants should pay rent, and notice to vacate requirements. Also, include any additional fees the tenants are required to cover such as utilities, parking, pet fees and move-in fees. In the state of Virginia, if the landlord resides out of state, the landlord is also required to have a Registered Agent within the state. A registered agent is not a real estate agent, but just someone who resides within the state that can accept mail on your behalf in the event you cannot be reached. Registered agents can be hired for a nominal fee.
During the lease signing process, the landlord should collect the first month’s rent and a security deposit as a good faith offer to secure the contract. A security deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent, and in the state of Virginia, it cannot be more than two months. A security deposit must be returned at the end of the lease term within 45 days, less any damages.
After the lease is signed and before move-in, the tenant and landlord should conduct an inspection. This inspection should be signed off by both parties. This ensures there are no disputes at the end of the lease term with respect to damages.
You are then finished with the paperwork. Work with the tenants to arrange the move-in and be sure to respond quickly and respectfully to their questions and concerns. Doing the work on the front end as listed above will likely result in quality tenants.
Of course, if you are unsure or unable to complete all the necessary steps above, you can always contact a licensed real estate agency, and they will happily assist you with the process. They will likely charge you a fee, but the application and leasing fees are generally less than their full listing fees.
The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
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