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Ask Eli: Should your condo building have a rental cap?

This regularly scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Eli Tucker, Arlington-based Realtor and Arlington resident. Please submit your questions to him via email for response in future columns. Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist. Enjoy!

Question: Do you think it is a good idea for our condo board to consider setting a cap on the number of units that can be rented at a given time?

Answer: One of the most common debates within condo buildings is whether an Association should limit the number of condo units that can be rented concurrently. There are some benefits of limiting the number of owners who can rent out their unit(s), but I think it’s the wrong decision for most buildings because it can hurt property values and is unnecessary, in most cases.

For the sake of clarity, when I refer to rental/investor units in a building, I am referring to individual unit owners renting their unit(s) out to tenants instead of occupying it themselves (they are considered investors).

Lending Misinformation

There is a lot of misinformation out there about how the number of rental units in a building effect the warrantability of a building (ability of future buyers to secure a mortgage). Here are the limits you need to be aware of:

  • Fannie/Freddie Loans: Conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac do not have any rental limits for primary and secondary home loans. They limited the number of rentals in a building to 50% for investor loans only.
  • VA (Veterans) Loans: No rental limits. The VA does not like seeing rental caps and may not approve a building for VA loans if they do have rental limits in place.
  • FHA Loans: FHA loans are restricted in buildings with more than 50% of units rented. FHA loans represent a small percentage of the loans written in this area.
  • Jumbo/Private Loans: High balance loans (over $970,800 loan amount), not insured by Fannie/Freddie, have a wide range of guidelines. Some have rental restrictions and others don’t, but in general jumbo/private loans tend to have more conservative lending guidelines and a higher chance of restricting a loan due to the number of units being rented. However, many banks will make exceptions, especially with higher (30%+) down payments and there are many alternative lending options in the jumbo/private arena a buyer can choose from.

Pro: Better Quality of Living

Owner-occupants generally invest more in their home, take better care of common areas, and take more pride in developing a strong social community. In small associations or those intent on maintaining a certain standard of living, quality of living may prevail over property value.

Cons: Buyer Turn-Off, Forced Sales

Many buyers want to keep their options open to renting a unit out after they are done using it as their primary residence and are turned off by the idea of a rental cap and plenty will not buy in a building if there is a cap, even if it’s unlikely to be reached. By turning otherwise motivated and qualified buyers away, you’re bound to hurt the market value of units in your building.

If a rental cap is reached and enforced, it can hurt market values even more because homeowners are forced to sell if they move out and a forced sale may result in a homeowner agreeing to take a worse deal when they would have otherwise chosen to rent the unit until they can sell into a strong market.

Track Rental Activity in Your Building

Even if you do not have a rental cap, it’s still important to track which units are being rented out. At a minimum, your Board/Management should receive a copy of each lease and keep a basic spreadsheet to be able to report on which units are being rented. In my experience, I have found that most buildings in Arlington settle into a rental percentage of 20-35%. For some buildings, like those in the heart of Clarendon, I see higher rental percentages, sometimes exceeding 50%.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to [email protected]. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460

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