This article was posted on Sunday, Oct 01, 2017

As rental property owners and managers, you have been afforded certain business liberties that you make the unfortunate mistake of not taking advantage of or enforcing. With so many entities targeting your pockets, you must be more diligent in enforcing the choices you still have and use them to your advantage. Below are eight choices you have that are frequently abdicated for one reason or another. Also, listed are a few reasons why you should not surrender these privileges.

1.   Conduct a Credit and Rental History

  • It is at the tenant’s expense, not yours.
  • You learn much about the tenant to make an educated business decision regarding whether or not to accept or deny the application. [Be sure to use AOA’s low-cost screening service.]

2.   Use a Month-to-Month Rental Agreement

  • You determine the terms of tenancy to be either month-to-month or a lease; leases are typically in the tenant’s best interest, not the landlord’s.

3.   Legally Raise the Rent

  • As long as your rental is not in a rent controlled area, you can charge any rent amount you desire.
  • Although you get to set your price, it is advisable to select a competitive rate that makes good business sense.
  • Provided your rent elevation is not discriminatory or retaliatory, you are permitted to increase your asking rent if you choose.
  • During the late fee payment controversy some experts were advising landlords to give notice that rather than charge a late fee, each time the tenant was late the rent would be raised the following month (as soon as legally permissible with notice). Before resorting to this, I recommend you consult with legal counsel in your jurisdiction to assist you.

4.   Decide Whether or Not to Allow an Upgrade

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  • Some upgrades are worth it; remember, the tenant pays for them.
  • It may not be advisable to allow tenants to paint the exterior of the residence an undesirable color.
  • Permitting a potential long time tenant to pay for an upgrade that improves your property and makes them feel more at home could work in your favor.
  • If you do decide to permit an unnecessary modification, make sure you dictate proper terms in writing. You may want to seek professional assistance before undertaking this.
  • Who is financially responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of this alteration?
  • Are you going to require the work to be done by a licensed contractor?
  • What happens to the installed item upon move-out?
  • If their upgrade is something that dramatically increases your costs, will you raise their rent? (For example, if they want to pay to have an A/C unit installed and you pay the electric bill. You charge a nominal rent because there is no A/C. They plan to be in your rental a long time and were attracted to the low rent and find it worth it to buy the A/C unit themselves. Then you find your bill for electricity alone has more than quadrupled because they have the A/C and electric on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even when they are not home.).

5.   Have a Consistent Paper Trail

  • Documentation is critical (SDI, move-in/move-out checklist and photos, maintenance log, violation notices, payment history, complaint log, etc.).
  • It is tedious work. Yet it may be your best and only opportunity to illustrate and prove you operated within the proper guidelines should there be a dispute.
  • Written proof speaks volumes, especially to an administrative agent.
  • Landlords get to adopt the forms and language they choose as long as it is legal.

6.   Create a Well-Structured Written Selection Criteria

  • When deciding whether or not to allow pets remember that a “no pet” policy does not apply to companion, comfort, service, and assistance animals.
  • Otherwise, you may want to either specify no pets or determine the type of pets allowable.
  • Indicate pet owner responsibilities to keep the pets (fumigate, carpet cleaning, pet rent or deposit, insurance to cover liability, must abide by all laws – licensing, leash, no bite history, etc.).
  • Provided they do not violate any laws you are allowed to create your own selection criteria.
  • Providing this can help you deter professional tenants.
  • It can save you time and gives you a foundation to refer to when rejecting unqualified applicants.
  • Housing agents have said landlords who have and follow a well put together selection criteria drastically reduce discrimination complaints being filed and pursued by them.
  • This is still an option in most states, but a few have begun legislating landlords to provide written criteria to applicants.  [See AOA’s form 100Q].

7.   Pursue Collections

  • Many landlords are so grateful to be rid of problem tenants and have lost hope of receiving a fair debt recovery they do not aggressively pursue their judgments. This absolves irresponsible tenants of their debts.
  • There are some persistent collectors with great determination eager to collect your money for you; do not give up. [Turn those accounts over to AOA’s Debt Reporting and Collection Service now!]

8.    Schedule 6 Month Inspections.

  • Regularly scheduled inspections might help you uncover situations that need your attention (hoarders, missing fire extinguishers, disconnected smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, unsafe conditions, alterations to the unit, violations of the terms of the lease/rental agreement, preventative maintenance issues needed, cleanliness issues, pests, smoke, unauthorized pet/occupant, etc.).

Landlords have many penalties and liability threats that compel them to be cautious and refrain from taking certain action. There are also risks and fines for not taking action. If you do not enforce legal consequences upon your residents then they have little incentive to change their behavior.

For legal advice, always consult with a qualified attorney to assist you with your specific situation.


Teresa Billingsley is a third generation rental property owner. She has owned and managed for twenty-five years. After seeing landlords unnecessarily expose themselves to problems she wrote the books, “A Learning Stage: for Property Owners & Managers,” “A Learning Stage 2: A Landlord’s Advocate and Teacher,” & “A Learning Stage 3: Property Management 101.”

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