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5 Myths About Renting Out Your Home You Should Stop Believing Immediately
If you're lucky enough to own more than one property, or have an in-law unit just sitting empty behind your house, the thought has surely occurred to you: Why not just make back some cash by renting out your place? After all, in a hot rental market, that should be easy enough—all you have to do is find a tenant and watch the dollars roll in.
But beware: Whether it’s your first time renting out a property, or you find yourself in a sticky situation with an existing tenant, it can be a challenge to differentiate fact from fiction in the tangled realm of landlord-tenant law.
We dug up five of the most common myths newbie landlords find themselves believing, and set the record straight instead.
Myth No. 1: You’re responsible for all repairs
While this might be what your (least favorite) tenant is saying, it’s not completely true. A good lease agreement will usually specify which repairs you are and aren’t responsible for, and laws will vary depending on where you live. But the general rule of thumb is that landlords are responsible for any repairs that have to do with the “habitability” of the property.
“In most states, landlords are responsible for repairs that, if not made, would affect a tenant's health, safety, or welfare,” says Texas attorney J.R. Skrabanek.
It’s also important to note how the damage was caused, since anything caused by a tenant, their friends, or their pets, is also generally their responsibility to fix.
“Smaller repairs, such as replacing light bulbs or AC filters, can and usually should be a tenant's responsibility,” Skrabanek adds.
Myth No. 2: You can't refuse to rent to anyone—even a felon
While it’s true there are a number of laws protecting people with a criminal history from discrimination, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re forced to rent your property to them.
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, it’s considered discrimination to deny housing to someone with any type of criminal record (even a misdemeanor that happened over 10 years ago). However, you are perfectly within your rights to refuse to rent to someone with a record that could potentially put you, your property, or your other tenants at risk.
To avoid being accused of discrimination, consider the crime itself, when it happened, whether they were actually convicted (as opposed to just being arrested), and whether the nature of the crime puts anyone at risk. If you’re feeling concerned about the answers to those questions, chances are it’s within your rights to refuse to rent.
Myth No. 3: Generic form contracts are good enough for a lease agreement
A lot of landlords use form contracts (the generic contracts available through your local Realtor® association), in lieu of a customized lease agreement. And sometimes this works out just fine. But when it doesn’t, you could find yourself in a big mess, with little legal authority to get out of it.
“Whether these [form contracts] are drafted well depends on the state,” says Tina Willis, a personal injury attorney and owner of Orlando-based Tina Willis Law.
Since the quality of these contracts varies so much, it’s good to familiarize yourself with what they cover before just blindly using one. It’s also good to keep in mind that the contract may not cover extenuating circumstances that are specific to your property or location. Willis has found the local form contracts work well for her properties, so long as she updates them when needed.
“When we have known potential problems on any particular property or tenant, I always draft amendments dealing with that specific scenario,” Willis says.
If your form contract doesn’t cover you in the necessary ways, you’re better off finding a lawyer to help you write the lease you need.
Myth No. 4: Noisy neighbors? Not your problem
In fact, this would be your problem—at least in most situations. And again, this is where it helps to know your lease agreement. If there’s anything in there about "quiet enjoyment" or quiet hours, your tenants are fully within their rights to expect you to do something about any excessive or disruptive noise coming from other tenants. (“Quiet enjoyment” is exactly what it sounds like, and this clause is meant to protect tenants from neighbors who might be making their lives miserable by throwing loud parties, having incredibly obnoxious phone conversations, or walking like elephants.)
And know this: Even when the lease agreement doesn’t specify a right to quiet time, it’s often implied and seen as a general courtesy to help your tenants resolve the issue.
Myth No. 5: You can’t enter your tenant’s space
“A landlord has a right to enter a tenant's space so long as they provide the tenant with a 'notice to enter' in advance,” says attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com David Reischer.
In most states, 24 hours is sufficient advance notice, Reischer says, but he also points out that this can change, depending on the reason for your visit.
“In the event of an emergency such as a flood or fire," he says, "a landlord does not need to provide any notice to legally enter the tenant's space.”
So if there’s something you need to check on, or a repair you need to make, don't worry—you're not invading your tenant's privacy. Just do it by the book.
For Mark Ross, founder of Ross NW Real Estate and professional real estate broker, real estate has always been the career of choice. During his 25+ years in the industry, Mark has gained experience in....
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