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How to Choose and Keep Good Tenants

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When renting out a house or any property, you would want to have tenants who pay rent in a timely manner and who also take good care of the property—i.e., tenants who water the lawn. You wouldn't want the tenants to deliberately damage any parts of your home. You also wouldn't want your property to be used for illegal drug activity. Unfortunately, not every tenant out there is the ideal tenant. Every landlord knows that bad tenants can be a nightmare. Properly screening potential tenants is something every landlord must do before signing a lease agreement with a tenant.

However, even after screening for the right tenant and signing the lease agreement, things can quickly go sour with a tenant. Therefore, the landlord or the landlord's property manager should working to maintain an amicable relationship with the tenant through the duration of the lease.

There are several reasons for this: tenants who have good relationships with their landlords are likely to continue renting, inform the landlord of problems in the house before the problems get worse (e.g. water damage), allow showings of the property (near the end of their lease) to either sell or rent out the property, or purchase the property for themselves.

Here are some tips to screen potential tenants and ensure an amicable relationship between the landlord and tenant.

1. Understand the Landlord-Tenant laws in your area. As a landlord, you need to educate yourself about these laws to ensure that you're performing your duties as a landlord and to protect yourself in potential legal disputes. If you are not well-versed in Landlord-Tenant laws, consider hiring an attorney.

3. Meet with the tenant in-person. The goal is to know about the potential tenant and his/her background. However, you don't want to appear as if you're interrogating the tenant. Instead, have casual conversations when meet the tenant at the rental property. Treat the potential tenant as a new friend. Don't get into the specific legalities until both parties start negotiating the lease agreement.

2. Ask what the tenant is looking for. Either the landlord or listing agent should ask questions designed to learn about the tenant's intentions. Why has the tenant decided to move into the area? Is the tenant looking for a family-size home? Is the tenant looking to move closer to work?

4. Contact references and previous landlords. It's important to contact these people to get a better idea of who the tenant is. Previous landlords will give you a good idea on the tenant's rental history and how the tenant treated their previous rental properties.

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5. Run a credit check. Knowing a tenant's credit history is important when you're asking the tenant to pay a substantial amount of money for rent each month.

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6. Ask about the tenant's income. A tenant who makes $3,000 a month will have difficulty paying $5,000 a month for rent. You can also verify the tenant's employment with his/her employer.

7. Check any eviction records. A lot of evictions are processed through the court system and approved by a judge. If a potential tenant was lawfully evicted, you would want to know why.

8. Do a criminal or sex-offender check. A lot of landlords don't bother to check criminal backgrounds of potential tenants. However, every landlord should. This is not just for your protection, but for the protection of your neighbors (especially if they have children) and the community. You definitely want to know if the potential tenant is a pedophile, drug dealer, or something worse. Make sure you do these checks BEFORE the lease is signed.

9. Be explicit in your lease agreement. Both you and the tenant need to be clear on the terms and conditions of the agreement. If the house requires maintenance work while the tenant is residing in the home, then the lease should include a clause stating that maintenance work is to be done at mutually-agreed times as long as the tenant is properly notified. Vague terms or conditions will only invite attorneys and legal fees.

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10. Before the tenant moves in, do a walkthrough of the property with the tenant. It's important to give the tenant a detailed tour of the property. You want the tenant to be familiar with the workings of the house, otherwise the tenant could accidentally damage the home.

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11. Encourage the tenant to notify you immediately of any problems in the home. If there's a problem in the house, you want to make repairs as soon as possible. You don't want a tenant to ignore problems and increase the costs to fix the problems.

12. If repairs need to be done, get them done as soon as possible. Issues such as water, heating, or air conditioning need to be addressed immediately. A tenant has a legal right to sue a landlord if the landlord prolongs certain repairs and the tenant continues to suffer.

13. Maintain an amicable relationship with the tenant. You don't want your tenant to deliberately damage the property or sabotage property showings. During the holidays, you may consider sending them a gift basket as a gesture.

14. Keep a professional relationship with your tenants. While it is nice to have an amicable relationship with your tenants, you don't want to get too friendly with them in case you have to evict or take them to court. Be friendly with them, but not too friendly.

15. Consider hiring a property manager. If you live far from the rental property or you don't like to deal with tenants, a property manager can manage the property on your behalf.

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