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.
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.
The Montgomery County website has several helpful documents with regard to renting units within Bethesda and Montgomery County. Landlords should pay special attention to the licensing section, as all rental units within the county must be licensed.
So, what is the process once you have someone interested in renting your unit?
1. 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 pay stubs or an offer letter, it can save you a step. Each adult over the age of 18 should fill out an application.
2. 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.
3. Lease – Once you approve the applicants, you must draw up a lease. Again, there are several options out there for buying 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 Maryland, if the landlord resides out of state, the landlord is also required to have a Legal (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. This person can be a friend or family member or 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 Maryland, 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. A landlord must also offer an initial lease period of two years to the tenants unless there is a reasonable explanation for not offering a two-year lease. The Montgomery County Landlord-Tenant Handbook outlines this in greater detail.
After the lease is signed and before move-in, the tenant and landlord should conduct an inspection. This inspection should be signed off on by both parties. This ensures there are no disputes at the end of the lease term with respect to damages. Again, refer to the Montgomery County Landlord-Tenant Handbook for a sample move-in/move-out checklist.
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.
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