There are many reasons for using your property as a rental. Maybe your home has been on the market for a long period, and you’ve determined that you can’t sell it at a value that allows you to break even. Maybe you inherited or were gifted a property that you don’t want to sell. Or you may be among the many property owners who want to supplement their income by becoming a landlord.
Regardless of the reason, you’ll need to get your house in order first—both financially and physically. Keep reading to find out what steps you should take before you start looking for tenants.
Take Out Insurance
A homeowners insurance policy isn’t enough if your home serves as a rental property. Anytime you have people on a property that you own, you take on some degree of responsibility for their safety. What if a tree falls on the home, injuring your tenants? What if there is a gas leak that causes an explosion? What if something relatively minor turns into a major legal headache?
Now imagine if you purchased the property for the sole purpose of renting it out, and that tree caused so much damage that extensive repairs have to be made, making the house unsuitable for renting. If you didn’t have insurance, you would have to pay for repairs to the property out of pocket—something not a lot of people may be able to afford.
This is why it’s important to arm yourself with an insurance policy designed for landlords. Landlord insurance combines property and liability insurance. With property insurance, the dwelling, other parts of the property such as a fence, and any personal property are covered against loss or damage. The liability portion protects you against losses incurred because of medical bills or legal costs if you’re found liable for injuries sustained by other people on your property.
Get the Required Permits
Many municipalities require a permit for residential properties to operate as rentals. Permitting requirements tend to vary by municipality, so it’s a good idea to check in with city hall to see if you actually need one.
The purpose of the permit is safety-oriented. Often, an inspector from the local government will inspect the house for various safety hazards including electrical, heating, adequate exits from the home, and other health and safety concerns. The inspector provides you with a report and informs you of any changes, modifications, or repairs required to make the property compliant. These permits aren’t expensive but are necessary to convert your home into a rental property.
Repairs and Upgrades
You may need to make repairs and/or upgrades to your property—the same way that you would if you were selling it to make it more marketable and appealing to future renters. The easiest and cheapest thing to do is to make sure it’s clean and freshly painted. Anything that looks severely dated should be replaced, providing that the cost isn’t outlandish. For instance, you may decide to change the knobs and handles on your kitchen cabinets or the faucets in the bathrooms and kitchen. Remember, you have to build the costs of the upgrades into your rental rates, so don’t go overboard.
What Will You Charge?
Before you list your rental, it’s a good idea to sit down and crunch some numbers. Make a list of all the costs associated with the home—your mortgage payment (if you have one), property taxes, utilities, and any money that you’ve spent on repairs. Don’t forget to add in your estimates for any maintenance, repairs, and other expenses you’ll need to make while you have a tenant. Then figure out how much you would like to see as a monthly profit. Once you arrive at a rental rate, check other rentals in the area for a house as close to the same as yours. This gives you an idea of how competitive your rate will be compared with other landlords around you.
Know the Law Before You List
Before you look for tenants, make sure you understand Fair Housing laws. These laws came about as a way to prohibit discrimination against tenants based on their gender and race. But they aren’t the same as they once were. In fact, they change constantly and are even more complicated. These laws tell you how you can advertise your property and can guide you through your responsibilities as a landlord.
But what about forms? You may be able to download the paperwork you’ll need online, including applications, consent forms, and lease agreements. You may need to enlist the help of an experienced attorney if you plan to draw up your own package of paperwork.
Determining a good prospective tenant can be challenging. Even if you were legally allowed to judge them based on your intuition, experienced landlords will tell you that there is never a perfect renter and that gut feelings are often wrong. But be sure to ask for references—and contact them—and get a credit check on any applicants.
Property Management Group
If your rental property is far from where you live, or if you don’t want the headaches that come with the day-to-day tasks of being a landlord, consider hiring a property management company to step in to help you. A property manager handles all the paperwork, takes care of the repairs, collects the rent, and communicates with the tenants. Companies often charge an average of 10% of your rent for this service.
Property management companies also assist you with any legal procedures associated with the eviction process. Evicting a tenant is a legal process that takes a lot of time and resources to complete. Although landlords can’t control their tenants’ behavior, it’s always a good idea to avoid eviction because of the time and cost involved, not to mention the potential for damage to the property from disgruntled tenants.
How do I screen tenants?
How you screen tenants is largely up to you. Most landlords require a credit score above a certain threshold, clean background checks, at least one reference from a former landlord, and income a certain amount above rent—usually two to three times the monthly rent. Whatever your screening process, make sure you apply it uniformly to all tenants to avoid inadvertent or deliberate discrimination.
Can I ban pets from my rental?
This can depend on your local laws and how they are enforced. You cannot ban service animals, and in many municipalities, you can’t ban emotional support animals or even certain breeds of dogs.
Do I have to remodel my home to make it a rental?
It depends on the current condition of your home and the amount you want to charge for rent. Rentals are frequently divided into class A, B, C, and D properties. Class A properties have the newest finishes and the nicest amenities and rent for the most money. If you’re looking to increase your rent price, remodeling to upgrade your property to the class A level may allow you to do so.
Should I accept Section 8?
Depending on your municipality, you cannot legally refuse to accept housing vouchers. Leasing to Section 8 tenants can help families experiencing poverty gain stable housing and can help you rent your property quickly with a reliably monthly payment. There can be downsides to Section 8, including strict property standards and difficulty evicting for lease violations, so be sure to do your research before you decide.
The Bottom Line
It isn’t difficult to find horror stories of landlords troubled with more headaches than profits. Before you decide that renting your home is the best solution, take adequate time to talk to other landlords and do a detailed analysis of the costs involved. You may find that selling your home is a better use of your time and could ultimately save you money. But if you’re set on becoming a landlord and renting out your property, be sure to follow the tips above.