QI'm a fairly new owner of a condo in Dupont Circle. After my two years of primary residence are over, I plan to rent out the condo. Obviously, there's a lot I need to do between now and then, but from the renter's point of view, what do I need to get to make the condo "rentable"? -- Washington
AChances are, whatever you did to make the place livable for yourself when you first moved in is where you want to start. That's because landlords legally have to make rented properties habitable for their tenants.
Regardless of how much rent you plan to charge, you will have to make sure all of your apartment's major infrastructure is in working order. This means you must ensure that the plumbing, heating, cooling, water and electrical systems all work.
Your apartment should be safe and sanitary enough for someone to occupy, so guard against insect or rodent infestation, check that the smoke alarm works, double-check the door locks and window latches, and give the place an extremely good cleaning before your tenant moves in.
You should repair any existing problems, even if you have learned to live with them, such as mold buildup in the bathroom, a cracked window or an on-again, off-again glitch with a light fixture.
As long as you cover the bases in terms of safety and habitability, you will be prepared enough to rent out your unit. However, if you want to ensure that you get the market rent, you may also want to check your apartment's extra and technically unnecessary amenities, such as the dishwasher, washer/dryer, garbage disposal, blinds and carpeting. You could give the place a mini-makeover to make it really attractive. Such changes could include painting the place, refinishing the wood floors, putting new finishes in the bathroom and kitchen, and washing the windows.
And while you're getting your place ready for renters, you should also study up on landlord/tenant law so that you can be a good landlord beyond just providing a clean, livable space at the beginning of the lease term.
I live in an apartment where gas and electricity were included in the rent until new management took over, did a cosmetic renovation, increased the rent exponentially and requested that the tenants pay for electricity and gas. Meters were not installed in each apartment to determine each tenant's utility usage; rather, the cost is shared. Management told me that residents are billed on the allocation method. Residents receive a portion of the usage bill based on the square footage of their unit for both the gas and electricity. That means I have to share the cost with others when I do not use it that much. Is this legal? -- Silver Spring
Michael Semko, legal counsel for the Alexandria-based National Apartment Association, said the practice of charging for utilities based on square footage "is not illegal." He said, "There really are not any laws in Maryland that regulate the metering of utilities per se. There is no real regulation on the issue of utility allocation, and it is not illegal for the owner or management company to do this."
In general, Semko said, "that type of allocation where it is done on square footage is done all the time on commercial properties. For example, if you have a drugstore that occupies 2 percent of a commercial building, it'll get charged 2 percent of a utilities bill. That's actually unfair because a dry cleaner could use a lot more water than a drugstore, but it's allowed."
In many jurisdictions, the same goes for residential properties. Although it may seem wildly inequitable for landlords to charge a single person and a three-person family the same amount for use of gas and electricity, they can still do it.
Instead of just divvying up utility costs among residents, some landlords are choosing to equip their buildings with technology that allows metering of individual units.
Semko said that recently, more and more apartment buildings have switched to metering and sub-metering systems.
"Most states don't say much if anything about the allocation of utilities, but as more management companies and owners look toward passing on those costs to residents, then you might have some more regulation," Semko said.
The one way that a resident would not have to agree to paying an allocated portion of the utility is if the management company changed its rules about utility payment in the middle of a lease.
That is, if the resident has not signed a new lease agreement with the new management company agreeing to pay for the utilities, then she should refer to her original lease and find out what it mandated regarding utilities. If the original lease dictates that the landlord will assume the financial responsibility for utilities, then the tenant should not have to pay for electricity and gas until her lease term is up and she signs a new agreement.
My lease is up at the end of June, and I just realized I haven't been approached about a new lease or new rent. Are they required to contact me about this in a certain amount of time? I really want to stay in my place but am nervous that a rent increase would be cost-prohibitive. -- Alexandria
Usually, your landlord has 30 days to let you know about any changes or amendments he wants to make to your lease. At least in areas without rent control, landlords can normally raise the rent only after the original lease term ends or with proper notice (usually 30 to 45 days) if you're on a month-to-month lease.
Considering your lease will expire at the end of the month, your landlord is probably not trying to lock you in for another year at a higher rent. As soon as you pay July's rent, you will effectively begin a month-to-month lease by default. Until you are otherwise notified, you will pay the same rent you paid all along.
Because you like your apartment and can cover the costs right now, you should just bide your time until your landlord notifies you that he intends to raise the rent. Although you are nervous that a rent increase would force you to leave the apartment, and it very well could if your landlord raised it substantially, there is still a possibility that your landlord is intentionally not raising the rent. He may rather keep you, a reliable tenant, than charge more money and have to find someone who is equally responsible.
And because you are planning to leave the apartment when your rent increases anyway, you should probably just wait until it happens before you waste too much energy worrying about it.
Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.