Making the decision to rent, and finding the tenant, is only the beginning, not the end, of being a vacation landlord. You still have rent collection, repairs and tenant problems to look forward to.
There are some precautions that may help save you worry and bother. These can all be added to your lease agreement, even if it's prepared bya rental agent.
A penalty of 5 per cent for late payment of rent should be included to help offset any banking problems resulting from a late rent payment. And it might encourage a tenant to pay on time.
A lease for a couple of months or longer should specifiy that the tenant is to pay all utilities, cable television and telephone charges and deposits. Even if your first thought is to be the nice guy and keep things in your name, it is almost invariably unwise.
If you permit a pet, spell out its species and name. This will protect you in the event that other pets appear on the scene, such as a litter of puppies. And if the pet is a cat or dog, require that the tenants pay for de-fleaing the place after they leave. Fleas can appear in the wake of the best-kept pet, so putting out flea bombs when the place is vacated is always good protection.
Unless you don't mind unexpected bills, specify that the tenant cannot have any repairs made at your expense without notifying you in advance and getting your written permission. This doens't mean you don't have to make repairs - just that a tenant can't run up bills in your name without your consent.
You may rent to two people only to find they have brought in four, five or six friends to share expenses. So put in a clause listing the maximum number of persons who may occupy the premises to avoid this situation. This is especially important where there is no local ordinace that specifies maximum occupancy.
Where you are renting a condominium unit, give yourself the authority to enforce the rules and regulations of the condominium association. This can be done by stating that occupancy is subject to approval of neigbors, compliance with condominium rules and local ordinaces.
Without a provision that the lease may be cancelled by the landlord if the unit is sold before th end of the lease, a buyer could be bound by your lease. And that could make it harder to sell.
These are just a few of the protections you should include in your leases. Each time you have a special tenant problems, write i into the next lease. You'll never cover every problem, but you won't repeat old ones.
And then there are the problems that cannot be handled by a lease.
A tenant may be late paying the rent; a certain amount of understanding is in order. But don't let it ride longer than the security deposit will cover - including the estimated time for re-renting.
You probably think you can call in the police if the tenant writes you a bad check. Check fraud, right? Wrong. Check fraud only occurs when there is an exchange of tangible goods. And rent is not considered a tangible good. So there is no criminal liability.
The only recourse is through civil court action. And that process can be expensive and time-consuming. A judgement is of little value if the tenant has no attachable assets.
So the best bet is to terminate the lease unless the check is made good immediately. And take the loss out of the security deposit. Then, if there is still money owed, take it to court.
There is also the tenant who breaks the lease by leaving sooner than expected. If the deposit isn't enough to cover the difference, you may find youself out some money. If you think a lease which spells out a total amount, payable in installments, provides protection, you may be in store for a surprise.
After the unit has been vacant for a month or more, it is necessary to go to court personally - your attorney can't do it for you - and prove that you have been unable to rerent the place despite a demonstrable effort. The judge may find in your favor, but again the collection problem arises. And this court procedure must be repeated every month or two until the lease is up or the place is re-rented.
It may not seem fair, but it is usually easiest and cheapest just to forget the lost months of the lease - and get to work looking for a new tenant.
Lynne F. Peterson is an editor with NBC who is a vacation property landlord.