HousingLink Blog

  • 6 Property Maintenance Tips to Save Landlords Money

    by Josh Dye | Aug 27, 2018

    From The Balance:

    Performing regular maintenance on your property can help you catch a small problem before it turns into a large expense. Here are some property maintenance tips that can help you save money in the long run.

    • Exterminate monthly.
    • Check for water damage and leaks.
    • Examine shower caulking and grout between tiles.
    • Test all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly.
    • Change the filters in your forced air systems.
    • Flush your water heater.

    Click here to read more.

  • Collecting the Rent - Tracking and Holding Renters Accountable

    by Josh Dye | Aug 27, 2018

    Have you ever had a resident fall WAY behind on the rent?

    We occasionally hear stories about people falling behind on rent by hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Some landlords allow a few months to go by, and then demand payment or otherwise eviction will happen. 

    This can happen for a number of reasons. Some falsely expect that a government or subsidy program will step in to help the renter catch up. While other landlords may get busy, overwhelmed, or have some disorganization that leads to poor tracking of rent payments. 

    Regardless of the reason, it is important to understand a few things about unpaid rent:

    1. Subsidy programs or emergency assistance often will not come to the rescue, especially if the renter falls behind by more than a month. 

    2. It is in everyone's best interest to address unpaid rent right away. Options include setting up a payment plan that helps the renter get caught up over time, negotiating a joint termination of the tenancy, or filing an eviction, if necessary.

    3. Have a system in place (even if it is just a spreadsheet) to track rent payments and a standard process to communicate when the rent is late (create templates of letters you can use regularly to increase efficiency.

  • Landlords - Use a Security Deposit Checklist

    by Josh Dye | Aug 27, 2018

    The lease is ending and your renter is moving out. Now you want to handle the security deposit process correctly. Getting it right starts on move-in day, not just when they move out.

    Use this helpful security deposit checklist:

    1. On move-in day, together with the renter, fill out a move-in inspection form to document the condition of the unit. Make a copy for both parties.

    2. Before move-out, provide instructions to the renter on their responsibilities for cleaning the unit (e.g. oven, stove, refrigerator, how to handle nail holes in the wall, etc).

    4. On move-out day, fill out a move-out inspection form. Compare it to the move-in form.

    5. Note things damaged beyond ordinary wear and tear and additional cleaning that is needed.

    6. Create a detailed, itemized list of charges of what will get deducted from the security deposit, if anything. 

    7. Return the security deposit to the renter within 21 days with the itemized list of charges/deductions.

    Having a good documentation process with clear communication is a landlord's best friend!

  • Severe Weather Emergency Preparedness for Landlords

    by Josh Dye | Aug 27, 2018

    No matter what type of building you own, it is important to inform your renters where to go during a weather emergency.

    We recently heard the story of a young woman who lived on the top floor of a duplex. A tornado tore through town, but she stayed upstairs frightened, not knowing what to do. She survived, but it highlights an important point about emergency preparedness in rental properties.

    In anticipation of the severe weather season, send a message to your renters that lets them know the safest place to go in the building if a tornado or other natural disaster hits. We also recommend that you post these instructions in a common area of the building, so renters have regular access to the information.

  • Your Home's Role in Your Health & Safety

    by Josh Dye | May 11, 2018

    It can be challenging as a tenant to be upfront and honest when facing questionable living conditions. While you don’t want to step on your landlord’s toes, you also don’t want to compromise your own health and well-being in the process. Upon moving in, it’s important to be aware that your landlord is required to ensure the home is habitable and safe. This means the property should have adequate heat, electricity, water, and a sustainable foundation. Although you may think small problems are harmless, simple issues like damaged walls and minor leaks can potentially lead to long-term health problems.

    The Importance of a Strong Foundation
    Your landlord is required to fix any exterior or structural issues because these damages are usually the beginning of an endless list of safety hazards. This means they should be taking preventative measures, such as replacing weathered roof materials and faulty gutters to protecting the property from deteriorating over time. Common signs of structural damage include difficulty opening or shutting doors and windows, cracks or bulges in the walls, broken floor tiles or concrete, and standing water. Poor property maintenance is not only dangerous for tenants during harsh weather conditions, but can also lead to mold growth and exposure to environmental toxins.

    Health Risks Resulting From Poor Maintenance
    Homeowners should disclose any history of mold associated with the property and make a conscious effort to control the issue. Although there could be many sources behind mold growth, a weak structure is certainly a factor worth considering. This issue can be attributed to leaking pipes, poorly sealed windows, and damaged roof materials, which all require a landlord’s attention. You can assume your home contains mold if you spot discolored stains or come across a musty odor. Although not all mold is considered dangerous, toxic mold can release airborne spores triggering asthma symptoms and allergic reactions for tenants.

    Radon is a prime example of a natural gas that can seep into our homes virtually undetected. In most cases, homeowners will hire a professional to inspect radon levels, but if your home has structural damage this gas can accumulate over time, so it should be tested for regularly. This includes cracks and openings in the walls or foundation, which should have been repaired by your landlord prior to moving in. If your rental property shows signs of weathering and is located in an area saturated with uranium rock and soil, consider purchasing your own at-home testing kit. If a test indicates high levels indoors, the property could be considered uninhabitable as radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer today.

    If your home was built as recently as 1980 and shows visible signs of aging, you could be at an increased risk of asbestos exposure. Although it’s difficult to identify asbestos just by looking at the material, if you are concerned you should contact your landlord who can have the property professionally inspected. Typical products that may contain the mineral include old vinyl floor tiles, HVAC ducts, roof shingles, concrete, insulation, and more. Vermiculite insulation is especially concerning as 70% of this product was mined from Libby, Montana, and contaminated with asbestos. This material is often found in attics and is predicted to lurk inside 1 million homes across America today. When materials containing asbestos are broken down the fibers enter the air and could be breathed in, eventually becoming lodged in the outer lining of the lungs, heart, or stomach.

    Any amount of exposure is considered dangerous to humans, but products containing asbestos do not pose a threat until they have been damaged or begun to deteriorate. With Air Quality Awareness Week quickly approaching, we are taking strides to educate readers about how they can protect their lungs within their own homes, a place that should always be a source of comfort and security. We hope to encourage anyone at risk to educate themselves on their rights and how to handle a potential health hazard confidently.
  • Landlords - Look Out for Fraudulent Resident Applications

    by Josh Dye | Mar 07, 2018

    From Rental History Reports on February 16th, 2018:

    We have experienced an influx of fraudulent applications within the Twin Cities market over the past 45 days that we want to make you aware of so that you can strengthen your policies moving forward.

    What we have noticed:

    • Applicants using online leasing portals (specifically Yardi, so far) to submit fraudulent applications – typically providing incorrect variants of their real names, SSNs and DOBs.
    • Applicants providing fake employment and rental references, often with phone numbers that show up on “escort/massage” ads on sites like backpage.com if you reverse-search them.
    • In many cases, the applicant’s own contact number also leads to ads on backpage.com. 

    What you should consider:

    • There are many reasons someone would falsify an application – poor rental history, a record of evictions, etc. – but you should also be aware of a growing demand for illegal “in call” prostitution services. Prostitution and sex trafficking rings need places to invite customers to, and rental apartments are often more attractive to them than hotel/motel rooms. Demand increases during big events like the Super Bowl, so Twin Cities area customers especially should be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
    • These applicants are getting smarter and adapting their behavior based on background screening practices.  For example, we’ve noticed they have begun providing addresses that do not exist to prevent us from being able to research and call the legal property owner for a reference.

    What you can do to prevent fraudulent applicants from being approved:

    • It is imperative not only to check an applicant’s government issued photo ID prior to signing a lease, but also to compare what is on that photo ID to what was provided on the application form – whether that was a paper application or an online application. 
    • If the spelling of the name, the date of birth, the ID number and/or the address on the ID do not match, STOP the leasing process and obtain an updated background report using the information on the ID.
    • Look for flags on the background report.  If there is a warning that an applicant has no credit file, confirm the information the applicant provided.  A very young adult or a recent immigrant probably wouldn’t have a credit file yet, but almost everyone else should.  If the legal owner of a property has no record of an applicant, but the applicant gives an “alternate” contact who provides a reference, that reference may not be accurate.
    • Strongly consider whether you want RHR to utilize applicant provided contact information.  We perform research on things like property ownership for a reason – to protect our customers from falsified references.
    • While the applicants we’ve noticed up to this point seem to be providing variations on their actual information, there is good reason to anticipate an uptick in the number of applications submitted using someone else’s data entirely, especially in the wake of the Equifax breach.

    Additional services RHR is able to offer to prevent fraud:

    • Consent-based SSN verification
    • Cross-checking photo ID uploads against what was entered by an applicant

    Services in development that RHR will be able to offer:

    • KIQ at time of application within RHR’s “Apply Now” on-line application portal
      • KIQ, or Knowledge IQSM is a revolutionary knowledge-based authentication tool for identity authentication and fraud prevention.  Knowledge IQSM interactive challenge-response questions provide innovative and integrated identity authentication and fraud detection on a single platform. By utilizing the sophisticated challenge-response authentication questions, you have a comprehensive risk-management and identity authentication system.
    Contact Rental History Reports for more information.
  • Support for Landlords Taking Chances on Renters

    by Josh Dye | Feb 12, 2018

    The vacancy rate is incredibly low. You have likely heard news stories about our community losing Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH), and the struggles renters are having finding private market rental housing. These problems are even worse for renters with criminal, credit and rental history struggles in their backgrounds. 

    To respond to these issues, an interesting model called the Landlord Risk Mitigation Fund has expanded in Minnesota. Through state funding from Minnesota Housing, three regions have started pilot projects to support landlords as they rent to people with barriers in their backgrounds. The regions running pilot projects include Brainerd, St. Louis County, and a collaborative that covers Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott, and Washington Counties.

    Each region has developed programs to meet the needs of their community. These programs support landlords by providing access to an insurance fund. If a renter does not abide by the terms of the lease, landlords gain access to financial resources to cover costs related to lease termination, eviction, and damages to the property. Additionally, the programs provide a consistent point of contact for landlords if there are issues with the tenancy. Each renter benefits from case management services. 

    Are you a landlord that is open to participating in this program? The first step is to advertise your vacancies through HousingLink here. When listing, make sure to indicate which barriers you are willing to consider in the vacancy listing process.

    Are you passionate about the quality housing your provide and want to take part in developing new solutions? Participate in your local community groups focused on preventing homelessness through the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP), you can find your local group here.  

    The Landlord Risk Mitigation pilot projects were built on programs that some homeless service organizations operated on a smaller scale over the past few years. Several community groups focused on preventing homelessness in Minnesota began surveying landlords to get their insight on this issue and ideas for how to help renters be successful. Your participation in these surveys was put into action through the creation of the pilot programs mentioned above.

    The surveys revealed that many owners will consider making exceptions to their rental criteria. A primary area of concern discovered was making sure renters have access to case management and support systems. That way, if they experience a time of crises, help readily available for all parties involved

    Another item of priority revealed through the surveys was to have additional financial resources available if a costly issue were to arise. This means programs like the landlord risk mitigation fund, double damage deposit, and co-signers or financial guarantees. 

    Do you really love data and want to read the full survey report? Email us and we will share the survey we did with the Anoka County FHPAP.

    Also, make sure to join us at a Coffee & Conversation event on Tuesday, February 20th from 8:30-9:30 AM at the Emma B. Howe YMCA in Coon Rapids. You will get an opportunity to learn about Beyond Backgrounds, the landlord risk mitigation program available in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott, & Washington Counties. Your feedback led to the creation of this program, thank you for your input and willingness to be part of the solution to make sure all Minnesotans have access to a place to call home!

  • Resource: Southside Community Health Services

    by Josh Dye | Sep 28, 2017

    Southside Community Health Services (Southside) is a nonprofit community clinic that has provided primary health care services to under served people in the Twin Cities for nearly 50 years. Southside provides culturally competent medical, dental, vision, and behavioral health services to anyone in need, and never turns anyone away due to inability to pay.

    In addition to traditional clinical services, Southside has innovative programs, such as the mobile dental unit (they bring services to your site!), community garden program, and free health screenings at community settings.

    Services are provided in two south Minneapolis sites:

    • 324 East 35th Street, Minneapolis: Medical & Behavioral Health, 612-827-7181
    • 4243 4th Ave S, Minneapolis: Dental & Vision services, 612-822-9030 (dental), 612-821-2003 (vision)
  • How to Help a Renter in a Financial Crisis

    by Josh Dye | Jul 07, 2017

    The rental housing market has been an owner’s market since 2011, and sustained vacancy rates of less than 3% throughout the Twin Cities Metro Area are unprecedented. In addition to high occupancy rates, the majority of new construction is for luxury rental units affordable only to households earning a minimum of $60,000 per year. Although a strong apartment market is promising, it leaves some at-risk families struggling to retain their units as rents rise.

    One program in Anoka County (that also operates throughout all of MN) is working hard to educate owners on the services available to help renters who run into a financial crisis. The Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP) is a state program that is implemented through local county governments. In Anoka County, the FHPAP Committee is concerned about the squeeze on renters who are struggling to get by and living paycheck to paycheck. Many of these renters have barriers to financial success including poor credit, evictions, limited income, or criminal backgrounds.

    Starting earlier this year, a special project reached out to owners to request input on whether or not they were working with (or willing to rent to) individuals with some of these barriers.

    The work had the following goals:
    1. Raise awareness about financial supports that exist to help a struggling renter prevent an eviction

    2. Learn from owners directly about their concerns regarding renters with barriers

    3. Engage owners in helping to shape the community response to renters with barriers

    To achieve the first goal and raise awareness, a single phone number was created for struggling renters to receive assistance. In Anoka County, renters can call 763-324-1215, and they will be directed to the proper services. This single point of contact has made it possible for renters to easily access resources to help them avoid eviction.

    An online survey was utilized as the initial step in gathering information from owners regarding renters with barriers. The survey asked owners when they might consider making an exception to their rental selection criteria. Sixty percent (60%) of owners responded that they would need access to a financial guarantee of rent; additional security deposit; and regular, ongoing case management as the main resources in order to consider renters with more than one barrier in their background. In addition to this, the survey results show that 63% of the owners are willing to accept renters with vouchers similar to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher as part of renting to households with barriers in their background.

    To engage owners in the community, a “Landlord Lunch & Learn” session was held in April. There were over fifty owners who attended the session, and several connections were made between owners and human services providers.Some feedback included: “Good mix of business topic and creative value,” “I would be interested in more information regarding legal matters of concern,” and  “I learned that this program was helpful for landlords and tenants.”  Nine owners indicated an interest in learning more about the committee and engaging in discussions to shape the community’s response to ending homelessness. Keep an eye on Anoka County to see the impact of this new engagement.

    Minnesota Housing funds 20 FHPAP programs that cover all 87 counties in Minnesota. Please reach out to your local community and get involved!

  • What would you do? A tenant's sister is sleeping in the parking lot...

    by Josh Dye | Oct 05, 2016

    A landlord approached HousingLink with the following dilemma:

    "The sister and boyfriend of a resident are sleeping in a car in the parking lot of our apartment complex. The resident is current on her rent, and complies with the lease. I contacted the local police department, but they said they can't do anything to help since it is private property and they have no jurisdiction. How should I handle this situation?"

    Here were some responses from landlords that subscribe to our Landlord Link newsletter.

    Jean's Response
    "I would treat them as my tenant's guests. Whether they can be on the premises, and for how long, would depend on the terms of my tenant's lease. First, I would remind my tenant of the applicable lease terms regarding guests, their number and duration, and, if allowed, adding guests to the lease. I would advise my tenant that the presence of these people anywhere on the premises invokes these guest provisions, whether or not they stay inside the tenant's apartment or use any of the tenant's other facilities.

    Second, if my tenant's guest allowances include free parking of the guests' car, I would allow their car to stay in the parking lot until the tenant's guest allowance is exhausted. If not, the car must be removed immediately. If free parking for guests is not allowed, but space is available, the car could stay - up to the limit of the overall guest policy - with payment of parking fees.

    Third, once the guest allowance is exhausted, the guests must leave the premises, unless the lease allows for additional tenants. If it does, and my tenant had requested that they be added, they qualify, and they pay the additional rent, they may stay.

    Finally, if the lease does not allow for additional tenants, or if any of the other additional tenant requirements do not occur, I would look to my tenant to remove the guests. If the guests do not leave, I would notify my tenant of a material breach of the lease and otherwise proceed with eviction. I would also call the police again about removing trespassers from my property."

    Carla's Response
    "I would first speak to the Resident that according to her signed MN lease line #28 (line #28 in the lease this landlord is using), she is responsible for her guests as well as the property of anyone visiting her.  

    Second, I would inform her that in the latter portion of line #36 of her lease (line #36 in the lease this landlord is using), that as a Resident, she agreed to respect the rights of other Residents, and all persons lawfully on the premises; emphasizing the fact that her guests are not lawfully allowed to park their car and/or stay in it, as it is private property.  

    Third, I would also call her attention to line #44 of her lease (line #44 in the lease this landlord is using) that further defines the parking directives; that parking spaces may be used by the Resident and Resident's guests for "parking"; and Management's ability "to tow away and store any vehicle at Residents or owners expense that are parked in spaces not so authorized by management."

    Last, I would point out that in line #44, the lease goes on to state (line #44 in the lease this landlord is using); "The Resident agrees to inform all guests of the parking rules for the apartment property." 

    I would then advise her that by her allowing her guests to do this that she is in violation of her lease and should the situation not be taken care of immediately, she will receive a written lease violation notice that will be placed in her permanent Resident file.  I would then close our conversation by informing her that any future lease violations may be cause to not renew her lease or could even potentially cause her eviction which would also put her future rental prospects at risk."

    (Note how Carla referenced her lease to state her case. This is a landlord best practice!)

    Lindsay's Response
    "I'd start by contacting local shelters to see if/what they can do. I'm sure that they've run across this type of situation before and maybe they can offer some solutions for you as a manager to help the homeless people in your lot.

    I'd then sit down with the resident of the apartment and let them know that the parking lot is an extension of their home and if someone ("a guest") of theirs is loitering it's there responsibility to tell them they need to move onto another home. This is a lease infraction and can jeopardize their residency with you (possibly non-renew them). 

    But if you can have something in your hand to try to help them find someplace suitable to live or contact information for a homeless shelter near by.  Then give them a date and time you'd need them to be out of your parking lot."

    Greg's Response
    "Post a sign in the lot that states parking is for resident's cars only. if they don't quit living in the lot, tell the current tenant that her sister and boyfriend are causing a lease violation, and give her a choice, they move on or she moves on.

    Mention the tightness of the rental market, and what an eviction will do to her chances of finding a new unit. If you post the sign in the lot, just have their car towed by the company that posts the property. Your lease should be able to force the tenant to make them go away, and if not, get a new lease."

    Michelle's Response
    "We would file a trespass order as they are not residents of the complex and are trespassing on private property."

    Miche's Response
    "I would speak with the tenant and let them know this is not safe. It does interfere with the quiet enjoyment of others. If everyone started sleeping in their cars, it would cause problems with noise, trash, others stopping to visit with them."

    Sherrie's Response
    "I don’t understand the landlord stating the police saying it’s not their jurisdiction and they won’t come on private property. The police come on private property all the time when there’s a complaint. The landlord should contact the police again, and speak with someone more knowledgeable."

    Bill's Response
    "Do you have no trespass signage up? If so, Anyone sleeping/ loitering/ standing on private property are subject to trespass, at least in the state of MN. These people have no right to entry whether their sister is current or not. The tenant rights do not transfer just because of a relationship. No one other than those on the lease agreement as members of the household have right of entry and can be trespassed.

    Ask them to leave and not return. Then have the police come and serve a trespass notice to these people. This will eliminate their ability to be on the property at any time. Explain to the sister that no one can sleep/loiter on the common areas of the property and that they've been trespassed."