Would you rent to them?
I wonder if our insurance company would have grounds to drop us if we rented to a convicted arsonist?
As a small, private rental company, we just do not have the where-with-all to give someone that big of a second chance. Even if they deserve one, which they may. I’m a strong believer in redemption. One day when I start the non-profit wing of our business I could work with charities that would help someone like this applicant find housing. But even then I would have to make sure that would not impact the rights of another tenant who would prefer not to live next to a convicted killer.
I am aware that HUD is trying to make denying someone a rental based on a criminal record illegal discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. But as of now, criminals are not a protected class. And those discrimination charges are on a case-by-case basis. HUD doesn’t want landlords to have a blanket policy denying applicants with a criminal record, because of disparities in the criminal justice system. People with a criminal record are more likely to be black or Hispanic. In this case, I am unaware of the applicant’s race. The interaction never got beyond a text message.
But I don’t care if you’re white, brown, green or purple – if you killed somebody and set a fire, you are not going to rent from me. Take me to court. See how fast this blog goes national then! (Yes, I have a fame motive as well as a profit motive. Those who want to screw with me would do well to keep that in mind!)
I’m really not afraid of a discrimination lawsuit. No one is going to call me on the carpet for refusing to rent a half-double to a convicted murderer/arsonist. The tenant on the other side has rights, after all!
My company does look at applicants with a criminal background on a case-by-case basis. If someone was busted five years ago for possessing a small amount of marijuana, I’d rent to them if all their other references and employment checked out. In fact, that’s what got me in trouble with Wilkes-Barre’s One Strike Ordinance in March of last year. A tenant was busted in the apartment with enough baggies of marijuana to suggest he was dealing. The unit was shut down for six months under One Strike, a law that was declared unconstitutional by an ACLU lawsuit this summer. At our One Strike appeal hearing we were accused of being complicate because one of the tenants had that possession charge on his record and we knew about it and rented to him anyway. Actually, that tenant was at work at the time of the bust. It was the other tenant in the unit, the one with the clean record, who was arrested with the baggies. No charges were ever filed against our second chancer.
My point in telling this story is that the laws don’t make sense. Governments don’t know how to deal with society’s problems, so they just push them back on the landlords. YES there is systemic racism in this country, and it sucks. But I’m sure the black or Hispanic tenants with no criminal record would appreciate me not renting out the unit next to theirs to a convicted murderer.
My advice to landlords: use common sense in your application process. If you deny a black murderer you better deny the white one, too (please!) Likewise if you accept the white applicant with an assault conviction for a bar fight 10 years ago, you better also accept the black one.
Other than that, get good insurance. And isolate and separate your rentals with good corporate structure. Make it real difficult and unprofitable for someone to sue your rental company. And make sure you’re set up right so they can only sue your company, not you personally.
Starting from Square One with Seven Available Rentals
Over the next few weeks I’ll be dealing with applicants on a regular basis. Somehow, Steve and I ended up with seven empty units going into November. This is not good!
Now that we’re back in the driver’s seat managing our own properties, we are looking for tenants who fit with our program. And I don’t care if the units have to sit empty for a month or two, or even three. We’re going to fill them with decent people who have good references. We’re going to talk to employers. We’re going to talk to landlords for the last five years. We’re not going to rent to anyone through HDC – that’s a HUD program that works with families in danger of becoming homeless. A noble mission – but at the expense of the property owners who rent to them. I wrote an entire blog post about why we will never work with them again here:
A follow up to that post – HDC moved our bad tenants into another landlord’s unit, by telling that landlord we were horrible slumlords and these poor deserving people just needed a place to live now. And she fell for it, poor thing. Steve ran into her during the course of his work in wholesale investing. Like us, she’s an investor with rentals as one part of her business. I told her to find a way to surprise-inspect that apartment at least once a quarter.
The two dogs and a cat those tenants snuck in to our unit were abandoned at the SPCA when they moved. If anyone is an innocent victim here, it is those animals. Fuck HDC.
BEWARE renting to the tenant that needs to move NOW because of their “horrible landlord”
Chances are that “horrible landlord” finally got sick of them not paying rent and decided to exercise their right to eviction. Or like us, discovered they were sneaking in extra people not on the lease, moving in illegal pets and living in squalor.
Also, beware of sob stories about the building being shut down for code enforcement, or that it was foreclosed upon, and the landlord has disappeared. How convenient that landlord isn’t around to give a reference! If the story seems plausible it’s easy enough to fact check the sob story. A call to the local code enforcement office might yield some answers, as would a drive by the address. A foreclosed home or one shut by code enforcement would have notices posted.
Looking for a good tenant? Screen, screen, screen!
Here is my screening script when I’m calling back a prospect who has answered one of my For Rent ads:
What sort of a place are you looking for?
How many bedrooms?
How many adults?
Where do you work? Do you get paid every two weeks/twice a month? What’s your check?
Other adults who will be living with you – what is their income?
Would you be able to provide check stubs?
Would you be able to provide landlord references going back 5 years to 2011?
Do any of you have any criminal background we should be aware of?
How about any default judgements for bills you didn’t pay?
OK – we do a background check on all our tenants to keep our buildings and everyone who lives in them or near them safe. There is a $25 application fee and everyone over 18 needs to fill one out, so the application fee for (___) people would be ($___) . Please bring that with you in case you decide you want the rental. If you are approved and end up taking the place, that money will be applied to your first month’s rent.
Also if you want us to hold the unit for you we would require a deposit. So bring that with you in case you really like it and want to grab it before somebody else does.
We prefer the entire security deposit ($____) but we’ll accept a minimum of $200 if you can get the rest of the deposit to us within 7 days.
OK – does everything sound good? Want to schedule a showing?
I keep it conversational and friendly. I’ve only been using it for a few days – it’s been awhile since I’ve had to rent apartments. I’ll let you know how it goes.