first-time landlordsCongratulations on making the leap towards owning an investment property. Real estate investments are often seen as one of the most reliable (and profitable) investment opportunities due to the tax benefits and income potential.

However, a reliable and profitable investment will only become safe and lucrative if managed properly.  A new landlord needs to take the necessary steps set himself up for success.

Finding the perfect property at the right price and paying for the property, whether with a loan or out of pocket, is only part of the real estate investment game. Actually managing a rental property successfully is the other equally important aspect.

Here’s a look at the most important areas a new landlord must understand in order to have the most successful property. To learn more about what to look for when purchasing an investment property check out this article.

Know the Laws

Every rental property is governed by specific set of landlord-tenant laws established by your state.  Additionally, depending on where your property is located you may need to adhere to local city and county laws that will impact your rental property.

Landlord-tenant laws are state driven rules that will protect the owner, the property and the tenants in all rental transactions. 

Landlord-Tenant Laws include items like:

If you have yet to check out the landlord-tenant laws in your state, you’ll find that there is a rule for almost every scenario that could arise between a landlord and renter interaction. Landlord-tenant laws provide the guidelines for how you will create a lease agreement.

Failing to follow landlord-tenant laws can result in a lawsuit and lost income.  For example, if you are evicting a renter for non-payment of rent, but forgot to follow one of your state’s landlord-tenant laws the judge could end up siding with the tenant and you could owe him money!

Every new landlord should find an attorney who is familiar with landlord-tenant laws in your state. Arrange a meeting to go over any questions about owning a rental property, and have him review your lease agreement and any legal forms you will use in your rental business.

Screen Your Tenants

Once you have a good understanding of your rights and responsibilities as a rental housing provider, let’s take a look at the next most important task required of a successful rental investment – tenant screening!

Your investment will only be profitable if you find tenants who pay rent on time, following lease terms and maintain the property according to the lease (ie do not cause any damage!).

New landlords will  be most successful at finding good tenants by following tenant screening best practices.  Landlords are advised to  look at a rental applicant’s credit report, criminal report and eviction history to determine if he will be a good renter.

Benefits of a common Tenant Screening Reports:

  • Credit report reveals a renters financial responsibility, bill paying habits and debt-to-income ratio.
  • Criminal report will show you if a renter has a dangerous criminal background that would put your property, your community, your other tenants, you or your business in danger.
  • Eviction reports show you if a renter has had any evictions in his past.

Additionally, a good landlord will ask for past landlord references, job references, pay-stubs, and other supporting documents to prove that the applicant can meet the income requirements and has qualities of a good renter.

Tenant screening is one area that is governed by federal laws like the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Your knowledge of landlord-tenant laws should include a complete understanding of these federal laws.

Tenant screening is the best way to protect the profitability of your investment property. The more qualified your renter is, the more likely you will have a positive landlord-tenant relationship. One free of evictions, property damage or vacancy – all things that significantly eat away at a landlord’s cash-flow.

Have a Reserve Fund

Keep a reserve fund to pay for property maintenance. This includes all planned and unplanned maintenance for your property, especially emergencies.

Even if property damage is caused by a tenant, and they are technically at fault, you might still have to pay for the out of pocket expenses to return the property to a habitual condition.

Your reserve fund should cover emergency property expenses and can also act as a savings account for big ticket property maintenance like replacing the roof, repainting the exterior or replacing a furnace.

Wells Fargo notes that you should expect to spend 1-2% of your house value on property maintenance each year.

Understanding landlord-tenant laws, following tenant screening best practices, and having an adequate reserve fund are a few of the most important steps every landlord must take in order to set themselves up for a profitable investment.

What tips do you wish were shared with you when you purchased your first investment property. Let us know in the comments!

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