My question is how do I go about getting a reliable person in my first duplex? I'm going to be living in one of the units though. And is it a good idea to let the tenant know I'm the owner?
It isn't ideal to let the person know your the owner but when your living next door it is also soo much harder to have them think that long term. You don't want them to think you lied. Whatever you pick you need to stick to it. Are you the only owner? One option is to always speak about checking with the other owner. Hope that helps.
That's really a tough call. Also, keep in mind that federal fair housing laws don't apply to an owner-occupied 2-family like they do with every other property (including owner-occupied 3 or 4-family units). Be sure to look that over because you have a lot more freedom in picking who lives there.
I could see a tenant not wanting to rent with the owner next door; and frankly, as a landlord, I can see where it would be tough. I like Kyle's idea of speaking to the other owner so that there's always a perceived "other party" to contend with.
As for getting reliable people, outside of the traditional routes of finding tenants, you can also ask to post ads at the places of business that your most reliable/responsible friends work. I think you can also post on Zillow as an owner. There are property management companies that will cost less than 1 month's rent and have access to the MLS but you have to look at the demographic of your area and see if it's likely most renters are working with a realtor (where I am, that's absolutely the case because of the high number of relocations). We've always found that their credit report says a LOT about their reliability; but then also be sure to call their current landlord. ;)
I post ads in Craigslist. I tell the interested people that I do an application, check references and credit and do a background check. That self eliminates the ones with issues. When I get a qualified applicant, my main focus is on confirming employment and salary, checking references and talking to previous landlords. I've had good luck using this approach.
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