Getting a signed lease

30 Replies

Hey all!

I started advertising for my property 3 days ago and had a showing yesterday and another one lined up for Friday. Just as background info (sorry for the repetition if you read my other post) I had one property manager tell me $1,300 was fair market rent and another tell me $1,700. I personally think $1,300 is too low and $1,700 is too high, so I'm advertising $1,400 for a 2 year lease & $1,500 for a 1 year lease. Water not included.

Since this is my first rodeo, I wanted to get some insight into the proper order of doing things. Here's what I've done so far: (1) someone responds to my add on craigslist and I email them pre-screening questions (name, number, reason for moving, # of people & relationship, intended rental term, occupancy date, smoking, pets, approximate credit score, occupation) (2) they write back and if there aren't any glaring red flags, I call them & ask if they would like a showing (3) have the showing & give them application to fill out.

That's as far as I've gotten so far. The people last night seemed really great and they liked the place, but I haven't received a completed app yet (it has been less than 24 hours). I've also decided on using mysmartmove.com for screenings - they can pay via credit card directly and then it just sends me the report.

Fast forward to *hopefully soon* receiving a completed application and a credit/background check that I'm comfortable with. I guess I would have them come back over to the house, sit down at the dining room table, and get the lease signed? Do I need to explain to them what is stated in the lease and why or just sit back, relax, and see if they have any questions?

Also, how long should showings typically take? Last night seemed to go really fast. It went well, they definitely liked it & were friendly, but it was quick. Like 5-10 minutes.

Sometimes I hate my age, height, hair color, and gender. I feel like they're all rolled up into a quadruple whammy that make people take me less seriously. I still get carded for rated r movies, how is someone supposed to sign a lease with me? That's my insecurity talking, never mind it.

My husband and I are extremely new at this. We bought a house and was going to sell the one we were living in but a possibility to rent fell in our laps. We went month to month since we weren't sure if this was something we wanted to do. Well, they moved after 5 months. Which is fine. Small repairs to get it back up to our standards. But we decided we liked it so we advertised and had multiple people interested. What we did was set one day aside to show it. I gave people who appeared to be qualified a time on that day and at our meeting we let them fill out application as we asked questions and gave them time for questions. We sent them to a place that we became members of that will run credit checks, background checks, eviction checks and whatever else we want. The applicants then pay for it while there and we get the report and go from there. But I'm an advocate of using just one day with multiple appts instead of running back and forth for a possible no show. 

Most showings are very quick if they don't fill out an application.  If they leave without filling out an application (and paying the fee) you probably won't ever hear from them again.  Not impossible, but unusual.  Always have pens and applications and encourage people to fill them out on the spot, if they're interested.

I only do showings once a week and tell everyone the same time.  Once in a while there will be two groups at once, but that's unusual, too.

For the lease signing, I do that at the property.  Have everyone there.  I do go over the lease paragraph by paragraph.  We all sign, they give me the first months rent and full deposit in cash or equivalent, and I give them the keys.  

Thanks! That leads me to another question - how far in advance do you normally sign a lease? I'm not moving until 7/3  but all my stuff is moving on 6/19. If I still have access to my house I'll be doing 2 weeks on an air mattress but otherwise I can stay with family a little farther away from work. I've advertised that 6/20 is the earliest move-in date and stated that I would prefer a move-in between 6/20 and 7/1. Assuming someone comes, sees the house, loves it, and everything checks out, they could sign the lease now for a 6/20 move-in, and then I'd just have to meet with them again on 6/20 to give them the key, right?

I could definitely see only doing showings 1x or 2x a week if it wasn't also where you were living, but since I'm living here I really don't mind someone coming over after work. I'm here anyways.

@Lisa Ryan  different people will give you different responses...no single right way.  I have a one page property info sheet.  It has some Basic info on the property, location, bed/bath, lease terms, pet policy, etc. then it has all of my qualifications: credit, income, deposit, criminal, background, application fee, etc.  I send it to everyone To ensure that I have given everyone the same qualifications. The last thing you need is for someone to be able to say that the qualifications you gave them are different than what you gave someone else.  That one page will eliminate a lot of people as they will see that you are serious about screening and will not waste their time to view it.  If they call me back after reviewing that page, I will show them the place.  

That's good advise, I'll definitely create a property info page and email that to people who respond to the advertisement. Would you mind sharing what your qualifications are?

Similar to Jon, i have the applications available when they view the property.  I require app and app fee together.  I require security deposit within 48 hours of my notifying them that their application is approved.  I personally wait until their lease start date or the day before to sign the lease and exchange keys and first months rent.  

How do you collect the security deposit if you don't have a signed lease? It seems like until they actually see the lease, there could be certain clauses or terms that they aren't okay with and don't want to commit to.

I'm thinking back to when I rented and I signed leases several months in advance. It was a college rental - 1 bedroom right on king street, walking distance to the library (my 2nd home) so that's different than a SFH I guess.

I use a state standard lease, so most tenants are familiar with it and have no issue with its terms.  There really are no surprises in the lease.  The reason I don't sign the lease in advance is that if there is an executed lease in place but they never pay first months rent a month later, you still have to go through eviction proceedings.  Which to another point, it is different than a college rental...you will not be signing a lease months early because you are not holding the property that long for anyone.  Its different than in college when you looked for a place months in advance.

As to my qualifications:  minimum income (consider 3x rent), pet policy varies for me but if you allow them, charge a non refundable pet deposit and also limit the breeds. Many insurance companies do not like certain breeds.  No smokers, no evictions, no felonies.  Consider a minimum fico score if you are inclined. You can really set the guidelines how you want per property as long as they are administered equally to all applicants of that property and they dont violate federal fair housing laws or any state statutes.  I dont rent anything at the price point you are discussing so your qualifications may be different than others you see on here. Try searching the forums on the topic and you will see others take on qualifications.  

You must have been in Boone a long time after me if you actually remember when you signed the lease in relation to when you moved in. Haha

I remember when I signed my lease because I was counting the days until I could move out of my current apartment (roommate problems, I live better alone - I know I can be a little type A. It's not my fault I'm always right.)

Update on the situation! I got this email for the nice family I showed the house to last night (husband, wife, 12 year old son (very introverted so hopefully not a let's-punch-through-the-walls teenager) and 2 year old daughter)

"Good Evening:

My name is ... and we had the pleasure of viewing your property for rent yesterday evening. We would like to fill out an application but before we do such I wanted to tell u about a situation that may show up on my report.

Personally I never had any convictions, but my ex wife prior to the finalization of our divorce use to live in a home that she was evicted out of, and that eviction shows up on my credit report. I've tried fighting it over the years and even offered a settlement but I wasn't paying the amount they suggested for a home that they knew I didn't live in nor signed a lease to be in.

I wanted to disclose this information to you beforehand being as though everything else will check out. For doing such ---- and I are prepared to pay up to three months of advance rent to show how dedicated we can be if you was to select us.

Thank You"

What do you think of this? If this truly is the situation I don't think it's an issue. I know my Aunt somehow got a negative mark put on her credit due to a credit card that was never paid off by her husband's ex-wife. Is there any way to verify that it was the ex wife & not him that was evicted?

And I have another viewing tomorrow evening with a lady that has a rescue pit. I love dogs & I know it can be hard to find places that accept them. I told her that due to insurance companies restricted breed lists, in addition to the $200 non-refundable pet fee and monthly pet fee of $50 (she also has a lab, so it's 2 dogs) she has to pay $30 a month to cover the increase in insurance and, provided there are any claims that go through my insurance related to dog bites, she is fully responsible for the deductible of $1,000 and a penalty of $500 to cover the increase in insurance costs.

They're such different scenarios. The people from yesterday are a family of 4 with young kids (gotta pay for the Philadelphia lead paint test if there are kids under 6). The lady tomorrow it's just her, the 2 dogs, and a 30 year old son on disability (epilepsy, I've had friends with severe epilepsy and it's rough so it has all my sympathy).

I guess the smart thing to do is run both of their credit reports & background checks and take it from there. They're such different scenarios and will be very different tenants. I have no idea which is better.

I would take a family with that eviction scenario over dogs anytime. Just my opinion. Listen to Brie's podcast if you haven't already. She will accept larger dogs believing that they have fewer rental options and will be there longer.  Many different opinions out there and no single right way.

This lady would definitely be here a long time. She's been at her last place for 10 years but the owner is selling.

The family seems like they'll be here a while too. They want a 2 year lease and put 2+ years as the desired rental period.

My guess is the lady, son & dogs would be here forever and the family will probably be in the 2-5 year range, which is still pretty legitimate.

I do want someone that'll be here as long as possible. I can place the tenants this time, but after this it's going to be on the PM and they charge a whole month's rent. For $1,400 I might arrange a bunch of showings on 1 day about a month before the current tenant's lease is up, fly up here and stay in a hotel for a few nights. It would be cheaper - Frontier has $100 round trip tickets. But that's way too in the future to think about right now.

not sure of your plans, but if you think you can, do it without property management.  Especially if you have family in the area that can arrange contractors and such when needed.  You might spend 10% of rent revenue on PM. Multiply by 5 years and its a lot of $. Just my opinion. This is especially true if you don't expect a lot of turnover or ongoing issues or repairs

Originally posted by @Jon Holdman :

We all sign, they give me the first months rent and full deposit in cash or equivalent, and I give them the keys.  

Jon thank you for making this last statement about paying in cash or cash equivalent. I had never thought about that but it does make since not to give the keys unless you know you have the money not a check that could bounce. 

@Lisa it sounds like you have 2 very good tenant options. Try to make a pro/cons list regarding using property management vs. flying in and staying in a hotel or with family. If you use PM do you still have a good cash flow?

I'm definitely using property management for all the day to day, month to month stuff - legally I have to since I'll live more than 25 miles outside of Philly. I just meant for finding new tenants after my theoretical first tenants that I don't have yet move out :)

I've talked to 3 pms- 1 charges 10%, one 8 and one 6. All charge 1 month rent for tenant placement. There's a big difference between 6 and 10. I think I need to re interview all of them.

Originally posted by @Lisa Ryan :

I remember when I signed my lease because I was counting the days until I could move out of my current apartment (roommate problems, I live better alone - I know I can be a little type A. It's not my fault I'm always right.)

Update on the situation! I got this email for the nice family I showed the house to last night (husband, wife, 12 year old son (very introverted so hopefully not a let's-punch-through-the-walls teenager) and 2 year old daughter)

"Good Evening:

My name is ... and we had the pleasure of viewing your property for rent yesterday evening. We would like to fill out an application but before we do such I wanted to tell u about a situation that may show up on my report.

Personally I never had any convictions, but my ex wife prior to the finalization of our divorce use to live in a home that she was evicted out of, and that eviction shows up on my credit report. I've tried fighting it over the years and even offered a settlement but I wasn't paying the amount they suggested for a home that they knew I didn't live in nor signed a lease to be in.

I wanted to disclose this information to you beforehand being as though everything else will check out. For doing such ---- and I are prepared to pay up to three months of advance rent to show how dedicated we can be if you was to select us.

Thank You"

What do you think of this? If this truly is the situation I don't think it's an issue. I know my Aunt somehow got a negative mark put on her credit due to a credit card that was never paid off by her husband's ex-wife. Is there any way to verify that it was the ex wife & not him that was evicted?

 I would never take this guy, nor the lady with the pit bull.  This is landlording 101 - you will always get people who seem great - who don't meet your criteria.  You cannot waiver from your criteria.  Because if you do, then you've changed your criteria. 

For instance, let's say you start taking families who have evictions on their report, and they happen to be white.  Next time around, you learned renting to people with evictions isn't a good idea.  So you advertise it again, and you get a black family this time, who happens to have an eviction but otherwise meet your criteria.

And this time you say no.  So, if they file a fair housing claim, what is it going to look like?

That's the first reason to say no.  But, the second reason is - look at how he worded this letter.  Read between the lines. 

He was married when his wife got evicted from a place.   Why was he named on the eviction?  He had to be on that lease somehow - either as a tenant on the lease, or as a co-signer.  And yet, he stands by his "right" to not pay what is owed to the landlord. 

So, when it comes time to separate from THIS wife, he'll do the same thing to you  - because he is absolutely certain, that it was right to do the first time.

I love the way he describes his first wife - the ex-wife prior to the divorce.  Hmmm, sounds like a wife to me LOL.

Run. The. Other. Way.  

The lady with the pitbull - same story.  You should never start making up new rules and fees, yatta yatta yatta to accommodate an applicant.  As soon as you realize you are doing that - ever - stop!  Just stop.  Don't ever do that.

Just keep looking.  Every landlord gets these types of applicants.  They know they have to charm their way into a rental, so of course they are charming.

As far as when to sign the lease - I got a signed lease before I stopped showing a place, and that's what I told applicants.  The tenant is going to feel more secure with a signed lease in hand, and you can relax knowing you aren't going to have to start showing all over again, if they change their minds the day before they move in.

Collect at least the deposit.  If they can't afford to pay the rent up-front, too, you can collect it on move-in day, and exchange the rent for the key.

Put in a clause in your contract that says if you can't deliver the unit on the agreed-upon move-in date, that the tenants can choose to break the contract, and you will only be liable for any money they've already paid.  I cut and pasted this clause for someone else yesterday.  Let me know if you want me to do it again for you.  

But, don't waiver from your criteria.  No matter how cute or charming they are.  The definition of a con man is a "confidence man."  He's someone who can make you feel confident about what he's trying to sell you, against your better judgment. 

And practice saying this in the mirror, "I'm sorry, but you don't meet my criteria."

Maybe then you can be one of the lucky landlords without a horror story to tell :-)

Sorry to spam your thread lol, but as far as whether to explain the contract or let them just read it...

I never trust someone to quickly give me their version of what's in a contract I'm going to sign.  I am going to read every word.  And I don't want them talking in my ear while I do it.

So, what I did was I asked them to read the contract and ask me if they have any questions, and I'll be in the next room, and to let me know when they're ready to sign it.

Even being young, or whatever you think your issue is regarding how you look - people may think they can take advantage of you.  That will be the only real problem.  So, it's especially important for them to learn quickly that you aren't a pushover.  I was a very nice and friendly manager, but I also had excellent rules that I learned not to waiver from.  

"Yes, I understand you love your pit bull, and I know they're great dogs, but (and it's really handy to have someone to blame) my lawyer would never let me change my criteria for you.  Sorry."

I read in a parenting book many years ago, that if your child comes home and asks for a cookie before dinner, knowing the rule is no cookies before dinner - but one time out of ten you say "yes," the kid will ask every day.  But, if the kid knows that you will definitely say no every time, they'll quit asking.

So have rules, have criteria, and stick to them.  You can still be a nice person, but you'll be a nice person - who never says yes when the answer needs to be no.

I think I need to go to bed.  I'm sounding like I think I'm a wise old woman or something here, LOL.  I'll blame it on the glass of cheap wine :-)

This family is black so that should make fair housing claims in the future easier, but I understand what you're saying.

My understanding is that he was married & lived with her, then got separated and moved out, she got evicted. I'll ask him to clarify more. Did he leave her high and dry, knowing she couldn't pay the rent alone? Did she tell him she could handle it and then never told him she was getting evicted?

We'll see what the reports turn up.

i recently updated my lease to includes words about strongly suggesting renters insurance and added highlighted initialed blocks after the "rules" no tampons flushed in toilet, parking in designated spots, ( had to add that one after problems with lawn parking) ect, 

That way i know that we are on the same page, I remember being a young renter and not bothering to read "all that stuff". But I do remember one gruff older man giving me and my then husband the riot act on what he expected. No misunderstandings there! 

Then it was turned over to the property management company. 

Just giving encouragement! You are providing a service, a clean, safe environment to live in, people need you! 

Hi people,  I'm new to this forum but I've been in the rental business for the past 30 years. Tenants have definitely changed over the years ad well as tenants rights and laws, I can tell you some real horror stories about tenants. Over the years I have developed a relationship with the Constable that hands out the eviction papers so now all I do is call him and ask if this potential tenant is on his list of past evictions. I charge an $45 application fee I ask for up front before I discuss the tenant agreement. If they don't pay the interview stops there.  I use a lot of body language viewing tells me a lot about what they're telling me is true or not. All ways ask for references of their previous landlord. I know many of the landlords in the area and a simple call to them helps alot. It always pays to be tough on new tenants because it will save you 3 months of lost rent, repair costs and legal fees. You have to ask yourself what will it cost me to rent to them. This is a major cost saving question, Believe me I would rather have an empty than lose $3000 in costs associated with a bad tenant. Good luck to you.

If you are getting these candidates 2 months in advance of move-in, I think stronger candidates will come along.  I would be more inclined to take less rent than to make exceptions.  I would trust the $1300/month rent figure a lot more than the $1700/month figure.  If you aren't getting much interest from qualified candidates 3 to 4 weeks out, that would be a good time to lower your rent and possibly looking at other places to advertise.

@Mike Sedlacek, agree with you.  One of my highest paying rents gave me the most trouble as well (need to chase rent often, quite a few damages to fix from time to time).

Thanks everyone for your advise & words of encouragement :)

I'm not totally put off by the man that said he might have an eviction show up. I'm going to talk to him more about the details of scenario, run the background & credit reports, and see how the rest of the package looks. During a divorce there's a gray period where you're still legally married but living separate lives and you can't control other people's actions. If there's anything else at all even slightly questionable I'll nix that family.

The pitbull does have me nervous. Not the dog itself, but the breed and the reputation. I'll require her to pay an additional "restricted breed" fee on top of the regular dog fee in order to carry additional insurance. I think that should be sufficient. Also to the previous poster's point about setting precedent and not showing what could be construed as discrimination against a protected class, I do say in the advertisement that all dogs are individually subject to evaluation and any dog can be rejected for any reason. In the future if a family tries to move in that has a pitbull (and they happen to be black for example) and I reject them and they file a claim, I should be able to point to that and say that the dog was rejected due to temperament/lack of training.

Also about the rent prices and $1,300 being more realistic than $1,700 -- there's an apartment complex at the end of my street that has 1,300 sq ft 3 bed/1.5 bath condos that rent for $1,800 per month. They aren't anything fancy, pretty run-of-the-mill. My house is nicer, has a garage, has 1 more bathroom, has a fenced in backyard, and is 500 sq ft bigger.

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