General Landlording & Rental Properties

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Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
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Must Reply To Every Inquiry?

Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
Posted Jul 27 2017, 10:05

If I can tell from a prospect’s initial contact that they’re not someone I want to do business with (rude, rushing me to reply, bad grammar, etc.), do I have to even reply? Is that something they could sue over? This one lady emailed me at 1AM this morning and has left several voicemails since demanding to see the property ASAP. I wouldn’t normally even reply until I take lunch at work, which nobody has had any issues with so far, but can I just ignore her altogether? I’m house hacking and already know this person is not living in my house. Do I have to go through the motions?

I know I have more legal leeway due to owner-occupy "choose your neighbor" law, but let's pretend this is strictly a rental. What then?

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Walt Dockery
  • Investor
  • Winter Park, FL
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Walt Dockery
  • Investor
  • Winter Park, FL
Replied Jul 27 2017, 10:23

Did you read the ultimate guides to screening and to renting your house stickied at the top of this forum?  They helped me out a lot as I wondered the same types of things you do.

My understanding is no, you do not have to waste your time "going through the motions" with someone who isn't a good fit.  Pushy people are not a protected class.

You may find you get so many inquiries that it's virtually impossible to follow up with all of them.  You can't be legally obligated to follow up with every person who leaves you a voicemail.  

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Rick S.
  • Fort Collins, CO
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Rick S.
  • Fort Collins, CO
Replied Jul 27 2017, 10:37

@Art Maydan Fair Housing rules don't apply to owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units.  

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Derek Luttrell
  • Chicago, IL
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Derek Luttrell
  • Chicago, IL
Replied Jul 27 2017, 11:51

@Art Maydan since we're both in Chicago, I'm curious if you're house-hacking a multi-family, or a single living space. I closed on a condo in Ukrainian Village last week, and have filled the 2 leftover bedrooms with roommates. I've lost track of how many text messages and voice mails I have ignored just by gut instincts from first impressions of people wanting to see the rooms. 

Especially if they are living in the same unit as you, listen to your gut and make sure you pick the right tenants/roommates. Is it judgmental of me? Yes. But I definitely have not been responding to every inquiry I've received.  

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Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
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Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
Replied Jul 27 2017, 11:52

@Derek Luttrell I'm house hacking a duplex, but I'm also managing 7 other units in Pilsen, so I want to make sure I know what the right thing to do is even outside of house hacking.

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Colleen F.
  • Investor
  • Narragansett, RI
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Colleen F.
  • Investor
  • Narragansett, RI
Replied Jul 27 2017, 12:23
Use a stock reply telling them the open house time.I have ignored obvious scams and on one occasion a previous tenant but if they are persistent you have to deal with it and I usually try to reply. Email is easy, sorry no smokers, or whatever the reason is. If the reason you don't want them is they are rude I would tell them I don't think this is a match. An email at 1 am is okay with me but a phone call at 6am would be rude in my book ( I'm awake but a potential tenant doesn't know that) . For this tenant an email stating you received the messages would hopefully do. If they obviously don't qualify say so.

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Derek Luttrell
  • Chicago, IL
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Derek Luttrell
  • Chicago, IL
Replied Jul 27 2017, 12:26

@Art Maydan I am neither a seasoned veteran nor a lawyer, but I don't see how an individual landlord/manager could be expected to respond to every single inquiry that comes their way.

However, I know very little about the fine print on the Fair Housing ordinance, so I too am curious about at what all is considered "discriminating" against a prospective tenant. 

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Brie Schmidt
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Chicago, IL
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Brie Schmidt
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Chicago, IL
ModeratorReplied Jul 27 2017, 12:33
Originally posted by @Rick S.:

@Art Maydan Fair Housing rules don't apply to owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units.  

 Careful.  While that may apply to federal fair housing, it does not apply to IL fair housing.  Only if it is a room in your own home

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Charlie MacPherson
  • China, ME
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Charlie MacPherson
  • China, ME
Replied Jul 27 2017, 13:26

@Art Maydan  Hold your horses!

Fair Housing has two components - federal and state.  While some of the suggestions above may pass muster on the federal side, your state fair housing laws may be much more restrictive.

Here in MA, you had better treat everyone the same or there will be a smoking crater where your bank account used to be.

We have state-employed "testers", who do things like apply for rentals.  

One black couple, one white couple, one Asian couple, etc.  If you treat them differently - especially showing preference for one group over another, or steering one group to r away from a particular neighborhood, the Mass Commission Against Discrimination will have your head on a metaphorical stick - and they should!

At the federal level, there are 7 protected classes.  In MA, there are 15. 

You can set your own terms, but if you intend to survive in this business, visit this site: 

https://www.illinois.gov/dhr/FilingaCharge/Pages/H...

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Account Closed
  • Investor
  • Los Angeles, CA
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Account Closed
  • Investor
  • Los Angeles, CA
Replied Jul 27 2017, 13:29

Art.

No need to reply to her since you are in an owner-occupy property. If this is a rental then I still do not think you would have to reply to them. You just have to be veryyyyy slowwwww to reply to them ;) But I would consult a real estate attorney for this one. 

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Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
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Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
Replied Jul 27 2017, 13:32

@Charlie MacPherson @Brie Schmidt

Thank you both. So how should I act in this scenario then? I've shown the place to people of different ethnicities already. My issue is that this person is pushy, rude, and will obviously be a problem tenant - not their ethnicity.

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Charlie MacPherson
  • China, ME
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Charlie MacPherson
  • China, ME
Replied Jul 27 2017, 13:37

@Art Maydan You should read that site to see what IL laws say.  I would also document why you felt the way you felt, just in case it ever comes up in court.  

Three rules of CYA:

1. Document

2. Document

3. Document.

Never tell someone why they were not chosen as a tenant - or employee.  You're not (to the best of my knowledge) required to.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Frankly, I assume that everyone who contacts me is a "tester" and I'm alway conscious  of making sure that I treat them the same as anyone else - even if it's a Section 8 renter who wants to buy a mansion.

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Deanna McCormick
  • Minneapolis, MN
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Deanna McCormick
  • Minneapolis, MN
Replied Jul 27 2017, 13:52

simplify your listing, simply put,, add your rent criteria, your credit screening, occupancy limits and simply state you will respond in kind to inquires that meet or exceed the limits you post and that showings are by appointment only, no responses will be made other than business hours... put in what you want if they can't read don't respond. 

I'm picky  if it's single occupancy first question I ask on responding call is " Is this apartment for just yourself.. if they even hesitate I say sorry single occupancy only and that also means not pets, and hang up. 

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Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
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Art Maydan
  • Chicago, IL
Replied Jul 27 2017, 13:53

@Charlie MacPherson Thanks, Charlie. What's adequate documentation? I keep a spreadsheet of every prospect who contacts me with their name, email, phone, when they contacted me, what action I took, and the outcome. Do I need something more formal?

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Charlie MacPherson
  • China, ME
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Charlie MacPherson
  • China, ME
Replied Jul 27 2017, 13:55

@Art Maydan  Adequate documentation is what the judge says it is!

I would keep some notes on why you rejected someone.  You'll probably never need it, but I hope for the best and assume the worst.

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Chris Purcell
  • Investor
  • Philadelphia, PA
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Chris Purcell
  • Investor
  • Philadelphia, PA
Replied Jul 27 2017, 21:36

It's not what you know, it's what you can prove. 

How can they prove you ever even got the message. 

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Shannon Slade
  • Forney, TX
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Shannon Slade
  • Forney, TX
Replied Jul 27 2017, 21:47
Originally posted by @Charlie MacPherson:

@Art Maydan  Hold your horses!

We have state-employed "testers", who do things like apply for rentals.  

One black couple, one white couple, one Asian couple, etc.  If you treat them differently - especially showing preference for one group over another, or steering one group to r away from a particular neighborhood, the Mass Commission Against Discrimination will have your head on a metaphorical stick - and they should!

At the federal level, there are 7 protected classes.  In MA, there are 15. 

Holy Crap!  What a waste of tax $$$$$!  

That's worst than a cop sitting at a speed trap!  No wonder some states taxes are so high.  State Government, what a joke!!

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Sue K.
  • San Jose, CA
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Sue K.
  • San Jose, CA
Replied Jul 27 2017, 22:11

I let all phone calls go to voicemail.  I had a notebook.  When I was ready to deal with them, I'd listen to the messages, and make a notation in my notebook.  If they sounded drunk, were screaming at their kids, had someone in the background telling them what to say - I'd make a notation and whether or not I called them back.

You only have to worry about protected classes.  Rude, drunk, screaming people, etc., are not protected - even if they're disabled, etc.

I had a written criteria list and I amended it as I became more experienced.  Then, I'd email it to myself every time I updated it, so I'd have proof of when it was established.

This was in Silicon Valley, where there are lots of fair housing testers, and they came by a lot and I never got into trouble.  

Just keep a notebook, as others have mentioned (to document, document, document), for the reasons you didn't respond or otherwise rejected an inquiry or applicant, and you'll be fine - as long as there isn't any provable history of you regularly rejecting applicants of a protected class.

I regularly rejected applicants who did not respect my time.  If they were late, didn't show up, were demanding and showed up without appointments after being told I only go by appointments, etc., they were denied.  

Plus, you can put into your criteria that you don't rent to people who are in a hurry to rent immediately, because it probably means they have current landlord problems, etc.  Same for anyone who was being a demanding pain prior to becoming a tenant, because then they'd probably be a demanding pain when they became a tenant.  Demanding PITA people are not a protected class :-)

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Marc Cornfield
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Chicago, IL
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Marc Cornfield
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Chicago, IL
Replied Jul 28 2017, 07:25

I worked as a leasing agent in Chicago. When multiple applications for an apartment were filled out, my company always advised landlords to accept the first application that was filled out with an acceptable credit and background check. This philosophy was viewed as the only sure-fire way to avoid a discrimination lawsuit. 

However, students are not a protected class, and landlords frequently denied rental applications from potential tenants because of this.

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Matthew Olszak
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Chicago, IL
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Matthew Olszak
  • Real Estate Broker
  • Chicago, IL
Replied Jul 28 2017, 08:12

@Art Maydan Limit the paranoia of a fair housing complaint. It'd be an issue if you had hundreds or thousands of units and made it a pattern of not replying to people with Hispanic names, but that's clearly not the case. With 7 units, if you were to reply to everyone and keep detailed notes of every conversation, you'd be lucky to have enough time to eat let alone sleep. 

When someone reaches out to me and they are grossly unprofessional, they don't get the courtesy of my reply. Equally, when I get blind questions like "how many bedrooms" or "how much is the rent" or "whats the address", no reply - its right in the title of the ad! Same goes for people who don't reply via the requested medium, IE "text or email to setup an appointment" and I get a message via zillow or a 1am call.

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Gail K.
  • Augusta, GA
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Gail K.
  • Augusta, GA
Replied Jul 28 2017, 08:32

Luckily the documentation on "dispossessories" (our version of evictions) for my county are online through our Marshall's Service.  Day before yesterday I listed a house through Postlets; had four of those "I'd like to schedule an appointment" emails.

Before I'd even consider contacting these folks, I ran their names through this online service.  Surprise!  Even though the ads clearly state in requirements NO history of evictions, three out of the four had previous history of evictions.  

I deleted their emails and will not be contacting them. My partner suggested I contact them, show them the house, and those that fill out an application will have to fork over $25 per adult for the credit check..and THEN I would reject them based on their eviction history.  I told him I would be wasting my time doing this as I must follow my criteria of not renting to anyone with a history of an eviction.

At any rate..as others have mentioned...last time I looked rude, demanding folks were not a protected class.  You can, if you wish, contact this woman to view the place but my guess is that her demands to see the place ASAP are because she is being evicted from her current place by the end of this month.

Gail