First time LANDLORD in NJ needs a little guidance

5 Replies

I am purchasing a duplex as a first time landlord in northern NJ. I will be house hacking however the other unit will be vacant upon purchase. I would like to be prepared from the first day of purchase so here are my questions and concerns if anyone can weigh in! 1. What do you use as a platform to showcase your unit? ie Craigslist, hot pads? 2. What does your lease in include? Beside the basics! I purchased the lease package off of BP specific for NJ. However, there are specifics I would like to include in the lease that I have learned throughout the podcast of other landlords such putting specific paint code on the lease so tenant would paint prior to leaving. There are other examples but just would like your thoughts. 3. Screening the tenant process. Do you use the BP endorsement or do you have another recommendation? I know I’m missing something. Any input would be great! Thank you!! BP COMMUNITY!!!

Christopher,

Congratulations on the duplex!  This is how I got started too, great experience.  I switched over to professional management a few years ago, but used to manage my own up until I acquired too many to manage and work full time.

1) Search the common ones in your area / price range and use the most popular.  Hotpads and Homes.com are good here.  I'd be weary of Craigslist, a lot of traffic but less quality.  Don't forget a yard sign.

2)  Be clear for which day the rent is late, how the rent will be paid and the late charges.  Use your state's maximum in your lease and stick to it (e.g. late of the 5th of month, late fee of $70).  Also, be specific on pets (e.g. no pets, pet charges or size limits) and number of cars allowed.  I like to not allow any alterations, including paint, unless getting written permission from landlord.  Also like requiring maintenance requests in writing.  This way it's clear if you keep a deposit for them painting a wall purple that you didn't give verbal permission and if they complain in eviction court you never repaired anything, there will be a paper trail (or lack thereof).  

3) I signed up with a credit agency to check their credit, looked them up in the police websites for towns they lived it.  I called ex landlords to verify behavior and current employer to verify income.  Be sure to get them to sign a release for the credit and employer checks.    

Most important is the interview.  Good renters have situations and stories without holes that make sense.  Trust your gut.  If you hear inconsistencies or outrageous situations, pass on them.

Work on finding the right balance between providing value to your customer and being a firm landlord.  When in doubt, sticking to the lease is better than being a nice guy.

Good Luck!

I would not trust most tenants to paint. There are too many sloppy painters, and it's hard to recover from their work.

You have far too many questions to answer but I'll provide what help I can.

It sounds like you have limited knowledge and zero experience. I would buy a book that provides a strong overview like Managing Rental Properties or the Every Landlord's Legal Guide (my personal favorite).

Do not let the tenant paint. There is a very good chance they'll do it poorly and you'll spend money fixing bigger problems. I don't even want tenants to fill holes with spackle because they screw it up more often than not.

Go to Google and search "lease agreement .pdf" and you'll find plenty of samples from around the country. Read through them for ideas on clauses that may not be in yours but that you may want to include. Create a list and get it reviewed/built by your attorney. Do not try to implement clauses into your lease or steal a lease off the internet because it can get you into trouble. Get ideas but always have your attorney draw it  up. I also recommend you avoid trying to build the perfect lease that's 20 pages long. You'll never cover every situation. Make a decent lease that covers the majority and then stick to it. Tenants will forget what they agreed to and the bad tenants will never abide by it anyway.

I don't ever advertise on Craigslist because it's a hot mess of scammers. I recommend Zillow, facebook groups (e.g. YOUR CITY classifieds), and a lawn sign.

There are quite a few tenant screening companies out there. Try different ones out and see which one works best for you. Be sure to use one that includes ID verification, address history, criminal background, and a complete credit report. Also be sure you know how to read a credit report and what red flags to look for.

Disclaimer: I own exactly one rental property and have rented it exactly one time.  Here's what I did.

1) I advertised mine on Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads, and Craigslist.  I also have my own Web site, where I put a couple of the listing pictures and a link to the Craigslist ad.  I also put a sign in the yard that just said "House for Rent", my website, and my phone number.  I got hits from all of these methods.

For the online ads, I borrowed a camera and a tripod.  I tried using my own point-and-shoot camera, but it wasn't wide-angle enough (the numbers on the lens are "6.7-24 mm") to capture all of the room.  The camera I borrowed was wider-angle (smaller number on the lens was "4 mm") and worked better.  I also picked a sunny day and shot different rooms at different times of day, depending on what side of the house they were on.  If you can, look at the photos on a bigger screen (not the back of the camera) soon after you take them, so you know if you need to re-shoot or not.  I also put a copyright notice and the property address in text on each photo before I put them online.    

For the sign, I did the artwork myself, uploaded it to Staples, and had them print and ship it - they were the cheapest that I found at the time (mid-2017) for small quantities.  If you don't want to do your own artwork, they have some "canned" designs that you can use by filling in your phone number and URL if you want.  You can get a double-sided corrugated plastic sign that will come with a cheap H-shaped wire post.  I had a slightly sturdier signpost that a roofer had used at my residence, so I ordered two single-sided corrugated plastic signs and attached them to both sides of that post.  My rental is a suburban house with a front yard; if yours is in the city and doesn't have a front yard, maybe a sign in the window or on the front of the house would work better.

I got replies via email, phone, and people knocking on the front door.  I found it helpful to keep a spreadsheet with the person's name, phone number, email, source (which site they saw it on), and if they wanted to stop by the open house, what time I proposed to them.  A couple of the door-knockers were just neighbors who were curious, but I showed them around the house anyway.  (Sometimes neighbors have friends and relatives that are looking for a place to stay!)

2) I added a clause for most of the appliances that says, in essence, "if it breaks, I will replace it, but it may not be exactly the same as what is there now".  My thinking was that if (say) the 20 cubic foot fridge goes out, and all I can find for purchase today is an 18 cubic footer, then the lease lets me use that slightly smaller fridge.  For a couple of things, including the garbage disposal and the storage shed that was in the back yard, that clause also says that I may not replace it at all.

Check with a lawyer on this, because it may not work in all states, but: I put in a clause that says the tenants waive their right to a jury trial.  They can still go to court, and have a lawyer if they want, but it would just be them, their lawyer (if they have one), me, my lawyer, and the judge.  The reason for this is that trials with just a judge happen quicker; if they ask for a jury trial, it gets scheduled a few weeks from now, which may not be what you want.

I have a clause that says that any vehicles kept at the house have to be licensed and insured, and if one becomes inoperable, it has to either be put in the garage or removed from the premises within a reasonable amount of time.  It's in the kind of neighborhood where nobody cares if you do an oil change or brake job in the driveway on Saturday, or if the car has to sit until payday, when you can go to the car parts store, but I wanted to have something to cover me if they have a dead car sitting there for weeks at a time.

3) There were a couple of steps in my screening.  I had an application that I asked tenants to fill out.  I called and talked to previous landlords myself, and looked at what the tenants provided for employment verification (pay stubs, etc).  Once I had a candidate from that screening, I used Cozy.co to get a credit report and background check.  The tenant pays Cozy for the reports and the results come to me; I don't have to handle the tenants' Social Security number or bank information.  The tenant does need to have some kind of Internet access to do this - they can do it from a computer, phone, or tablet.  (I also use Cozy to collect the rent - it comes out of the tenant's bank account and into mine - but you don't have to; you can just use them for the credit and background check if you want.)

I am not affiliated with any companies mentioned.

I hope this helps!

@Matt R. thank you for the time to write down your experience in detail!  Everyone of them I’m taking into consideration. 

I thought I would be using those platforms as well. I came across Postlets which I think is the one I’m going with. Also I am an amateur photographer with pretty good equipment so I will be doing my own pictures. Just gotta YouTube the know how specifics of the window shots.

I like the idea of a website but not sure if is something I can consider at this time. Maybe later. 

I think your verbage on the appliance portion is great and I’m using that. You never know what people would/could complain about and bring you to court over. Also the part to waive the right to a jury trial. Not sure what that means but that’s sound great. Maybe to intimidating to the applicant. Gotta do the research on that but I Like It!!  

Matt thanks again. Your experiences are invaluable and I appreciate you for them!  

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