How to Rent out A Condo

photo by Tokyodcs

Realtor.com quoted me in How to Rent out a Condo: Watch out! It’s Not the Same as a Home. It opens,

How to rent out a condo: This may seem like a simple question, but if you own a condominium, you probably know it’s actually rather complicated.

For those who are foggy on what a condo is, let’s start with the definition: It’s a home, typically part of a larger building, that comes with shared common areas such as yards and garages that are maintained by hired help, rather than by individual owners. This makes condo ownership a breeze, by comparison with the labor involved in maintaining your own house, and you pay for that convenience in condo fees.

This more communal living arrangement, however, also means that you can’t just rent out your place whenever the whim strikes. In the past, condominiums were pretty flexible about allowing unit owners to rent out their homes. In recent years, though, condo associations have become a little more restrictive, according to David Reiss, professor of law and academic program director at Brooklyn Law School. Here we break down everything you need to know about how to rent out a condo.

Step 1: Read your condo association’s governing documents

Every condominium is different, but they all have one important feature in common: Owners are subject to a set of rules established by the condo association and upheld by the Board of Directors. Some do not allow for renting as an option. Review your condo association’s bylaws, and/or rules and regulations, to understand the existing policies regarding renting out units.

Step 2: Know your condo association’s restrictions

If renting is allowed, there may be limitations on the length of the lease term—including minimum and maximum times—and on whether pets are allowed. Also look into whether or not renting has been an issue in the past, which could give you a crystal ball into your future. “Review board meeting minutes to see if any new policies are being discussed that might impact your plans,” says Reiss.

Another potential renting deal-breaker to be aware of is that some condominium associations allow only a certain percentage of total units to be rented out at any one time. Check to see if the current ratio of rented to non-rented condos will accommodate your unit. Keep in mind that some associations only allow renting after an owner has lived there for a minimum period, usually two years.

Renters and Natural Disasters

Bill Huntington

Avvo quoted me in What Do Renters Need To Know in A Natural Disaster? It opens,

From hurricanes in the East to wildfires in the West, the past few months have seen an on-going slew of natural disasters in the United States. Fires and floods don’t care whether a property is inhabited by owners or renters. However, most states have laws that  address how landlords and tenants deal with a rental property in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Renters’ recourse in a natural disaster? Leases and local laws.

Check the lease first

The first source of authority on the obligations of landlords and tenants is found in the lease agreement, which should spell out the terms of what happens in case of a natural disaster. But not all leases clearly address this situation. According to Michael Simkin, managing partner of Simkin & Associates in Los Angeles, in cases where the lease is “burdensome or unfair,” local or state laws will govern what happens.

Landlord and tenant responsibilities vary by state

Every state has different laws regarding landlord and tenant obligations after a natural disaster strikes. Here are examples of answers to common tenant questions from some of the states recovering from recent natural disasters.

Can a lease be terminated if a natural disaster makes a rental property unusable?

California: If a rental property is destroyed in a natural disaster, the lease is automatically cancelled. The landlord must refund the rent for that rental period on a prorated basis.

“Many times, the city can come in and condemn the property and effectively force out tenants in unsafe situations. It is also the landlord’s responsibility to terminate a lease when they have knowledge that their rental property is unusable or unsafe,” notes Monrae English, a partner at Wild, Carter & Tipton in Fresno.

Florida: If the premises are “damaged or destroyed,” the tenant may terminate the rental agreement with written notice and move out immediately.

Louisiana: According to the Louisiana attorney general, if a natural disaster damages a property to the point that it is completely unusable, the lease is terminated automatically.

New York: If a rental becomes unfit for occupancy due to a natural disaster, the tenant may quit the premises and is no longer liable to pay rent. Any rent paid in advance should be returned on a prorated basis, according to David Reiss, law professor at Brooklyn Law School.

Texas: Either the tenant or the landlord can terminate the lease with written notice. Once the lease is canceled, tenants’ obligation to pay rent ceases and they’re entitled to a prorated refund of any rent paid during the time the home was not usable.

If the lease is terminated due to a natural disaster, does the renter get the security deposit back?

CaliforniaThe landlord must return the security deposit within three weeks of the tenant vacating, with any deductions accounted for in writing. The landlord is not allowed to deduct disaster damage.

LouisianaThe landlord is required to return security deposits within one month, as long as the tenant fulfilled the lease obligations and left a forwarding address, according to Brent Cueria, an attorney with Cueria Law Firm, LLC in New Orleans. The landlord cannot deduct for natural disaster damage.

New YorkThe security deposit must be returned to the tenant, according to Reiss.

Texas: The security deposit must be refunded.

Are Month-to-Month Rentals Good Deals?

photo by umjanedoan

Zillow.com quoted me in Are Month-to-Month Rentals Good for Landlords? It opens,

Your tenant’s lease is up, and they ask about switching to a month-to-month arrangement. Assuming they’re a good tenant — they pay rent on time, keep the place clean, don’t host loud parties — you might be tempted to accommodate the request. But before you do, be sure to understand the relevant landlord-tenant laws.

The Appeal Of Month-To-Month Renting

From the tenant’’ perspective, the benefit of month-to-month renting — also known as tenancy at will — is its flexibility compared to a standard long-term lease. Whether they’re pursuing out-of-town job opportunities, considering relocation to a different neighborhood or just thinking about moving up to a more spacious abode, the elasticity of month-to-month renting is appealing to a potentially footloose tenant.

From your point of view as a landlord, the appeal centers on cash flow and convenience — of not having the property stand vacant while you hassle with finding a new renter. In addition, a month-to-month rental can give you some added flexibility, too.

The Terms Of The Original Lease Generally Remain In Effect

There is no overarching federal law regarding tenancy at will; the rules are typically state-specific. Or, as Matthew Kreitzer an attorney with Booth and McCarthy in Winchester, Virginia, notes, “Tenancy-at-will is largely a creature of local law.” If and when there is no formal written agreement in place, local case law usually comes into play to fill the gap, he explains.

Michael Vraa, managing attorney at HOME Line, a tenant hotline based in Minnesota, says that in his state, as well as many others, the terms of the initial rental agreement carry forward into the month-to-month rental period.

Assuming rent is paid on a monthly basis, “unless the lease has some provision that describes what would happen if a new lease is not agreed to, the law would default to the notion that the agreement becomes month to month,” says Vraa. “If the lease ends July 31 and the tenant pays the next month’s rent (August), and the landlord accepts it, the agreement probably shifts to a month-to-month agreement.”

Tom Simeone, attorney at Simeone and Miller in Washington, D.C., adds that even a verbal contract or agreement to carry forth on a month-to-month basis is legally enforceable in most states. “If the parties previously had a written lease that expired, those terms will remain in effect in the tenancy at will. If not, the court will enforce what it finds to be the parties’ intentions and fill in any contract terms with what it deems to be reasonable,” Simeone says.

As Vraa noted, landlords sometimes include provisions in the original lease describing what can or will happen if a new lease is not agreed to at the end of the set term. Some management companies, for example, include a statement in the original lease saying the landlord or management company can or will raise the rent if a new lease is not signed. This may be by a certain dollar amount, such as “increased by $50 per month,” or by a specified percentage rate, as in “up to 5 percent per month.”

Rules About Tenant Privacy And Intent To Vacate Still Apply

Vraa and Simeone say that, generally, the rules regarding a tenant’s right to privacy are the same under tenancy at will as under a lease. Thus the amount of notice you have to give a tenant before entering their premises remains the same — typically 24 hours, as dictated by law in many states.

In regard to the notice required for intent to vacate, Simeone says this, too, is determined by the original lease. “If not,” he adds, “a court will likely require the lease to be month to month, especially if rent is paid on a monthly basis, which is typical. If so, thirty days’ notice is required to terminate — by either [the] landlord or tenant.”

However, Vraa says, in a month-to-month rental term, neither the landlord nor tenant are required to provide a specific reason for discontinuing the contract. That means you can give the tenant a notice to vacate the property, regardless of whether you plan to sell the property, rent to someone else, or simply do not wish to continue leasing to that specific tenant. But David Reiss, professor at Brooklyn Law School, notes, “The big risk, for both parties, is that the other party wants to terminate [the tenancy] at a time that is inconvenient for the other party. In that case, the parties can agree to a longer term (a year-to-year lease or one for a specific term of years).”

Reiss also stresses that although most state laws regarding tenancy at will derive from common law, “each jurisdiction may have variations from these common law principles that result from court decisions or statute. For instance, the meaning of one month’s notice to terminate a month-to-month lease can have small, but legally significant variations among jurisdictions.”

REFinBlog has been nominated for the second year in a row for The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Competition in the Education Category.  Please vote here if you like what you read.

How to Break a Lease Early

photo by Marcel Oosterwijk

Realtor.com quoted me in How to Break a Lease Early. It reads,

It’s Murphy’s Law, rental edition: You find the perfect apartment, sign the lease, move in, start to get settled in, then something happens. Maybe you get transferred to another state for work, maybe you meet the love of your life and decide to shack up together (congrats!), or perhaps your parents fall ill and you need to move closer to them.

Unfortunately life and rental laws don’t always coincide, all of which might mean you may have to entertain the idea of breaking a lease. What would happen if you do? Answers are ahead, along with some advice on how to handle this sticky scenario.

First things first: Read your lease

If you find yourself needing to break your lease, your first step should be to read it again—carefully. You could get lucky: Some leases have an “opt out” clause, meaning that you can terminate early for an agreed-upon fee. Depending on that financial amount, it might make sense for you to just pay the penalty and make a clean break, says David Reiss, academic program director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

Then again, some leases will say that you’re responsible for the rent due for the remainder of the term of your lease. Still, even in this worse-case scenario, you may have some wiggle room based on how benevolent your landlord is.

Talk to your landlord

If there is no opting out or the fees are too steep for you to financially absorb, it would probably behoove you to speak directly with your landlord or rental company.

“Your landlord may be willing to let you out of the lease early,” says Reiss. “You could also try to negotiate a lower amount for early termination than the lease calls for by forfeiting your security deposit.”

All in all, it never hurts to ask (and pray you catch your landlord in a good mood). It’s possible he may not mind your moving out since this means he could raise the rent sooner.You won’t know until you ask.

Find a new tenant

Another option is to offer to help your landlord find a new tenant for your apartment.

“It generally is not allowed without landlord consent, but you can discuss it with your management to see if they would consent to a sublease and under what terms,” says Reiss. You may also need to check local laws that may be applicable to subleases. If it is allowable, you might try a site like Flip, where renters can post leases they need to break in search of qualified renters who are looking for someplace to live.

Don’t just walk out

The one thing you absolutely cannot do without legal ramifications is just walk out and stop paying your rent. You won’t be trading your apartment for a cell with bars (it’s a civil, not criminal, matter), but Reiss warns you can get in a lot of financial hot water if you handle this incorrectly.

“You cannot be arrested for nonpayment of rent—unless you live in 19th-century London—but you can be sued in court; have a judgment against you; have your wages garnished; and [have] liens placed on your property to satisfy the judgment,” says Reiss.

Did we mention that this will mess up your credit scores? It will mess up your credit scores.

That said, there are a couple of cases where you could break your lease without consequences, but they are extenuating circumstances.

“If the apartment becomes unlivable—for instance, no heat in the winter—you could argue that you have been constructively evicted from the unit,” says Reiss. “Also, some states allow domestic violence survivors to break a lease in order to ensure their safety.”

Reiss at TechSalon on Tenant Rights

I will be the lead discussant at a Technology Salon Brooklyn event on Thursday morning: How Are ICTs and Social Media Supporting Tenant Rights? The invitation reads,

Gentrification is top of mind of many Brooklynites, as they are pushed out of their communities by large-scale economic development and wealthier groups moving in. One effect of the gentrification process is often the shuttering of local businesses and skyrocketing rents for residents as landlords make way for those who can pay more.

The New York City Office of the Comptroller reported in April 2014 that median rents in the city had risen by 75% since 2001, compared to 44% in the rest of the US, while at the same time, real incomes declined overall for New Yorkers. At the same time, the numbers of rent-regulated properties has decreased. The harshest consequences of rising rents and lowering incomes are felt by the poor and working classes (those earning less than $40,000 a year).

This situation is contributing to an increase in homelessness, with the city’s shelters receiving an all time high number of people seeking support and services. The negative impacts of gentrification also tend to differentially impact on communities of color. Tenants do have rights — however, enforcing those rights can take years when landlords have deep pockets. In 2003, a tenant advocacy group found that in cases initiated by tenants, only 2% resulted in fines for landlords.

Residents of gentrifying areas have not been silent about the impact of gentrification. Numerous community groups have formed and are fighting to keep communities intact, cohesive and affordable for residents. Social media and better data and data visualization can help to track and create evidence bases that can support residents, or to connect them to support services and legal aid.

Please RSVP now to join us at the Brooklyn Community Foundation for a lively roundtable conversation on tenant rights and ICTs. We’ll hear from community organizations, technology developers, legal advocates and others with an interest in technology and social activism around tenant rights, including such questions as:

  • How are community organizations successfully using ICTs and social media to support tenant rights?
  • What is working well, and what are some of the lessons learned about using ICTs and social media for outreach?
  • What are some new ways that organizations could use ICTs to support their work?
  • What support do community organizations need to do this work?

Please RSVP now to join Technology Salon Brooklyn for a lively discussion! Be sure to arrive early to get a good seat, hot coffee, and morning snacks before we start.

ICTs, Social Media and Tenant Rights
Thursday, April 16, 2015, 9-11am
Brooklyn Community Foundation
1000 Dean Street, Suite 307
Brooklyn, NY 11238
RSVP is Required to Attend

The Foundation is a short walk from the A, C, S 2, 3, 4 or 5 trains (Franklin Av stop) (map).

Airbnb and Profiteering

A NYC Housing Court judge issued a Decision/Order in 42nd and 10th Associates LLC v. Ikezi (No. 85736/2014 Feb. 17, 2015) that resulted in the eviction of a rent stabilized tenant who had rented his apartment through Airbnb at a rate much in excess of the rent approved by the NYC’s Rent Guidelines Board.

The Decision makes for a pretty good read in large part because of the incredible testimony of the tenant:

When questioned on Petitioner’s case whether Respondent charged anyone money to stay in the subject premises, Respondent first testified that he could not recall if he ever charged anyone money to stay in the subject premises for a tenancy, and then testified that he does not know if he ever charged anyone money to stay in the subject premises. Given that Respondent was being sued for eviction, that Respondent testified as such on January 21, 2015, and that Respondent’s tenancy commenced on October 10, 2014, three months and eleven days before his tenancy, Respondent’s inability to remember or know if he had charged anyone to sleep in the subject premises defies common sense. Such incredible testimony was of a piece with other testimony Respondent offered, such as his response to a question about how many nights he has slept in the subject premises with the answer that he does not keep a log of where he sleeps, Respondent’s inability to determine whether a photograph of a comforter on a bed in the ad was a comforter that he owned, Respondent’s lack of knowledge as to other addresses that might be his wife’s address, and Respondent’s testimony that he does not have an email address at the company that he is the president of. If Respondent was actually profiteering by renting out the subject premises as a hotel room, wanted to avoid testifying as such, and was trying to be clever about technically avoiding committing perjury, it is hard to imagine how Respondent would testify differently. (9-10)

The defendant’s testimony demonstrates what happens when the profit motive hits smack up against rent regulation’s policy goal of protecting tenants from large rent increases. Without defining it precisely, the Court refers to this as profiteering which it finds to be inconsistent with the goals of rent regulation and incurable to boot. Thus, the Court issued a warrant of eviction.

This seems like the right result on the law and as a matter of policy. Otherwise, more and more apartments would be informally removed from the regulated housing stock. Moreover, landlords and neighbors would be stuck with the costs of short-term stays while tenant scofflaws would get all the benefit.