From Headquarters – BLOG

Emotional Support Animals per Fair Housing Law–this law is way too vague

Recent additions to federal laws about fair housing have made it so that people with mental or emotional disabilities can force a landlord to make exceptions to No Pet policies and demand that landlords forego reasonable guidelines for domestic animals present in a dwelling. Prior, only people with tangible physical disabilities, like blindness or diabetes, could access these exceptions.

Let me tell you every story I have so far about tenants wanting to bring an emotional support or service animal into a rental property.

Individual 1
A single parent on public assistance who was fired from their job the first week they moved into the rental and who has not gotten another job four months on, wants to adopt a unspayed pit bull puppy. This person has several children and the adjacent neighbor has several children. Though we allow pets, an un-spayed pit bull puppy is a recipe for a problem.

Individual 1 got a letter from Mental Health Partners authorizing this request. Individual 1 says it’s for bi-polar disorder and PTSD. The individual offered this info freely, or else we would not be able to know it because, per the law, we are not allowed to ask that.

The landlord consulted a few laywers and looked into how the presence of this animal at his property would affect his insurance. Because the fair housing law is so vague and needing to be fleshed out by case law, the owner of this property is being cautious. So it seems like we will be forced to accept this worrisome animal into my client’s property.

Why can only a pit bull puppy alleviate Individual 1’s pain? Why can’t this renter get a dog we like: a non-puppy that is of a calm breed that is spayed or neutered? Individual 1 says the dog is paid for and that’s the one they want. Which brings up: how is an unemployed person, who is getting 100% of rent paid by public assistance, able to purchase a dog and pay for its food and medical needs properly?

Hmmmmm …

Individual 2
A single person looking to move in with roommates claimed that he had an emotional support dog. We allow dogs at that property, however this person asserted that we recognize his dog as being emotional support. I was unclear why this was so important to him. He had nothing to gain from me other than not having to pay a modest pet deposit. Perhaps he was trying to set a precedent.

When he submitted “proof” that the dog was approved by a counseling professional, he gave me a letter he had submitted to United airlines. Landlords have a right to demand a letter by a mental health professional in order to assess such requests. When I told him that what he showed to me was not adequate documentation and that I needed to know the credentials of the source of the person who wrote the letter he could not provide it and he threatened to complain to powers that be.

I firmly believe that this fellow was trying to scam and that the person who wrote the letter he tried to use as proof was not qualified to do so. I didn’t rent to him and I never got word of a complaint to any governing body.

Individual 3
A renter who lived in a multi unit and had one pet dog moved in his girlfriend and her dog without permission. Other tenants in the building had complained about the two large dogs being let out unattended in the shared front yard. When I queried him about the second dog he said it was his girlfriend’s service dog.

Service dogs are in a whole other category. Service dogs perform a real specific task vs. just being emotional support in general. Where emotional support animals can’t generally go everywhere with the human, service dogs are allowed to go everywhere. And come on, aren’t all pets emotional support? Mine are.

When I asked for proof that it was service dog he was unable to provide it. When I asked why the dog was left unattended and was not with the human it serves, he got irate. At the time I was also asking him for proof his girlfriend did not live there, which I knew he could not provide. This fellow took a real creative tactic at that point. He accused me of mistreating him because, he said, he was a transvestite and that the array of small women’s shoes I had seen in the apartment were his for that purpose.

To date I have not dealt with one resonable or honest renter on the subject of domestic animals vis a vie Fair Housing laws. To put this in perspective, I’m liberal and I agree with a social safety net. However manipulative renters are exploiting this vague and weak law. I hope that brave landlords start challenging this law so it can develope some better boundaries. As it is now unscrupulous renters can expliot elements of the Fair Housing law to suit themselves. That is not okay.

Window Shades In Rental Units

Though there is no legal requirement in Colorado that landlords provide window shades, all of my clients have agreed to provide window coverings or curtain rods. Most provide simple slatted blinds, however some of the houses I manage have higher-end window treatments. Also, a few units I manage have a combination of blinds and curtain rods where the tenant is expected to provide the drapes.

Curtain Rods

There are a lot of cheapo curtain rods available, so when I have a need to get curtain rods for a window in a rental I aim to get the non-retractable, solid kind, such as a 1″ diameter wood rod.

Types of Window Shades

In regard to blinds, typically I order metal slatted blinds of a thicker gauge than the basic gauge, though sometimes I have maintenance guys buy plastic blinds off the hardware store shelf and cut them to fit.

A few times I’ve installed cellular shades in rental windows. They are nicer looking and they help with heat retention in the winter and cool retention in the summer. But depending on how rough your tenants are when they open and close the blinds, they are a bit more delicate than the slatted blinds.

Sliding Glass Door Shades

For sliding doors, I am moving away from the vertical blinds. They are easy to break, especially if a person tries to slide the whole bank of slats over before turning open the blinds. For a sliding door I supply either a good curtain rod or I get two horizontal blinds, one to cover each panel of the sliding door, mounted on one head rail.

Cleaning Window Shades

Window blinds can be time-consuming to clean. After years of experimenting with different solutions, my current modus operandi is that dirty blinds are one of the few things that I am okay turning over to a new tenant with the caveat that they can turn them back dirty, within reason, at the end of their lease.

Mold Hysteria!

There is a lot of hysteria about mold and I believe most of it is unfounded. Mold that causes reactions in some people does indeed exist. However most mold is totally harmless and is no danger. Sure it’s a bit gross, but gross and dangerous are two different things.

Basement bathrooms are a great environment for mold. The key is to A) take short showers as a general rule when you can B) always open the door wide and air out the bathroom for a full half hour or longer after bathing C) clean the walls and ceiling above the tub frequently and regularly—three or four times a month—with a biocide like Lysol or diluted bleach.

I take seriously any report or concern about mold. That said, despite the approximately 20 or so times since I’ve been doing this work when tenants have brought up a concern about mold, every single time except once there was no problem, rather the issue and solution was simply a need to step up houskeeping and cleaning practices. The time it wasn’t a housekeeping issue was when a hose spigot line burst in a wall. The tenant didn’t notice the dampness for a while because furniture blocked it. We put in a deeper shut off for the hose spigot to avoid future flooding and we remediated the drywall and etc. properly.

Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a tenant recently who had a concern about mold. I will follow up with her as needed after I get more info from her.

“It’s good to be concerned for your health. So let’s investigate together so we can know 100% whether it’s ordinary, common, safe mold.

“Please tell me what you’ve done so far, and how frequently you’ve done it, to address the mold. Also please describe what happened if/when anyone had a reaction to the mold and how you know it was the mold versus some other influence.

“Please “reply to all” so all roommates are in the loop. I will come in person to see it if needed after I hear the answers to the query in the paragraph above. I ask that AT LEAST two of the roommates on the lease be in attendance. I can be very flexible on when, so you tell me when is good for you and most likely I can make it happen.”

Must we do criminal background checks?

My feeling is that checking a person’s past legal issues leads to a slippery slope of possible discrimination. What do you do with that info? What if it’s a 10-year-old case of, say, vandalism done when a person was a teenager. Do you not rent to that person? Fair housing law says if you make an exception once you have to be consistent.

I can vouch for 17+ years of rarely doing criminal checks and doing just fine without them. If a tenant ends up being a nuisance, there are remedies and it’s ridiculous to make everyone pay for and subject themselves to a criminal check. I firmly believe it’s overstepping.

If a potential renter had an issue in the past with the law and it’s solved that’s not my business. Not to mention all the flaws in the legal system and possible reasons why someone may have a cloud on their legal record.

But if a landlord wants to justify and use criminal background check info, it’s not much of a leap to asking applicants about mental health and substance issues. A mentally unstable, or drug or alcohol addicted tenant can be more of a hassle for me and a concern for neighbors.

I do believe firmly in calling all landlord references, and doing credit checks and charging higher deposit or getting a financially responsible co-signer if an applicant has credit issues.

I call all landlord references directly. Companies who farm out landlord references to [a background check service] don’t get as much info as I can when I call them directly. When I was “hanging” my real estate license before I became an independent broker I worked in a large property management office in Boulder that uses [a background check service]. Many times the results of a landlord reference call was “could not reach” the person. Managers there would just go ahead and approve incomplete applications.

It’s easy to fall into paranoia and CYA-mode in property management. I don’t think it’s merited a lot of time.

The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development agrees with me! In April 2016 they released a legal guidance paper stating, among other things, that nearly 1/3 of the US population has a criminal record of some sort and emphasized the need to treat everyone equally.

Click here for an article from the New York Times with more info.

Roommate Etiquette: Basic things to know about being a good roommate

I have a sheet I give all new tenants called “Basic Things All Renters Should Know” that helps explain things like how to reset a breaker or a garbage disposal. Since a lot of my tenants are new to living with roommates and new to being renters in general and they sometimes look to me for guidance, it could be helpful to log here my thoughts on how to be a good roommate.

Here are some basic things to know about being a good roommate:

– Do your share of the household cleaning and chores like taking out the trash and recycling.

Have a house meeting. Decide on a reasonable cleaning plan that is fair and to which everyone can agree. Then do what you promise to do when you promise to do it (cross reference this with “Being a Decent Human Being 101”).

– Pay your bills on time.

– Be respectful of your roommates’ needs for peace and quiet.

Communicate with each other and find out what each person’s needs will be for the duration of the lease. Respect all reasonable needs, or work out ones that don’t seem reasonable. And do this IN PERSON, not by using social media or email.

– Check with your roommates if you are planning to have people over or have a loud activity planned for any common space to make sure that it’s not happening at a bad time for them. If it is, then do not have the event. Be respectful of your roommates.

– If you have a significant other, you need to stay at their place as much as they stay at your place, and check with your roommates before starting a habit of having that person over regularly. Also before letting a significant other hang out at your apartment when none of the roommates are home check with your roommates to make sure they are comfortable with this.

– Do your share of chores!

– Make friends with your roommates, but give each other space. Smile, say “Hi” and be kind to one another, and to your neighbors.

Bad Tenants

Bad tenants are inevitable. No matter how well I vet applicants sometimes a tenant’s bad behavior can’t be foreseen. I’ve had two sets of tenants who, in hindsight, I regretting not evicting early in their tenancy. And I’ve had another tenant who threatened and harassed me at my home. Mostly I’ve had many, many, many excellent and respectful tenants, so the bad ones stand out all the more.

I’ve had many clueless tenants who have a feeling of renter’s entitlement and who believe that the owner of the property should attend to them like a concierge.

Recently two 30-year-old female tenants who did not own any tools would email me to do things for them like unscrew a stuck bolt so they could change out a light bulb. Not only were they lame enough to not have a few simple tools, but they were also shameless enough to draw attention to the fact that they were woefully ill-prepared.

Now my lease requires that tenant have both kinds of screwdriver, a wrench, a toilet plunger and, if there’s carpet, a vacuum.

One downright bad and disruptive tenant I’ve had did the following: repeatedly did not pay the water bill and lied about why; painted several rooms in the house in colors ranging from blood red, to dark teal to very dark purple without permission; neglected to turn in the required move-in condition report sheet–which is an essential item to have in avoiding he said/she said drama about damage charges at move out; lied many, many, many times about all sorts of things including saying she was out of town attending to issues related to her family  so that she could justify numerous requests to reschedule a move out walk through; left the place filthy such that a cleaner spent 27 hours cleaning; left paint splatters all over a nice slate tile floor; left a pile of items and trash in the garage.

The worst thing this tenant did, however, was verbally accost, intimidate and harass me by cornering me in a bedroom and screaming into my face and otherwise act unhinged and threatening during the move out walk through. These kinds of incidents take a hard toll, but in the end, that’s my job: to face the irrationality with a problem-solving mindset.

More Remarkable Things That Renters Do and Say

I will be adding to this as events occur. It will be in order of most-recent first.

April 12, 2018

I replaced a large hot water heater in a 4-plex on Monday, it’s now Thursday. The water heater turned out to be a lemon and required 3 return trips by the plumber, a reputable company. I called the plumber the mornings of Tues., Wed. and Thurs. They went to the property each time. I informed all tenants on a daily basis of the situation.

A tenant in the building sent an email today threatening to post a bad online review. As if threats would some how cause the process to go any faster. Her dad subsequently called me 8 times and texted me twice in the span of two hours even though he’s not on the lease and I told him not to contact me after he called yelling the second time. The police officer who contacted him reported that this fellow was a “very unpleasant” person. The tenant’s mom then sent a multi paragraph threatening email. Meanwhile the tenant’s roommate called to apologize for the errant tenant and to disavow her disgruntled roommate.

April 11, 2018

A co-signer for a renter did not want to do the customary credit check that I require for all applications. She assured me that her credit was about 870. Credit score maximum is 850. Her credit was 772.

The Sacredness of Security Deposit Money

I take very seriously my responsibility to be fair and reasonable about charges out of a security deposit.

One important document for a new tenancy that helps this effort is a “move-in condition report sheet.” At the start of a lease I meet the tenant at the property and we walk through together to document the condition. I show them how I would log issues in one room and then I leave the form with them to complete and turn in to me in a week after they’ve moved in.

I look over these documents very carefully to identify maintenance issues and I query the new tenants to get more information on issues they listed if I don’t understand. I make notes on the document and then I scan it and email it to the renter so that they can confirm my notes. Then this document sits in the lease file until they move, at which time it’s our guide for assessing whether any new damages exist.

Any time there are charges out of a security deposit I provide a receipt from the vendor who did the work. I never mark up any vendor bills—ever in any circumstance. The only time I would not provide an untampered-with, authentic invoice for actual charges taken out of a deposit is in the case when I pay new tenants to clean what the previous renters didn’t clean (which I do if there’s not a lot of cleaning to do, otherwise I hire a professional cleaner), or if I charge departed renters for standard things such as $5 for a light bulb, $5 for a key not returned, things like that.

Many renters have legitimate concerns that a given landlord or manager will take out unfair charges from their security deposit. I like to educate renters that Colorado has a law that states if a landlord retains any amount that is not justifiable, a tenant who wins in small claims court could be awarded triple the erroneously withheld amount as a remedy.

Garbage Disposals No Bueno

I dislike garbage disposals with a burning passion. They seem to be mostly a phenomenon in the United States. But dear ones, life elsewhere without a garbage disposal is just fine. In rentals I manage that don’t have garbage disposals-which comprise about 1/3 of all the units I manage, in 12 years I’ve had about 3 clogged sink drains. For the remaining 2/3 of the units I manage that have garbage disposals I get about one maintenance call per month on average about a clogged disposal!

Ninety-nine percent of the time when a disposal jams it’s due to user error.

When a tenant reports a jammed disposal I refer them to online videos that instruct how to unjam a disposal and I let them know that if I have to send maintenance that the bill will be on them, unless we discover that the disposal is just old and worn out. In that case I remove the disposal all together and replace with normal drain pipes. Tenants don’t like this, but I help them to understand that disposals are not essential and are prone to having issues. And I suggest that they keep a small dish next to the sink for debris.

When removing a disposal I have my maintenance person install a “basket drain” in the opening.

In a world with dwindling resources and growing population, do we really need another electricity-sucking gadget in our homes? I say no way! They were invented in 1927 by an American. The rest of the world and everyone prior to 1927 survived just fine without one. You can too.

Tree Maintenance at Rental Properties

There are certain things that seem to fall through the cracks in regard to preventive maintenance at rental properties. Things like inspecting roofs, exterior siding and maintaining trees are things that can be accidentally neglected over time.

Ideally the property owner will have these appurtenances in mind and will request that the manager address them periodically.

I advise clients that though I can tell when many things need to be serviced or inspected, I am not tree expert. I make it their responsibility to let me know when they want a professional arborist to look at their trees and make sure they are healthy and there are no issues that might be averted with early detection.

That said when I inspect the properties I manage I do look for any obvious tree, roof and siding issues and I let my clients know. In the event that there is an obvious issue with a tree, like a partially broken branch that could fall in high wind or a branch that is touching the building I do expect my clients to agree to address these issues.

Determining Rent Rates

When an apartment or house is coming on the market for rental there are a few things I do to make sure that it is priced accurately for the market and in line with the owner’s wishes, assuming those wishes are reasonable and based in reality.

First I check online for comparable units. If it’s a house I only compare with other houses. Matching the number of bedrooms and bathrooms is essential. And I try to find units whose location is near to, or equally desirable, as the neighborhood in which I have a house to let.

Currently I use Craigslist and Zillow. I never blindly rely on the Zillow suggested prices, which I find to vary widely above and below the actual price that the market will bear.

Then I bring my suggested price to the client and we have a conversation.  If my client wants to try for a price that I think is more than what the market will bear I simply post an ad to test it out.

Since I advertise at least 45 days before a vacancy–unless that’s not possible for some reason–we have some leeway to test out prices. If they don’t pan out we still have weeks before a vacancy.