II. Transplanting
Up I.  Attracting Tenants II. Transplanting IIb. Transplanting III. Nurturing IV. Uprooting

 

PART TWO TRANSPLANTING THE TENANT

After attracting as many potential tenants as possible to your rental, many will be willing to put down roots. Many landlords complain, however, that around one-third of all tenants either fail to pay their rent as agreed or cause other problems. These problems must be nipped-in-the-bud by eliminating, and if necessary, refusing any potential tenant you judge irresponsible. In addition, a tenant who may seem to be a good choice, does not necessarily mean s/he is the "best" choice--one does not plant ivy among the roses. You must not only select the best tenant, but one who is suited for your rental. Transplanting the tenant must be done with care, or the dream of making your investment profitable may blow away in the wind.

CHAPTER FOUR

INSPECTING TENANTS

The only way to succeed in making your rental profitable is choosing responsible and suitable tenants. They pay their rent as agreed, do not disturb their neighbors, and they leave the unit clean and undamaged--the rest don't.

"Types" of Tenants:

The following is a simple breakdown of the approximately 33 million renter-occupied households in the United States according to the Census Bureau:

Male headed households with wives........38%
Other male heads......................................7%
Female heads..........................................20%
One person households...........................35%

Of the first three categories, over half (more than one-third of all renting households) have one or more children under the age of eighteen. Of the one person households, almost two-thirds are female.

In the past, the information above was all most landlords cared or wanted to know about tenant groups. During the last two decades, however, property management people began writing articles and books directed toward landlords operating large complexes. Because of the dense living conditions inherent within large complexes, some professionals began to "type" tenants by their family status, and to a lesser degree by their lifestyles. They hoped choosing compatible tenants would eliminate problems. In addition, they hoped to learn which tenants were the most trouble-free and profitable. Their "types" (always overshadowed by income) consisted of career people, blue collar, young, senior, with children, without children, empty-nesters (married couples without children who were touted as the best tenants), and a few others.

Because a tenant's lifestyle cannot be determined so easily (emptynesters can be self-centered, rotten tenants), this system for choosing tenants never gained much of a following. If a tenant is chosen with care, profitable and problem-free tenants can be found in every "type." However, through personal dealings with landlords of small as well as large properties (they will say in private what they would never think in public), we found that many believe certain other "types" should be avoided whenever possible. Unfortunately, these beliefs are extremely prevalent among owners of smaller holdings which make up the largest number of rental units in the country. Although most books and articles fail to discuss the problem, it is rampant. The five most common "types" many landlords believe should be avoided, are listed below in the order of negative comments we recorded over the years:

1. Welfare recipients.
2. Renters with children.
3. Adolescent renters.
4. Minorities.
5. Independent entrepreneurs.

We decided to find if any of these "type" theories were justified.

Because moderate-priced housing accounts for over 7O% of rentals in the country, we studied the records of 307 of our tenants who lived in a moderately-priced neighborhood. They lived in eighteen different buildings (a sixplex being the largest) with a total of 92 rentals. The tenants came from every walk of life, from welfare recipients to lawyers, and, due to a booming local economy, from all sections of the country.

Because past tenants may want to rent from you again, and other landlords may call to check on your present or past tenants, there is only one way to gauge tenants objectively: You must ask yourself if you would rent to them again if no one else wanted your available rental.

We, for example, care little if our tenants smoke, if their political beliefs differ from ours, if their religious beliefs differ, if they spanked their children, if a friend left before the spouse returned, if they slept with the same sex, or even if they choose childbirth or abortion. Our business is to operate rental property profitably. Our objectivity in determining a good or bad tenant is based on only three items:

1. Did they pay their rent as agreed?
2. Did they abide by their lease agreement (especially the provisions concerning the rights of their neighbors)?
3. Did they leave the unit clean and undamaged?

If the answer is YES to all three items, we would rent to them again. If there is one NO, even if their rent payment was excellent, in nine out of ten cases we would not rent to them again, even if they left owing no money.

Most landlords claim one-third of their tenants are bad seeds and they would not rent to them again. If they judge their past tenants on rent payment alone, they claim they would not rent to 20% of them again. Ironically, when we checked the records of tenants we had inherited (when taking control of new properties), we found those landlords to be very accurate. Our records show we would not rerent to 29% of our inherited tenants. Based on rent
payment alone, we would not rerent to 17% of them.

Of the tenants we chose, we would not rerent to 11%. Based purely on their rent payment patterns, there would be only 3% we would not rent to again. We mention this so the reader may understand that the advice we offer throughout this book has merit in weeding out bad tenants, and to provide a base to compare the five "types" mentioned earlier.

(1) Welfare Recipients: Because of their numbers, it is normally unattached women with children on welfare who are constantly brought up in conversation. They are the source of 95% of the complaints we heard about welfare recipients. Through the years we have dealt personally with 71 welfare recipients. Although we are only using 34 in this study, the percentages would change little. Our records show that we would not rerent to 11% of tenants over-all, but we would not rerent to 18% of the welfare recipients.

Surprisingly, only a small fraction of the welfare recipients were slow or bad rent payers. A very interesting point is, welfare women under twenty-five were almost twice as likely to pay their rent as agreed compared to working young women.

The major reasons we would not rerent to 18% of the welfare recipients was because of their lack of consideration for their neighbors, and their uncontrolled children. In addition, we have always had a policy to return deposits if tenants cleaned their units when they moved. Half of the welfare women we would not rent to again made little if any attempt to clean. Surprisingly, only one ever called and voiced mild opposition to our cleaning charges.

If screened properly, however, the majority of welfare women (82%) made good tenants. Screening will be covered throughout this chapter.

(2) Renters with children: Our families with children accounted for 61% of the renters in our study. To make a long story short--what you lose in the negative aspects one can say about children, you gain in stability. Sixty percent of our tenants without children moved in less than two years versus only 44% with children. In addition, the minor complaints and maintenance caused by families with children was offset by the complaints and maintenance caused by singles and childless couples. Over the long run, they are much more profitable than single or childless households.

Although families with teenagers made up less than 15% of our renters, they were responsible for a disproportionate number of complaints. With their wish to share their music with the world, their need to attract attention, and their normal habit of not thinking of the consequences of their actions, they can cause problems. Contrary to popular belief, we find no truth in the statement: "It is the environment of the home that matters." Many of our best tenants had the most disruptive teenagers. On the other hand, renters with teenagers are life renters. If they haven't had a home of their own by the time their children reach that age they probably won't. The stability, especially in a single family rental, makes them very profitable tenants.

(3) Adolescent Renters: Most surveys, government and private, separate adults from adolescents. Adolescent refers to anyone under twenty-five years of age. Surprisingly (since women are supposed to mature faster than men) our records show when it comes to fulfilling their obligations as tenants, there is little, if any, difference between the sexes. Also, contrary to most "professional" views, we could find little difference between blue collar, white collar, educational level, and income.

When we started our study (and checked our older records) we were sure young renters would standout as bad tenants. When we concluded our study, we found some surprises. Our percentage of adolescent tenants within our study was 46%. They resented all walks of life from welfare recipients to school teachers. Astonishingly, the percentage of working adolescents we would not rerent to was almost the same as older tenants.

There was a slightly higher rate among those whose stay was less than year, and their payment patterns were a little slower than the older group. However, of the dirty and damaged rentals left behind, their rate was less than the older group. It shows that screened young people are conscientious and/or will work hard to get their deposits back. The most bothersome adolescents were of upper middle class families whose parents were normally professionals in upper income brackets. They won't or didn't know how to do anything. They required more services than their self-sufficient lower-middle and working class counterparts.

Compared to older tenants, if one chooses adolescent tenants with care, there is only a slightly higher chance that they will fail to fulfill their responsibilities.

(4) Minorities: Minorities have a tendency to congregate in areas where they are socially acceptable. (Remember the neighbors?) The bulk of our experience has been outside these areas. The minorities within our study may or may not reflect the situation in areas where their numbers are greater. For the most part, the three minorities dominating the conversations of landlords within our circle were blacks(Afro-Americans), Asians, and Hispanics.

Afro-Americans: Blacks make up 6% of our study. Their age, work, and household makeup was much the same as the overall group. We found no difference between the black group and the white group. Even when blacks were separated within the four other "types" we are discussing in this section, when screened properly, they were just as good, or just as bad, depending on how one looks at it. Of our inherited tenants, blacks had a better record than whites. This apparition appeared because some past white landlords did not screen whites at all.

Asians: Although there are many regions that are not exposed to Asians as yet, their numbers are growing, and they are moving out of their traditional areas. Many landlords balk at renting to Asians because of their different customs. Rumors abound that they are uneducated people who will move ten friends into a rental built for four. In reality, the Asians within our study were more family conscious than "Americans." Many live with their parents, but always rented a unit with a private bedroom for them. If they were already living in our rentals and had an extra bedroom, they always obtained our permission first before moving anyone in with them. The Asians (mostly Korean) within our study made up 8% of our tenants. Not one ever paid his rent late. There was never a serious objective complaint from any neighbor, and in only one case did an Asian fail to leave the unit in superb condition (ironically he was the most Americanized). No other group or "type" came close to this. Asians were undoubtedly our best tenants.

Hispanics: Like Asians, Hispanics are moving out of their traditional areas. Although our experience with them was limited (only seven families) they fulfilled their responsibilities comparable to the overall group.

It is worth noting that Asians and Hispanics are immigrating to the US at a rate of over a half million a year. It is these immigrants that most landlords feel uncomfortable with. For the sake of quelling rumors, there are some interesting items to note.

Most economists who study the poorer countries of the world agree that the people leaving their native lands (the same can be said for people leaving deteriorating inner cities) are usually the "cream of the crop." They are the people who refuse to give into the hopelessness of their situation ("accommodation" it is called) and take the risk in relocating to another country for the benefit of themselves or their loved ones.

Most of the people leaving their native lands are not poor by the standard of their country. They normally come from the larger cities where modern housing is available and landlord/tenant relations are well established. They must pay their own fare across miles of ocean, or land, and have someone in the US to sponsor or care for them until they are established. Consequently, the largest portion of the immigrants who enter the States are self-motivated people who make outstanding citizens. Once settled, they make some of the best tenants imaginable. There are, however, a few less motivated types landlords should be aware of.

Where the proximity of their native lands are close to the US there are some who can gain access to the US with much less effort, money, and commitment. Their determination to succeed is less vital than their counterparts who have come from afar with little possibility of returning to their native land. Many are semi-accommodating types. They must be screened properly.

Landlords should also be aware of people immigrating from territories or trusts administered by the US (now and in the past). To assure its acceptance, the US Government, in essence, created welfare states out of many of these lands in hopes of quelling any talk of independence. Consequently, some of the people who resettle can't adjust to the idea they are responsible for taking care of themselves. Within our study, the complaints from neighbors and the condition of the apartment when they vacated, was comparable to the overall group. But, getting some of them to pay rent was like pulling teeth. Of the admittedly small number we dealt with, our conclusion has been substantiated by many other landlords.

One more thing about immigrants: Where social and economic chaos has upset the status quo in some areas of the world, a segment of the people (who are really of the accommodation type) are taken under the wing of well-intentioned social workers. Consequently, many end up in America with little or no effort of their own. Many have little education, little ambition, and even less understanding of how to care for a modern rental. Problems are bound to follow if the prospects are not screened and fully understand what is expected of them.

How do you screen people that you cannot understand?

There are many church, social, and friendly groups who will act as interpreter. Look out, however, for strong-willed American social workers who try to push these people into your rentals without your meeting the potential tenants and their interpreter, or a representative of the sponsoring organization. In this way everyone will understand what is expected of them and that you, as landlord, have certain powers. If handled properly there should be no problem.

Unfortunately, because of the precautions landlords must take, there are many tenant groups who point accusing fingers at landlords and accuse them of race discrimination. We find this accusation amusing and ludicrous. By far, most landlords that we have come in contact with are more concerned about their rental, rent payments, and most important, how neighbors or other tenants will react to a new tenant. We have found most of our tenants, including the minorities, are prejudice to some degree. In 1982 we placed a new tenant in one of our fourplexes with tenants of a different race. Because of the attitude of the other three tenants already living there, the new tenant quickly moved. In another case we made the mistake of placing a Vietnamese near a Korean. We now understand what absolute blind prejudice is all about. Asians have a peeking order (especially the Japanese who consider every other race inferior) that "red necks" could learn from.

We have found landlords are not much different from tenants. Tenants cannot be punished for their prejudices and neither can landlords. (Prejudice, by the way is not a bad attribute. We are prejudice against career criminals, child molesters, rapists, deadbeats, and other "trash" no matter what their color.) However, landlords can be punished for pure race discrimination. So, do landlords discriminate based on race? Some may, but in most cases their choice of tenants has more to do with the circumstances surrounding their investment than their personal beliefs. Even if the landlord is prejudiced, it matters little since profit is the goal. We do not believe we have ever met a landlord who would discriminate based on race, if the tenant came with perfect references.

(5) Independent Entrepreneurs: For years we have listened to landlords tell their stories about bad tenants. These landlords, like ourselves, always seemed to remember the bad tenants with children, the welfare recipients, the adolescents, or the minorities. It is the way the mind tries to find a common denominator.

During a Rental Association meeting, a landlord who owned three one-family units complained that the "independent entrepreneurs" she had rented to in the past, were the "worst tenants in the world." As she gave her definition of an independent entrepreneur, every landlord in the room understood. Stories flew back and forth about these "worst types." After checking our records, we found this was a common denominator that fit.

Independent entrepreneurs are usually male. They embrace all races, ages, educational levels, and income brackets. They are found in every group: empty-nesters, families, singles, students, young couples, seniors, blue collar, white collar, and professionals. They are usually self-employed, or do seasonal work for small companies. They perform every conceivable type of labor, from menial tasks to door-to-door sales. Some dress in three-piece-suits while others dress in tradeware. But, they all have one thing in common. They don't have, and they don't want, the conformity of a steady job. The majority deal in blue collar lines of business and have horrid-looking vehicles which are constantly on the move. Their independent life styles and odd hours usually upset their quieter and meeker neighbors. Their well-dressed counterparts aren't much different and overall, the majority push their responsibilities as tenants to the limit. Worst of all, their fluctuating incomes make them extremely undependable in paying their rent.

Within our study this groups length of stay was only slightly shorter from other groups of comparable age and family status; but, getting these people to pay their rent is like trying to pull teeth with eyebrow tweezers--one can never get a hold of them. There is always some story about some big deal in the future when everything will be straightened out. Their promises are as dependable as their rent payments.

In our study, we found that 53% of this "type" never paid their rent as agreed, and when it was time to move, 65% left owing money. Overall, we would not rerent to an unbelievable 71% of the independent entrepreneurs. There is no other group that comes near this percentage. Even unscreened adolescent women on welfare, that we inherited, only came to 44% and they normally paid their rent as agreed.

Although independent entrepreneurs made up only 6% of our renters (most inherited), they accounted for 27% of the people on our list that we would not rent to again. Also, when we consulted old records that were not part of the survey, the results were about the same. In the study of our 307 tenants, we only had to seek legal action against six tenants for nonpayment of rent. The independent entrepreneurs accounted for half of them.

In almost all instances, they left the units dirty (even when they cleaned), and the "normal wear and tear" on the rental was double that of any other group.

Unfortunately, trying to weed out the 71% from the remaining good ones is extremely difficult. Many are nice people with pleasing personalities. Some dress as well as upper class professionals. The property management books and articles we have read insist that bad tenants can be eliminated by checking their work record and/or income. With this group, it is almost impossible. The people within this group usually work for friends or acquaintances who have some "business" or "operation" in the works. Consequently, checking their work record or income is fruitless. They seem to take turns at playing the boss. Even following the exhaustive procedures most self-proclaimed experts advise, our bad experiences with independent entrepreneurs could only be reduced to 42%. Consequently, even when their references seen reliable, we do not rent to this group unless we perceive their character to be impeccable. In fact we do not rent to anyone, no matter what their references, unless we perceive (see below) them to be impeccable.

To sum up "types," there are good and bad tenants in all groups, classes, or divisions, Your objective is to find the best. Weeding out the bad from the good is not as difficult as many landlords believe. If you use your perception, many tenants can be eliminated with a short conversation.

Perception:

Dictionaries define perception as "Insight, discernment, observation: The quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is hidden." If you learn to look for little things which appear to have no importance, you can often see more than you think possible. While you are talking to potential tenants over the phone and while you are dealing with them in person, you should be looking deeper than what appears on the surface. You must perceive the people for what they are and find what is hidden. Perception is one of the most powerful tools one can possess when choosing tenants. Unfortunately, some people are extremely adept at it, others completely inept.

We knew one owner who constantly rented to people of dubious character. We saw his rentals ravaged and his cash flow suffer every month because he rented to the worst possible tenants. Although many memories of his tenants come to mind, there were two tenants in particular.

While visiting one of his small multiplexes, two people in their mid-twenties were leaving their apartment. As they passed on the sidewalk, it was obvious they were middle class. They were well-groomed, decently dressed, quiet, and did not appear odd in any way. At first glance, perfect tenants. However, there was something wrong. First, the location of the property was in a lower income neighborhood--why did they want to live here? Second, there was something in their facial expressions, or was it their eyes, or the way they carried themselves, or a combination of all three? Our perception told us they were trouble.

While visiting with the owner and his wife that evening, we mentioned our foreboding about the two new tenants. "You too," the wife exclaimed, and immediately went on about the same bad feelings. Her husband, who rented an apartment to the two, defended them claiming they were career people who worked at a major bank, earned good money, and signed a lease. "They seem like nice girls to me," he added.

Within six months, he spent hundreds of dollars getting rid of the two, hundreds more restoring the apartment, and he lost three month's rent. (By the way, the stories told about the "two high class young caves in heat" by an elderly lady who lived in an adjoining unit could fill a Danielle Steel novel.) How, we have wondered, can some people be so undiscerning about their fellow man?

We have noticed some people's insight is far superior to others. They can sniff out a deceptive or lying caller before they are off the phone. Sometimes, it is the man who is better. In the above case it was the woman. Kathleen Winsor in her 1939 novel, Forever Amber, made the statement: "Why can a women see at a distance what a man can't see close up." We (sorry to say) agree. Women are usually far better at sizing up strangers than men. However, in many cases, men handle the renting and choosing of tenants, especially in joint partnerships with their wives. If the man is handling things now and everything is working well, let things stand as they are. If not, maybe the woman would do better. No one should let pride stand in the way of profitability.

On the other hand, women should beware of the advice offered by some professionals. In 1984, a nationwide women's magazine stated the way to achieve success in the business world was to deal with people you "like." (With that kind of advice it is no wonder women have trouble reaching the top in the business world where one has to work closely with associates who are disliked.) Whether you like a person or not has nothing to do with whether they will make a good tenant (let alone a good business associate). You're not in the rental business to make friends. You're in it to make money.

We have rented to people whose pompous attitude and condescending airs reeked. It took the power of unsung human endeavor to even talk to them. However, they made superb tenants. In contrast, we've had prospects we knew and liked very much, but would never rent to them. Choosing tenants because you like them without weighing their potential to fulfill their responsibilities is foolhardy.

If you ever find yourself about to turn down a prospect because you don't like them, ask yourself why. We knew one landlord who constantly turned down educated people because he felt uncomfortable around them. We knew another who turned down all adolescents, because she didn't like young people. There is no room for this unbusiness like manner. Not if you want your property to become or remain profitable.

On the other hand, we have known landlords who have rented to tenants because they liked or felt sorry for them. Never do it. Some unscrupulous tenants will give you a "poor mouth" story hoping to soften your heart. Although our law system and Judeo-Christian teachings decree a person's situation and need should be considered, or their negative past experiences should be forgiven, you are not advised to practice such charity. In the two times that our hearts were softened and we decided to take a chance on a pathetic case--it cost us dearly.

A few years ago, while attending a large seminar where the main speaker was exhorting landlords not to rent to people in need, a landlord in the audience asked what he was supposed to do since the area had a 13% unemployment rate. "Rent to the other 87%," was the answer. The same can be said of tenants in general. There are too many good ones to choose from. The rest will find their way.

If you are a husband and wife team and the one handling the renting of the units has shown that his/her selections have not been the best, let the other try if at all possible. Some people's perception is far superior than others.

One of the best tools in enhancing one's perception is made through the senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Looking and listening are two most important in eliminating bad tenants (unless they reek of stale wine).

listening:

It is possible to have a tenant standing in front of you or talking over the phone who sounds perfect; however, s/he may be anything but. You must learn not to listen so much to what the person says, but to what is said between the lines. When talking to inquirers, listen for statements such as "my ex won't leave me alone," "I got a big new stereo," "my children don't listen," "the place where I live has bugs," "the landlord is worthless," "I have to be out right away," and, "maybe I'll get my friend to move in with me."

An "ex" who doesn't leave one alone will not stop because of a move. "Big stereos" can chase out other tenants if the property has more than one unit. "Children" who don't listen can cause unbelievable problems. "Bugs" are often caused by those who move to avoid them. "Worth-less landlords" abound, but so do worthless tenants. "Be out right away," is what a lot of troublesome tenants say. "Friends" moving in to a place when only one person is responsible for the rental has caused many a landlord a sleepless night.

There are many other things to listen for as tenants are speaking. Try to determine if there is impatience in their voices. Do they have a demanding attitude? Are they disrespectful? Do they use the old line where they try to convince you they talked to someone yesterday who said they could have the rental. Try to determine if the person is interested in details of the unit, or do they just agree with everything you say and ask no questions. Do they say they will take the rental without seeing the place; you must try to perceive why. We have found most people who show little interest in the rental, or seem in a hurry, are usually very short stays and/or don't make good tenants. On the other hand, do they ask all the right questions: What are the utility payments? What extras are available, size of rooms, security deposit, children, pets, yard, size of building, washing facilities, location of schools, etc.. When people don't ask these kinds of questions, be careful.

When you are showing the unit, listen to the prospects carefully. Are they worried about whether their furniture will fit, do they worry if the windows work properly, is their sufficient hot water, do all the appliances work properly, or do they ask about the noise and traffic volume. Prospects who worry about these details make the best tenants and have the longest stays.

Do they ask about the nearest house of worship? Although 95% of the people profess to believe in a God, only about 40% attend "church" even periodically. "Church-going" people make some of the best tenants, no matter what established religion they follow. All of the entrenched religions basically teach the same high ideals. This can be very comforting. We have rented to church people when rumors abounded that they would bother and upset the neighbors. We found no truth in it. We have never been disappointed by any tenant who followed the teachings of their faith--no matter what the faith.

They may seem like good tenants, but what are their children like? Do they correct them? Talk to the children. If they didn't bring them along--why? Do they have teenagers going through the anti-everything stage? Remember, many good tenants have rotten children. We once rented to a Missionary. His teenager was a constant source of trouble.

Although many landlords claim adolescent renters are problems, we've found little difference when compared with older properly screened renters. However, we turn down a much larger portion of younger prospects than older ones. When talking to young renters, one must look deeply into this age group's demeanor. Are they mindful of others? Do they seem responsible? Do they seem conscientious? Do they seem adverse to authority? Many young renters are leaving, or have left home, to get away from the authority of their parents. They don't like anyone telling them what to do. You as landlord represent authority. (You must make sure your rules are followed and the rent is paid.) People who have little or no respect for authority are the worst possible tenants. Try to get adolescent renters talking about their parents. If they are leaving home because: "My dad is always telling me what to do," or "My Mom won't get off my back," don't rent to them.

Married young couples are usually ideal tenants. Unfortunately, a large portion of young men view marriage as a time to settle down, while young women leaving home for the first time have the opposite point of view; consequently, they have their differences. If these young couples have problems and become disillusioned, any responsibilities to the exterior of the building will cease. Rent payments that normally came in on time will stop. This age group has a high rate of break-ups. Who ever is left behind, male or female, is normally reborn as a swinging single and problems become paramount. Many couples going through a marriage break-up leave unpaid balances behind. Listen closely and try to determine if their marriage is something that will last.

Also, listen carefully to the group approaching thirty. Some are going through their "mid-life crises." In many cases they make terrible tenants. If you get a bad one, they can become terrible adversaries. They will use their knowledge of life and human behavior against you. Fortunately most are easy to perceive. Listen carefully. If a "mature" person comes to your rental sounding and looking like he or she has problems, they probably do. Observe swinging singles (married or not) closely. Be very careful of anti-establishment types who flaunt it to the world. As landlord, you are the establishment.

If you have more than one unit in the rental, you must also consider whether the prospect will get along with the present tenants (remember the neighbors). Some prospects seem like perfect tenants, but may disrupt the status quo of the good tenants already living there. As they are talking, try to determine their lifestyles. Do they seem family oriented? A family-oriented couple in a building with singles may result in friction. Conversely, you wouldn't want to put a swinger near a quiet family. You don't want to gain a good tenant just to have another good tenant move.

Engage the tenants in conversation. It is surprising what they will tell you. If the people are untalkative ask them a question they can't answer in one word, such as: "Why are you moving into this area?" It is amazing how most people will open up and start talking.

Meanwhile, beware of people who sound too good to be true. Some people plagiarize by saying exactly what the landlord wants to hear. Plagiarism reached respectability a few years back when most beauty queen hopefuls thought it might further their ambitions. (Remember, most were going to help poor, sick or retarded children.) Lately, it has returned to the mouths of lawbreakers and lawmakers where it had its beginnings. However, a growing number of unscrupulous renters have adopted this practice. You must listen carefully to all potential tenants and, coupled with your perception, you will eliminate many before you end the first conversation.

Looking:

The person responsible for the saying: "You can't judge a book by its cover," must have been an extremely unperceptive person. We have found that one look at the prospect has more value than a fifty dollar credit check.

We have had prospects who sounded fairly sensible over the phone and when we met them--no, saw them, we knew from the first moment we wouldn't rent them a five dollar room for the night, let alone a seventy thousand dollar rental by the month.

Sometimes, you can tell what kind of tenants they will make before they get out of their car. How does their vehicle sound and look? Is it fairly clean? Does some care go into it? The age of the vehicle means nothing, the condition does. People who don't take care of their cars, seldom take care of their homes.

As you near the person and before you come under the spell of their personality, look closely. Some people exude such a distasteful presence it can be seen from a distance. It is unfortunate that all bad tenants cannot be so quickly perceived, but there are two main things to look for: unkempt appearance and demeanor.

Learning to discern the difference between an unkempt person and someone who has gotten off work and rushed over to view your unit is fairly easy. Clothes can be dirty and rumpled because of the day's activities, but that is a far cry from wearing "clean" clothes which were dragged out of a laundry basket and thrown on. It is easy to see if one truly looks. Many unkempt persons look as though they need a bath, after they have taken a bath. People with no pride in their appearance normally have as much pride about their homes.

What about the guy who gets out of his car wearing a black leather jacket, boots and a big belt? Look deeper. Is the jacket well taken care, are the boots shined, does the belt fit well? There are many people who dress contrary to their personalities. If they appear well groomed, there is little need to worry about their style of dress. We had a motorcyclist who liked to play the rough-looking guy when he was about, but he was clean, decent and hard working. Some people take years to let go of their childhood fantasies. Look carefully, look deep.

Demeanor, on the other hand, can tell you more about the person's personality than her talk or clothes. Does the person stand in a friendly manner, or does he look at you as though he is peering through you, stalking you, trying to out guess you? Does she look angry for no apparent reason? Does he appear ready to argue with you? If you feel there is something suspicious, there probably is. Don't worry if the prospect doesn't smile, but be very careful if her smile seems forced.

When you are showing the unit, watch the prospects. See if they are truly interested in looking at the place as their home. Do they just run through with little regard to details? Did they wipe their feet before they entered? Did they check out the doors without slamming them? Did they listen closely as you described features of the unit?

Beware of women with babies, or with young children, who show little interest in the bedroom normally used for children. If people seem only interested in themselves, they probably are. Self-absorbed people think nothing of the landlord's position. Also, beware of the woman who brings her baby or children and fusses all over them in your presence. If one watches the child carefully, one will sometimes see the bewilderment of a soul not used to such loving attention. This kind of woman is capable of anything. She will cost you dearly if she gets past your scrutiny.

It is a shame a landlord must view potential tenants with such cynicism; however, one must. Our experience and the experiences of most landlords confirm that three out of ten tenants are bad tenants. In addition, half of those bad tenants are extremely bad tenants. They can cost a trusting landlord thousands. There is a simple solution for weeding out this extremely bad half. For whatever reason, many landlords fail to take advantage of it. It is the most important item that we can suggest. It requires no work on your part (not even much of your perception). It can eliminate the worst tenants just by handing it to them--it is a good rental application.

Applications:

When you have a vacant unit for rent, five or ten people may be willing to rent the place at times. In such cases it is always difficult to determine which person would be best suited. To compound matters, once you make your choice you have the unpleasant task of telling the others that you have chosen someone else. At other times, there may be only one person who shows an interest in renting the unit. If you would rather wait a few days to see if there is someone more suited, you must either make excuses or tell the person no. Nothing is more unpleasant than putting one's self in the position of making an immediate decision, or worse, stalling or rejecting someone. Fortunately there is a better way. After you have showed the rental, ask all inquiring prospects to fill out an application. After they have completed it, thank them and tell them that you will have it checked, and if they are the one chosen, you will call them. Not only are you spared an unpleasant situation, but you will eliminate the most undesirable inquirers without having to say a word. Renters who have bad landlord/tenant histories will not normally complete an application, or they will shy away from it altogether. A person with a bad tenancy history does not want to give information on himself. Less meticulous persons, who make less meticulous tenants, find filling out an application annoying and will normally shy away from it also. These are exactly the people you do not want as tenants.

Not requiring an application is equivalent to a bank manager handing out money without requiring lenders to complete a loan application. You are going to turn over the keys to a investment worth tens of thousands of dollars. It is your right to know. Like a bank, no one anywhere has the right to refuse. Like a bank, you would be better off letting your investment sit idle rather than loaning it to someone who refuses to complete an application.

A good application can tell you more about a potential tenant than any other form they will ever sign. In fact, an application is more valuable than a lease. A lease is a legal document for your protection should a dispute arise between you and the tenant. It protects you in court. An application is a means of insuring there will be no need to use the courts.

Many landlords refuse to use applications. They mistakenly believe that they have to create a waiting list where first-come first-serve procedures apply. In reality, there is no such thing as a first-come first-served law in any state, province, county, parish, city, town, hamlet, or crossroads in the United States or Canada. Even HUD does not recognize first-come first-served practices. You as landlord, choose the person you feel will make the best possible tenant for your rental. The order of their appearance means nothing (unless you attempt to skirt Federal Fair Housing laws by choosing a less qualified later applicant when all other comparisons are similar).

Other landlords believe asking prospects to fill out an application will make their rentals more difficult to rent. These landlords are correct since it discourages less desirable tenants. An application does not discourage good tenants.

Some landlords have an application that only asks a few questions. We have found the more extensive the application, the less chance of choosing a troublesome tenant.

Never mention the application until you have talked to the tenant and shown them the unit. Liars forget what they say and will shy away from the application since they might contradict what they have said to you. That's another reason for having a lengthy one. You can give people a way out by letting them "take it" with them, to be returned later. That should be the last you see of them and the applications.

For the prospects who fill out the application, it is important to have as much information about them as possible. In this way you can normally weed out the remaining undesirables just by looking the application over.

Some completed rental applications are so sloppy, disorganized, and incomplete one would think they were reading teenage job applications. If you receive such an application, it is not hard to perceive what kind of a tenant that person would make. We have yet to find a person whose application contained numerous blanks and/or was sloppily completed who made a good tenant. If the former landlords who owned or operated some of the properties we now operate had understood that, they could have saved themselves and us a lot of trouble. All of the applications of our most troublesome inherited tenants were not only sloppy and partially completed, but contained numerous inconsistencies.

Applications can be purchased at any office supply store. Unfortunately, most are poorly conceived and do little to discourage bad tenants. Furthermore, they fail to provide easily accessible information that can't be distorted. For example, they normally ask for the tenant's present and former address, but rarely ask for information about the former landlord. Yet, tenants who had a problem at their former address will not complete an application which asks for information on the former landlord, or they try to "write around it" which is easy to detect. Also, for landlords concerned that an undesirable prospect may make arrangements for a friend to act as her or his present landlord, it is highly unlikely she would make arrangements with two different friends.

Many applications also fail to ask for the names and relationships of all persons to occupy the unit. Consequently, many landlords end up with more tenants than expected. The lack of this information has caused many landlords unbelievable problems which could have been easily avoided. Obtaining a good application is essential to the success of your investment.

Like job applications, most of the entries are just for the sake of gauging the person for diligence, neatness, and continuity. Most items are seldom checked. The way the questions are answered can tell you more about the prospect than making inquires. Learning to read between the lines can tell you even more.

App.tif (1173118 bytes)A good application (figure 1) should include the items to follow. Learning to read between the lines of this 9 X 11 inch sheet of paper is very important.

* Type/Size of unit wanted: Good to have in case another similar unit goes empty and for landlords with larger multiplexes who keep applications for a period of time in case another rental goes empty. However, if a single person is looking for a three bedroom rental, there is a reason.

             Figure 1
* Name & Phone: To contact tenant. If they don't have their own phone, ask why.

* Date of Birth: You must know if the person is old enough to enter into a binding agreement. Note date of birth, not age. Some people take offense to giving their age but will usually put in their birthday. Some people will subtract a few years, but it is normally inconsequential. If anyone truly balks at the requirement and it seems to have more to do with vanity than anything else, tell them to leave it blank.

* Present Address and Length of Stay: If the person lived at the address less than one year, they may not be stable. Also, unless they have spent the past four years attending college, beware of anyone over twenty-two who claims to have spent all his life with his parents.

* Amount of Rent: What are they used to paying? If your rental cost twice as much, will they be able to adjust to the increase?

* Present Landlord & Phone: A very easy item for checking on the potential tenant. It only takes a phone call. Also, if a potential tenant comes to this line and she is having problems at her present address, she may wish to take the application with her and "return it later."

* Reason for Moving: Are they moving to be closer to loved ones or their job, or are they moving to get away from someone or because they were asked to? By studying this line carefully, and remembering what the prospect said earlier, you can learn much.

* Former Address and Length of Stay: As with present address, do they stay in one place for a reasonable time? Are they from the area and do they intend to stay?

* Former Landlord and Phone: The reason for this line is that the present landlord has no way of knowing what condition the tenant will leave the rental. Its value cannot be over emphasized. It is one of the few items we check because it is not uncommon for many present landlords to give a "good" response about a bad tenant to get rid of him, or a "so-so" about a very good tenant, trying to make it more difficult for her to leave.

In many instances the applicant will not have the former landlord's phone; but, if the applicant cannot supply enough information for you to contact the former landlord, be very cautious.

Naturally when dealing with younger people this line may remain blank. The applicants may only be renting for the first time or have only lived in one place on their own. In this case we always instruct them their parent's landlord will do. If the parents own their own home, ask for the parent's address and phone. (It is amazing what parents will say about their children.) By checking with the parents, many young tenants are discouraged from causing any embarrassment to their parent's good word. If you should rent to them, they will try hard to be good tenants.

* Have You Ever Been Evicted? Naturally people who have been evicted are not that honest, but the fact you may catch them in a lie is usually enough to discourage them from completing the application.

* Employment: Have they worked at their present job less that six months? Why? Does their type of work warrant it or are they unstable? This is the item you must look over closely if you suspect an independent entrepreneur is masquerading as a steady worker. Look to see if the work is seasonal. If a white collar worker, check whether he works for a true company or a here-today-gone-tomorrow operation. The Better Business Bureau can be very helpful if you choose to check.

* Monthly Income: This is one area upon which most landlords place too much emphasis. Choosing conscientious tenants has little to do with how much money they make. There are tenants who make eight hundred dollars a week and are worse payers and more problems than others who make half that. Timely rent payment has little to do with the amount of money one makes Use this item to determine if the tenant can afford the rental.

Today's accepted rule-of-thumb among many professionals claim that tenants should not spend more than 25% of their income for housing (including utilities). Yet, HUD reported that 50% of renters in the US were paying "26% or more" for rent alone. A landlord insisting on the 25% income scale would be eliminating over half the renters in the country. A more realistic rule-of-thumb is 35% of total household income for rent and utilities.

We have rented to people when 50% of their income went for their rent and utilities and they never missed a payment. As an example, we have found many women and young couples choose housing a little out of their price range and will struggle for the benefit of a nicer place. The same can be said of elderly people. When we checked our records to find if income influenced payment patterns, we found no connection. Rent payments reflect discipline and attitude--not income.

* Date You Would Be Ready To Move Into The Unit: Some applicants may not need a place for a month. Do you want to wait that long? Are they in a hurry? Why? If an applicant asks you to hold the place for her, till she "uses up" her rent at her present address, you can always point to the item and say: "You said you would take the unit as soon as it was available."

* Number of Persons to Occupy Rental - Relationship - Age: This entry is one of the most important items on any application. It reduces future problems. Too often tenants rent an apartment or house seemingly for themselves or their family. Then they move more people in than you expected. This line lets the tenants know you expect to be renting to them and the people listed on the application only. It prevents untold misunderstandings. Any application that doesn't ask for specific names, relationships and age, should be avoided. Also, since many regions frown upon asking about marital status, this line gets the required information without any problem. You have a right to know who, and how many, will be living in your rental.

* Pets: Your pet policy will depend on your rental and your personality. Having a strict "no pet" policy is not recommended. A small bird in a cage or a fish in a bowl is hardly reason for turning good tenants away. On the other hand, a dog in a duplex with a common yard may create more troubles than imaginable.

We do not allow dogs (and never exotic animals) in our multiplexes where yards are not divided. Most people will not clean up after their dogs if they can blame the waste on another's dog. If a cat or dog contributes to "the comfort and contentment of an elderly person," we will allow it. (Some areas forbid landlords from refusing elderly tenants on this issue.) In addition, we have found that a dog or cat in a single unit, or multiplex with separated yards, causes minimal problems. In most areas you cannot refuse "aid" animals. If you choose responsible tenants, there should be no problems. If you care to use them, pet agreements can be purchased at most office supply stores.

* Auto - Year - Make - Tag No. - State: A person's mode of transportation tells you much about their personality. Also, how many vehicles do they have? You don't want a used car lot on your property. If the autos are out of state, how long do they intend to stay? Also, if you drive by your rental after you rent to them and see vehicles not listed on the application, it could mean unauthorized company.

* Driver's License and Social Security Number: Good identification to make sure the tenant is who she says she is. Also, in case the tenant leaves owing money, professional collection agencies can track him down easier.

* In Case of Personal Emergency, Notify? Usually used for what it says. Since most prospects take this seriously, they normally put down someone close to them personally. It is a good indicator of where the tenant belongs. If the person to notify lives far away, the potential tenant may want to return to that area in a few months. Also, like most of the information on the application, tenants who have given you this information understand they cannot easily disappear.

* Employment of Co-Resident: If more than one adult (related or unrelated) is going to occupy the rental, their combined income may be sufficient. If unrelated, establish that they are responsible for the rental as a team. If one should move, the remaining one is responsible.

* Monthly Household Income? The person filling out the application may not be the one who makes the largest portion of income. He may have additional income. Children may have jobs.

* Do you own Furniture? Seems like a trivial question, but tenants without furniture, or tenants who rent furniture, are mobile people. Their length of stay, except for elderly persons, tends to be very short.

* Bank and Checking: Years ago this was an important entry in determining whether a tenant was stable or not. Today it means little, Changing banking practices usually requires a person to have an account or she is charged for services. Consequently most tenants, including undesirables, have accounts of one kind or another. Our application asks for their checking account number. A landlord may be questioned about asking for a savings account number. But, you have a right to know their checking account number since many tenants pay their rent by check, or you require the rent to be paid by check. Meticulous prospects tend to have this information while less organized and less responsible prospects do not.

* Credit References: When one usually thinks of credit, he thinks of large items purchased on the installment plan or credit cards. The problem is that many good younger tenants (and sometimes older ones) who have not established that type of credit may be eliminated. Hence, explain to the tenant who claims to have no credit cards or installment credit that utility companies, phone companies, and especially past and present landlords are the best credit references one can have. Most utility companies will not give you that information, but most tenants don't know that. Bad payers may start changing their stories. However, beware of people in their late twenties, or older, who do not have some type of loan information or credit card (excluding oil company cards). We have found that most people who claim to despise credit are the ones who pay their rent late. If late rent payments aren't credit, what is?

* Personal References: Ask applicants to fill in the names of people you may know, especially your past or present tenants. If they know conscientious and responsible people, they will probably make good tenants. On the other hand, many bad tenants are not aware their friends or relations are bad tenants. Therefore, they may use the name of a past or present bad tenant as a reference. Since birds of a feather flock together, you may be wise to avoid them. Surprisingly, this is not always the case with families. We have had exceptionally good tenants and rented to their relations and had nothing but trouble. We have also had terrible tenants and rented to their relations and found them admirable. Your perception will be the determining factor here.

Near the signature line a statement like: "I certify that the above information is correct and hereby authorize you to contact any of the persons or places listed" is very helpful. We have watched questionable-looking applicants pondering, for fifteen minutes, over the items above, trying to determine the best response. After coming to the signature line, they decided to take the application with them and "return it later." Liars do not like to be found out.

With the above application it becomes very easy to judge the lifestyle and even the character of potential tenants. With the exception of the first item (Type/size of unit wanted:), we strongly recommend all the other items be included. In some instances, there will be younger applicants who cannot fill in all of the items, but be leery if more than four or five items are left blank without good reason. Check for inconsistencies while using your perception and you should have no problem eliminating all truly undesirables.

There are some people whose decency, honesty, and integrity stand out profoundly. One almost feels ashamed of the precautions that must be taken. Unfortunately they must. One especially bad tenant can not only cost you thousands, but the disgust and stress of the situation can turn one into a committed cynic forever.

As stated earlier, if a former landlord is listed, we check with him or her. If we have any doubt about the character of the applicant, and it is not possible to contact a former landlord, we check with the present landlord and listen very carefully between the lines. In most cases no other checking is necessary.

* The "deposit" item at the bottom of the sample application will be explained later. Also, if you would like to use the application, you may have copies made.

HUD housing complexes are required to keep their refused applications for three years. Many landlords mistakenly believe they must keep their applications too. You don't. But, should anyone question your fairness in choosing tenants, it is a good policy to keep all your applications for at least six months since a housing discrimination charge can be filled within that time.

Summary:

1. When one considers all aspects and selects tenants with care, there is insignificant or no truth to the "type theory" based on race, families with children, or age of tenants. However, 18% of welfare recipients created more problems compared to 11% for the overall group. But, young welfare women had significantly better paying habits than their working counterparts. The worst tenants were the independent entrepreneurs. Even when screened, four out of ten created one kind of problem or another.
2. Your perception is one of the most powerful tools in eliminating possible problem tenants. Use it.
3. By using an application, you needn't put yourself into an awkward position of making an immediate decision, or worse, stalling or rejecting someone. In addition, applicants with bad renting histories will not normally fill out an extensive application. If they do, it is easy to spot inconsistencies that should alert you. If you have any doubts about potential tenants, if possible contact their former landlord.

CHAPTER FIVE

REFUSING APPLICANTS

If you use an application as suggested in the last chapter, the chances of having to refuse an unsuitable applicant will be rare. There is, however, a one-in-a-hundred chance that some renter may show up at your rental with the money and demand that you rent to them. Many landlords wonder if they have the fight to refuse anyone. You do, and for many reasons.

Your Rights:

The US Federal Fair Housing Law of 1968 (amended in 1974 & 89) prohibits most landlords from discriminating because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and handicap. Put simply, most landlords cannot refuse to rent their property to any man or woman because they love, look, pray, or talk differently than themselves. Except for certain religious groups and private clubs, the only landlords exempted from this law are those who have a property with less than five units and the landlord lives on the premises. The property is considered the landlord's home and he can be as discriminatory as he chooses. However, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (took effect shortly after America's Civil War): "All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every state and territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens to...lease...property."

With such contradictory laws, one may wonder what the law really is. Believe it or not, it normally depends on which way the wind is blowing. By the end of this chapter, your understanding of discriminatory housing practices may be as good as anyone else's. In the meantime, it would not be wise to discriminate because of religion, sex, family status, handicap, national origin, and especially race or color whether it is your home or not.

Many people mistakenly believe that the Federal Fair Housing Act also forbids discrimination against age and income groups.

This belief stems from HUD's nationwide policy of barring that type of discrimination in most of their housing. Since HUD spends a portion of its multi-billion dollar yearly budget subsidizing housing in every state, their influence is very powerful. In 1996 HUD controlled, to one degree or another, 16,000 multifamily projects valued at 45 billion dollars, and, these are only the ones that HUD has under mortgage. Many states and/or local areas, consequently, have adopted one or more of HUD's policies. In addition, a few localities (usually larger cities) go further than HUD. Some have adopted legislation barring discrimination due to pregnancy, income source, personal appearance, political affiliation, student status, mental disability, and sexual preference. If you feel the laws in your area are extensive, take heart. In Canada, where each Province is responsible for its own discriminatory housing laws, the Province of Quebec forbids discrimination based on race, colour, language, ethnic origin, national origin, civil status, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political convictions, social conditions, physical disability, and a few others. If you are not sure of the laws of your area, you can normally obtain the information by writing or calling your local City Attorney's Office or a Housing and Urban Development regional office (the Office of Fair Housing is administered by HUD).

Many landlords view all of the discriminatory laws as an attack on their rights. They feel the laws make it impossible for them to choose suitable tenants, But, if you look closely at most of these laws, it becomes obvious that they have little to do with finding suitable and responsible tenants.

Even HUD (whose housing practices forbid discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, families with children, marital status, handicapped, disabilities, income, unusual "households," and incorporates all local discriminatory laws where its housing may rest) wants suitable and responsible tenants in their housing. In their latest handbook (Transmittal 4350.3, 4/28/98) under the heading, "Tenant Selection Standards" it states in "chapter 2: Section 6, PERMITTED SCREENING CRITERIA" that potential tenants should be able to demonstrate the (a) "...ability to pay rent on time and to meet the requirements of tenancy." Also, in (b), that "...past rental history including nonpayment of rent,... violations of house rules; violations of lease; history of disruptive behavior; housekeeping habits;... previous evictions; convictions involving the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance, convictions for the illegal use of a controlled substance" etc., are grounds for refusing potential tenants.

You also have the right to choose suitable and responsible tenants. You also have the right to refuse anyone who could adversely affect the profitability of your rental, as long as your refusal is reasonable and equitable and does not violate a few federal, state or local laws.

Question: Yes, but what happens if people come to look at my rental, and I can tell by looking at them and their application that they aren't suitable or responsible people. How do I tell them I don't want to rent to them?

Answer: The best way is not to say anything. When you take their application (we will assume you will be using one) tell all applicants you will have it checked and if you decide to rent to them, you will call them. If you are not sure of what to say, we always take the application in hand and while scanning over it (avoids eye contact), we say: "Thank you. We'll have this checked. If we decide to choose you we'll give you a call and let you know." Usually a few questions follow that are easily answered. Some inquiries may say that they are willing to give you the money and take the place right away: "Sorry, but this application has to be checked and there are others we have to consider. I'll give you a call if we decide on you." Unless you call them, ninety-nine percent of the people will never bother you again.

Q. Yes, but what if that one-in-a-hundred drives past my rental a week later and it isn't rented, and they give me a call demanding to know why?

A: Tell them you haven't made a decision yet and won't, until you have showed the rental to all persons who may be interested. Don't ever say the place is rented if it isn't. That can get you into real trouble. Besides there is no need to. You can go on showing the place as long as you can afford it, or until you find a suitable and responsible tenant. As long as you don't tell one person the place is rented and another it is for rent, you have nothing to worry about.

Q. Yes, but what if they have a friend call and pretend to be an interested party and make an appointment with me to view the rental?

A: Nothing to worry about. As long as you do not tell one person the place is rented and another it is available. If the pretenders show up (you wouldn't know that), scan the application and tell them that you'll give them a call if they are the ones you decide to choose. (Wouldn't it be funny if they were?)

Q. Well, what if they are? Maybe the pretenders will have a perfect application. Suppose I call them and tell them they can have the place?

A: Nothing to worry about. As long as you choose tenants because their qualifications are better than another's, you are within your rights.

Q. Well....But what if my ad runs its course and no one, except the person I don't want as a tenant, is interested in the place?

A: Run the ad again. As long as you have a reasonable reason that is not contrary to any laws, you can go on trying to find a suitable and responsible tenant forever.

Q. Suppose I rent the unit to a person who shows up two or three weeks later; then, the people I didn't want for tenants show up claiming I discriminated against them because they were willing to take the unit earlier. What do I do then?

A: Just tell them it was your intention to wait as long as possible to find the most suitable tenant for the place.

Q. Yes, but suppose they want to know why I chose someone else over them. Or, suppose I don't have a person even remotely interested in my rental except that person. What am I going to do then?

A: Well, after stalling as long as possible, there may be that one in 250 applicants (our experience) who demands a reason--give them a reason.

Twenty-five Reasons For Refusing Tenants:

As a convenience to the reader, this section, as all of this book, is intended merely as a guide in describing basic landlord/tenant law. It is not intended to respond to each and every legal question. State and local laws vary and in each individual circumstance, detailed legal research may be necessary in determining the exact laws of your locality. However, it is highly unlikely you will be challenged on any of the following reasons if each applicant is selected with complete equality. As an example, you cannot turn down one person because he lacks a former landlord, and allow another who lacks a former landlord to rent the unit unless there is an additional reason. Your best excuse for refusing someone is choosing the person you consider the best from the number of applicants who responded (a very good reason for attracting as many tenants as possible).

Nonetheless, if tenants try to pressure you into renting to them, you have the fight to reject them for almost any reasonable reason. The following twenty-five reasons are just a sampling so that you may better understand your rights.

1. Unwillingness or inability of the applicant to complete your application for no apparent reason. If you want, and as long as you demand it from every applicant, you can require that every item be filled in.

2. Has the applicant ever been served with an Unlawful Detainer action? (Will be covered later in this section.)

3.Bad or questionable credit. Remember, a loan company or bank can turn down any loan applicant who has poor credit references. You have the same right. After all, a tenants' monthly rent payment will probably be the biggest single expense they have. However, remember this: The statement to follow is from the 1998 HUD transmittal and concerns HUD rentals and is NOT part of the law-of-the-land yet, but (in our opinion) it makes perfect sense: "Credit References. Credit checks may be useful when no rent payment history is available. However, lack of a credit history (as opposed to a poor credit history) is not sufficient justification to reject an applicant." To repeat, the preceding statement concerns HUD housing. If it, however, becomes the law-of-the-land in five to ten years it would not surprise us.

4.Bad report by a former or present landlord. For example, did they fail to pay rent on time? In most states one can evict tenants who pay their rent past the due date four or five times within a twelve month period. You can surely refuse to rent to someone for the same reason. Also, were they good housekeepers while they lived there? Did they leave their garbage lying about? Did they disturb the neighbors? Were they easy to get along with? Did they leave the place dirty when they moved? If any past landlord gives a reasonable negative response, you have the right to refuse the tenant.

Many landlords are fearful of calling the present landlord, believing a bad tenant may have friends posing as a loving landlord. We have never experienced this and know of no landlord who has; yet, everyone seems to know someone who has. If you are fearful of such a plot, look closely at the application while conversing with the "landlord" and misquote information on the application (marital status, dates, number of children, income, and especially name of landlord). If the "landlord" agrees, something must be wrong.

5. Too many people. Contrary to what some social workers believe, you do not have to turn your rental into a flop house. You do not have to rent a one bedroom apartment to three adults or a two bedroom to five. Where unmarried adults are concerned, we seldom exceed one person per bedroom. Even HUD (under C. General Occupancy Guidelines, 6,c) who sets standards but not necessarily laws, states: "Unrelated adults and persons of the opposite sex (other than spouses) would not be required to share a bedroom (other than spouses)." However, in (b) it also states: "No more than two persons would be required to occupy a bedroom. HUD's position is generally that occupancy policies which exclude more than 2 persons per bedroom will generally be reasonable while occupancy policies which require fewer than 2 persons per bedroom will generally be unreasonable, depending on all facts and circumstances." This last statement has to do primarily with young children. As an example: If a married couple came to rent your two bedroom apartment and they had a boy of five and a girl of eight--can you really refuse them? On the other hand, what if they had a boy of 10 and a girl of 13? We would refuse the latter due to "facts and circumstances." Use your common sense.

6. Too many children. HUD standards as stated above may be ambiguous, but we have never known of HUD to insist on allowing more than one older child per bedroom unless the tenant was destitute. Also: "An unborn child, may be counted as a member of the family." Contrary to what most people believe, HUD's occupancy standards are fairly reasonable. Unfortunately, some large cities, like Los Angeles, CA, have minimum occupancy standards that in practice exceed HUD's. Most areas, however, do not set minimum occupancy standards; in which case you can set your own. If you like, you can limit your bedrooms to one older child per bedroom, or one adult per bedroom, whether married or not, in all but a few areas of the country.

On the other hand, some cities have occupancy standards which make interesting and humorous reading. For example, Philadelphia, PA, had a notation in their "Partners For Good Housing" guidebook in 1990 that stated (and maybe still does): "Every room used as a bedroom must have at least 70 square feet of floor area. This applies to living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens when they are used as bedrooms." It goes on to say that no more than six people, "not counting babies under 1 year of age" may occupy an area of less than 600 square feet. Theoretically, that would allow seven or more people to occupy a small, one bedroom apartment--fortunately these do-gooders (we assume they grew up in a flop house) do not set nationwide minimums.

Nevertheless, since profit is your goal, you do not want to make your rental unrentable. We have found that one person per bedroom is too restrictive. We see nothing wrong with renting a two bedroom to a couple with one or two small children, or a three bedroom to a couple with three or four small children. However, renting to couples where older children (same sex or not) are expected to share the same bedroom is not recommended. These families will normally want a larger unit and are short stays.

7. Pets are unacceptable. In many areas, you cannot deny prospects if their "pet" is an aid to them due to a physical disability. Also, in some areas, elderly people cannot be refused for having a reasonable pet. In all other cases, as stated earlier, set your own reasonable standards.

8. Business activity. Will the person use the place for his business? Laws are very specific about this because of zoning. Using the rental for part-time baby-sitting is even frowned upon in many areas.

9. Income level. Although a small factor in our final determination, it's a very easy way to say no. Gross income, some say, should equal four times the rent. However, since one-third of all the renters in this country already spent over that, set a one-to-three ratio if you like. Just remember, that would have to include all applicants. By the way, for Jan. 1, 2000, the medium hourly income was $13.41.

10. Not enough money. If the applicant does not have the full amount to pay for rent, deposits, fees, etc. you do not have to hold, wait, consider, or feel guilty. Say no. Even HUD complexes have the right to refuse potential tenants who don't have money for a security deposit (Chapter 4, Section 2: Security Deposits, 8. REQUIREMENTS (a & c).

What happens if the person wanting your property seems to have all of the above covered, but you believe s/he will still be an unsuitable tenant? Well, as HUD states: The fact that an applicant qualifies...does not mean that he/she is a suitable tenant.

11. Was the applicant lying? Remember when you let them talk, then handed them an application? Liars usually forget what they say (that's why US politicians think so long before answering) and it is very easy to catch them.

12. No consideration for others. Did they drive up to your place with the radio blasting? Was the vehicle noisy? Did they drive recklessly or were they loud and boisterous? Remember, anything that can have an adverse financial effect on your rental, especially if more than one unit, and could affect the health or safety of any person or the right of any present tenant or neighbor to the quiet enjoyment of his or her unit, is a very valid reason for saying, no. We have used this one many times.

13. Possible illegal drug usage. Did they come to your place looking dreamy eyed and perplexed, or were they drinking alcohol? These are perfect examples of irresponsibility. If you are fairly certain, no one will question you on this one.

14. Questionable references. Did a member of their family say they weren't sure what kind of tenants they would make (it is unbelievable what family members will say), or did their references claim they didn't know them that well.

15. Comments that could mean trouble. See last chapter.

16. Bad experiences with past tenants or others they are acquainted with. If you rent to them, will their friends or family that caused you (or someone else) trouble in the past come to visit them? As an example, we have refused prospects whose friends rented from us and used to have late night parties.

17. No way to check anything. They tell you they lived with their mother all their lives, yet they are in their mid-twenties, or older. (We had a twice-married, forty-year-old woman with six children use that one--can you believe it?)

18. Unstable work record. Have they only been employed for a short time, or are they out of work, or do they change jobs every couple months?

19. Attitude. This is a good one: Do they intimidate you? Are they pushy or demanding? If you feel you cannot control them as tenants, you don't have to rent to them. Don't ever rent to anyone if there is reason to believe they will not cooperate with you.

20. No furniture. Although it isn't often people without furniture attempt to rent unfurnished rentals, it happens. Tenants without furniture are normally very short stays.

21. Housing record. Gaps between former and present landlords could mean they are trying to hide something. Also, does their record show they move every few months? Anything that may adversely affect the profitability of your rental is always a good reason.

22. Past residences. Although there are some cities that forbid landlords from discriminating against people who are moving from certain blighted areas, this has nothing to do with the way they take care of their present dwelling. Therefore, some professionals advise that a landlord in doubt about certain prospects should drive to the applying people's house and pay them an unexpected visit to see what kind of housekeepers they are. We find this astounding. Can you imagine knocking at someone's door unexpectedly and asking to come in? What a way to start a landlord/tenant relationship. If the tenant is dutiful, you would look like a fool. If their home is a mess, what are you going to say: "Hello. You keep a crummy house and I ain't going to rent to you." On the other hand, we have heard of landlords who drive by potential tenant's homes and try to gauge how the tenant takes care of the surrounding area. We never have.

Also: Did the tenant live at a large complex where there was a resident landlord who handed out keys, unclogged their drains, picked up their litter, settled disputes with neighbors, or other things they should have taken care of themselves? They may expect the same from you.

23. Smokers: You have the right to refuse them (especially pot smokers). Although we find no difference between smokers and nonsmokers as tenants, we had a potential tenant empty the ashtray of his car in the driveway while his wife was viewing a rental. If they throw their butts (or any kind of litter) out the car window, you can also turn them down--we did.

24. Too many vehicles. If you supply parking, you can limit vehicles to one or two. You can also refuse them because of oversized and/or seldom-used vehicles like trailers, boats, large trucks, or buses. These vehicles have a way of ending up in the driveways or on the lawns.

25. Inaccuracy on application. If you find anything is obviously a deliberate oversight, don't rent to them.

We are sure that every landlord has another very valid reason for turning down applicants or callers that they judge, in a business sense, to be potential problem tenants. Just remember, if your reason is reasonable or equitable and does not conflict with any laws within your area, it is probably a good reason.

Interestingly, we read, believe it or not, where a "professional" real-estate author advised turning down people who did not have "average or above intelligence." We find this amusing, not only because some areas have laws forbidding discrimination against mentally deficient persons, but we would be very reluctant to tell a six-foot-six, three hundred pound wrestler, he was too stupid. We have never used this one either.

Question: But, the person who wants my rental has all of the above covered and I still don't want to rent to them?

Answer: Sell your rental.

Unlawful Detainer Registers:

Some landlords prefer to turn over their applications to credit agencies and have them check on the applicant. The only problem is most agencies check on the applicant's credit and little else. Unless past landlords turned their money-owing past tenants into a collection agency, which few do, the applicant could be given a clean bill of health. Also, it is possible to find yourself with a well-paying tenant who creates other problems.

Because of the inability of credit checks to weed out potential bad tenants, agencies have sprung up specializing in identifying potential problem tenants. This kind of screening is growing in popularity and already has a large following in various areas around the country. These agencies are known as Unlawful Detainer Registers. Unlawful Detainers are legal actions filed with local courts to remove troublesome tenants from a rental. The lion's share of these unlawful detainers is filed because the tenants failed to pay their rent as agreed. The remainder are filed because tenants disturbed their neighbors, damaged the unit, or failed to fulfill their responsibilities in other ways.

The unlawful detainers are part of the public record. Therefore they are accessible to anyone who wants to spend hours looking up the information in any courthouse around the country. Naturally, the average landlord doesn't have the knowledge or the time. Therefore, Unlawful Detainer Registers (UDR's) send their people to courthouses within their areas and obtain the information which is later fed into a computer and registered. The information is then sold to the public for a fee. One register in California gets over 900 calls every business day to check on applicants. In the Los Angeles County area alone, there are over 50,000 unlawful detainer actions filed every year. Consequently their list already holds millions of names.

Many rental agencies and landlords use their services and pay a yearly or monthly fee plus an additional fee per search. Most landlords charge the applicant for the service, explaining that if everything is OK the money will be refunded. Some landlords make the applicant pay even though everything checks out.

Unlawful Detainer actions are a very serious offense because they are seldom filed unless the tenant has violated their lease, or failed to abide by the landlord/tenant laws of their area. Naturally, if a tenant has a bad record involving landlord/tenant relations you would be better off to avoid them, just as lending institutions avoid people with bad credit histories,

About the only drawback to the UDR's is that a small percentage of unlawful detainers are brought against basically good people who through circumstances got into a problem that overtook them. As an example, in one state a woman was unaware that paying her rent a few days late more than four times within a year was grounds for eviction and an unlawful detainer action was filed against her. There is also a small percentage of tenants who were served with an unlawful detainer because of the personal reasons of some unscrupulous landlords. Nevertheless, the overriding portion of unlawful detainers are for very valid reasons. If you use one of these agencies, it could be to your best interest to ask the reason why the unlawful detainer was started against the applicant and try to gauge what occurred.

Another drawback to the UDR's is many unscrupulous tenants in the past have learned to use different names to defeat credit checks and now they are doing the same thing to avoid the UDR's. (We inherited one tenant who used six different names.) Also, because Americans live in a very mobile society, undesirable tenants may be registered in one area, but if they relocate to another area, the information may not be available. However, as these registers mature and reach out to encompass state and obviously nationwide areas, it will become difficult for troublesome tenants to hide. Nonetheless, UDR's can be very helpful where they exist. Information on bad tenants, like bad credit risks, should be available to the public.

Unfortunately, Unlawful Detainer Registers can only tell you which applicant created problems in the past; consequently, your application is still, and will always be, your best weapon for eliminating possible future problems.

Retaliatory "Lawsuits":

Some "lawsuits" start as follows: You answer the phone and after identifying yourself, the caller begins: "Mr. Landlord, this is Attorney at Law, Juristic Valid, and I am calling in regards to a complaint filed against you by Ms. Smarting through the Legal Services Offices. She alleges that you have discriminated against her in regards to a rental that you refused her. What do you have to say?"

If one looks closely at the facts, one soon realizes some disgruntled person, to whom you refused a rental, went to a free legal aid agency and filed a complaint against you. Then, an attorney tries to deceive you into believing you did something illegal and that everyone knows it.

These agencies usually have no legal association with any state or government agency. Many times the people calling are not even attorneys, but use legal-sounding titles such as, Executive Counselor of the World Tenant Union. They hope to intimidate you into believing that some "lawsuit" has commenced against you and you better give into their wishes.

The truth is, there is nothing to be alarmed about and nothing could be further from a lawsuit. A lawsuit is a "case before the courts." Anything else is some disgruntled consumer complaining about something. The people employed at these tenant or legal agencies are the same ones tenants would complain to if they had a leaky faucet, or some other problem that may or may not be your responsibility.

You should understand that when a person files a complaint with these agencies, the complainant is not seriously questioned at this point. These offices are set up, and create jobs for the people managing them. The employees there will take any complaint, no matter how trivial, as long as they have the time and manpower. After all, it is good for business. This is how organizations like free legal services and tenants unions obtain state and federal monies. The more complaints filed with them, the more legislators believe their services are desperately needed. Consequently, most of these groups aren't interested in whether the complaint is valid or not. If they can pressure you into resolving the complaint, and the complainant signs a "happy ending" form, the organizations will use the forms as "proof" they could help more oppressed tenants if they had more money.

Our first experience with these people came in 1979 when we actually had one of these agencies call us and put us under the impression that they represented some government agency. They then demanded we rent to a woman who was complaining that one of our rentals was near a hospital (4 miles away) and she wanted the unit for "health reasons."

The lawyer for the agency actually told us we would find ourselves in "deep trouble" if we didn't rent to the woman. We were so unsettled, that for the first time in our lives we almost rented to a person less qualified than other prospects. We came to our senses in a few hours and were determined to go to court rather than rent our property to someone we judged to be unsuited and irresponsible (crummy & obnoxious); and now, overbearing (pushy and a lire). We refused to rent to the "prospect" and waited to see what would happen. Nothing happened. That was the last we ever heard of the "complaint."

Since then we have had three other people file charges of housing discrimination against us. We have learned something about how the system works. It would be impossible in a writing of this size to explain all the various local, state, and federal procedures. However, we will attempt to give a general view of the basic procedures in a housing discrimination charge.

If a person you refused a rental believes (it is amassing what some believe) that you discriminated against him or her because of federal laws governing: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, handicap or any state law concerning marital status, age, disability or whatever else your state or local area may have added to the list, that person has the right to file a charge of housing discrimination against you.

Unfortunately, if they contact a tenant group or a free legal service, you may be subjected to the same pressure as mentioned earlier. If the complainant engages his own lawyer, the chances are you will be pressured in a more civil and less demanding matter. The reason for this "pressure" is most housing discrimination charges are unfounded and they are extremely difficult to prove. Consequently, if you can be pressured into renting to the complainant, the matter need go no further. On the other hand, if you refuse and a legal aid lawyer, or an independent attorney, believe they have sufficient grounds, they will take the matter directly to a state or federal court. In which case you will be served with all necessary papers and you can be sure the matter is serious.

It is not necessary, however, for a complainant to engage or contact a tenant's legal group or an attorney; consequently, most charges of housing discrimination are filed with either a State Rights Commission or with HUD's Offices of Fair Housing.

Unfortunately, like the tenants' groups and legal aid services, there are over-zealous persons in government who are not beneath pressuring you also. They are required by law to look into these allegations if it comes under their jurisdiction, and from their point of view, the sooner they can resolve the problem the better.

In 1983, a woman filed a charge of discrimination against us directly with HUD. An Assistant Director of the Regional Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity called and told us that since the complaining applicant learned one of our rentals was going empty, before we knew about it, we would be "in violation of the law" if we didn't rent the complainant the rental.

We explained it was true. The woman was friends with a present tenant and had learned that the place would be going vacant before we knew about it. We refused, however, to rent to the complainant because she could not supply any credit references (very unusual for a person 36 years old). We explained we were going to advertise and find the best possible tenant for the rental.

The next day this over-zealous employee of the federal government called us back. This time, instead of reciting laws that didn't exist, she asked us to explain under "which law" we were turning the complaining applicant down. Can you believe it? There are no laws which specify why you can refuse an applicant. There are only laws which specify why you cannot refuse an applicant. We refused to cooperate with such convoluted tactics and told her that we would rent to the person we considered best suited for the rental.

Although in our case the complainant went directly to the Offices of Fair Housing, there are also employees on the state level who are not adverse to using the same motive of operation. After all, HUD itself issues a pamphlet which states that they will attempt to resolve the matter "by informal methods of conference, conciliation and persuasion." Most states and local governments follow similar "persuasion" procedures.

After trying to pressure you into renting to a complainant, the agency where the charge was filed may find there are no grounds to substantiate a charge of discrimination and will try to persuade the complainant to drop his or her charge. At other times, they feel there are grounds to substantiate the charge, or the complainant refuses to drop his charge, and an investigation is started.

If the discriminatory charge is covered by state or local law, that legal apparatus will conduct the investigation. If the charge is not covered by a state or local law, but is in violation of a federal law, HUD will investigate the case.

Since we had a case filed against us handled by HUD's Offices of Fair Housing, and state and local procedures are equivalent, we will explain the process involved in a housing discrimination case by quoting a state pamphlet while using the correspondence we had with the federal government. (Although all states have similar wording, we are quoting Colorado's 1990 Housing Discrimination pamphlet since it is very straightforward.)

First step: "The charging party signs a formal charge form that allows the Commission to investigate the case."

Second step: "A Civil Rights Specialist will attempt to settle the charge immediately, which may result in a voluntary no-fault settlement." As noted above, if you give in, the case is over. If you fail to give in and the complainant still believes you are a naughty person, the investigation will continue.

Third step: "The Division may have persons of different racial, ethnic, or other backgrounds test for discrimination." This means that the federal, state, or even local governments will sometimes send out "testers" of different races, religions, sexes, or people who practice different lifestyles, followed normally by a White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. If you tell the first person that you didn't have a place for rent, and tell the WASP that you do, you are bound to get stung. Since we have never discriminated for illegal reasons, we cannot be sure if we were ever tested or not. Therefore, if you take applications and tell each inquirer that you will make a decision based on the application and circumstances of the unit, there is no need for worry

Fourth step: "If a no-fault settlement does not occur [means, if pressure doesn't work, or they don't catch you red handed] an investigation will be conducted by a Civil Rights Specialist." Within ten days we received a certified letter from the Regional Office of Fair Housing, which started: "This letter is to inform you that we referred the complaint of housing discrimination which was filed against you with this department, to the State Human Rights Commission for investigation and resolution." (Note: Our state uses "Human Rights Commission." Colorado uses "Civil Rights Commission.") The letter goes on to explain the process of taking a complaint and moving it toward legal resolution.

Notice that Fair Housing forwarded the complaint to the State. The reason is that states are very competitive and jealous of anyone (especially the federal government) coming into their area and throwing their weight around; consequently, if the states or local areas provide equivalent rights: "HUD can take no action but must send the complaint to the appropriate State or Local agency for processing." If the jurisdiction did not come under state or local laws, it would have remained with HUD.

If the charge was filed with a state or local area, HUD's Offices of Fair Housing is usually notified even though the state or local government investigates the complaint (the federal government likes to know what is going on).

If you are sure you have done nothing wrong, this type of letter is nothing to get upset about since it is standard procedure. Nevertheless, if you are not sure of your rights, this would be the time to contact an attorney.

After receiving such a letter, and before memory dulls the facts, write down any and all reasons why the person named in the letter was not rented the unit in question. In our case, it was because the complainer lacked any credit information. In addition, six other people applied for the unit. Since some investigators like to hear more than is required, we jotted down a few reasons why we chose the other prospects over the complaining one. (In our case we would have chosen all six over the complaining one.)

According to government pamphlets, at this stage, "An investigation may include inspections of records and interviews with those parties involved in the charge." We put the papers away believing that some investigator would contact us, then, we would explain out position and that would be the end of the matter.

Fifth step: "If the facts do not support a finding of probable cause, the case is dismissed. If the facts support the charge, the Director makes a finding of probable cause." Two months later we received the following letter: "The Secretary [of HUD] requires that we reactivate the complaint under Federal procedures at this time....We will now proceed to process the complaint as provided for in Tide VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968."

We had forgotten all about it. No one from the state contacted us about the facts, no one asked for a written statement of the facts, and no one came to check our factual records. By doing nothing, the state, in essence, threw the charge back at the federal government. It could be that the state saw no possible solution in the case, or it could be that since the charge violated a law similar to Federal Housing Discriminatory laws, the state figured that the federal government could waste its time and money on the investigation.

Sixth step: "If probable cause is found, attempts will be made to conciliate the case."

The letter goes on to explain in legal jargon the processes involved. "If it is decided that action should be taken to resolve the matter, we will attempt to correct the matter through informal means..." This means that even if they feel you discriminated, they will still give you a chance to rent the property, or a similar rental, to the person you rejected, "If reconciliation is not successful, the case may be taken to a public hearing or may be dismissed."

They even inform you if they find no merit in the case, they will drop it; but, the complainant can engage a lawyer or legal services if he can't afford a lawyer, and continue the struggle under alternative rights. Remember that Civil Rights Law of 1866. (This writer cannot understand what all these other civil rights laws are all about since the law of 1866 seems to provide adequate protection for everyone.)

It should be noted that in these complaints, it never states exactly what the complaint is, just "housing discrimination." However, once your accuser gets to this point, she or he has to show up at a hearing and convince the Commission that you discriminated against them illegally. We were looking forward to the hearing. Because of past experiences, we knew the last letter was nothing to get excited about, just part of the procedure. We filed it away and waited.

Seventh step: The hearing or dismissal.

Within 15 days we received the following letter: "You are hereby notified that the complaint has been withdrawn and no further action is anticipated on this case, the complainant...requests that the complaint...be withdrawn."

If the complaint had not been withdrawn (we never had any other case go past this point) there would have been a hearing which might have gone against us (however unlikely). If it had, the American system justice has always been one of "conciliation." Relief is always sought without lawsuits. Therefore, there would have been an eighth step.

Eighth step: "Possible relief that can be ordered may include:

Correction of discriminatory housing practices.
Access to the housing or similar housing [for complainant].
Relief for actual damages incurred as a result of the discriminatory action." (This could cost you plenty.)

And there is still a Ninth step: At a hearing a case can be decided on "reasonable" evidence. Therefore, you can refuse to accept the commission's decision, hire an attorney and go to court. In a case before the courts, your guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The chances of that occurring is as remote as winning a decent prize in the states' numbers racket.

Many people mistakenly believe discriminatory law is very well defined and easy to determine. Actually, since every case is unique and the circumstances vary from case to case, the law, especially discriminatory law, is so unpredictable in its outcome that anything can happen. Attorneys as well as judges are subject to the same human frailties that affect us all, and a determination has as much to do with their personal opinions and interpretations as with law.

In addition, laws that are not used frequently (few discriminatory cases go to court) have not had the vagaries worked out of them. Consequently, what one lawyer or judge may find to be the law, may be the reverse of what another lawyer or judge finds to be the law.

Not only is the law fickle, but some of the new local discriminatory laws are the result of legislators bowing to the pressure of vocal groups and may not be real laws in the true sense. We do not live within a dictatorship where laws are decreed and we are bound to them forever. It is the judicial branch of government (for better or worse) which has the last word, not legislative pens. It is doubtful some of the laws (especially local laws) in effect today would stand up to the scrutiny of the courts if someone had the time, inclination and money to challenge them.

This is why all tenant's unions, free legal services, attorneys, the federal and state governments will (in every case we are aware of) try to pressure you into giving in to the person who filed a complaint with their offices. Whenever possible lawsuits are avoided, even by the majority of the most idealistic young lawyers. Things have a way of backfiring.

A classic example is the 1977 New York Supreme Court decision in the "Kramarsky versus Stahl" case. A landlord refused to rent to a single, black female attorney on the grounds she was too intelligent and would create problems for him because of her legal education. She sued.

A New York judge ruled that discrimination based on marital status, sex, or race was not violated and concluded: "This is a valid ground upon which to refuse to rent an apartment. A landlord can bar his premises to the lowest stratum of society, should he choose, or the highest, if that be his personal desire,"

Consequently, because of this decision, landlords in New York had another very valid reason for refusing tenants. In law, nothing is definite and a similar case may have a different outcome. But, since precedence had been established, if a landlord refused to rent to an attorney or anyone working for a tenant group in New York, the chances of a lawsuit was doubtful.

An interesting outcome of this case was that people working for tenant rights organizations in many of the larger cities of the United States hurriedly pushed for legislation barring discrimination against a person's line of work to stave off any such "discrimination" in their little fiefdoms. (Do these new laws mean you must rent to prostitutes, burglars, hit men, pimps, dope pushers, panhandlers, con-men, gigolos, car thieves, and independent entrepreneurs?) It shows to what extent these organizations will go to push for legislative laws to protect their power. It also shows that law and justice doesn't mean the same thing.

Nevertheless, if anyone you refused contacts one of these groups and they phone you, listen carefully to who they say they are. If you feel they are trying to coerce you into believing they are part of the Civil or Human Rights Commissions, Department of Fair Housing, or with any legitimate government office, you probably have a very good case for a lawsuit yourself. All states define such misrepresentation as criminal conduct. As most states put it: "Any organization causing confusion or misunderstanding as to its affiliation with another...is in violation of the law." If any group tries to pressure you, or mislead you, report such conduct to the State Attorney General's Office--Yes, they're for your protection also.

When you understand how these pressure groups operate, things can take a turn toward the comical.

The people who work at these establishments believe since their family and friends are impressed with their positions, the rest of the world is also. When they contact you, they feel the weight of their office should resolve the matter, naturally in favor of the person they represent. If you refuse to act cowed before them, you can usually shock them back into reality. A statement from you such as, "are you accusing me of something," or "what branch of government do you represent," can bring exceptionally long periods of silence as they recover their composure.

If you are contacted by any legitimate federal, state, or local employees, they have no right to badger, threaten, or demand anything of you either. They are in no position to accuse you of anything. You are not a second-class citizen and have the right to the same respect granted the criminals of this country. These agencies must also depend on your cooperation to settle a complaint before they end up spending unnecessary money. Sometimes they give a name of the complainant, sometimes not. Even if you know who and what they are talking about, do not admit it. Ask questions first: Who? When? What? Say nothing if it is not to your advantage.

Once you are sure who lodged the complaint, give your most negative objective comment about the person. For example: "Oh, you mean the woman with three kids who was married twice and claims she always lived at her mother's house?" Or: "Is this about the pushy man who thought I should rent him the place when three other people were better qualified?"

The reason for saying something, however little, is to try and stop the nonsense before it gets started. Don't forget, these complainers are usually at the agencies telling only their side of the story. In addition, many of the people working for the tenant groups have an antiestablishment ax to grind and will carry the matter further than need be if they believe you have no defense or can be pushed around.

If you have done nothing illegal, you should have no problems. These complaints usually fade away in a month or two. However, like the case mentioned above, irresponsible government employees can also drag the matter out longer than necessary.

It should also be mentioned that if you ever receive a letter from a government agency, answer it in a timely manner, A few years ago we received a letter from the office of the state Attorney General where one of our tenants complained we were charging "unfair late charges." The complaint was so ridiculous (see rent collection) we ignored the letter. Within a month we received another letter from the Attorney General's office which in part stated: "when we do not receive a reply, we must assume that the facts as related to us by the tenant have some foundation, and that possible unfair and deceptive practices may have occurred...." Answer any written inquiry from a government office promptly. We answered the letter and explained our late charge policy. The complaint was dropped.

Some people will advise you to consult an attorney immediately if ANY complaint is lodged against you. The decision is up to you. Normally, if someone files a complaint against you, it is necessary (in most cases) for them to prove their accusations. If you did nothing illegal and did not make comments that could be twisted out of proportion, there is little need to worry. As the cases above show, waiting patiently or answering your mail promptly can be your best ally. However, if the charge moves past the notification letter and you are in doubt about vague and conflicting laws, you would be very wise to consult an attorney, for in "law" nothing is definite. As an example, although the Federal Fair Housing Act implies that if a dwelling, with less than five units, is your home, you have a right to discriminate in any way you want, there is always that federal Civil Rights Act of 1866, which many states have adopted. In 1985 a Seattle, Washington, woman foolishly refused to rent to a person on racial grounds claiming that city and county ordinances allowed her to discriminate when renting "rooms" in her own "home." The State Court of Appeals however, ruled that state statutes prevailed in the case and ordered her to pay a $2000.00 fine and post "equal opportunity" signs in her "home." In addition, the court upheld a County Superior Court ruling that she notify organizations "concerned with the housing of blacks" when advertising vacancies in her "home."

Not long ago we asked a prominent attorney what "Law" meant. His answer came quickly: "15% written law, 15% precedence, 50% argument, and 20% public sentiment"--the way the wind blows.

Summary:

1. You have the right to choose suitable and responsible tenants and turn away anyone who fails to meet reasonable qualifications.
2. Don't ever tell one person your available rental is rented and another person it isn't.
3. Don't be coerced into renting to anyone you have turned down for a reasonable cause.
4. There are only a few federal and state laws which forbid discrimination on mostly sensible grounds. There are some localities, however, which have discrimination laws that are anything but reasonable. Nonetheless, as long as you do not violate any of these laws, there is little need to worry about lawsuits.

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