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Some Tips for New Landlords – 5-24-2006

By Rick Racela

 
SOME TIPS FOR NEW LANDLORDS
By NICK SITTINERI
Guest Columnist
With all the new houses and condos popping up across the county, there are many first- time landlords.  A few basic tips may save you unwanted headaches.
The best recommendation is to consult with an attorney.  And make sure it’s an attorney who handles landlord-tenant matters!  Many people assume that every lawyer can handle all legal problems.  Yet, when you’re having problems with your hearing, you don’t go to a heart doctor.  So don’t go to the attorney who drafted your Will and expect him or her (necessarily) to give you advice on your rental.
If you can’t afford an attorney because you spent all your money on an overpriced condo, take a stroll down to the county court house.  They have free brochures to assist landlords and tenants.  After you get your reading material, you may want to sit in on a session of landlord-tenant court.  It’s usually pretty crowded, so arrive early.  Listen to the judge at the start of the session.  You can get some truly helpful advice.  And, while you’re there, take a good look around.  You won’t find a single person who is happy to be there.
The law varies depending on the type of rental.  Generally, tenants have more rights in a year-round rental than a seasonal rental.  Also, if your property falls within the parameters of the Anti-Eviction Act (year-round residential tenancies in a property with three or more units), there are even more rules – in some cases, for example, you must give a full three years notice to a tenant before you can evict.
No matter the type of tenancy, it’s important to have a written lease.  Again, the wisest course is to use an attorney, but if you don’t intend to do that at least you can buy a basic residential lease form at Staples.
A lease makes your expectations clear and easier to enforce.  If you don’t want to allow pets for example, include it on the lease.  This will prevent the “he said, she said” that comes when an oral lease is disputed in court.
Be sure to get a security deposit.  The majority of problems from seasonal rentals arise from damage to the property.  Tenants tend to take better care of your rental when they risk losing money.
One and a half times the monthly rent is the maximum security allowed under the Security Deposit Act.  You are required to put the security deposit in an interest-bearing account and to identify the location to the tenant.  Otherwise, the tenant may use that deposit as payment of rent.
Within 30 days after a tenant leaves, you must return the security deposit with interest, or provide a written summary of deductions from damage to the rental.  The tenant is entitled to double the security deposit if you fail to do this.
You would be surprised how helpful it is to do background checks on potential tenants.  There are services that can do credit checks as well as search court records to see if someone was previously evicted.  If you’re still hurting from getting your first tax bill, or just plain lazy, ask for referrals.  It’s much cheaper and easier.
Here’s one final tip that many landlords have no clue about until they are embarrassed in court.  You need a Landlord Registration Statement from the municipality in which your property is located.  This is different from a mercantile license.  It’s usually a one page form you can obtain at city hall.
Nick Sittineri, who grew up in North Wildwood, is an attorney concentrating his practice in landlord-tenant, criminal, traffic and DYFS law.  Readers are invited to send inquiries about landlord-tenant matters to him at REUpdate.CapeMayCountyHerald.com.

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