Rental property ownership, like any investment, comes with a certain amount of risk. However, with industry knowledge and planning you can decrease that risk. Before you invest in real estate you should know what risks you could be facing, and how best to avoid them. As one of the top Atlanta property management companies we can help you avoid the legal hassles that will put your investment at risk. Read below to learn our best tips for avoiding legal problems as a landlord.
Know the Law
When it comes to managing rental property, local, state, and federal laws abound. From your neighborhood HOA bylaws to Federal fair housing laws, it can feel like there is no end to the rules you must abide by as a rental property owner. With so many different rules and ordinances, which are often being changed, it can be difficult to keep them all straight. But ignorance of these laws, no matter how small they seem, is not justification for breaking them.
The numerous housing laws, rules, and ordinances protect both homeowners and tenants, ensuring that neither party is treated unfairly. However, if you are found to be in violation of certain laws you could be facing steep fines. In addition, if your situation requires professional help, attorney fees can be $250 per hour or more. Being in violation of just one law could wipe out your profits for the year. Working with a professional Atlanta property management company not only helps you avoid the hassle of keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of laws and regulations, but you avoid the high cost of violations.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act was put into place to help those with disabilities from being discriminated against in a variety of ways. In housing, it means that Americans with disabilities must have equal access to resources and features. For example, if the only way to get into your rental property is to walk up several steps, an individual in a wheelchair will not have equal access. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that you allow tenants to install adequate access features, which in this example is a wheelchair ramp. It also allows property owners to require the tenants to put the property back into its original condition when moving out.
In addition to equal physical access, the ADA requires that Americans with an assistance animal are given equal access to housing, even if the property has pet restrictions. If an individual has an assistance animal they may request to keep their animal as a reasonable accommodation. Because the animal is not a pet, you cannot charge extra fees such as “pet rent.”
As an experienced Atlanta property management company, Specialized Property Management Atlanta can help you navigate these types of requests and ensure you are accommodating to any potential tenants with disabilities.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act, and other laws like it, aim to make housing fair for everyone. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development,
“It is illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing, including against individuals seeking a mortgage or housing assistance, or in other housing-related activities. The Fair Housing Act prohibits this discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.”
Fair housing laws are not only about legality, they are about common decency. As a rental property owner, you must act fairly to all prospective tenants. For examples of what housing discrimination looks like visit the Housing and Urban Development website or our recent post here.
Georgia Habitability Laws
It is important to remember that while your rental property represents an investment for you, for your tenant it is a home. Your tenant should reasonably expect their home to be safe and habitable, and Georgia law requires it. Your Atlanta property management company will help you understand what this means in your unique situation and location but, generally, landlords and tenants are responsible for different aspects of home maintenance. According to the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook a landlord must “maintain the building structure; keep electric, heating, and plumbing in working order; and exercise ordinary care to keep the unit and access safe for tenants.” Tenants can expect they will be protected from the elements, have running water, plumbing, electricity, and functioning smoke detectors. In addition, they can expect that they will not be subjected to noxious smells, mold, noise, or garbage.
If your tenant brings a maintenance issue to your attention and you fail to respond you could be faced with a lawsuit, your tenant could “repair and deduct,” or they may move out and claim “constructive eviction.” All of these situations are costly and cause unnecessary tension between the landlord and tenant. The best way to avoid these adverse situations is to work with a professional Atlanta property management company. The qualified team at Specialized Property Management Atlanta works hard to ensure your property is safe and habitable for your tenants. With our 24/7 emergency call line, there will always be someone on the line to help your tenant with maintenance issues.
It can be tempting to fix everything at your property on your own. After all, you can find instructions for just about any home maintenance project on the internet, and with a little elbow grease you can save a lot of money. Some property owners decide to hire a “handyman” who may have some practical experience but doesn’t have a license or insurance. Before you replace a toilet or install an electrical outlet, take a step back and think about the consequences.
If something goes wrong you could be looking at property damage and a possible lawsuit. Most states require professionals, such as electricians and plumbers, to be licensed and have liability and workers comp insurance. Saving a little bit of money is not worth the liability you open yourself up to when choosing to DIY maintenance around your property. Fortunately, as your Atlanta property management company we will provide a list of vendors who perform high quality, cost-effective maintenance around Atlanta.
Accounting Laws and Money Management
One of the most misunderstood aspects of property management is the security deposit. We often see first-time rental property owners mishandle security deposit funds, thinking it is simply part of their monthly cash flow. Security deposits serve as a protection for property owners. If a tenant moves out without notice while still owing rent, or causes property damage, the security deposit is meant to cover these costs. However, if the tenant gives proper notice, and the damage is limited to normal wear and tear the security deposit must be returned within one month.
Accounting laws dictate how security deposits should be handled, giving clear and specific instructions to property owners. Handling these funds incorrectly could result in fines up to three times the amount of the deposit. When you work with a professional Atlanta property management company like Specialized Property Management you can be sure your security deposit is kept safe and distributed correctly at the end of your tenant’s lease.
In addition to keeping track of the security deposit, property owners should keep a good record of all transactions and communications with tenants. Detailed and accurate records, including when and how you responded to requests, are invaluable to property owners. If a lawsuit is filed, these records are often pulled up as a primary source of reliable information. Make sure you keep time and date stamped records for the length of time required in your specific location.
Keeping Private Information Secure
Your tenant trusts you with their private information, such as their social security number and bank account information. While it is unlikely that you would intentionally share this sensitive information, unintentionally sharing it can lead to liability. How would you unintentionally share your tenant’s private information? It is easier than it sounds and is typically due to a lack of digital security. If you are asking your tenant to share sensitive information over the internet make sure you have a secure route to do it. Our Atlanta property management company provides a secure owner portal and tenant portal to view and share important documents, ensuring that private information stays private.
Stay Up to Date and Vigilant
What is our best tip for avoiding legal issues as a landlord? Remaining constantly vigilant when it comes to the ever-changing landscape of property management. Understandably, many rental property owners don’t have the time or interest to stay on top of it all. Managing a rental property is a full time, nights and weekends type of job. But even if you don’t have the time or interest, you can still have a successful investment. Working with Specialized Property Management Atlanta not only reduces your legal risk, it provides you with peace of mind and a higher return on investment.
Don’t take unnecessary risks with your investment. Trust the impeccable integrity, proven systems, and local expertise of our team of professionals. To request a professional rental management quote from the top Atlanta property management company call 404-596-8454.