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Question: I am a landlord and do not want to look for new tenants every year. Should I enter into a long-term lease with my tenants?

Answer: A lease can be beneficial or disastrous for a landlord. It is beneficial to keep a tenant for multiple years, so you do not lose time and rent trying to find a new tenant. However, it is my experience that in tight rental markets most tenants do not like to move because of the time and expense it takes to move.  Therefore, under the current rental market, it may not benefit you to have a long-term lease with your tenants.  For example, a long-fixed term lease could prevent a landlord from taking back possession of their property from a problem tenant. Under such a lease, if the tenant becomes a problem a few months into the lease, you will not be able to give them a 30 or 60-day notice to quit. You may only evict the tenant if they are clearly breaking a term in the lease or committed some illegal act or nuisance.  Additionally, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 created additional hurdles to terminate tenancies. For this reason, I recommend a month-to-month agreement or a short term lease.  By keeping the term short, it gives the landlord greater flexibility to remove problem tenants if the need arises. 

Question: My property is vacant and I am worried about renting it out because of the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.  I need the rental income and would like to rent out my property as soon as possible. Can I ask for a higher security deposit or prepaid rent to reassure that I receive the rent?

Answer: Yes, you can ask for a higher deposit or prepaid rent under certain circumstances. If the property is unfurnished, then you may require a security deposit equal to two times the monthly rent. If the property is furnished, then you may require a security deposit equal to three times the monthly rent.  In order to  require prepaid rent, the term of the lease must be at least six-months and the amount of prepaid rent cannot exceed the term of the lease. For example, you may demand six months of prepaid rent if you enter into a six-month lease or longer. You may also require an increased security deposit in addition to the prepaid rent (two times the rent for unfurnished, three times the rent for furnished).  If the rent is $2,000 for an unfurnished property and you enter into a six-month term, then you may require the tenant to pay up to $12,000 in prepaid rent and $4,000 for a security deposit.

Question: I am accepting applications for my rental property and want to make sure that I have a strong tenant due to COVID-19.  What should I look for in a new tenant and can I increase my income requirements for applicants?

Answer:  Yes, you may increase your income requirements for new tenants as long as you apply the same requirements to all applicants and do not use the requirement as a way to discriminate against certain applicants.  For example, if you normally require an applicant to make at least three times of the rent per month, then you may increase the income requirement so that the applicant must make four times the monthly rent.  Thus, if the rent is $2,000 per month, then the applicant must make at least $8,000 per month to qualify for the rental.  You may also require a higher credit score to qualify for the rental. Besides strong financials and credit, you should also verify any references provided by the applicant.

Question: I am a landlord and renting out an apartment building.  I am concerned about my tenants following the rules for COVID-19.  Can I require my tenants to follow house rules about COVID-19 that are posted at my property?

Answer: Yes, if your rental agreement incorporates house rules, then you may require the tenants to follow house rules that are posted at the property. You should provide the tenant with a copy of the house rules when they sign the rental agreement and have the tenant sign the house rules stating that they agree to the rules. For any tenants on a month-to-month agreement, you may have the tenants sign the house rules or provide them with a 30-day notice in change of terms of tenancy.

Question: I am a landlord and want my tenants to use email and communicate electronically due to COVID-19. Can they sign their lease or month-to-month agreement with an electronic signature?

Answer: Yes, if your tenant agrees to sign electronically, then you may use an electronic signature on the lease or rental agreement. If you and your tenant prefer to communicate by email only or sign other documents electronically, then you may sign an agreement with your tenant authorizing electronic communications and signatures. If you choose to sign the agreement in this manner, you should choose to use a well-known and reputable program.

Question: I am a landlord and want to make sure I am entitled to attorney’s fees if I have to evict my tenant. Do I have to make the attorney’s fees clause mutual where the tenant is entitled to fees if they win and I lose?

Answer: Yes. You should have a reciprocal attorney’s fees clause. Further, the tenant may be entitled to attorney fees if he/she prevails in a landlord-tenant dispute even if the attorney’s fees clause only allows the landlord to collect attorney fees. If you wish to have an attorney’s fees clause in your rental agreement, I strongly recommend that you cap the amount of attorney’s fees and costs that can be awarded.  For example, the clause should state that the prevailing party is entitled to attorney fees and costs, however, such fees and costs are capped at $1,000 (or some other similar amount).  A cap on attorney’s fees may deter tenants and tenants’ attorneys from filing lawsuits against you.