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With a Clean Credit Record, Sell Yourself as Model Tenant


Question: My landlord decided to sell the house I'm living in and has given me a 30-day notice to leave. Now, I'm having trouble finding anywhere else to live. By the time I look at something, it's already been rented. Any advice on how to get to the top of the list?

Property manager Griswold replies:

The rental market for homes has shifted from a tenant's market to a landlord's market. It wasn't long ago that owners would offer leases with options to purchase. They would even apply some of the monthly rent toward the purchase price just to rent their home to a quality tenant.

If you want to get to the top of the list, I strongly suggest that you turn the tables and begin promoting yourself to potential landlords. Place notices on community bulletin boards, contact all of your friends at work and religious or social organizations. You can even present a list of qualifications with letters of reference from previous landlords.

Get a current copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit reporting bureaus and make sure that all incorrect information is removed. You could also offer to provide a larger security deposit or sign a longer lease. Most landlords will gladly trade the security of a longer lease for the loss of potential rent increases. But you could also offer to agree in advance to a reasonable rent increase during the term of the lease.

The bottom line to getting to the top of the list is to be the best-qualified tenant.

Attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:

It's a very different rental market today compared to only one year ago. Then, the trick was finding just the right home. Now, in many cases, it is finding any home.

My advice to getting to the top of the list is basic but effective. Try to be the first to apply. Be complete and honest about your information when filling in the application.

Clean up any bad references on your credit or at least have an honest explanation ready for any negative entries. You may need to go back to prior landlords and resolve any outstanding obligations or disputes. Offer copies of your current timely paid bills such as telephone, utilities, cable TV, etc. Be prepared to explain why you would be a very good tenant. If there is some unfavorable information that should go in the application, it is better to disclose and explain it rather than to have a misrepresentation later discovered.

Look for Landlords Who Value Renters

Q: I personally don't believe in rent control, but I've heard horror stories about 20% rent increases and apartment managers refusing to offer one-year leases. Is there anything I can do to protect myself in today's volatile rental market?

Griswold replies:

Yes, you can seek out the landlords who still realize that a quality tenant that takes care of the rental property, pays their rent on time and lives quietly without creating problems for the landlord and neighbors is worth his or her weight in gold.

This is not to say that rent increases are always unjustified. There are many landlords who need to raise rents to offset genuine increases in their costs. But there are also unscrupulous landlords who are aggressively pushing the envelope. I believe these greedy landlords will get burned by failing to realize that collecting the top rent in the market is a poor substitute for stable long-term tenants.

I suggest you seek a long-term lease and even consider offering a set rent increase after a certain period of time.

Kellman replies:

Yes, rents are going up. Landlords have been waiting for more than five years to do this. Some say that landlords are merely catching up to where the rents would have been had they been routinely raised each year.

Keep up with the rental prices in your area. If the landlord proposes a rental increase, you may show him or her that the raise is too high for the market. This may change their mind since most landlords are simply trying to put their rents at the market level but may unintentionally overestimate that level.

Another approach is to have an agreement not to raise the rent for a set period. This does not have to be in the form of a lease but may be part of the month-to-month agreement. For example, your landlord may simply agree that in your month-to-month tenancy, he or she will not raise the rent for 12 months. This is not a lease but it does lock in the rent. Landlords that shy away from a lease may agree with this alternative for their valued tenant. A win-win situation.

Smith replies: In California (except in the limited areas with rent control), there is no upper limit on the amount or frequency of rental increases so long as proper notice is given. The apartment manager is not legally required to offer one-year leases--month-to-month or six-month leases are a reasonable alternative.

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