Finances, Housing Advice, JumpOffCampus, Renting, Student Life

Get interest (AKA beer money) back on your security deposit!

Quick description: As a tenant, you’re entitled to interest paid on your deposits to your landlord. 

Why should I care?

As a renter, you probably had to put down a security deposit, right? And maybe last month’s rent, too. So that sucks. But you know what doesn’t suck? Beer. Burritos. And, uhm, books.

So good news: In Massachusetts, you’re entitled to get up to 5% interest on your deposits to your landlord. It’s all thanks to good old Chapter 186, Section 15B of Massachusetts general law.

In plain English

Here’s how it works, without the legal mumbo jumbo (sorry, pre-law geeks):

  • You give your landlord a deposit for last month’s rent and/or security deposit
  • At the end of the rental year, you get back the interest earned (because it’s like the deposit is still your money)
  • Interest can equal up to 5% of the total, or whatever the interest rate is at the bank where your landlord  deposited the money

For instance, if you ponied up $800 in last month’s rent, at the end of the year your slumlord is supposed to cut you a check. Assuming your landlord’s bank pays out 1% interest, that’s $8 you get back. AKA a free lunch. Or 20 lunches, if you count ramen.

Courses of action

What if your landlord doesn’t pay up within 30 days at the end of the year? You have a few options:

  • If you’re staying on as a tenant, you can deduct the amount from your next month’s rent.
  • If you’re done as a tenant, you get 3x the interest earned, plus court costs and attorney fees.

What to keep in mind

At the end of each rental year, keep a lookout for an interest check from your landlord. Or you could be missing out on a little extra cash that’s rightfully yours.

 

Advertisements
Standard
Housing Advice, Landlords, Student Life

Tips for Improving Landlord-Tenant Relationships

The landlord-tenant relationship is often one of the most strained.  For landlords, according to one of our previous posts, our expert, Diane St. Laurent, explained that this incompatibility often extends from the expectations and rules of the rental.  For tenants (especially student tenants), this incompatibility may extend from poor communication and misunderstandings with landlords.  This is why we’ve put together some tips to help both landlords and student tenants improve the renting process and improve this typically strained relationship.

For Landlords

Take a mentor role with your student tenants.  According to St. Laurent, one of the most important things landlords can do is to take on a mentor role with students by “treating them as adults and [holding] them accountable for their decisions.”  She explains that this is one of responsibilities landlords assume with renting to students, as this is the time that they will be assimilating to their independence and adjusting to all new responsibilities.  By helping students through this process, it will not only help the landlord to feel that their tenants are making good decisions, but student tenants will feel more comfortable in maintaining their responsibilities.

Keep open and honest communication with tenants.  According to St. Laurent, landlords are also accountable for building lines of communication with their tenants.  In this way, student tenants will feel like their ideas, questions, and concerns are being heard, and landlords will feel that problems are more easily and swiftly resolved.

Be professional.  According to St. Laurent, rentals should be managed like a business.  This means that landlords should feel a sense of a responsibility of responding to problems and concerns of tenants to not only to keep tenants happy, but also to ensure that the property is well taken care of.

For Student Tenants

Pay your rent on time.  One of the biggest problems landlords and tenants can have is late rent payments.  This is not only a problem that will most likely create others, but it can also further exacerbate any existing issues within the relationship.  Therefore, it is important for tenants to budget for and send their rent payments so that they arrive on time.

Follow the terms of your lease.  As St. Laurent mentioned, one of the greatest problems can be incompatibility with landlords and tenants over the expectations and rules for the house.  It is best to read your lease in full before signing, and address any concerns you may have with the terms at that time.  Going forward, you should also keep a copy of your lease handy so that you can refer to it later, if needed.  This will not only enhance the clarity of your lease, but it may also allow you to negotiate the terms of your lease.

Take care of your rental.  This is not only your home, but it is also someone else’s property.  Be sure to take good care of the property and to be mindful of the “wear and tear” that you inflict on a property.  This will not only keep the property nice for you, but it will also help you keep your landlord happy and ensure that you get your entire damage deposit back.

Get to know your neighbors.  Surprisingly enough, grouchy neighbors can be one of the biggest sore points between you and your landlord.  This is because your neighbors will often report your “bad behavior” to your landlord.  As we mentioned in our previous post on this topic, it is important to get to know your neighbors to avoid unnecessary conflicts and frustration with both them and your landlord.  

Keep open and honest communication with your landlord.  We advise this for both landlords and tenants.  It is important that tenants let their landlords know when they have problems, when they need repairs, and especially when there has been damage to the property.  While telling your landlord you’ve damaged something on the property may be difficult, it will be better to tell them right away.  This will help to ensure that you maintain trust and honesty with your landlord.

However, you should also be mindful to be reasonable in your requests when you need something done.  Avoid calling your landlord over when a light bulb needs to be changed.  The things that you can do yourself are most likely the things you shouldn’t bother your landlord for.  It’s the things you can’t do and don’t feel comfortable doing; these are the things you should be contacting your landlord for.

Overall, while landlord-tenant relationships are often strained, there are certainly things that both parties can do to improve their relationship.  All it really takes is honesty, professionalism, open communication, and a sense of responsibility to ensure that the rental process goes smoothly.

References

How to Be a Good Landlord – 7 Tips, Advice & Responsibilities by Angela Colley

5 Tips for Being a Great Tenant that Landlords Love by Angela Colley

10 tips for a healthy landlord-tenant relationship; Perspective: Renters must read the lease, know landlord’s expectations by Ben Holubecki

A Guide to Good Landlord-Tenant Relations by DoItYourself.com

Standard
Housing Advice, Landlords, Renting

Why Landlords Should Encourage Renters to Get Renters’ Insurance

For some landlords, it is purely the decision of the tenant on whether to get renters’ insurance or not; for renters, renters’ insurance often seems like an “unneeded expense.” However, by renters not having renters’ insurance coverage, it cannot only hurt them, but it can also hurt their landlords. This is why it is important for landlords to not only educate their tenants on the benefits of renters’ insurance, but to encourage them to get this type of coverage.

First, by ensuring tenants have renters’ insurance, landlords can prevent any unwanted insurance claims being made against them. In fact, according to survey by Joshua Tree Consulting, rental property owners deal with about eight insurance claims like this a year. By helping to educate and encourage their tenants to get renters’ insurance, it can limit the number of these claims and the associated legal expenses that may come with it.

For landlords, renters’ insurance can also help cover their deductible in cases in which their tenant is responsible for damage to the property. In fact, according to a white paper published by Joshua Tree Consulting, landlords pay an average of over $2,400 per property for tenant-caused damage, as compared to just over $1,300 in properties where landlords required tenants to carry renters’ insurance. In this way, landlords can save money by encouraging tenants to get renters’ insurance.

While there are several financial benefits to encouraging renters’ insurance, responsible landlords can also value the importance of having this type of coverage. Incidences like fire and theft are not so “farfetched” in that they are impossible. By encouraging tenants to get renters’ insurance, landlords can help ease the minds of their tenants, so that should these incidences occur, they know they will be covered..

Renters’ insurance for both tenants and landlords is smart choice when renting, as it can save both parties money and stress in the case of fire, theft, or injury on a property. Landlords should remind tenants of the implications that incidences have, and the damage and loss they can inflict. It is important to stress foresight and caution when renting, as accidents can happen. For while renters’ insurance may seem like an unneeded expense now, it is something that will help both landlords and renters get through the times in which the improbable becomes probable.

Reference

“Renters’ Insurance Protects Landlords as Well as Tenants” by Jeffrey Turk

Standard
Ask the Expert

ASK THE EXPERT: Why Invest in Student Housing?

In an article we read by Amy Wolff Sorter at GlobeSt.com, the student housing sector has become a rather popular one in which to buy and sell due to rising enrollment rates and diminishing supply of on-campus options.  To get an insider look at some of the other draws (and disincentives) for landlords, property owners, and investors when it comes to student housing, we spoke with RI student property manager, Diane St. Laurent.

What do you believe sets student housing apart from other types of investment properties?
As an investor, student housing is desirable because rent payment is reliable especially when the landlord has the parents of the student secure the terms of the lease.  Another positive is that demand for student housing is always high.

Is there an advantage for investing in smaller scale properties for student housing versus larger scale properties?
When the landlord can establish a relationship with the students, so open communication can exist, then problems as they arise can be easily resolved.  Building communication is easier with smaller properties.  Large properties can impact the landlord-tenant relationship that is so important to build trust and mutual respect.

What amenities do you think are essential for student-leased properties to offer?
A fixed rent price that includes utilities is beneficial, if possible.  This helps students manage their finances and ensure the property is being maintained in terms of heat and electricity.
Students sometimes require furniture to be supplied, so if basic bedroom furniture, living room and dining room furniture are supplied, the number of prospective students may increase as a result.  This opens the door for exchange students from different countries and/or out-of-state, because these students may not be able to travel with this type of furniture.

What would you say is appealing about investing in student housing?
Steady increase in student demand.

What would you say is unappealing about investing in student housing?
Some undergraduate students (freshman, sophomore, junior) are not really ready for this type of responsibility.  Student choices usually reflect in them not taking care of the property; additionally, their social lifestyles sometimes lead to damage to the property and them being a nuisance to the neighbors.

What are some of the pitfalls associated with student housing?
When the landlord and student’s expectations, regarding respect of the property, are out of sync.

How do you believe the recession has impacted these kinds of investments?
My experience is that supply and demand has changed related to rent prices.  On one hand, there is an increase in student demand, but at the same time, students have fewer dollars to spend on rent.  There is a lot of competition for investors of student housing.  First, on-campus housing (dormitories and university apartments), private on-campus housing, off-campus housing, and finally student computers.
It comes down to what the student can afford and the individual student behavior.  Essentially, what are students looking for in housing?  This places added pressure on the investor to find ways to differentiate their property from all the rest.  Additionally, what student market the investor is looking at targeting has to be answered as well.

Do you believe that making an investment in student housing is worthwhile?
Yes I do.  It needs to be managed as a business, but at the same time, investors have to embrace the responsibility of helping students make good choices so they can assimilate to independence, maturity and advance their knowledge all at once.

What should property owners and investors know when it comes to owning and investing in student housing?
Students are young adults finding their way to independence, and sometimes their lifestyles are incompatible with the expectation of the landlord and the rules of the house.

What are some difficulties you often encounter when interacting with student tenants?
Sometimes the student is just not mature enough to be living in something other than a dormitory.

What are some important things to consider when interacting with student tenants?
Take on the mentor role by treating students as adults and hold them accountable for their decisions.
With that being said, I would emphasize student safety as the top priority.  This means landlords should have house rules documented, fire alarm inspections, routine heating and electrical system maintenance checks, and door locks changed between tenants.

Standard
Housing Advice

Don’t let the bed bugs bite!

Bed bugs, up until a few years ago, seemed like a pest of the past, and the saying “Don’t let the bed bugs bite” just seemed like something your grandmother would tell you before you went to bed.  However, infestations have become more and more common and it seems like the bed bug has made its comeback in the developed world. I don’t know about you, but bed bugs give me the heebie jeebies, and while it isn’t a pleasant subject it is certainly something to consider when you’re renting.  This because bed bugs not only survive on the blood of mammals (i.e. us!), but they also can completely infest your home.

Photo from bedbugdefense.com

According to an article we read at BedBugDefense.com, before DDT was banned, it was used to kill bed bugs, as it was highly toxic to them and would remain in the application site for more than a year to prevent resurgences.  However, it was banned as it was determined that DDT caused cancer, and since 1995, bed bugs have made a rather surprising comeback and have infested homes all across North America.

According to the EPA, bed bugs are considered a public health pest, although they are not known to transmit or spread any disease.  However, because they do feed on blood, they can cause allergic reactions at the bite site, whether it is simply a small mark or a whole body reaction.  According to the CDC, bites can also cause secondary infections of the skin, and may even cause affect the mental health of those they infest.  People who have experience bed bug infestations may experience things like anxiety, insomnia, and systemic reactions.

However, what I think may be the scariest thing about them is that you can pick them up anywhere.  All it takes is one brush of the arm from someone on the subway, sleeping on your friend’s couch, or staying in a hotel to pick them up, and once you have bed bugs, they will get into everything: in curtains, couches, beds, and electronics.  This is what makes them so difficult to get rid of (also accounting for the fact that they actually live longer in the cold and love warm temperatures!).  And while you think that it can’t happen to you, think again.   No place is immune to the bed bug.  Your home doesn’t have to be “dirty” for you to have a bed bug infestation.  They can infest even the cleanest of places.

So I’m sure by now you’re probably freaking out and wondering how you can stop these intruders before they attack.  Well, there are certainly some precautions you can take to ensure you don’t have a bed bug infestation.

Photo from allbedbugs.com

The first thing you’ll want to do is to inspect your apartment for bed bugs before you move in.  You could either hire someone to do this or do it yourself.  In either case, you’ll want to do this before you move in because bed bugs can go undetected for months.  If you do choose to do this yourself, you’ll want to be sure to go through The Bed Bug Inspectors checklist.

  • Check for telltale signs.  You’ll want to check the floors and other surfaces for small black spots, shed bed bug skins, egg shells, live bed bugs (if you don’t know what they look like use the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene checklist), and bloody or rusty stains.  Another sign is a sweet or offensive musty odor.
  • Uncover their potential hiding spots.  Take a flashlight and a magnifying glass and thoroughly inspect window and door frames, cracks and crevices, carpet tack strips, baseboards, behind outlet and switch plates, smoke detectors, thermostats, loose wall paper, molding, and wall junctions.

Once you made sure there are no signs of bed bugs, you’ll want to be sure to “bed bug proof” your home.  While you can’t prevent everything, there are some precautions you can take.  The first thing you’ll want to do is be sure to elevate your mattress off the ground.  You will also want to protect your mattress by using a protective mattress encasement, as well as protective pillow encasements.  You may consider using climb up interceptors on the feet of your bed frame.  These will help prevent and trap bugs from climbing onto your mattress.  You may want to monitor your home by conducting regular inspections and by placing bed bug traps around your home.  While this won’t solve the problem, it will certainly give you a definitive answer if your home is infested or not.

In order to prevent future infestations, you will want to be sure you are careful of where you stay and who is staying with you.  When you go on vacation, you can check the hotel you’ll be staying in by going to BedBugRegistry.com to see if there have been any bed bug reports.  You will also want to be sure to conduct an inspection of your room before you place your belongings down, and you will want to keep your belongings elevated off the floor at all times.

To ensure that your friends don’t bring bed bugs to your home, help them to inspect theirs.  Make sure they are as careful as you are about inspecting their home, and staying clear of places that could potentially have bed bugs.  With what you learn, you can help protect themselves too.

Standard