Landlords’ Questions Answered

From the outside looking in, property management seems fairly straightforward. You own a property. You rent it to someone. They agree to stay for an agreed-upon term and take relatively good care of the place. You promise to fix appliances, plumbing and electrical problems should they arise. And everyone lives happily ever after.

Except, that’s not how it goes. There are a million shades of gray in those black and white lease agreements. Even renters with good intentions don’t always keep their promises, and it’s hard to interpret some legal statutes that pertain to the landlord/tenant relationship. So, I thought I’d review some not-so-straightforward property management questions.

How do you verify income when a prospective tenant admits to being paid under the table?

My first response is to step back and ask yourself if you want to deal with someone who is willing to be paid under the table. I hate taxes as much as the next guy (probably more), but I recognize it is illegal not to report income and I am a law-abiding citizen. Therefore, I send my pound of flesh to Uncle Sam on an all-too-frequent basis. If this prospective tenant is willing to cheat on taxes, you have to ask yourself, what else are they willing to cheat on?

If this doesn’t bother you, you can attempt to verify income by calling the alleged employer. I say “alleged” because you will have no paper trail to verify what you’re told (that’s the whole point of getting paid under the table). Is this truly the prospective tenant’s employer and not her brother? Is this actually the income paid or just a number meant to satisfy your curiosity?

If it were me, I’d keep looking for a different tenant. You don’t have to accept income you can’t verify.

How do you serve an eviction notice to someone in jail?

Imagine, if you will, that you lease your property to someone who is subsequently jailed and stops paying rent. Legally, you cannot evict someone without serving them with a notice to vacate the premises, and you can’t exactly go waltzing into the jail to hand over the notice. However, you can contact the jail and let them know the situation. Most will allow you access to the inmate to serve the notice. It’s not always a speedy process, but eventually, you’ll get the job done.

Is there a 24-hour buyer’s remorse clause that allows tenants to back out of a lease?

No, there isn’t. Once a lease is signed, it is legally binding; both parties are required to adhere to its terms. However, as a landlord, if your tenant expresses a wish to leave, it is incumbent upon you to look for another tenant who will rent the property for the same terms as the existing tenant. Keep in mind the tenant is only responsible for rent until the home is re-rented.

Do tenants still have to pay rent if they’re kicked out because they don’t follow the terms of the lease?

Yes, they do. Let’s say your lease has a clear no-pets clause. Three weeks after your new tenant signs a year-long lease, you discover he has two dogs and a cat. You tell him the animals must go. He refuses. You tell him, in that case, he and the pets must go. At this point, he is still on the hook to pay rent until you find a new tenant to rent the property for the same terms as he had. Note: just because this is legally required does not make it happen. Have fun in small claims court.

Next week, I’ll share more questions and answers from the wild world of property management.

If you have questions about property management or real estate in general, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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