Archive for February, 2010

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HOW TO SPOT A DEADBEAT TENANT

February 24, 2010

By Lorraine Cyr

WILL THEY BE A GOOD TENANT?

WILL THEY PAY THEIR RENT ON TIME?

WILL THEY BE GOOD NEIGHBORS?

Does your management company ask these types of question when interviewing a tenant for your unit? When I first started in property management I was working in the front office and the owner of the company would say that at best he could only be 50% sure that the tenant he was renting to would pay their rent. This was after the credit score was less than 120 out of 300, they were living with their mom and self employed. I use to feel sorry for this owner when his reports had receivables of $95,000.

At Lorraine Cyr Management Group we know that we have a better than 80% chance of getting a good tenant.  We have a written policy that tells our potential clients what we look for when approving them for one of our units.  Our goal is to keep tenants for multiple years. If the tenant only stays for one year then the property owner will be losing money because of the hidden cost of unit turn over and vacant days looking for new tenant.

1. Tenant needs to bring a local police clearance for anyone over 15 years old. These are easy to get and every teenager who wants to work already has one.

2. We ask for 2 current paycheck stubs for each person over 18. If they say that they are in school and not working we ask for proof and current landlord information.

3. Drivers’ license and registration with proof of insurance.

4. Two other forms of ID with picture.

Our leasing staff has been trained to be friendly and while showing the apartment we ask lots of questions and go over the rules of the building. Before we rent to someone we want them to know what the building (neighbors) are like. With the high unemployment rates and foreclosures you cannot always get the cream of the crop but you can eliminate the applicant with a troubled past. And I have to admit that even a tenant with a perfect credit score and rental history can lose a job and become a problem.

We take a second look at anyone who:

• Wants to move-in right away.

• Who says that they cannot wait the 30 days we ask our tenant to wait.

• Someone who is living at home, with a friend, or does not want to provide a landlords name.

• Forgets to fill out a few things on the application, can’t remember past addresses

• Addresses on drivers’ license does not match current address listed on application or other ID addresses or car registration.

Some times with all the stolen and fake ID’s that you hear about it is hard to spot a deadbeat and with our tough screening process we find that young 20 something come in with “their grandmother” to co-sign or a single working man who wants a three bedroom unit, (but it is always a woman who calls to check on the application). With Fair Housing laws you have to be careful of the questions you ask and your screening process has to be the same for everyone.

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Landlord Beware!

February 23, 2010

LANDLORDS BEWARE!

By Lorraine Cyr of Lorraine Cyr Management Group

Did you know that Fair Housing makes it illegal to “set different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental.”  By accepting late payments from one tenant and not another, you may be violating the law.

For example unit 101 always pays his rent by the 11th of the month, when it is due on the first but your management company has never charged him a late fee and this goes on for 6 months.  You’re checking your statements one day wondering why cash flow is so slow and no one is paying on time. When you see a pattern and call your property manager and ask questions you get “we were too busy”.  No late fees and several of your tenants are paying on the 11th or later this is bad property management.  If you try to enforce the policy of “rent is due on the 1st and late fees are added on the 5th” your management company has now made it possible for unit 101 to argue that he has always been allowed to pay on the 11th and his lease/contract has been amended because of this.  In court he could and most likely would win.

But it can get worse!

Unit 201 who was evicted last month and was friends with unit 101 hears what happens in court, his friend was allowed to pay his rent late and never had to pay a late fees but he did. Now your management company has set you up to be sued for a Fair Housing violation. BIG LEGAL BILL!

In DC Landlord and Tenant court the tenant can have free legal help. They can ask for a jury trial and if they know how to “play to game” they can stretch this out for 6 months or longer while not paying you any rent at all.

If the average time to get a tenant to court for non-payment of rent is 45 days from filing of missed payment on the 5th and they get one extension because they have a sick child you have to add another 20 days (total days is now 70 days and is typical).  Yes once you get the tenant into court you can ask that they make their rental payments into the court register which should protect you.  But the tenant can miss 2 or 3 payments and the courts will still not give you an eviction. You can now ask that the jury trial be changed to a trial in front of the judge (total days without rent is now 150 days or more). 

You win the case and you get your eviction and are now in line with 1000 other landlords and they only do 36 evictions per day and the weather has to be sunny and no chance of rain! By the time your tenant is out of the unit you have lost a year of rental income and have a legal bill that is enough to pay for your sons’ first car.   

POINT OF STORY….

Stay on top of your reports!  Do not let your management company slip on what may seem a small detail it could cost you your building.

SOLUTION….

At LCM we allow our owners to view tenant accounts real time so that on the 6th they can look to see if late fees have been charged.  They can see a copy of the letter that was mailed to the tenant. Then on the 12th they can see that they were sent to court.  But even better than this they can read the notes in the tenants account to see that the property manager talked to the tenant.  Rent was late because of money issues and not because the tenant had a repair that was not completed.

We visit the unit for an inspection before the 12th and take pictures for the file.  This will not stop the court cost, but it should reduce the legal cost and a messy court fight when the tenant says that they are not paying rent because of a problem.  It also lets you know that your management company is looking out for your Building and not wasting your money.

We screen tenants with credit checks, employment verification and home inspections.  These days it is easy to say I live at xxx and then have a friend lie about it.  We want to see cancelled checks to the landlord or if they say they pay by money order a home visit is a must.  If the tenant says that they live with family we also add several other checks to make sure your potential tenant does not have a history of bad rental payments or problems.

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AFTER THE SNOW

February 11, 2010

By Lorraine Cyr Management Group

At Lorraine Cyr Management Group, now that the snow has stopped for a few days we have time to clean up.  First we check all our roof drains to make sure they are not clogged.  All this snow is going to cause a lot of water.  We check with all of our top floor residents to see if they are having any problems (new cracks, water spots).  We have a service contract with a roofing contractor who will inspect the roof tops to see if any need to be cleaned and provide a report to us by the end of the day.

Our maintenance crews have cleaned the sidewalks and we have put down additional floor mats in the hallways.  We were lucky that our building captains worked with the snow plow crews.  When they arrived the phone trees started and members responded.  They cleaned off their cars and in sections moved off the lot.  When they came back the snow was moved to the designated areas.  Several of our Associations have very small parking areas and no place to push the snow so they lose parking spaces.  The members who are not current with their condo payments lose their spaces first.   If more space is needed then anyone who had been late in the last 6 months loses their space.  This Association finds this a very effective way to keep members current.  Their House Rules state that the parking lot is common area and that parking is privilege and not a right.  In all my years of property management this is the first time that we have had to move to even the third tier which included anyone who paid late in the last 12 months and any rental units.  With these last two snow storms one building lost 7 out of 25 parking spaces to snow.  The remaining spaces were allocated to the seniors and anyone with a handicap.  Over the next few days one of the tasks of the cleaning crew will be to breakdown the snow pile and spread it out on the pavement to help it melt faster.

Okay, so now the snow is handled. It is time to turn to the hallways that are full of wet dirty salty puddles of water. These puddles are a source of concern because of increase liability from a slip.  Extra floor mats have been brought out of storage and wet floor signs are in place.  Part time cleaning crews have additional hours added with instructions to keep as much water from the hallways today.  In between cleaning the floors they need to clean the trash container area of snow and make sure the members can get to the bins.  After a snow like this is not just the roads that take a hit.  Trash trucks can’t fit down the allies or turn the corners and pick up schedules will be off for a while.   Members are asked to help keep the area clean and if they see that the trash bin is over flowing to not set their thrash on the ground, but take it back to their house or a designated area if their management company has one. 

With this record breaking snow please remember that you were not the only one stuck in the house and it will take a few days without snow to get back to a more normal schedule for your services.  If you have elderly neighbors check on them and see if you can help them with anything.

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SNOW and more SNOW

February 8, 2010

By Lorraine Cyr

WHAT IS YOUR EMERGENCY PLAN?

Sit tight and wait! They are the hardest words to say in Property Management. My snow plow crews are having to plow city streets just to get to their jobs! So please do not blame your Property Management Company unless you have on site staff to do the job and they do not have the material needed.

Yes the snow is over.

 Maybe you are not plowed out. But the city has never had to deal with this much snow! Where do all the private parking lots push this much snow? The city code requires one parking space per condo. The Developers want as many condos as possible and most buildings go from property line to property line. There is no place to push the snow. Now your management company needs to carry it away and the City has not cleared all the streets. I doubt few Property Management companies have planned for this!

But at the very least your sidewalks should be shoveled! How hard is it not to have made plans for even emergency access via walking. The snow started on Friday today is Monday and while the city has not plowed all the streets and Metro is still not running everywhere, sidewalks and steps to your buildings should have been cleared. On Saturday the snow was light and fluffy and easy to move. Sunday it was harder and heavier. Today it will be solid and very hard to move.

Translation…each day the snow stays the more it will cost to remove it. More SNOW tomorrow! If you are not dug out today and the weather man is right you may be in for a very expensive clean out later this week! After so many years with little snow even the hardware stores were not ready. On Friday they were out of salt and snow shovels. If your snow shovel broke you may be in trouble. Delivery trucks, bringing milk, bread and even gas for the cars, will have a hard time bringing in new supplies until the City has the streets cleaned. This is one reason to make sure your property and your Property Management Company is are ready for a major weather event.

This time it is snow, a few years ago it was a hurricane with flooding and loss of power and then before that, it was 911 with mass confusion. YOUR BUILDING and your Management Company should take care of helping you plan for these types of emergencies. You do not need to have on site staff to make sure you can survive in an emergency.  Here short list of items to have on hand for an emergency:

• A well defined set of emergency plans which include evacuations. The key to this is that everyone needs to know what the plan is. Where the supplies are. How to cut off the water supply for a broken pipe and many other items.

• Snow shovels – 2 per building minimum.

• Sand bags for building subject to flooding.

• Salt – enough for 3 storms which is saved for emergencies.

• Batteries for emergency lights. I recommend at least 3 batteries per light. Make sure they are rotated out of storage and still working prior to the storm.

• Building captains who will take charge in emergencies. Emergency lights will only last for a few hours. In prolonged power outages these batteries will need to be changed, families will need to have flash lights to navigate the stairs. Elevators will not work in power outages so plan accordingly.

Each family should also have emergency supplies that will hold the family for 3 to five days. Include water, food that does not need to be cooked and will not spoil. Make sure you have a manual can opener. Store your matches in waterproof bags and have lots of batteries and candles also in water proof containers. My number one rule in any emergency is to be SELF SUFFECIENT! In an emergency you do not know where city resources will be directed. Make sure you and your children know where to meet if the emergency happens during the day when you are at work and they are at school. In a very bad emergency cell phone towers will not work so have your plans worked out before hand. Have emergency numbers in the old fashioned written form.

OKAY get my point yet? BE SELF SUFFECIENT in emergencies.

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WHY IS THE NATION’S CAPITOL NOT A GREEN CITY?

February 2, 2010

WHAT IS THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA’S CARBON FOOTPRINT?

By Lorraine Cyr

Measuring Greenhouse gas emissions let us know what our CARBON FOOT PRINT is.  What are greenhouse gases?  It is the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere and comes from the burning of coal to make electricity and from our cars among other things.  DC estimated its carbon footprint in 2006 was 10.5 million metric tons or about 18 tons per resident.  This is below the level set by the EPA of 19.7 tons, but is higher than other major cities.  More than ½ of this 10 million metric tons come from non-residential government buildings.

If the Federal Government were to install a solar photovoltaic system on each building for a total estimated cost of less than $300,000 per building the size of the building that the House of Representatives use, and if they spend an average of $30,000 a month in electric, it could eliminate over 72,000 tons of carbon dioxide gas for this building alone.  Reduction of utility cost should be a must in the Federal Budget!

MY QUESTION TO MAYOR FENTY…

WHY HAVE WE NOT PUSHED FOR OUR SEAT OF POWER (the Federal Government) TO GO GREEN TO REDUCE OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT?  

It is a shame that the US has not used its Nations Capitol to showcase what GOING GREEN should mean and what an AMERICAN can do!

Please feel free to submit your thoughts.

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ENERGY SAVING LIGHT BULBS

February 1, 2010

FLUORESCENT LIGHT BULBS and how to dispose of them.

By Lorraine Cyr

Lighting your home uses an estimated 20% of your electric bill.  Changing from your regular light bulbs (incandescent) to CFL (fluorescent) light bulbs can save 75% of this.  If your regular bill is $100 and $20 of this is lighting. Switching to CFL’s will save you $15 a month or $180 a year.  This savings is just in your electric bill.  This type of lighting last longer meaning you buy fewer light bulbs.  But the biggest winner is the planet!  The electricity to light a regular light bulb produces 5.8(mg) of mercury and a CFL only 1.8(mg).  If you recycle your light bulbs the amount of mercury in the landfill is reduced even more.

A CFL does contain a small amount of mercury and so they do need to be treated differently than a regular light.  These lights have an average of 4 milligrams which is small when you think back to the old thermometers your mom used contained 500 milligrams.  Thanks to continued improvements in the CFL’s the average amount of mercury in some is now as low as 1.4 milligrams.

 The EPA estimates that the US is responsible for the release of 104 metric tons of mercury emissions each year.  Most of this is from coal fired power plants.  The mercury is released into the air and then returns to earth in the rain.  This is one reason pregnant women cannot eat certain types of fish.

 What precautions should you take in your home?  Never handle the light bulbs by the glass, always by the base.  Do not force the light bulb into a socket.  When the bulb burns out you should recycle it.  www.earth911.org will tell you if your city has recycling for CFL’s.  There are several places in DC that will take CFL’s but not your waste disposal companies.  Currently DC recycles the following:

  • Aerosol cans
  • Aluminum foil and aluminum pie pans
  • Aluminum food and beverage containers
  • Books (including paperbacks, textbooks and hardbacks)
  • Brown paper bags (Kraft)
  • Cardboard and paperboard boxes (including cereal boxes without liners)
  • Computer printouts
  • Corrugated cardboard boxes
  • Ferrous and bimetal food and beverage containers
  • Glass containers such as jars and bottles
  • Junk mail
  • Magazines and catalogs
  • Milk and juice cartons
  • Narrow-neck plastic containers (other than for motor oil) that carry plastic resin identification codes 1 through 7
  • Newspapers (including all inserts)
  • Non-metallic wrapping paper
  • Office paper (including typing, fax, copy, letterhead, and NCR) and envelopes
  • Plastic bags, e.g., grocery bags, newspaper bags, and shopping bags. Please put your plastic bags into one plastic bag then place it in your recycling container. We will accept more than one bag of plastic bags.
  • Rigid plastics including plastic milk/soda crates, plastic buckets with metal handles, plastic laundry baskets, plastic lawn furniture, plastic totes, plastic drums, plastic coolers, plastic flower pots, plastic drinking cups/glasses, plastic 5-gallon water bottles, plastic pallets, plastic toys, and empty plastic garbage/recycling bins
  • Telephone books
  • Wide-mouth containers such as peanut butter, margarine/butter tubs, yogurt, cottage, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise, whipped topping, and prescription (remove the identification label) and over-the-counter medicine bottles. (Note that the lids and caps do not need to be removed.) Please do not include Styrofoam meat trays, lunch “clamshells” or foam packaging, such as “peanuts

 However you will find that most trash companies in DC will recycle only papers, plastic and bottles. Your building can set up a more aggressive recycling program in house.

 What to do when a CFL breaks.

  1. Have everyone leave the room without walking through the area.
  2. Open a window for about 15 minutes.
  3. Shut off the HVAC system to prevent the forced air from circulating the mercury.
  4. On Hard surfaces carefully scoop up the broken glass and place in a glass jar with a metal lid.  Use cardboard or newspaper so you do not contaminate your broom. Use duct tape to pick up any remaining pieces and dust.  Wipe area with disposal wet wipes and place both the tape and wet wipes in the glass jar.
  5. In the Carpet follow the steps above and then run the vacuum and dispose of the bag.
  6. On clothing or bedding these items should be thrown out if possible.  If not follow both 4 and 5.
  7. Immediately place the clean up jar outside in the trash can and make sure it is in an area of the trash that is protected from other residents.

 As the companies get better at reducing the amount of mercury in the CFL’s clean up might get easier. SAVING THE EARTH MAY NT BE EASY, BUT WE MUST TRY OR THERE MIGHT BE NO PLANET FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN.