Practical tips for new landlords in New York

Landlord and Tenant court is a reality that most people never want to go through.

Hallways are inundated with attorneys, tenants, landlords, and families all with utterly different objectives. The Landlord wants nothing more than to receive his/her money or have his/her apartment vacated. The tenant is unable to pay the rent on many occasions, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. All the while the court is crammed beyond capacity, attempting to settle disputes with the faint hope that the tenant will pay owed rent or that a landlord will make required repairs. On most occasions, a case is settled at some point and then, for one reason or another, the case is brought back before the court.

To give you an idea of how long this process can take lets use the example of one of my former clients (names not disclosed-consent from client received). This client was a landlord  in Brooklyn, New York. The tenant was a woman, who was married to the brother of the landlord. For nine years (thats right…9), the tenant lived rent-free in the home. Upon divorcing the brother of the landlord, Holdover proceedings (proceedings you start when the tenant does not have, or has stayed over, a lease) were initiated. The first time the case was heard it was adjourned for 6 weeks. The second time the case was heard, the tenant requested an attorney, and the case was adjourned for an additional 5 weeks. The third time the case was heard the tenant agreed to move out and signed a stipulation attesting to same. Approximately 15 days after she was required to move out, the tenant did not, and we were required to restore the case to the court calender (which took an additional 3 weeks). The court then ordered the case to go to trial, which meant finding a date in the Kings County trial calender…not an easy feat. The soonest available date where the case would be the first heard (if its the second trial heard there is a good chance it would be postponed) was 7 weeks later. On the trial date, the case was finally heard…and settled. The tenant was given an additional 15 days to move out. Again…the tenant NEVER PAID ANY RENT!!

So why would an attorney write a blog explaining that it took him approximately 6 months to kick a particular non-paying tenant out? Because I would rather not see my clients go through the rigors of the court system. This is advice for landlords everywhere, the best way to avoid a similar situation is to SCREEN YOUR PROSPECTIVE TENANTS!

What does the screening involve:

  1. Combined Credit Reports from the three major credit bureaus. If your prospective tenant has a credit score in the low 600’s and has filed for bankruptcy, chances are that he/she has nothing to lose if they don’t pay the rent. They are judgment proof.  That means that the Landlord will likely never recoup the amounts owed. I suggest using all three services because there are now “3 in 1” packages offered and one agency may miss something in the report that another may catch. In simple terms, paying an additional $15 for the “3 in 1” may save you thousands down the line.
  2. Criminal background checks. Although controversial, I recommend my clients perform a criminal background check. If their prospective tenant has never held a credit card, their credit rating may very well be average. But what if the prospective tenant plead guilty to writing bad checks? Probably something you don’t want in a prospective tenant. Also…murder…that would be bad too.
  3. References-Family/Friends. If their own blood won’t attest to their good nature and responsibility, move on.
  4. References-Prior landlords. I find this to be the least used and most effective way to determine if someone is going to cause you problems down the road. If they’ve previously rented an apartment, especially in Brooklyn, there should be no reason why the landlord wouldn’t come forward and simply say “He paid on time” or “She never gave me any problems.”
  5. Meeting face to face. If you’re going to use a broker to rent out your apartment…fine. But before you let this person sign the lease, meet them at least once face to face. If you get that bad feeling in your stomach then follow your instinct. (Not so much legal advice as practical advice.)

While this may seem extreme to some at first, my clients have found that proper screening is the best way to ensure they don’t become Case # 293 on the Courts calendar. You’ve worked hard to purchase your apartment/house/condo. Shouldn’t you protect that investment by renting it to someone responsible? I think so.