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Everyone usually ends up renting an apartment or house at some point in your life, but it’s especially common for younger people to rent rather than buy — so you want to make sure you know what you’re getting into before you sign that lease! Luckily, we have an “expert” here to help clear up any gray areas for you. Greg Massey is the property manager for Massey Properties and has been a landlord for over 30 years, so he knows a thing or two about renting.
P.S. He also happens to be my dad, so he won’t mind answering a few questions for us!
What are some things potential tenants should do before they put in a rental application?
I think that what most people need to realize is that you’re going to be in a relationship with your landlord, wherever you live, so it’s important to do your research. Find out what your rent is, how much your utilities might run, what kind of cable and internet options there are, etc. Also, if you get the opportunity, stop and visit with the current tenants — they can tell you what kind of landlord you’re going to be in a relationship with.
What does your rental application consist of?
We ask for all the pertinent information: your driver’s license, your social, your date of birth. We also check rental verifications. So if you’ve had any history as a renter, we always call and find out a history of payments, bounced checks, and we ask if an individual owed them anything and how they left it.
Some rental applications come with a fee and some don’t. Do you charge a rental application fee and if so, why?
You have to because it costs you to run people’s information. You’re going to get the normal stuff like the credit scores — it’s important to run the credit to find out what kind of income streams these individuals have. But you also find out other information such as if there are any collections and what kind of payments they have every month. We try to target people who have about two and a half times the amount of income versus the rent.
How important is a tenant’s credit score? What is the minimum credit score you will accept?
Over the years the credit scores that I accept have gone up. Right now, we try to target people with 675 and above — which is on the low-end of “very good.” And with that, you get individuals who either don’t have very much credit or are particularly concerned about it. A lot of it will be determined by their age as well. I may get a 19-year-old kid who only has one car payment and might have a 731, but he doesn’t care if he pays his rent or not. For this reason, we look at everyone globally, not just their credit score.
What do you find in a background check?
On our application, it asks if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony or anything like that. When I have vacancies, I consider the tenants that are around that vacancy, so I try to put tenants together who are going to get along — whether it be a duplex or an apartment building. And, obviously, if they have red flags such as domestic disturbances or breaking and entering then I’m going to disqualify their application. We also check the court websites to see if they have any judgments against them or any collections — it’s all very pertinent information.
What does employment history tell you about an applicant?
If they have a job it’s a lot more likely that they’re going to pay you — so that comes in handy. But I don’t really check with their employer to see what kind of employee they are or anything. We may call and just confirm that they do legitimately have a job there — but we don’t try to find out what they make or anything like that. It’s just to confirm employment.
You’ve mentioned to me before that you always investigate their social media. What kind of stuff to do you find on there? What are you looking for? What’s a red flag on someone’s social media?
Facebook, Twitter, and all that stuff are out there so I would be a fool not to utilize it — it doesn’t cost me anything. And they’re going to check us out because we’re on social media too — so we feel like we might as well utilize the same tools.
You can usually tell what kind of person you’re going to be getting just by their posts. You know, if they’re a 40-year-old man and they’re posting childish stuff I’m probably going to stay away from that guy. We don’t want people who exploit bad behavior, and they’re going to stand out pretty quickly if they do. We just try to take everything into consideration.
As a whole, what would you say makes an “ideal” tenant?
My ideal tenant has to have a good credit score. They’re going to hopefully be employed if they’re not in college and no red flags on social media. Also no collections or anything like that against them as far as other places they’ve rented from in the past. We try to check all the boxes, and if you have one or two red flags against you, I’m not going to rent to you.
What are some other things that have caused controversy with lease agreements in the past? Maybe they didn’t read the lease?
Most people are excited when they’re moving into a new apartment. We go over every word on that lease with every single tenant when we have a signing, but that doesn’t mean that they hear us. As far as them needing to understand what’s in it, a lot of them have confusion over rental insurance.
I have insurance on my apartments but my insurance only covers the buildings. This means that if there’s a fire, a break-in, or anything like that, my insurance only covers the structure of the building and not the items inside it. We had a fire, for example, about four years ago. It was pretty much a total loss on both ends of the duplex. Of course, we got paid on our insurance to rebuild the duplex — but all the contents inside were pretty much a total loss. Unfortunately, neither one of the tenants had rental insurance.
This is why renters insurance is so important — because if something happens you need to be protected. So I try to hammer that point home with them. It’s a requirement with our lease but not all of them follow through with it.
Whenever a person signs a lease they have to put down a deposit. What’s that deposit for? And why don’t they always get it back?
It’s called a security deposit and what you’re basically doing is putting up money against that apartment to say you’re going to take care of it. And any damage done to that apartment beyond the normal wear and tear will ultimately come out of that deposit.
Our particular deposit is only $500, which doesn’t cover very much. When that person moves in, we have an extensive checklist that we go through: we make sure that all the light bulbs work, that the stove pans are new, we check all of the appliances to make sure that they’re functioning, all the door knobs, we make sure the paint is of good quality. All of those things we check before we rent to that person, and when they move out we give them the very same checklist. If those things aren’t checked off, or if I have to go into an apartment and put in 20 light bulbs — light bulbs today aren’t cheap — that’ll come out of the tenant’s deposit. And we will provide an itemized list of what we spent their security deposit on.
I try to caution people that we’re not trying to keep their deposit, but we are very upfront about how it works so they know exactly what they’re getting into.
Another part of your lease agreement is that you don’t allow pets over a certain weight limit. Can you explain why that is and why you have to be strict about that? I know a lot of people who have big dogs might think that’s unfair.
I agree, it is unfair — but it’s not my rule. My insurance requires me to prohibit certain “aggressive breed” dogs. If I did allow people to keep those dogs, they would cancel my insurance. Insurance isn’t cheap on rental property so to keep my premiums down, I have to require the tenants to keep their pets under 15 pounds or less. It’s not that I don’t like Labradors and other bigger dogs, but by limiting it to 15 pounds I get rid of the more aggressive breeds.
Plus, people love their pets and love walking them — but they don’t always love picking up after them. So if you have a bigger dog, they’re going to have bigger business — and they don’t always pick that up. For the tenants who don’t have pets, it’s kind of an inconvenience and they don’t care for that, especially if they want to get out in the yard or anything.
If a tenant needed to break their lease for any reason, how would and should they go about that to be respectful of their landlord?
I try to take every individual case into account. If people have to leave because they dropped out of college or there was a death in the family or any variety of reasons, they need to understand that it’s a contract. You’re in a legal, binding contract and if I charge you to get out of that lease it’s not personal — it’s just business. But you’ll get the best results if you just talk to your landlord and explain your situation.
Being a Tenant
What are some common undesirable behaviors that you see from tenants?
My biggest pet peeve is trash. If you have dumpsters, don’t put your trash outside your front door and leave it. It’s undesirable for anyone to look at or smell, plus it promotes insects, rodents, and other pests. I have my habitual people who do that, but I try to curb as much of their behavior as possible.
I also rent in a college town, so we try to discourage having parties. Not only because of the noise, but also because parties usually lead to things getting broken. Ultimately, the tenant is the one that’s going to be paying for it if they damage the place beyond the $500 deposit, and nobody wants that. I want them to enjoy their experience when they’re living there.
What should you do as a tenant if you know you are going to be late to pay your rent?
I try to tell everybody when they sign the lease that I’m going to give them once, maybe twice, as long as they give me a heads up. If a tenant calls me and tells me that their transmission went out in their car, I’ll just ask when they can pay me — that’s the question most landlords are going to ask.
Don’t just say I’m going to be late, give your landlord a time when you’re going to pay them. We all like knowing what’s coming. Rent is how we get paid, it’s our livelihood and we try to get as much of it as we can.
Is there any excuse someone could give for not paying their rent on time that you would have sympathy for?
Life happens and different things happen to different people. I’m human, I’m not a money-hungry guy, and even though it says in the lease that I can charge late fees, there are exceptions. I try to be sensitive but no one is going to have five or six grandmothers die — which is why we keep records for each time someone is late and why. All of that plays into whether or not we renew your lease; we’ve canceled the lease for people who are habitually late or just not good tenants.
What should a tenant do if they have a complaint about another tenant?
It happens a lot. What I tell all my tenants is, if you have a problem with your neighbor like just a noise complaint or trash on the doorstep, put your hat in your hand and go talk to them yourself. Oftentimes, you’re going to have a lot more success than you will have calling your landlord. Because I’m going to go knock on their door and then they’re going to think you’re a jerk for turning them into the landlord — which is just going to spark more bad behavior.
Now if it’s illegal activity, call the cops because that’s all I’m going to do. I can’t do anything about that.
As a landlord dealing with hundred of tenants, what’s one thing that you wish all of your tenants understood about you?
It’s a business, it’s not personal. We try to cover every house call problem that arises as fast as we possibly can. A lot of tenants don’t realize that they’re one of hundreds and if they’ve got a loose door knob or something else that’s really minor and someone else’s hot water is out, which one do you think I’m going to take care of first?
Tenants just need to know that we do the very best that we can and we try to provide the best environment that we can, so just be patient and we’ll get there as soon as we can.