Thank you for reading our multi-part series on how to rent your home in Ventura County. Today’s post will be the last part in the series and will feature tips on writing and signing the rental lease agreement, collecting rent, and getting your new tenant moved in.
The Rental Lease Agreement
Now that you have picked your future tenant and they have agreed to move in, it is time to sign the rental lease agreement. You can find many different state-specific lease agreements by doing a simple google search or you can check out a supply store such as Office Depot to see what forms they have. There are also places where you can find general lease agreements online, many times for free. Remember though that different states have different laws when it comes to renting policies, so you want to make sure that any generic lease agreement you use is actually valid and legally binding in California. If you choose to go the generic route, we recommend having the lease reviewed by an attorney. It may not be a big deal if everything goes perfect with your tenant, but things can quickly turn ugly if the paperwork that both parties signed is flawed.
One of the biggest decisions you will have to make with regards to the lease is the length of the agreement. Most landlords in Ventura County choose either month-to-month or a one-year lease. A one-year lease will give you more tenant stability and hopefully help minimize vacancy expenses, but a month-to-month agreement could make it easier to remove a problem tenant and find a new one. If you did your due diligence during the screening process, you may want to consider a one-year lease. Besides the length of the agreement, make sure that all of the California mandated disclosures are included, especially if you did not have your lease agreement reviewed by a lawyer.
Best practices show that you should sign the lease with your tenant at the property on the day they move in. Helpful suggestions include going over the lease beforehand and highlighting the areas that need initials or signatures to help ensure that nothing is missed. Also, you may want to talk through each item in the lease with the tenant and have them initial each important item to prevent any future pleads of ignorance.
The lease signing is also a good opportunity to collect the first month’s rent (as well as the security deposit if you did not do so earlier). It the tenant is moving in sometime during the middle of the month, you can either pro-rate the first month’s rent or have them pay a full month’s rent and then pay the pro-rated rent from the first month as the second month’s rent. Make sure that you do not accept cash or personal checks as payment. Cash does not leave a good paper trail and personal checks can easily bounce. Also, you probably do not want to pick up the rent from them at their home. Especially if you plan to have more than one rental, you do not want to be spending your time driving around to try and collect your rent money.
The Move-in Condition Report
The lease is signed and the first month’s rent has been collected, now there is one more major item that must be done before giving the keys to the tenant. It is time to do a walk through with the tenant and fill out a move-in condition report. The purpose of this report is for both you and the tenant to agree on the condition of the property upon them moving in and to document the condition via signatures. The tenant should take some time walking through the property and inspecting the condition of each room. For the protection of both you and the tenant, you should allow them to be as thorough as possible. Besides anything that is not working properly, any marks on the wall or stains on the carpet should be written in the report. This allows you to have proof if the tenant causes any damage that wasn’t already there while also protecting the tenant from being charged for something that they did not do. If you want to be extra thorough, you can also take photos or a video of the walk-through as added evidence of the condition of the property upon move-in.
Now that all the proper documentation has been signed, it is time to give the tenant the keys and for them to move in. Under no circumstance should you allow a tenant to move in before everything is in place, even if it is only for one day. California is known as a tenant-friendly state and there are people who make a living out of tricking unsuspecting landlords and moving in with no intention of paying rent. If you allow someone to move in without signing a lease or paying some form of rent and deposit, they know that it can take months for you to evict them and they will be more than happy to live rent free during that period. Always make sure to protect your interests at all times.
Your job now is to make sure that not only is the tenant adhering to their part of the lease agreement, but that you are taking care of your responsibilities as well. You should expect and demand that the tenant pays their rent on time (and the applicable late fees if not it is not paid on time), but you also must do your part to be responsive to their concerns and take care of any issues that may arise in a timely fashion. There will be things that go wrong during the course of any landlord’s career, so you must remain flexible and work to find a solution as quickly and easily as possible. If you and the tenant maintain a relationship of mutual respect, hopefully you will avoid most of the horror stories that are often heard about being a landlord.