We were strongly cautioned against renting to a friend. People in the know told us very firmly that if we rented to one of our friends, we would end up regretting it. One ill-time clogged toilet, a broken window, a damaged appliance, any of those things could happen and would end up derailing our friendship, we were assured by other friends who owned rental properties. We listened, disappointed, but grateful for the advice from our friends who were seasoned landlords.
We talked to our friend, and she agreed, although she seemed saddened. She ended up renting a different house next to a man she refers to as The Sobriety Challenged. We soldiered on trying to find a tenant for our home. There are no shortage of people trying to rent the place, but those very same friends with all the landlord experience forgot to fill us in on another aspect of rental properties.
This is the conversation I had recently when my phone rang for what seemed the one thousandth time:
"Hello, I'm calling about your house for rent. Can you tell me how big it is?"
I proceeded to have a friendly chat about square footage, security deposits, number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
"That sounds great! Could I set up a walk through?" She could, I assured her. "By the way, do you take pets?"
"We do, small dogs and cats are fine."
"Great, that's great. I've got a Jack Russel Terrier." Aw, isn't that nice? "Oh, and do you take felons?"
I responded thusly, "Wwwwhhhhaa....?"
"Felons? People with felony convictions?"
"I hadn't really given that any thought..." And I was on the verge of losing the power of speech when I realized the nice terrier owner was using a plural, not a singular. "I'm sorry, more than one?"
"Yeah, it's kind of a long story..."
Jeez, I'll bet. "You know, we do plan on running background checks."
"Oh. Credit reports, too?" She sounded dismayed. "We haven't had the best luck."
Oh, to put it mildly, it sounded as if that was the case. I exited that conversation as quickly as possible thinking it might have been a joke, certain it had to be a fluke. It wasn't.
Between the two of us my husband and I have fielded a half a dozen requests to rent to people with a variety of criminal records, and not some youthful car boosting sort of stuff, either. One woman probably did permanent damage to my psyche when she asked, half way through inquiring about the house if I would mind if she told me something. Even though I was leery I gave tacit agreement, which I very quickly withdrew when the words "registered offender" left the woman's mouth.
Our rental house is nice, we lived in it for ten years, in a quiet working class neighborhood. It's got the original 1912 woodwork and stained glass, it's hardly in some Skid row area. Now, we have had perfectly normal, nice people call. It hasn't just been a parade of terror, thank goodness.
But here, if you are ever a prospective landlord let me tell you what the people so anxious to make sure I didn't make the grave mistake of renting to my friend, the cellist, didn't bother to tell me:
If you include a number with your rental offering, don't answer the phone when people call. I'm serious. If it is a legitimate inquiry the individual will leave a message with a call back number. This will help you avoid calls that are just too weird to even detail. When people ask for information on the rent, give it to them, but add this key phrase: "No multiple leases, and all tenants will have to pass a credit and background check." Better yet? Include that wording in whatever ad you run. Even if you're paying by the word, it will be worth it.
Sounds cold doesn't it? It probably is, but it will save miles of wear on your sanity.
By the way, my Liberal conscience was suffering slightly at the thought that I would reject people out of hand for mistakes in their past. Doesn't everyone deserve a chance to right their previous wrongs? I do believe that, but here's the thing we very quickly discovered, there's a reason that prospective tenants will bring that up in an initial conversation: they've done something pretty darned scary. Really. Just trust me on this. Chances are good they are bringing that up because it is required by law that the police know where they are. Eek.
I did eventually take to task one of the friends who warned me against renting to wild players of string instruments.
"So, you could have mentioned the entire thing with Felons!"
"Oh no. I thought you'd know! I thought everybody knew that."
Well, I do now.
The other thing is that if you are trying to rent a house, you will also receive a lot of calls from people hoping to score a deal by buying the place at a substantially reduced price. If you don't include the phrasing about background checks in your previous conversations, you'll be highly tempted to take them up on it.