Tag Archives: DIY landlording

Quality Control Week #1: What Affects Building Quality?

You probably know that there are different grades of quality when it comes to food. The USDA has three different grades for poultry, eight for red meat, and hundreds for fruits and vegetables. Similarly, building materials come in four different official grades: building, quality, custom and ultra custom. I would add “commercial grade” to those standard four. As the quality goes up, so does the cost; in some cases it increases exponentially. Homeowners must always walk a fine line between material quality and cost, but many are unaware of the differences and how they affect the bottom line.

Condo boards also face tough decisions when it comes to major capital improvement projects. Expensive materials will last longer – in fact, they may well outlast the current residents’ tenure in the community. Convincing condo residents to take on large special assessments for maintenance that they won’t be around to use is a difficult task. (more…)

10 Mistakes Made by First Time Landlords

Last year I did two articles about mistakes made by first time renters and first time buyers. Today we’re going to look at errors made by first time landlords.

1. Setting Arbitrary Rent Rates

The price a tenant will pay has little or no bearing on your monthly costs. They will compare what’s available and, if your price is reasonable, they will rent your unit. If your price is too high, they won’t even look at it. If it’s too low, they will wonder what’s wrong with it or take you to be a sucker.

Apple can get away with pricing higher than anything else. You cannot.

Apple can get away with pricing higher than anything else. You cannot.

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Celebrity Tenants

Between my current career as a Realtor and my prior career as a stage manager, I’ve been lucky enough to deal with several celebrities during my time in Chicago. Like anyone else, they have to live somewhere too. As a landlord, it’s very possible in Chicago that you’ll be contacted by a celebrity (or a member of their entourage) who is interested in renting your apartment. Here are some do’s and don’ts for dealing with the celebrity renter.

Don't get so starstruck by a famous tenant that you lose your business sense.

Don’t get so starstruck by a famous tenant that you lose your business sense.

Do: Remember that “famous” is very relative.

It might be a professional sports player, a celebrity chef, or a movie star. It could also be a local news anchor, car dealership owner, or even your child’s school principal. Or it could be someone you’ve never heard of, like the bass player from an 80’s hair band or a voice actress from one of your kids’ favorite cartoons. It could even be the author of your favorite real estate advice blog. :) (more…)

Can You Avoid a Landlord-Tenant Lawsuit? (A Quiz)

Can You Avoid the Lawsuit?

So you're thinking of becoming a landlord, or maybe you are one already. Are you ready to avoid the pitfalls of owning rental property in Chicago? This is one in a series of quizzes for landlord that will test your ability to avoid potential lawsuits and fines.
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Resolutions for Chicago Real Estate

So it’s 2013. Funny how that happened. World didn’t end, although for some of us we were wishing it might have done after the New Year’s Eve parties. I’m sure some of you already have resolutions that found you duking it out over a treadmill this morning. A few more never hurt, though. Here’s a few that you might want to consider if you’re thinking of moving or buying property this year.

For Renters:

Try communication before confrontation. It doesn’t matter if you talk with your landlord directly or with the office staff of a big property management corporation. It doesn’t matter how badly things escalated last year over assorted issues with your apartment. This is a new year and time to start over. If you’ve had big problems, schedule a time to sit down calmly with a decision-maker for the property and review how both sides can resolve problems in an efficient and effective way. Don’t go for the big guns like lawyers and unions until you’ve tried to talk it out first.

Seriously? Always around?

Seriously? Always around is the nicest thing on the list?

Likewise, make a point of warning your landlord if you know there are problems on the horizon. Whether it’s money problems or crowds of house guests, it’s better to notify ahead of time and work out a game plan than it is to sneak around and hope they don’t notice.

Remember, moving is more expensive than you think. (more…)

Beyond the CRLTO: Other Chicago Rental Laws

In the Chicago rental housing market the CRLTO (Chicago Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance) gets all the glory when it comes to laws. More and more landlords and tenants are aware of it, and this is probably for the best as the penalties for violations are quite steep. However, there are other laws that also pertain to rental housing in Chicago that should not be ignored. Here are some that you may not know about. There are certainly more laws that apply, but these are some of the most crucial.

Artistic interpretation of the Chicago code of laws governing rentals

Federal Laws

Lead Based Paint Disclosure. The law requiring the disclosure of lead based paint hazards to anyone buying or renting a home has been on the books for twenty years. If a property was built before 1978 the landlord must tell the tenant about any lead-based paint hazards that they know of before renting it out. They also must provide a copy of the EPA’s “Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home” pamphlet. Read more about the law.

State Laws (more…)

A Way to Remember the Essential Services

If you’re a Chicago landlord or tenant in an apartment covered by the CRLTO, you’ve got two levels of problems that can possibly arise. One type is your standard, run of the mill maintenance issue. For most of these, the landlord has 14 days from the time they are notified in writing of the problem to fix the issue before the tenant can invoke the law. Other problems are considered “essential services” and must be repaired within a much tighter timeframe: 72 hours.

True facts: “Aardvark” is the Afrikaans word for “Earth Pig.” This here is a baby aardvark. This will make sense momentarily.

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Holiday Gifts for the New Landlord

Do you have a new landlord in your life? Is there someone you know who recently made the plunge into investment property? Or maybe you did, and you’re looking to drop some subtle hints to your loved ones about your holiday wish list? Here are some ideas for gifts both large and small that any starting landlord would probably welcome.

General note – these are suggestions for friends and family of landlords. If you’re a tenant, it’s probably best to just stick with giving your landlord a nice greeting card. Maybe a fruit basket.

Top Shelf

Key Cutting Machine. A decent DIY key cutting machine plus a box of blank keys will run anywhere from $400-1300. However, if you figure that every time an apartment turns over you’re spending $10 plus gas money to copy key sets, not to mention keys for contractors, Realtors and maintenance staff, you’re looking at an investment that could pay for itself within 3 years for a 6-flat apartment building full of two-bedroom apartments.

Paint Sprayer. These run $100-250 for a basic unit to handle interior jobs, although Cadillac models can obviously be far more expensive. This is another one that will pay for itself rapidly. The first time you (or your landlord friend) don’t have to throw your back out roller-painting an apartment – or spend a full day painting – you will be so very grateful.

Salt Spreader. Any landlord worth his salt (pun intended) will own a snow blower in Chicago, but few will splurge on a salt spreader. It’s a worthwhile investment. Even though they run $200-600, it’s a one time purchase that will last for years if treated correctly. A preventative salting of the walks can save a lot of angry phone calls, not to mention personal injury lawsuits. This is another one that may save you a thrown out back, this time from shoveling heavy, iced-over snow. And really, would you rather stop by the evening before a storm to salt nice, dry, clean walks, or go out at 4am to break up ice the morning after?

All three of these top shelf items are available at your local hardware store. I’m not going to link to Amazon here – this is a nice big purchase that you can bring to a family-owned, mom & pop shop. Support your local business!

Show some love for the Crafty Beaver this holiday season.Hey, I almost typed that whole caption without giggling! Go me!

Medium Cost

Professional-Grade Drain Auger/Snake. These run $30 to $150 at a hardware store. Tenants don’t pay very close attention to what’s going down the drain. It’s inevitable that you’ll be called out to rod out the drains of accumulated gunk at least once a year. If the tenant has long hair or super fluffy pets that frequency goes up exponentially. Rodding out the drain yourself is far kinder than chemical agents like “Liquid Plumr,” and definitely more cost effective than calling a plumber every time. Avoid the cheap plastic versions – this is something you definitely don’t want going pear-shaped on you in the heat of the moment. Read the reviews and get something sturdy.

Landlord Locks. These are a specialty item found only at landlordlocks.com. They run about $25-42 each for the locks, $10-12 for replacement cylinders, $3 for a backup master. That’s about twice the cost of a standard deadbolt, but they make it up in cost per use, as they’re completely reusable. They’re designed so that you can pop out the tumbler and swap it for a replacement using a master key. Chicago now mandates that locks be changed between tenants. A system like this will allow the landlord to easily swap cylinders without drilling or damaging the door.

Label Printer. It’s amazing how many times you need to label stuff when you own an apartment building. Mailboxes. Buzzers. Circuit Breakers. Laundry Machines. Tools. Keys. A label maker is the kind of gift you never realize you needed until you have one. $25-40 at any office supply store.

I recommend you get a spare roll of label tape. The first day of owning a label printer may involve cutting labels off of dog after a downward spiral into printy, sticky compulsion.

Workplace Spanish for Real Estate. This has a considerable amount of language for landlords and leasing agents as well. The book is available used on Amazon for an exorbitant amount, but you can pick up a copy of the book & CD new from Workplace Spanish for about $30.

Stocking Stuffers

Dust masks. These are $10-20 for a multi-pack. The number of times you need these when working with investment property is astronomically high. Walking through damp basements. Scraping and painting apartments. Sanding down floors. Replacing moldy drywall. Not glamorous at all, but definitely useful and a way to show that you care.

Keychains. Prices vary for these. You can go all out crazy and get a logo printed on them, you can get a box of disposable cardboard keytags, or you can assemble a personalized collection of them in a variety of sizes and styles. They will be used. Oh yes they will.

Sonic Measuring Tool. This is my personal favorite. at $16-30 each plus the cost of a battery, I have one in every purse. Set the butt of it against one wall and it will bounce a sonic wave off of the opposite wall. I can take measurements of an entire apartment alone in about 5 minutes with mine. Most will automatically calculate square footage and volume, making them useful for contractors as well.

The sonic measuring tool is not to be confused with a sonic screwdriver.

Light Bulbs. It’s a curse of living in the modern, eco-friendly age that tenants now tend to take their expensive CFL light bulbs with them when they move out. A pack of soft white CFLs may not be romantic but it will definitely be appreciated.

Not Recommended

Credit Card Processor for the Cell Phone. You might think it would make life easier for the landlord to be able to collect rent via credit card. However, the processing companies take a percentage of the payment, and there are online rent payment companies that handle that kind of thing for far less. It really should be a matter of the landlord’s personal choice if he/she wants to spend that kind of money on processing fees.

Property Management Software. This is another one that really requires the input of the individual landlord and a lot of testing. Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to accounting and data entry.

Landlord Books. Unless you’re a landlord yourself with a lot of experience reading how-to manuals, I don’t recommend purchasing them for other landlords in your life. It’s very tough for someone outside the industry to figure out which books are telling the truth and which are completely useless, especially with the wide variety of regionally-specific laws. You don’t want your gift to be the reason why your buddy winds up getting sued by a tenant. Besides, the risk of accidentally insulting your friend is pretty high if you give him “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a Landlord.” Get a bookstore gift certificate if you must give literature.


Due to the high potential for spam on this article I’ve preemptively disable comments. If you would like to add a suggestion to this list, please use the general blog’s contact form. I’ll be back on Monday with a companion list of gifts for the renters in your life.

Could Your Property Pass a Section 8 Inspection?

If you’re involved in the rental business it won’t be long before you hear about Section 8. Chances are good that you’ve heard of it even if you aren’t involved with renting. It’s bandied about by NIMBY residents who don’t want poor people living in their neighborhood. You see, “Section 8″ refers to a portion of the US Housing Act of 1937, which authorized the government to pay rent on behalf of residents who would not otherwise be able to afford it. While it generally is used by low income residents, it’s also used in some occasions to assist people who have lost their homes to natural disasters, as was the case after Hurricane Katrina.

In Chicago it’s administered by the Chicago Housing Authority and utilizes two main types of homes: those owned and managed by CHA, and privately owned apartment buildings throughout the city.

… Not that Section 8

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The Online Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them

Would you marry this person? No? Then why would you rent from a landlord if you couldn’t meet him nor see the apartment first?

Here’s a fable for you. You’re hunting for an apartment online. You have a budget that’s towards the lower end and are tired of looking in the bad neighborhoods, so you take a quick look over into a trendy, name brand area. Suddenly you spot it! A three bedroom house for rent for just $800, when all of the other listings are $2000! And it’s empty and move-in ready. The address is even in the listing so you’re pretty sure it’s legit.

You contact the landlord. They say they’re out of the country working with the Peace Corps in Africa, so they can’t meet you in person. However, they suggest that you go drive past and take a peek in the windows if you like. You might do so. Or maybe you think, “gosh, this landlord is so clueless keeping the rent so low! I should jump on this before he figures out what the real value of his listing is.” (more…)

Dear Piggy: Questions from the Readers

I’m writing this on Tuesday night at 7pm. I’m deliberately avoiding watching the election results. So you guys get an omnibus of nine questions that have come in from the readers.

I didn’t show up for eviction court in Cook County. What will happen?

Generally if one side shows up for eviction court and the other doesn’t, the present person generally “wins” the case – for now. So, if the tenant appears but the landlord does not, then the landlord has to start all over again and re-file a new case. If the tenant doesn’t show up but the landlord is present, it’s a bit more complicated. The landlord will have to prove that the tenant was served with proper notice of the court date. They will also have to prove that the tenant has committed the offense that is causing the eviction case, be it non-payment or some other behavioral problem. A landlord in this case will probably get possession of the unit but no money judgment. However, the landlord should not rest on their laurels – many tenants in this sort of situation will “lawyer up” and get the case reopened before the sheriff can actually come around to evict.

If my landlord takes a utility bill addressed to me out of mailbox is he responsible for paying it?

First of all, if the landlord takes anything addressed to you out of your mailbox, she has committed mail fraud. This is a federal offense punishable by a minimum prison sentence of five years.

As for the financial repercussions. If your bill is tied to your name and your social security number, your credit score will bear the brunt of it going unpaid. So regardless of whether or not you think the landlord has “claimed responsibility” for paying the bill by taking it, you have a responsibility to ensure that the bill gets paid on time. I would get a backup copy from the utility company’s online account system and pay it anyhow.

However, if you don’t pay your heating bill and your pipes freeze and burst, your landlord will bear the cost of repairing the damage. The repair bills will certainly exceed your security deposit. So the landlord has a vested interest in ensuring that you’re current on your heating bills, but generally not to the point of paying it themselves. A smart landlord, though, would find out the status of payment in another way or just deal with repairing the damage afterwards. In my opinion, it’s better to be able to bring an air-tight damage suit against a tenant after the fact than to incur a five year stay in a federal prison.

Is a two flat in Chicago bound by the landlord tenant ordinance?

For two-flats, if the landlord lives in the building it is exempted from the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance but is covered by the Illinois state ordinance (PDF) instead. If the landlord does not live in the building then it is covered by the Chicago ordinance.

My tenants’ apartment is disgusting. Can I ask them to clean for showings?

Well, technically, yes. And according to the CRLTO they have to comply.

CRLTO Section 5-12-040 Tenant responsibilities.

Every tenant must:

(a)     Comply with all obligations imposed specifically upon tenants by provisions of the municipal code applicable to dwelling units;

(b)     Keep that part of the premises that he occupies and uses as safe as the condition of the premises permits;

(c)     Dispose of all ashes, rubbish, garbage and other waste from his dwelling unit in a clean and safe manner;

(d)     Keep all plumbing fixtures in the dwelling unit or used by the tenant as clean as their condition permits;

(e)     Use in a reasonable manner all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, in the premises;

(f)     Not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the premises or knowingly permit any person on the premises with his consent to do so; and

(g)     Conduct himself and require other persons on the premises with his consent to conduct themselves in a manner that will not disturb his neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of the premises.

The pertinent bits here are items (b) through (e) above. As always I recommend that landlords try to negotiate a more calm & reasonable resolution to the problem before they throw the book at their tenant. However, in a worst case scenario the landlord can present the tenant with a 10-day “cure or quit” notice which mandates that they clean up their act within the next 10 days or their lease will be terminated.

However.

If the tenant does not comply with the notice then the landlord will have to evict them in order to enforce the notice, so obviously this is not terribly effective when it comes to an apartment that will probably be empty in a matter of weeks anyhow.

Here’s my personal thoughts on the matter. If a tenant has such poor housekeeping skills that the apartment is “disgusting,” I highly doubt that their cleaning efforts under duress will be too impressive. Chances are you will need a few days or even weeks to get the place cleaned up in between tenants, so why bother wasting your time showing a dirty apartment? It won’t rent at a top price, and you’ll have to show it many more times to find a tenant. Besides, the only tenants who will probably like a messy apartment are also messy, so you’ll wind up with a self-perpetuating cycle of filth. Here’s what I would do instead.

  • Explain to the tenant that the apartment is too messy to show in its current condition.
  • Explain that the condition of the apartment has been noted in their file.
  • If your lease doesn’t already allow for specific cleaning costs, provide the tenant with the prices for a deep clean by a professional maid service and make sure that they know you will have to deduct that cost from their security deposit.
  • Hold off on showing the apartment until it’s empty and clean.

Can I pretend that my friend was my past landlord?

This is called “fraud.” It’s a bad idea, although tenants with poor rental history (or tenants who assume that their landlord hates them for any reason) do it all the time.

Will you get caught? That depends on if your landlord verifies ownership of your current address or not. It’s very easy to do. If you get caught, I’d personally not be surprised if your landlord rejects your application.

If you don’t get caught before you sign the lease, you’re pretty much in the clear. Even if you wind up in eviction court and the landlord accuses you of falsifying the application, it’s his neck on the line for not doing enough research.

Courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Chicago History.

What’s the difference between redlining and steering?

Redlining and Steering are both practices that violate fair housing law. Redlining was originally a mortgage lending term which drew a “red line” around certain neighborhoods. Applicants that didn’t fit a particular profile would not be granted loans to purchase property within the red line. Steering occurs when members of certain demographic groups are “steered” towards neighborhoods that are known to be dominated by that same group – e.g., Asians being shown only properties in Chinatown.

So basically, Redlining keeps people out of a neighborhood. Steering pushes them into specific enclaves.

Both are illegal.

Can tenants watch TV at any time of night?

I’m guessing that this is really a noise question. Look up to where I quoted the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance above. As long as the tenants aren’t disturbing their neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of their homes and apartments then the tenants can do whatever they want. However, if neighbors are complaining that the noise from the TV is affecting their sleep, health or ability to use certain rooms of their house, then the landlord may need to step in.

Of course, the tenants should try to work out the noise issue between themselves before escalating it to involve any authority figure, be it the landlord or the police. The landlord’s only recourse will be a written reprimand or, in the worst case scenario, a 10-day “cure or quit” notice followed by an eviction case.

When can you charge a late rent fee in Chicago?

Illinois and Chicago do not have “grace periods” for rent payments. Therefore, unless a lease specifies a grace period, rent is late on the day after it is due and fees can be assessed at that time. Also, bear in mind that while the IRS may count the date of postmark, a landlord doesn’t have to. As for what time late fees should be assessed, that’s up to you. I personally recommend giving the benefit of the doubt and assessing late fees when business opens the day after rent is due. I know some landlords who assess late fees as soon as midnight passes, though. Either could technically be claimed as valid, but the former is more likely to hold up in court.

Will my cat stick to my radiator?

Not unless you physically attach him to it.

Cats are generally smart enough to move away from dangerously hot objects like stoves and radiators. A radiator heated by steam (212 degrees F) will not get hot enough to melt fur (300-400 degrees F depending on humidity). It might give him a little burn the first time he touches it, though, so use caution around kitty the first time the radiators come on.