- Attorney's Fees And Property Management Law
- Garages, Storage Units, And Parking Spaces
- Investigating the New Account
- The Fair Housing Lady Q & A



Attorney's Fees And Property Management Law
by Harry Heist, Attorney at Law


In property management, attorney's fees play a unique role in the process, and this role needs to be understood completely. In most typical non-landlord/tenant related legal disputes, each party, the plaintiff and the defendant, may hire an attorney and bear the expense of that attorney, win or lose. A typical example would be a car accident case. If you were to go to court and sue the person who hit your car for $2500 worth of damages, and you can prove that the accident was due to the carelessness of the other party, the judge will award you $2500, and no more than that except possibly the costs involved in filing the lawsuit, such as the filing fee and service of process charge. If you retained an attorney, you would receive a bill if you had not already paid the attorney up front, and you would have to pay that bill out of your own pocket. You may get a judgment against the person who hit your car for $2500.00, plus court costs, and he will have to pay his own attorney's fees, if represented. All parties generally have to bear their own attorney's fees in the case of car accident damage claims. The law does not provide that the loser must pay the winner's attorneys fees. The two times attorney's fees can typically be awarded to the winning party is if the fees are "statutory", meaning specifically provided for by law, or if the fees are "contractual", meaning the fee entitlement is specifically addressed in a written contract.


Landlord /Tenant Law is VERY different. Under Florida law, the winning party is entitled to an award of attorney's fees. Moreover, most residential leases provide for a contractual award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party. The two most common types of cases in this area of the law are the eviction action and the small claims case regarding the security deposit. Simply put, whoever wins in court may and most likely will be awarded attorney's fees and costs. This seems like a good thing, does it not? Normally in an eviction action the resident loses and is evicted. You can be awarded attorney's fees and costs against that resident. If you have good documentation concerning claims made against the security deposit, you should be able to win in small claims court and again get an award of attorney's fees and court costs. Unfortunately though, these attorney's fees and costs are just as about collectable as the rent you evicted the resident for not paying or the money still owed for the destroyed carpet. If the resident wins in an eviction or any other landlord/tenant or lease related dispute, and that resident has used an attorney in the process, the resident will be entitled to an award of attorney's fees and costs. While you have some control over what your attorney may charge you, there is little to no control over the fees and costs that the resident's attorney will be awarded. These amounts could be significant. It is not unusual to see residents being awarded attorney's fees and costs in amounts that are many thousands of dollars. Having a full understanding of how attorney's fees are awarded will help the property manager in the decision making process. Do you sue? Do you fight? Do you settle? Attorney's fees play a major role in these decisions.



The prevailing party in an eviction action is that party that "wins" in court. Winning for the manager means the resident is successfully evicted from the premises, or at least the judge signs a final judgment of eviction, which would allow the manager to obtain a writ of possession and have the resident removed from the premises. Winning for the resident occurs when the judge either dismisses the eviction action or finds for the resident and allows the resident to remain on the premises. The award of attorney's fees to the winner is specifically authorized by statute and is pled for in the eviction lawsuit or the resident's response to the lawsuit. Thus, if you are successful in evicting the resident, you can ask the court to award you fees and costs. Good luck with your collection effort. If the resident prevails, the resident can pursue a very valuable fee award for which collection prospects will be far greater. Collections against individuals are extremely tough in Florida, BUT collections against a person who owns a rental home or collections against an apartment community are much easier.

Dismissing an Eviction Filed in Error

If you simply filed an eviction in error against a resident, thinking that she owed you the rent but the resident had in fact paid the rent and you either misplaced or incorrectly posted the payment, you would of course immediately dismiss the case. No harm done, correct? Not if the resident retained an attorney and filed and answer or motion to dismiss. Here, you would possibly be on the hook for the resident's attorney's fees, even though you dropped the case quickly and never pursued it further. There are a number of ways a case can be dismissed. Your Three-Day Notice could be wrong, you prepared the notice incorrectly, you served the notice incorrectly, the resident had a valid defense of payment, you failed to make a necessary repair after receiving a valid rent withholding notice, you accepted late rent on a regular basis, or you are an apartment community and failed to get your fictitious name registered. Cases are dismissed every single day, and the last thing you want is to be on the hook for the attorney's fees of the resident.

Small Claims Court

The prevailing party in a small claims court case, typically a security deposit related case, is that party who wins all or part of his case in court. The most common small claims court case a property manager will encounter involves the resident's suit for the return of all or part of his security deposit, pet deposit or any other deposit or money claimed by the manager after the resident vacates the premises. Routinely, a resident feels that the manager unfairly took too much from a security deposit fund for damages that the resident vehemently denies. The property manager may be suing the resident in small claims court as well for rent owed or damages that exceed the deposit held by the manager, but this is not common due to the low success rate in collections, even if the case is won. The big danger in small claims court is that the resident suing does not have to completely win the case in order to be considered the prevailing or winning party. The manager may have claimed $500 from an $800 security deposit, and the resident is suing for the return of his deposit in full. After each side presents its case in court, the judge may feel that the resident is entitled to an additional $200 of the deposit. Even though the manager was ultimately awarded $300 of the deposit, the fact that the resident was awarded some of the retained deposit will often make the resident the prevailing or "winning" party, entitling the resident to an award of attorney's fees and court costs. The amount of the dispute or the amount the resident wins has little to no relation to what the attorney can ask the judge for in attorney's fees. If the attorney can convince a judge that ten hours were spent on the case at $300 per hour, your company could end up having to pay the resident's attorney $3000, when the dispute was only about a $500 claim that was made on the security deposit. Whether the resident wins in full or partially wins, the resident will most likely be awarded attorney's fees and costs, and this amount can be astounding.

Litigation when no Attorney is Involved

In either an eviction action or a small claims court case, if there is no attorney representing the resident, the most that can usually happen is that the judge either denies or dismisses the eviction, or in a small claims court case, the judge will award a judgment in the amount that the judge sees fit and award costs to the resident. Costs are the filing fees the court charges and the service of process fees that a process server or sheriff charges to effect service in the case. Now you must be cautious here, as it is possible that the resident, with no attorney in the picture files an answer to an eviction or files a small claims court case, only to have an attorney later enter the case on the resident's behalf. At this point, the stakes can get much higher.

Litigation when an Attorney is Involved

If an attorney defends a resident in an eviction action or a small claims court case, the case becomes far more serious. If the attorney wins all or part of the case, he may be awarded a substantial sum in attorney's fees and costs. Most property managers are accustomed to paying a very small amount to their attorney for fees in a typical case. In fact most landlord/tenant law attorneys who handle evictions in volume charge between $150 and $200 to handle an eviction from start to finish. This is because traditionally, attorneys have charged a flat fee for evictions, maybe a little more to attend court, and sometimes your attorney will even attend a small claims court mediation or trial, and charge a low amount to do so. Low fees like this are not the norm.

Typical Attorney's Fee Amounts

The attorney representing the resident usually charges by the hour, often in fifteen minute increments. This hourly rate typically ranges now from $250 to $450 an hour. It is not unusual for the resident's attorney to claim that ten or more hours have been spent on the case, and if the resident wins in court, judges will routinely award what the attorney wants in attorney's fees in the form of a judgment against your company. Most property managers think that the resident could certainly not afford to pay an attorney by the hour, and this is for the most part true. However, some attorneys take the case on a "contingency basis", much like would be seen in a personal injury case involving a car accident. The resident pays nothing unless the attorney "wins". This allows a resident to easily have access to an attorney who may decide to take the case and roll the proverbial dice in court. If the attorney loses, of course the manager will win and could obtain a judgment of attorney fees against the resident, but since many residents are essentially uncollectable, this does not do the manager much good. Never assume that just because the resident cannot afford an attorney, the attorney who is essentially free of charge to the resident, such as one from a legal aid organization or one taking a case on a contingency basis, will not be able to get a judgment against your company for attorney's fees.

Attorney's Fee Dangers - As you can see, the resident who prevails in court can be awarded a significant sum of money in attorney's fees and costs. This award is in the form of a "judgment". The judgment then attaches to your property and becomes a lien on the property. The resident's attorney can then take that lien and attempt to collect upon it, driving the attorney's fees up higher and higher. Even if the attorney does not attempt to collect the attorney's fee award, the lien is a cloud or mark on the title to your property, and in the event your property is sold, that judgment must be paid off with interest.

Special Dangers in Eviction Attorney's Fees

If a resident's attorney successfully defends an eviction action in court and is awarded attorney's fees, the attorney's fees must be paid off to the resident's attorney before you can proceed with another eviction on the same underlying claim against that resident (for example, nonpayment of rent), should that become necessary. This can result in a serious delay, so if you lose an eviction action in court, the attorney's fee issue must be resolved quickly. Often the attorney wins the case for the resident on a technicality; the resident still owes the rent money, and another eviction must be filed again. If you have lost an eviction in which there was an attorney representing the resident and you decide to switch attorneys, always alert your new attorney to the fact that there is an open eviction matter or an attorney's fee award out there. Never try to hide this from your new attorney, expecting that your new attorney will somehow be able to work a miracle in court or will know that there was a prior eviction.

Attorney's Fee Multipliers - One of the scariest parts of the attorney's fee discussion in landlord/tenant law is the possibility of the attorney for the resident being able to get a "multiplier" of attorney's fees. This means that if the attorney is awarded $3000 in attorney's fees, the attorney may ask the judge to award a multiplier, usually 2-3 times the attorney's fee award. Reasons justifying a multiplier are many, including a case in which legal issues of significant public importance are involved, or if the case involves representation of an individual from a class that is typically underrepresented in the legal system, reasons that often resonate in an eviction action. The whole concept of a "multiplier" can be difficult to understand, but it really boils down to this: the legal system awards an attorney for taking a chance on a case in which an attorney would generally decline for financial reasons. Judges have the ability to award this "multiplier", and in landlord/tenant cases, the reasoning for a "multiplier" award is apparent. While very few attorneys ask the court for a multiplier, some do, and it can turn a small case into a very large one in no time at all. We have seen or heard of more than a few cases over the years in which the resident's attorney was awarded attorney's fees in excess of $10,000 due to the judge allowing a multiplier to be applied.

Why Worry about Attorney's Fees

Up until around ten years ago, it was relatively rare that a resident would retain an attorney to defend an eviction action or to pursue a security deposit dispute. If the resident were to retain an attorney, it would most likely have been one from a legal aid organization. Back then, legal aid organizations for the most part were not allowed by law to pursue attorney's fees. With close to 100,000 lawyers now in Florida, many who are starving for business, things have changed dramatically. For one thing, many legal aid organizations can now pursue attorney's fees against the landlord. Moreover, we now have lawyers who are specializing in representing residents for the sole purpose of extracting attorney's fees out of your company. These attorneys are advertising and direct mail marketing to residents who are under eviction, offering free consultations. The attorney then examines the case, looks for a weakness and suddenly you are up against an attorney in court who has filed an answer, counterclaim and motion to dismiss. Take your time when preparing your notices, evict cautiously, and when making a claim on the security deposit, document absolutely everything you can. Most losses by managers in court are completely avoidable.

Practical Considerations

If an attorney is involved in a case, if the resident threatens you with an attorney, or you have received a letter from an attorney, you need to get your attorney involved immediately, and trust what your attorney advises. Always alert your attorney if the resident has threatened you with an attorney, even if one is not currently in the case or dealing with the dispute. Never assume that your resident cannot afford an attorney, as you have seen how these cases are often handled on a contingency basis, and the resident may have access to legal aid organizations. When you are evaluating a lawsuit or thinking about filing an eviction, be clear you are very likely to win before you take a stance that you are not going to budge and settle the case. Always tell your attorney all the details before the eviction is filed, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem to you. You never want to lose a lawsuit, and the last thing you want is a small claims lawsuit or eviction blowing up into a huge attorney's fee driven case.


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Garages, Storage Units, And Parking Spaces
by Harry Heist, Attorney at Law


Many multi-family residents either have a garage included in the tenancy, or can choose to have a garage at an additional cost. The way the lease agreement and garage addendum is worded can have major consequences in the event of an eviction action, and may also have sales tax ramifications. Failure to use the proper wording and addendum can result in the unpleasant situation in which the resident is evicted from the apartment, but the property manager is left trying to deal with a garage full of the resident's possessions. In a multi-family setting, the garage is more often detached and may or may not be part of the "premises".

Typical Lease

The typical lease will state the monthly rent, and then add a section for garage rent or have a check-off section stating that the garage is included. The garage is never mentioned again in the lease, and a garage addendum may or may not be used. The Blue Moon lease properly does not separate out the garage rent, and the Blue Moon garage addendum properly does not refer to garage rent.

Sales Tax Issue

Most property managers do not realize that if a garage is rented separately from the apartment, the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) has held that sales tax must be collected on the garage rental as garage rent, unlike apartment rent that is typically exempt from sales tax. It is crucial to include the garage within the rental of the apartment for the purpose of potentially avoiding any problems with the DOR and sales tax. You need to have a price stated for apartments with garages and a price for apartments without garages. Separating the garage from the apartment in your documents can trigger a sales tax issue. If you ever rent out garages to non-residents, you absolutely MUST collect sales taxes. Do not attempt this without having your company check with an accountant to guide you through the sales tax and DOR issues, and knowing all the risks of conducting the rental of garages to non-residents.

Eviction Problem

As mentioned above, usually the garage is not listed as part of the premises, but rather is treated separately on the lease. This separate treatment can cause a major problem in an eviction action, especially if the garage is not indicated on the actual lease itself, but is only referenced on a separate document, which on its face stands alone. Typically, the eviction is served on the resident at the rental premises, and lists the rental premises as the residential location which the resident is leasing. The garage normally is not listed on the Three-Day Notice. It is assumed by many property managers, and thankfully many residents, that in the event they get evicted, they need to remove everything from the garage as well, and most do. However, this assumption may be false. A property manager could be faced with evicting the resident but not being able to get the resident to take items out of the garage, leaving a garage full of personal property. There have been cases in which a resident moved his or her belongings into the garage and actually slept there at night; the traditional eviction action cannot get the resident or his property removed from the garage.

Lease Reference

In the beginning of the lease agreement, we recommend that the lease clearly describes the premises as follows: "125 Main Circle, Unit 306, including Garage Number 16". We do not recommend separating out the price of the garage from the price of the apartment or condo. Simply add these together and list one amount: "$775 includes garage". The result is that you are far less likely to have any kind of sales tax ramification, and in the event of an eviction action, if the resident has not removed the personal property from the garage, the garage being part of the premises can be cleaned out as it were the apartment.


There is no problem with advertising that you have garages available to your residents, but if there is an extra cost, which is the norm, do not advertise this extra cost in any way on any public advertising. Advertising triggered a heavy-handed response by the DOR about ten years ago, which resulted in audits, penalties, fines and back sales tax having to be paid by apartment communities who failed to charge sales tax. The DOR eased up on its policy as long as the garages were not listed separately or identified as having a separate charge. Nothing was ever provided to the apartment industry in writing by the DOR, but it ceased enforcement as long as the charges were not separated.

Garage Rented after Residency has Started

At times a resident will move into the apartment community and later desire a garage. If there is no reference to monetary amounts on the lease or garage addendum, this obviously poses a problem. If there were no sales tax or eviction ramifications, the resident could sign a garage addendum with the price of the garage indicated. This we know is not the right approach. Use this as an opportunity to have the resident sign a new lease agreement, which will include the garage, and list the higher rent amount, which includes the cost of the apartment and the garage combined.

Best Practices

1. Immediately examine your lease;
2. Make sure there is no separate price indicated for the garage;
3. Examine your garage addendum and make sure that your garage addendum has no reference to cost for the garage;
4. Remove any reference to the price of a garage on any advertising;
5. Have your company speak with your accountant before making any changes to your treatment of garages.


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Investigating the New Account
by Harry Heist, Attorney at Law

You receive a call from an out of state owner asking you to manage the property; you check out the house, and you gladly accept your great new account. The owner is sent all your paperwork, signs it, and you are on your way. Maybe it is tenant occupied, maybe it is vacant. In any event, you are ready to go and add this new account to your ever growing portfolio. All is well! Correct? Not so fast. A property manager who does not engage in due diligence prior to accepting a new account is destined for serious problems. Unfortunately, many property managers fail to investigate the owner, the situation, the home, the neighborhood and the tenant, if tenant occupied, prior to taking on the account, only to be surprised later by serious problems which can create liability for the manager and cause extreme difficulty in managing the property. Frequently we hear the excuse that the owner failed to tell the property manager something. The problem is that the manager failed to ask the owner the probing questions. Owners may intentionally or unintentionally fail to reveal certain details which would have influenced the manager's decision to accept the account. This article will examine just some of the questions you need to ask and the information you need to gather. A property manager should create a checklist so nothing is overlooked. This article will address only some of the things that need to be thoroughly looked into prior to accepting the account for management. It is not all-inclusive, and we welcome any suggestions or tips on what you ask your prospective clients or how you go about your "owner investigation".


All properties are either owned by a person, persons or a legal entity. You should determine the exact identity of the owner, and this is discovered by carefully examining the deed to the property. The tax records are not enough, and we recommend that you secure a copy of the actual deed from your real estate attorney or title company you normally use for closings. They are often happy to oblige. You cannot depend upon the person with whom you are speaking to verbally relay accurate ownership information. The management agreement must be in the name of the property owner if a real person or entity, and if owned by multiple parties, the management agreement will be signed by all parties, or the signing party must have valid power of attorney for the other owners. We have seen a number of situations in which properties were owned by a husband and wife who were in the process of divorce, with the property management agreement only signed by the husband, and the property manager then later being held liable to pay the wife the proceeds after payments had routinely been made to the husband: quite a nice surprise. The husband conveniently forgot to tell his estranged wife that the property is Florida was being rented out. If there is a dispute as to ownership, if the property is in probate, not quite in probate yet, or if there is a marital problem going on, be extremely careful. Never take someone's word of that person being the executor or personal representative of an estate without carefully examining official probate records. If owned by an entity like an LLC, S-corporation or partnership, demand to see the documents authorizing the individual you are dealing with to sign on behalf of the entity.

The Neighborhood And Crime

You take over the property and place a tenant, only to find out that a sexual offender or predator lives across the street, next door or behind the home. Would you have taken over management had you known this? Doubtful, but the problem is that you never checked. Now you have an irate tenant who wants out of the lease and an owner who demands that the tenant stay. You now are stuck in the middle of a potential legal dispute. Always check the neighborhood by going to the FDLE website. Does a tenant have a right to break the lease? You never know how a judge will rule. The owner conveniently forgot to tell you that there was a drug bust at the rental last year. You place a tenant in the home, and your tenant now is getting awakened by potential customers at 3:00 a.m., or the house gets strafed by bullets. Does a tenant have a right to break the lease? You never know how a judge will rule.

Is The Unit And/Or Any Alteration Illegal?

You place the tenant in the unit, and 2 months later code enforcement comes knocking, stating that the unit is not legal, or the garage that is now a bedroom was converted illegally. Now the tenant can't use the garage, or code enforcement is fining the property owner because the mother-in-law apartment was not legal. The owner conveniently forgot to tell you about the illegality. Did not the fact that there was a shared electric meter tip you off? Are garages usually air-conditioned, carpeted, remodeled with a kitchen and bath? Always confirm that the unit is legal and any alterations or additions such as the closed off garage that is now a bedroom or office is in fact legal. Just because no one had a problem with it for years does not mean that a neighbor will not call code enforcement the minute a problem develops with the tenant.

Who Was The Prior Property Manager?

Always ask the owner if he previously had a property manager, or has recently fired a manager. If you are the second or third manager in the chain, this usually is a sign that the owner is the problem, not the manager. By finding out who the manager was before, you may be able to investigate the owner, and maybe you will find out that the property manager is involved with a legal dispute with the owner that you may get dragged into later.

Is Any Money Owed To A Prior Manager?

Did your owner conveniently not pay a bill owed to the prior property manager? If so, you may be the next victim when you foolishly advance money for a repair. Always ask and investigate this.

Does the Owner Own More Homes In The Area?

By asking, you may discover that the owner is shopping around for managers and has multiple property managers for his other properties. Why is he not asking them to manage this home? Why does he manage three other houses himself, but he wants you to manage this one? Do you want to be compared to other current managers and played against them by the owner? No.

Does the Home Have Defective Drywall?

If the home is in a neighborhood where other homes have defective drywall, and the home was built by the same builder at or around the same time, the chances are high that the home you may manage also has defective drywall. If you suspect this, and the owner refuses to have it tested, you may reconsider whether you want to manage the property. If you place a tenant in the home, and you knew or should have known that the chances were high that there was defective drywall, your company could get pulled into litigation.

Are There Problems With The Home?

Unless you ask, the owner may not disclose problems in the home, such as a prior flood, the fact that the unit is in a flood area, a roof leak, a mold problem, high radon levels, a bedbug infestation, HVAC issues, septic or plumbing problems, electrical issues, or any other potential defects or problems with a property. You must ask the owner if there are any current problems or any recent repairs that were done. The more specific you are with your questions, the more information you will glean.

Is The Property For Sale, Or Will It Be For Sale Soon?

Tenants are not happy when they move in and a few weeks later have to deal with constant showings of the property. By law and usually the lease, they must allow showings. However, the showings often get excessive, and the tenant refuses to cooperate, often thinking that a forced move will be next if the home is sold. Do you really want to place a tenant in a unit that will be for sale? Is it not better to know this before placing the tenant, so this can be disclosed to the tenant? You must ask this question.

Solvency Of The Owner

The last thing you need is to manage a home for an owner who is insolvent. Taxes, insurance, mortgage payments, HOA or condo fees or assessments all need to be current. If you don't ask about an owner's financial situation, you will find out very quickly when you begin to manage the property, and then it is often too late. We recommend you carefully read the article Screening Your Owner

What Is The Current Tenant's Payment History?

If a unit is already occupied by a tenant, then why does the owner need you? Are there problems? Probably. Taking over a property when the tenant has been allowed to pay all over the map or is delinquent by a large sum of money will cause you to have a difficult or maybe impossible eviction. There usually is a reason why an owner has allowed a tenant to go so long without paying the rent or a reason why the tenant has not paid the rent, and you must find this out. Did the owner ever accept cash? Ask.

Has The Tenant Ever Withheld Rent?

Florida law allows tenants to withhold rent under certain circumstances. If the owner is not making needed repairs, the tenant may legally be withholding the rent, and you will be faced with a difficult or maybe impossible eviction. While tenants often use a minor repair need as an unfounded excuse for not paying the rent, there are many situations when the tenant is 100% allowed to withhold rent, and this is provided for in Florida law.

Has The Owner Ever Refused A Repair Because Of Nonpayment?

"Pay the rent, and then I will make the repair". This type of statement can be deadly if ever admitted to a judge in an eviction action. Even a tenant who has made no attempt at payment of rent whatsoever must have items repaired in the home. This common tactic by an owner can come back to haunt you in court.

Has The Tenant Ever Made Repairs?

Often owners allow a tenant to make repairs, replacements and alterations. The tenant may or may not have been told that there would be reimbursement or compensation for the repair. Any outstanding repair issue can result in a dispute over what amount, if any, is owed to the tenant for the repair that was made, or for the item the tenant purchased for the home. If the tenant has made a repair, you must be certain that tenant has been compensated or reimbursed, and that there is nothing outstanding.

Has The Owner Ever Received A Letter From The Tenant's Attorney?

Often matters have escalated to the point where the tenant hires an attorney who makes some demands upon the owner, demands which may have not been met. These demands will not go away once you begin managing the property, so you must find this out ahead of time, and it must be resolved.

Has The Owner Ever Committed A Prohibited Practice?

Many owners feel that if the tenant fails to place a utility into the tenant's own name as required by the lease, and the owner finds out later, the owner can simply shut off the utilities. While this would seem logical, it is a prohibited practice under Florida law. Many property owners commit this prohibited practice, which carries a stiff penalty under Florida law. You won't find out until you have to file an eviction, and the tenant's attorney files a counterclaim for an almost sure win for the tenant.

Is There A Lease In Place?

If there is a lease, you need to examine it before making your decision to manage. The lease may be a complete mess. The lease may be based upon the law of another state, or the tenancy is excessive in duration. If there is no lease, the owner should give you the arrangements he has or had with the tenant. If the tenants in the unit are not the same as those listed on the lease, you could have difficulty evicting. If the owner indicates the tenant has the original lease, and there is no copy, that's a disaster waiting to happen. If the owner does not know who the tenants are or can't establish a landlord/tenant relationship, the owner may be required to file an ejectment or unlawful detainer action. This is not a case for a simple eviction.

Does The Owner Know Who The Tenants Are?

Investors are purchasing homes with unknown persons or prior owners residing in the homes who are refusing to vacate after a foreclosure sale. If you decide to take on this type of account, you should make the management of the property contingent upon the owner first having the person removed, either through eviction, an unlawful detainer or ejectment action. Do not begin managing until this occurs. The removal of unknown people can become a nightmare. Ask if the owner is willing to pay the person or persons to vacate, as this is sometimes a prudent option.

Has The Tenant Ever Expressed Interest In Purchasing The Property?

Often tenants express interest in purchasing the property, and the owners lead them to believe that this may happen. Often these same tenants do excessive work on the property, only to be told that they are not able to purchase the property. The owner wants them out, or the owner decides to sell it for a much higher price. With home prices on the rise, that tenant who was expecting to purchase the home for a low price is then in for a shock and refuses to pay the rent or vacate.

Is There A Current Or Expired Lease Option?

Often an owner will enter into a lease option or some sort of rent to own arrangement, the tenant fails to exercise the option, and then the owner wishes at some point in time for the tenant to vacate. This could be months or years after the tenant's deadline to exercise the option. The problem is that the tenant is angry about the money paid for the option initially or towards the option each month, and then decides to ride out the option money as rent. The owner feels otherwise, perhaps rightly so, and now you are pulled into a potentially messy eviction, or the court may even rule that a foreclosure or some other legal action is necessary. Unfortunately, unless you ask, you may never know about this old "expired" lease option or other "arrangement".

Some Final Notes

Many investors purchase a rental property with the intention of renting it out and managing themselves. Some are successful at this task. A seasoned investor who secures a great tenant, lives near the rental, and has a lot of experience may have little need for a property manager. Most investors are not in that category, but think they can manage their own property. We have all seen the California owner who bought the Florida house, put an ad on Craigslist, had a friend show the property, and voila, they have a tenant. The fun then begins. Owners usually come to a property manager when they are in a time of need, after they have messed everything up. Many owners either intentionally or unintentionally fail to disclose important details in the hope that you will save them from their misery and work your magic. Take your time, investigate thoroughly, and do it right. Sometimes surprises are just not that fun in life.


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by Nadeen Green, Attorney at Law

Dear Fair Housing Lady,

I have always subscribed to the mantra of "get it in writing" - I have found that this is a pretty good idea in both my property management and personal lives (although sometimes it seems as if all I have is a property management life!). But recently I heard someone say that sometimes, because of fair housing concerns, we can't ask for something to be in writing. I've racked my brain, but haven't been able to see why or when it would be a problem to "get it in writing". Am I missing something here?

Sincerely, Puzzled a Tad

Dear Puzzled,

Let's see if I can clear up your puzzlement, because I think I know what it is that you may be missing. It is a pretty routine requirement for property management folks to tell their residents that all work orders have to be in writing. This helps avoid the problems that can occur when residents see the maintenance professionals and ask to have things done without routing the issue through the proper channels. And there is nothing wrong with the policy except (and you knew there would be an exception!) when an oral communication is not just a work order request, but a request for reasonable accommodation made by a person with a disability. If you think this is the case, then don't ignore a request just because it is oral (over the phone or in person); staff can write down their understanding of what is being asked for and then verify that they have understood correctly. In exchange for this helpful tidbit (which was not legal advice), now I'd like you to do two things. First, share this information with all on-site folks, including maintenance. Second, tell your folks that when in doubt (work order v. reasonable accommodation request) to always decide it is likely the latter. A bit more hassle for on-site folks? Perhaps. A lot less hassle than a fair housing investigation, charge or lawsuit. For sure!

Sincerely, The Fair Housing Lady

This Dear Fair Housing Lady article was originally posted on Nadeen Green's blog at fairhousing.forrent.com" Nadeen is known nationwide as a Fair Housing Law expert and she is proud to be Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions


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