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Security Deposit From Guarantor

If you think it is necessary, you can collect a SEPARATE security deposit from a lease guarantor. By law, you are limited to one month’s deposit from the tenant, but guarantors are not covered by the residential landlord/tenant act. They can agree to be liable for legal fees (which tenants cannot agree to) and they can be required to pay any amount of security deposit IN ADDITION TO the one month you get from your tenant.

Why would you require that? Suppose tenant is not financially strong. Maybe guarantor is, maybe they aren’t. But, you don’t want to chase down the guarantor and sue them and try to collect if the tenant defaults or damages the property. The additional security deposit gives you added protection.

Interested in more legal tools and ideas for Alabama residential tenants? Click “Resources” tab above to see when the 6-hour Landlord Tenant Law or the 3-hour FAQ Landlord Law classes will be in a city near you. Both earn CE credit and also open to public. If you cannot attend in person, both classes can be taken live but over the Internet and are also available by streaming video. There is no CE credit for classes you do not physically attend in person.

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Tenant Reporting Own Inspections

If your lease or your Rules, Regulations & Fee Schedules have this requirement, you can make your tenants self-report property conditions once a month. Why would you want to do that?

  • It gives you early warning of problems as tenants go down a checklist of items on your form, and report condition and any observed defects. Your form should also ask about additional occupants on the premises, and any new animals.
  • Having to self-report every month tends to make tenants more careful of your property.
  • Reports showing no defects or damages prevents the tenant from later claiming something was wrong, usually after they default and are looking for excuses to make it all the landlord’s fault.
  • There is a high probability that if the tenant lies on the reports, there is significant tenant-caused damage, and then the tenant later files for bankruptcy, the landlord’s claims for damages will not be discharged in bankruptcy. That is because the tenant engaged in fraud. The claim will still have to be paid.
  • Refusal to complete the form is an early warning sign of tenant damage, illegal occupants, or illegal animals. Better to know now, rather than at lease end, isn’t it?
  • If you are selling or refinancing your rental property, the monthly reports are a good due diligence item. If you include on the form the beginning and ending date of the lease, the monthly rent, the security deposit being held, and the lack of any claims against landlord, those letters also constitute “tenant estoppel letters.” Most buyers and lenders require such letters, but it is often awkward having to ask for them because landlords don’t want tenants knowing their plans. The information in this paragraph can be included at the end of the form, in an inconspicuous manner.

Self reporting does not take the place of your own inspections. They are merely a supplement–another tool in your arsenal of good property management. Keep your form short. If you want, you can vary the items each month for the less-important matters.

Interested? Click for info on L/T Law Class
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Landlord Access Rights

When can a landlord enter a tenant’s rental property? There are times when notice alone is acceptable, or even no notice at all, but sometimes consent is required. Read the rules, below. They are an excerpt from the book available for sale on this website, Alabama Landlords Desk Reference and Forms Book. (more info HERE)

Tenant reasonable consent

The landlord may (of course!) request permission for access.  The tenant is not allowed to unreasonably withhold its consent for :

  • Inspections
  • Necessary or agreed repairs
  • Decorations, alterations, or improvements
  • The provision of necessary or agreed services
  • The purpose of showing the premises to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workmen or contractors.[1]
  • (With the right language in your lease, a tenant who unreasonably withholds its consent can be declared in default and/or fined.)

No consent required

Sometimes consent is not possible. There are emergencies, or tenants don’t return phone calls, or there is no time, such as a prospect who wants to look at a property during their lunch hour, right now. ARLTA provides some help for such situations.

No consent is required in the case of:

  • Emergency[2]
  • Court order[3]
  • Tenant failure to maintain property and landlord must enter and remedy[4]
  • Landlord has reasonable cause to believe the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the property[5]
  • Performance of tenant-requested repairs[6]
  • During any absence of a tenant in excess of 14 days, the landlord may enter the unit at times reasonably necessary[7]
  • Showing the property to tenant- or buyer-prospects in the last 4 months of the term, but only if this is authorized in a document separate from the lease. It can be signed at the time as the lease signing, but is effective only during the final four months of the term. Both landlord and prospective tenant or purchaser must be present during the showing. In other words, the property cannot be put on a lockbox for access by other persons.[8]
  • Scheduled pest control , repairs, maintenance or health/safety, but only if this is authorized in a document separate from the lease. It can be signed at the same time as the lease signing, but if that is fewer than two days before the first regularly scheduled entry, then regular notice and consent is required for that first visit The schedule can be for specific dates, or for a designated time period, such as the second Tuesday and following Wednesday of each month.  If it is impracticable to give prior notice, then the landlord may enter without notice. .[9]

Two days’ notice unless that is impractical

If the landlord wants to show the property to prospective tenants or purchasers or lenders, it must at least TRY to give two days’ notice. The notice can be satisfied by posting a note on the main door of the dwelling.  If notice is not practical under the circumstances, then no notice is required.[10] The landlord cannot use this limited exception as a tool to harass the tenant, and cannot abuse its rights under this limited exception. (Footnotes with citations appear at the end of this article)


More Info: Landlord Book

[1]Ala. Code §35-9A-303(a)

[2] Ala. Code §35-9A-303(b)(1)

[3] Ala. Code §35-9A-303(b)(2)

[4] Ala. Code §35-9A-303(b)(3), which makes reference to Ala. Code §35-9A-422 and the landlord’s right to enter and remedy problems causes by tenant’s failure to comply with Ala. Code §§35-9A-301 related to various tenant responsibilities to maintain the property and not cause damage to it.

[5] Ala. Code §35-9A-303(b)(5)

[6] Ala. Code §35-9A-303(e)

[7] Ala. Code §35-9A-423(b)

[8] Ala. Code §35-9A-303(b)(4)

[9] Ala. Code §35-9A-303(d)

[10]Ala. Code §35-(a-303(c)

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HOA Rules and Tenants

Some homeowner and condo association rules prohibit rentals.  Be sure to review the rules and bylaws before putting a property up for rent, or before accepting a rental for property management. If in doubt about the exact language, consult with an attorney.  The luxury condos Turquoise Towers, in Orange Beach, had a rule prohibiting anything except residential use. The rule was intended to make it illegal to rent someone’s unit as a vacation rental. But, the exact language did not accomplish that. A residential rental is still a residential use.  A resort company was able to buy up 50+ units shortly after the crash, making many unhappy condo owners even more unhappy. An attorney can provide guidance if you are in doubt.

Landlords of properties subject to HOA rules or condo association rules should always provide a copy of those rules to the tenant, and include a lease provision that the tenant will obey the rules.  A tenant who violates the rules could subject the owner to fines, liens, loss of rights, attorneys fees and, possibly, loss of property through foreclosure of the lien.  It is not a defense that the owner did not know of the unauthorized activities. It is not a defense that the owner specifically prohibited those activities in the lease.  If the tenant causes problems, the owner will pay the consequences.

This means the property managers who handle SFR and condo rentals will have to be completely familiar with the rules for the various associations that might be relevant to a property. It might be wise to meet with the manager for the association, and request a warning letter or phone call before adverse action is taken. If they agree, be sure to get it in writing, or write a “This is to confirm our conversation that ….” letter to the HOA contact. Otherwise, if they fail to provide the warning and go straight to sanctions, you will be in a “he-said-she-said” situation.

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Repair Requests

You don’t need specialized software to have easy online management of repair requests. Spend 20 minutes setting up our system, and you will save LOTS of time later, and always have a paper trail if somebody lies about something. Interested?

It all starts with creating an online form in Google Forms or one of the other services that have free forms, if you don’t have a google account. You are limited in the number of forms and fields, but almost anybody’s free subscription should work for you. JotForm.com is one. There are many others.

The steps for creating forms are very easy and intuitive. These are the fields you need:

  • Tenant name (short text block, click setting to make entry required)
  • Address and unit number, if applicable (short text block, click setting to make entry required)
  • Cell phone number (short text block, make required)
  • How long has this problem been going on? (short text block, make required)
  • Describe the problem (long text block, make required)

The form generator will create the form for you, and assign a url (website address) to your form. Now you have to make it easy for your tenants to get to the place to use the form for a repair request.

The best way to make it easy for your tenants is to create a QR code for the url of your form. For some of you reading this, that sounded like Greek, didn’t it? QR codes are like the one at the left. If you have the free QR code app on your phone, you can open the app, click on the code as if you are taking a picture of it, and your phone will open a specific webpage for you. It can do lots of other things if you want, but for this article we want that code to take your tenant to the place where you have your online form for repair requests. BTW, the QR code at the left will take you to the Gulf Shores, Alabama, beach cam.

Once your tenant clicks on the code, the repair request form will open on their phone. They can complete the fields and then click on “send.” The system will them send you an email with all the information the tenant just entered on the form, plus the date and time. You can forward the email to a repair person, and add your own comments if you want. You can print it out and put it in the tenant’s file or on your stack of “To Do” items. You can do ANYTHING you could do after talking to a tenant or listening to a voice mail message and writing down notes of your conversation.

PLUS you have a paper trail so if a tenant claims it made a repair request (but did not) there is no form to back up his claim. If he claims he asked for something different, the paper trail does not back him up. If she claims she never gave you permission to enter her apartment and did not ask for any repairs, the paper trail saves your fanny. Because, if the tenant asks for repairs, you automatically have permission to enter, under the Alabama Residential Landlord Tenant Act.

How do you create the QR Code? Go to any one of the free QR code generator websites. One that I use is https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/ Select a static form. Those are usually free. Dynamic codes let you later change what happens when someone clicks on it. You don’t need that feature. When asked, enter the url for the form you created. The website will generate a QR code for you. Download it. Print it out. Put a copy inside one of the kitchen cabinets, with a label saying what it is.

When you sign up a new tenant, make sure they download the QR code app. Write something in your lease saying that repair requests MUST be via the online form. Be sure to mention this during the initial move-in walk-thru and inspection.

Sit back, and watch your life get a lot easier!

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Smells, Noise, Allergies

Landlords of multi-family properties have an obligation to ensure that all tenants have the quiet enjoyment of their premises.  This includes the right to be free from strong odors, allergens and noise.  We all understand the part about noise, and have for years enforced rules about tenants and excessive noise from parties, music and arguments. 

Why are we afraid to enforce rules about cooking odors and pet noise/odors/allergens?  Because someone always hits us back with some explanation that contains the words “Fair Housing.”

There is no need to be afraid of this, though.  Tenants are not allowed to interfere with the quiet enjoyment of other tenants. This includes the intrusion of offensive or dangerous sounds or substances into the space of the innocent tenant, or into the common areas. In other words, tenants are not allowed to “over-share.” 

Not only CAN the landlord do something about over-sharing, he SHOULD do something about it. That is because of two legal principles called “quiet enjoyment” and “constructive eviction.”  If the innocent tenant claims his quiet enjoyment rights have been violated, and the landlord did not remedy the situation, the innocent tenant can claim a “constructive eviction,” cancel its lease, and sue the landlord for damages.

Do not let the offending tenant frame the issue. It is not one of national origin discrimination. The issue is not about disabilities and Fair Housing. The issue is one of the quiet enjoyment rights of other tenants.

Which one trumps the other? Quiet enjoyment trumps Fair Housing.

The Fair Housing rule that requires you to accept an emotional support animal, or a service animal, is called a Reasonable Accommodation Request. It is a reasonable request to modify the rules in order to accommodate a tenant with a disability.  We all seem to forget the “reasonable” part of that phrase.  While it might be reasonable to allow the animal, that does not include the unlimited right to do whatever the tenant wants in connection with the animal. The tenant cannot be cruel to the animal, it cannot allow the animal to damage the rental unit, it is liable if the animal injures someone else, and its animal is not allowed to intrude into other people’s living spaces either with its physical presence or its noise, odors or allergens.

The Fair Housing rule that prevents discrimination on the basis of national origin means you cannot refuse to rent to Hispanics or persons from the Middle East, as examples. You do not have to allow culturally important activities that create excessive noise. You are allowed to put occupancy limits related to the number of bedrooms, even though some cultures might routinely allow 5 or 6 people to occupy each bedroom.  And, you are allowed to prohibit over-sharing of cooking odors that other tenants find objectionable.

The landlord’s response in these situations should be, “I am not restricting your right to cook the foods of your heritage.[Or, I am not restricting your right to have an emotional support or service animal.]  I am restricting your over-sharing. You rented Unit 123. You are allowed to use Unit 123. You are not allowed to use other units. You are not allowed to invade other units with odors, noise, or allergens that adversely affect tenants in other units. You are not allowed to invade the common areas with odors, noise or allergens, to such a degree that the common areas cannot be peaceably enjoyed by all tenants.  You must take steps to control these things, or you will be subject to eviction and suit for damages.”

Of course, this all depends on having the right lease language to allow landlord enforcement. If you are not sure, you might want to have your attorney review your lease documents. To learn more, check out some of our classes listed below.