Apparently, We Aren’t Cut Out for This….

A lot of really smart people comment on this blog, so today I’m asking for advice. No politics, no “big” question involved, just a practical dilemma.

Over the last few years, my husband and I have found ourselves accidental landlords. For reasons not relevant to this post, we have two properties we rent: a small condominium on Indy’s northwest side, and half of a double on Brookside Parkway, South Drive.

We’ve been fortunate in that the person renting the condo is an ideal tenant who has been there several years. Not so much for the property on Brookside. The last tenant moved out without any notice–just vanished. And the one before that had trouble coming up with the rent (and was surly when reminded).

I think we are pretty good landlords: we keep the property in good repair. We recently upgraded the electrical service. We’re in the process of cleaning and doing touch-up painting and yard work after the unanticipated move-out, and we’ve done our homework to ensure that the rent is reasonable for the area and the property. The unit has three bedrooms, bath and a half (the kitchen and baths were installed new six years ago). There’s a front porch and a back deck, a storage shed, and appliances: washer/drier, stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave. The unit has a full basement (unfinished, but good for storage). It is directly across the street from a really nice city park with a community center, playground and pool.

The neighborhood is not fancy, but it is safe. (Our son lives in the other half.) I’m going to attach photos. Rent is 750/month.

So here is my question: how do I go about getting a responsible tenant, preferably long-term? What is the best way to check references? In other words, what am I doing wrong?

All advice is welcome–and if anyone local reading this knows someone responsible  who might be interested in leasing this property, that would be FANTASTIC!FullSizeRender-12 FullSizeRender-13 FullSizeRender-14 FullSizeRender-5 FullSizeRender-3 FullSizeRender-9 FullSizeRender-6 FullSizeRender-7 FullSizeRender-15 FullSizeRender-2 FullSizeRender-4 FullSizeRender-11

54 thoughts on “Apparently, We Aren’t Cut Out for This….

  1. Do you use a screening service to run a background credit and criminal check? Do you have the applicant complete a full application and turn in 30 days most recent pay stubs? I am currently working for a local property management company after spending 20 years in the mortgage business, I approve all applications for the properties we manage. We use a company for the screening–NTN–most important things I look for on credit are: prior eviction filings, collections or judgments from apartment communities or other property management companies and collections from utility companies. I also require proof of monthly income of at least 2 1/2 or 3 times the monthly rental amount. Good luck!

  2. Perhaps visiting faculty? I’m thinking few would be irresponsible tenants.

  3. Find a good property manager but of course, you’ll have to pay a typical maintenance fee which is usually 10% of the rent. You may need to charge more for rent, say 900 instead. This protects you legally and gives you the freedom of knowing that your future tenants will be back-ground checked and have a good credit score and employment. They are penalized if they break the lease, leave damage or move out unexpectedly. Depending on IN laws, you may need to find someone that is NOT a realtor but strictly a property manager. (If I was moving to Indy, I would definitely like to rent it).

  4. See above. If you are interested in hiring a local property management company–I know just the one!

  5. This is a lovely home! I see hardwood floors and lots of lovely sunshine. I hope you find a good tenant

  6. I agree with Bill. Advertise where you know there are more likely to be good people. Advertise in a bar, and you are more likely to get bar people. Advertise in a medical school or seminary, and you will get those people. They have already self-selected. And try to make that place close to your place.

  7. I believe your in a great place to find the tenants your looking for right there at IUPUI, med school, nursing school, law school, engineering school and much more. Consider shared housing for two or three students,draw up the rental agreement or contract with their moms or dads. There is a need for student housing that’s clean, safe and connected to the rest of the city by bus or bike. If your son is there he could help you manage it. Promote it as a clean efficent education resource that affordable with house rules everyone must agree to. I’m sure There are shared housing agreements on line along with tenant rules and regulations. Good luck

  8. Heart need to rule with some serious consultation with the brain. Most people don’t rent if they have the kind of money to buy a home, but these might be people who were knocked down by the system crash in 2008 and are still rebuilding. They may not have a glowing credit record. Even with a criminal record, depending on the crime, they might be good tenants. Are they dependable? Did they even show up on time for the interview? Do they have some time on a job, even if it’s a low paying job (some people freelance or contract)? Do they have references from previous landlords? Are they clean and reasonably dressed? Do they seem like good people? It’s always a guess as to integrity on both the landlord and the tenants’ part.

  9. I check references. I assure them of confidentiality. I ask references “If you depended on the rent income to survive in retirement, would you rent to this person who gave you as reference?”
    I tell prospective tenants: “There are 4 rules. 1) Rent is due the first; I will not chase you. 2) No smoking in the unit. 3) If anyone is her more than 14 days in a year, they MUST be on the lease for insurance and legal purposes, and 4) If I suspect drugs I will not say anything to you but will go straight to the police. Drugs lead to damage, fire and violence. I am certain you do not want to be burnt out by your neighbor and he does not want to be burnt out by you.”
    These help self-select also.

  10. How are you marketing the property? If you are relying on word of mouth or a sign in the yard, that doesn’t cast a very wide net. A landlord friend of mine suggested posting it on to get more applicants and be able to choose from a wider pool.

  11. Delegate it to your son. He has a vested interest in having a good neighbor.

  12. Renting is always a crap shoot. I agree that you need to advertise where you find the people you want, even on a bulletin board at local churches. It helps to run a credit check and a background check. Good luck.

  13. We have five units. Have dream tenants in bloomington, lafayette not so much. We screen for evictions, contact employers and former landlords. Very few get to even this round. The amount you are asking is a bargain, but after the evictions in one year I can tell you you kiss a lot of frogs. When you get your dream tenants, don’t increase the rent!!

  14. We rent Kandy’s house, and we use Transunion credit check service, the tenant pays for it. Get a deposit!

  15. Property management company. Just that simple. They take care of all of the nitty-gritty details. Yes, it does cut into the income you receive, but what’s more important, money or your peace of mind???

  16. Contact Jose Espada at to list for medical students. You may need to wait a month to get someone to move in, but there is a mad dash right now to find quality housing.

  17. Unfortunately your readers are Democrats You have clearly alienated Donald Trump and other Republicans. So you have boxed yourself into rough corners of the rentals. You have a semblance of what people call, “the bleeding heart!” It is almost an oxey moron, “A Democrat who has property for rent.” I hear you have to have a long whip, a big friend named Gido, and a slick lawyer. I read your stuff. You simply don’t have, nor are you a good prospect for “rent control.” My guess is that your don’t even own a gun.

  18. Have an attorney run credit and criminal record checks that accompany their applications.
    Applicants are expected pay for them to even be considered as a prospective tenant. Let them know that if they are renting a house as opposed to an apartment, they will be responsible for cutting the grass and maintaining the yard. Do a walk-through with them to show them that the plumbing is working efficiently. If the sinks are stopped up, they will foot the plumbing bill. If the rent check is late, let them know that their late fee will pay for you to dine out that month. The psychology behind this, the very thought that their landlord will enjoy dinner out on them, is quite effective in keeping the rent arriving in a timely manner.

    Always have a list of reliable contacts who can quickly respond to maintenance repairs with
    electrical and heating and air conditioning glitches. Reward excellent tenants with an unexpected holiday gift.

  19. Unfortunately, tight screening also often eliminates people for arbitrary reasons, makes it difficult for people to get second chances, and doesn’t screen for problematic people that clients may know. I am all for background checks, but making it almost impossible for vulnerable people to get housing, only squeezes the family and friends of people of vulnerable people to take them against their better judgment. Then, the family and friends may have trouble themselves renting in the future. So no, tighter and tighter screening in and of itself is not the solution, and in some ways is making the overall rental market worse. A good part of what the rental market is doing as self-protection, is making things worse overall.

    I personally would screen in a different way by working with an agency that can connect with rapid re-housing programs and permanent supportive housing programs. In Indianapolis, I would contact Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention and let them screen potential tenants in different ways. They are also vulnerable people that over qualify on income for assistance that they may know about, but still need help.

    People trying to prove that they get back on their feet can be better tenants. Disabled people that need some kind of subsidy and qualify for subsidized housing, the assisting agency is the direct tenant responsible for rent, while the disabled person pays a portion of their income to the agency, but landlords deal with a professional agency that pays the rent, provides case management and assistance to the client. They are subject to fair market rents and rent reasonableness.

    I realize that this seems counterintuitive, and my perspective is biased by working with homeless agencies, but I observe a lot of the rental market.

  20. I’ve often thought of renting my home and getting out of Florida, so these same questions have gone through my mind as well. Financial stability is a must, but money doesn’t not guarantee good tenants; you may get your rent every month but it may cost you six months rent to clean up and fix the place after.
    I’ve rented, most recently two years ago when my house was made unliveable for over a year due to a sewer backup and a year long battle with my insurance company to eventually get half of what I needed to be whole again. I’ve also tried to be a great tenant . Even last year, when my private disability company arbitrarily refused to continue paying me my monthly income (after four years of paying, and despite the only change in my health being that I was more sick with worst test results – but that’s a whole other story to be written later), I immediately told my corporate landlord what was going on, that I wasn’t going to be able to pay rent and that I would be moving back into my half repairs home ASAP. Once the eviction notice wa (amazing quickly) posted on my door, I was in process of trying pack and move (alone, sick and broke) and I still left that apartment cleaner and in better repair than how I found it. I do think that is why the company didn’t follow through on a lawsuit to recover their money, or show up to pick at the carcass of my financial disaster during bankruptcy court.
    The point – people leave impressions and have reputations that are just as important as the ability to pay. Good people will take responsibility for whatever is happening no one can predict their future (just five years ago, I was a successful, tenured professor of sociology at a local rather exclusive liberal arts college with no clue that I would soon lose just about everything and everyone because I had the audacity to become seriously ill). Regardless of what happens, good people, with a good relationship with their landlords, will always do their best to avoid causing harm to you or your rental.
    In sum I’d use a method of selective advertising, current financial stability, reputation and references and finally, your gut – which depending on rental laws in your area, may need the cover of less subjective criteria for your decision.

  21. I had the same issue with my condo–except I could never even find a renter. The price was right, the location was great, but I couldn’t charge enough in rent to use a property management service. Had a lot of folks call, but they were only willing to pay 1/3 of what I was asking in rent (which was totally within reason for the location and the size of my place). Screening potential renters is key! It will be worth every penny you spend on those reports.

    Have you tried listing it on the IUPUI classifieds? That might be a good place to start. Or let HR know you have the property for any new hires coming to campus? Just a few thoughts.

  22. Here’s your ad.

    Liberal Republicans only! Others need not apply.

    There aren’t many of us but we’re both responsible and caring people.

  23. I’ve never owned rental property, but two friends have and we’ve talked about the ups & downs. Their 1st point was always that nothing beats a personal referral, and when they had a date figured out they contacted literally everyone they knew, asking for prospective tenants. That doesn’t seem to apply here, and no doubt you’ve already sent out the Bat Signal already.

    Aside from the usual suggestions regarding background checks & such, one idea my friends had that they found useful was that of a “Tenant Whisperer.” I know I’m misusing the metaphor, but the idea was to ask someone from a prospective tenant’s age group or social class to sit in on the interview & give feedback. Dana & Rene are in their 50s and were interviewing people in their thirties or even twenties, and they found that having peer insights helped a lot. They were missing social cues & relationship markers that could result in later problems.

    The only specific examples they told me about were one couple who a much younger co-worker informed them, from 25 minutes in their company, would be a problem because their relationship was on the rocks. Apparently they were awkward, treated each other oddly & formally, etc, etc but the older couple saw nothing amiss. Another possible tenant received the diagnosis of “lying about not having pets” from a friend, although that one sounded like an unfair invocation of psychic abilities.

    Finally, while it sounds a little NSA/CIA/FBI, be sure to consult Facebook to get a sense of who they are. Also, since they’ll sharing space with your son, you should have him tag along to the interview, where he might be able to play the role of Tenant Whisperer (his website made it sound like he was in his 30s).

    Good Luck!

  24. I have nothing helpful to add but good wishes. Renting is a crap shoot as someone above said, and that goes both ways. We were such good tenants in our first flat; I really wanted to be a home owner and I repaired and upgraded it as if it were mine. The owner would send out incompetent repair people and I would have to do over what they had done.

    I was thinking renting is a bit like marriage; there is only so much you can do to find a good match.

  25. If you haven’t already done so, set up a separate entity (LLC, or similar) to own the property and insulate your personal assets

  26. Sheila, really helpful blog topic. Amanda Louden followed your request and answered without “birdwalking” all over the place. Well done!

    Amanda, I would like to see more comments (on various topics) from you as your time permits.

  27. Ken brings up an interesting point.

    Corporations according to SCOTUS in Citzens United vs FEC have the same rights as people. But, as Ken points out, not the same responsibilities. If they decide their bills outweigh their assets they can elect not to pay them without consequences.

    When Congressional Republicans loose their mojo at the end of the year we will be free to decide if rights and responsibilities should go hand in hand.

  28. Are the r’s going to ‘loose’ their mojo? Turn it loose on all of us? Or they going to ‘lose’ their mojo? It’s already gone. DT the circus peanut has already lost most of his, if he had any to start with.

    But, we were going to stick to the renter-landlord subject, weren’t we?

    Sorry, Sheila. Some things I just have to attend to in order to make it OK in my teacher’s head.

  29. My comment is go see where they live now and find out why they are moving. If they were renters ask to speak with their former landlord. Have someone speak with neighbors even if they owned their prior resident. If you can not go visit their old neighborhood call the Democrat Precinct chairman…they have not had anything to do since motor voter. LOL. My wife and I once rented to young couple with toddler with them in our meeting interview. Only to find after they moved in that they had both been married before and had 7 little kids as someone once said (his, hers and theirs). You should have seen the damage and the cost to move them out after 6 months of non-payments. Burned but experienced!

  30. Based upon my personal temperament and taking into account the monetary value I place on my time and effort, I’d go for a property management company. Pay them a small percentage of the rent and let them deal with all the things you aren’t cut out for handling. Do you really want to be called in the middle of the night when the water heater or dishwasher spring a leak, in August when the AC no longer cools, or in January when the pipes freeze and burst?

  31. Only Pete can take a prudent suggestion and twist it into something evil. I feel confident that Sheila will not shirk any responsibility as a landlord, but if a tenant decides to blow up the house and others are injured, the professors personal assets are not subject to the litigiousness of today’s society.

  32. You cannot be accidental property partners with all others in Indianapolis, the State’s capital and capitol workplace! You can get a property manager as do many resident and absentee proprietors, non-residents of investment properties, or just advertise yourself as you have. As realtors, car owners, many have since the 1970s shopper and newspaper circulators changes. Many people I know have tried to operate sales businesses in inner-city blight neighborhoods of absentee and public corporation properties right there, too. Some go back to the 1700s English traders’ (e.g.William Conner ) desertions of their common law sons and daughters and, “squaws” as regards the 1400 places with English racial slur names from the Quinnipiac to Seattle River titles, and points between 1790-1914 those playful Red Devils and their elder Redskins!

  33. My thoughts are pretty simple: find a realtor and have them list the property on the MIBOR (Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors) website. I have two properties and have found this approach provides a strong pool of applicants.

  34. We had the same experiences as you. Landlording is not for the faint of heart…sometimes Amy would be the bad cop and sometimes I would be. Anyway, others have already said it, but three years ago we started using a management company. Yes it’s expensive, but we would sell before going back to being the good cop/bad cop landlords.

  35. Unless your time and energy is of so little value you can afford to spend it doing what you obviously find a befuddling chore hire a management company. At 10% you’ll still save money, relieve yourself of a headache, pay for structural upkeep and stop spending as if you lived there. You’ll sleep better, no longer have to take the emergency call, or keep records as its done. I’m personally too easily generous to tightly manage rentals. My style works occasionally but a separator assists tremendously. Then finally, I’m no longer interested in working that hard at this level. I want time with labors of love, interest and well being. Transactional small dollars are simply not worth my life energies. I have 3 of these now and 2 of an elderly neighbors, By far the easiest and most profitable consistently with a fair and relative generous spirit is handled by pros in lafayette. I don’t have to see it, think about it more than quarterly and that’s fine. Property had been good to me. But without some separators it’s always taking on another’s problems as well as collecting a check. I have plenty of my own. Good luck.

  36. Just one more comment–working for a professional property management company means that I (we) follow all of the Fair Housing regs. I am not sure if a private rental agreement requires the same strict adherence to those rules but I’m sure an attorney could answer that. I add this since some of the prior comments give advice that seems in some ways to run afoul of the Fair Housing regs that are in place.

  37. Sheila, We also use NTN but I don’t use it for a smaller property like yours. I imagine you know how to find judgements yourself if they are from around here. credit scores can often be bad because of disputed items and just about everybody has some medical bill on their report that they never knew about. The best source is prior landlords. Be sure that you get their contact information independently from the tenant. These type of references are easy to fake. And trust your gut. Do, of course get an application. With your son living on the other side, I suspect you should get a gut check from him as well. Also, if you’re not really sure, you can go take a look at their current situation. I can tell you that, if I were alone, I would very much welcome having your son next door. Good luck. If I hear of anyone looking, I will send them your way.

  38. I also own 2 properties that I rent but it is also, for me, not a business. Your asking price, btw, is very generous.
    I would never hire a company to find a renter. I network to find people, and the person who suggested you use your son to find someone has a great idea.

  39. Nice house!
    Amanda gave really good advice.
    Daniel, too. Deposit!
    It’s a business transaction, treat it as such.

    Pay in Advance
    Penalty for late payment
    Refundable deposit of a month’s rent that cannot be used as rent for last month.
    At least 30 day notice.

    Good luck!

  40. OMG, I’m from Bloomington and you’d be lucky to find a two bedroom for that !!? Are there churches in the area? They might have parishioners they are trying to help.

  41. There appears to an option no one considers. If your son is a resident, there must be a reason. Is this the ole homestead? If so, there may be sentiment involved which is complicating. If not, there is the option to unload this property. It appears to be in prime condition and the market is rising.

    Were I in your condition, and considering the location and the impending demagogues, I would firstly investigate the option of selling.


    P.S. Your current residence makes a much better homestead!☺

  42. Earl, your first sentence “There appears to be an option no one considers.” mirrors my first, but unspoken, thought on the day this post appeared. As I get older, I’m attempting to simplify my life by removing those time-consuming big ticket items, as in residential property where I no longer reside. I was not cut out for being a landlord, but rather I am more attuned to following the real estate market and the home mortgage loan rates.

  43. In your ad, I would stress “easy access to I-70, downtown and IUPUI. That way you may get responsible folks who can’t afford the high rents of living downtown but who may work there. I live on the north side of the park, Brookside Parkway N Dr. It’s a lovely view and peaceful area. Good luck!!

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