Fired up over renters insurance

Landlord weighs claim costs against rental's marketability

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 11, 2010

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Landlord weighs claim costs against rental's marketability

Robert Griswold
Inman News

Q: Can I require my tenant who's on a month-to-month rental agreement to possess renters insurance? She had a kitchen fire over a year ago and did not have insurance. My insurance company paid off my claim and tried to collect from my tenant but dropped the case when it was determined that my tenant didn't have any resources.

I am worried that my insurance premiums will go up because of the claim and my tenant's failure to have her own renters insurance policy.

A: The importance of renters insurance is often overlooked by most landlords until they have an experience like the one you described. Yes, you can have a clause in your rental agreement or lease that requires your tenant to provide a certain minimum amount of renters insurance. It is fairly easy to implement for new incoming tenants. Of course, you need to be aware that this is an expense that could lead to some prospective tenants electing to rent elsewhere because other landlords have no such requirement.

To change your policy and require renters insurance for existing tenants would require you to provide them with a 30-day written notice of a change in the terms of the tenancy if they are on a month-to-month rental agreement like your current tenant or include the clause at the time of lease renewal if you have a tenant on a lease.

Q: I live in an upscale apartment community that was recently sold, and the new landlords aren't interested in maintaining certain standards that were in place under the original owners. One of my main concerns is the lack of lighting.

For more than six months there have been no lights in the courtyard, and I think that this could become a safety issue. I have asked the leasing office three times about replacing the lights and am always told that someone will check into this. We can access our entryways by hallways, but it would be nice to cut through the courtyard again at night with lighting.

As for the garage lighting, there is lighting but it is sporadic, and the lights in the corner of the garage where I park have been burnt out for several months.

Don't the new owners have an obligation to maintain sufficient lighting in the courtyards and in the underground parking garage?

A: Lighting is a basic requirement that the landlord should address promptly. The landlord should make periodic inspections of the property and replace burnt-out light bulbs or repair inoperative light fixtures.

These inspections can be done during the day if the lighting system is on a timer or if the photocell or light sensor can be blocked or turned off manually. Otherwise, it would be prudent to conduct the lighting inspection at night.

Another advantage of nighttime inspections is that the effectiveness of the lighting can be determined by the landlord. There is often a need to balance the lighting, as some residents want a lot of lighting and other residents become upset if there is too much lighting that affects their ability to sleep.

While the landlord should certainly take the lead in property lighting inspections, the reality is that light bulbs can burn out or a lighting fixture can malfunction the next day so it is important that the tenants should also advise the landlord as soon as they become aware of lighting that is not working properly. In those circumstances, the landlord should respond within a reasonable time period to verify the condition and take the necessary action.

In your situation, I would suggest you put your concerns in writing to document the concern. If not addressed within one to two weeks, you may want to send another letter and this time have several of your neighboring tenants sign as well so that the landlord understands that this is a serious issue. You could also contact your local building code enforcement department and file a complaint.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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