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United States of America (USA) - Renting Property
In 2015, less than 63% of the US population owned their own homes, so there is a significant stock of rental homes available for tenants. High density homes in areas where well paid work is available, such as central New York, will cost about $2,000 per month for a one bedroom unfurnished flat. In Florida this same budget will provide a 3 or 4 bedroom detached family home with access to the community fitness room and swimming pool.
You may be able to find a property without the use of a rental agent. Local newspapers and magazines will advertise, and some homes may display an ‘Available For Rent’ sign.
Rents are negotiated freely without rent control ordinances, except in the States of California, Washington, New Jersey and New York which have a range of different criteria applied. 24 states do not impose limits on security deposits, while the other states impose limits individual to each state. There are different rules for what happens to the deposit, whether you any receive interest, and when you get it returned.
When renting a property without a rental agent, be aware of warning signs to protect yourself against fraud. These include:
• The advertised price of the rental property is much lower than local similar properties.
• The adverts has grammatical and spelling errors
• The person trying to rent you the property claims to be an agent for the property owner who is too busy, out of the country, or otherwise unavailable to handle the rental
• The owner or agent requires you to sign the lease before you see the rental property
• The owner or agent is unable to let you enter the property
• The owner or agent charges a fee for you to view the property
• You are asked to pay a deposit or the first and last month’s rent in cash
• You are asked to wire money as a deposit or payment of first and last month's rent. Wiring money is the same as giving cash; you can't get a refund, even if you discover you are the victim of a fraud
• The owner or agent uses high pressure sales tactics, urging you to rent quickly, before someone else gets the property
• The person preparing the lease writes in a higher monthly rent, or includes fees that you hadn't agreed upon.
One of the easiest and secure routes to renting property is to use a real estate agent. Real estate salespeople are licensed by individual States to represent either buyers or sellers in property transactions in that State.
• Regular Agents: No additional training or memberships required.
• Brokers: Can be an individual or company. Required to have more education and training than regular agents.
• Realtors: A licensed real estate agent who has joined the National Association of Realtors. Requires the highest level of education and training in the sector.
Licensing is complicated, with each state having its own terms and conditions from age to training and tests required. Many states require background checks, fingerprints and a high school diploma. Though some states offer free online checks to show whether your realtor is licensed, the departments in each state responsible for the licensing will be called something different to the others. The easiest way to check that you are using a licensed professional is to use a Realtor who is licensed with the National Association of Realtors.
You may receive a personal recommendation from a colleague or acquaintance who has used an agent’s services. There are forums and Facebook pages where recommendations can be sought, but given the geographic size of the US it is worth tracking down those that cover the local area you want to rent in, and double checking that they are independent contributors. A search on Google to read reviews about any suggested agent is a good idea.
Some agents charge commission to the landlord in respect of the tenants they secure, which they then share with the tenant’s agents. Some agents, particularly where it is typical for the area, charge the tenants for their services, which can be anywhere from half a month to two month’s rent. Remember that these charges will be in addition to all the other up-front costs.
Whilst some agents will be happy to help prospective tenants across a wide geographic area, it is best to choose one who works in the local area you are moving to. They will have the best local knowledge about the location and pricing of the properties you will view.
Viewing a Property
When you view a property, look along the street before you go in. What sort of cars do you see parked along the street? Can you see any empty or unkempt properties? Lots of rental signs along the street would confirm a high volume of rental properties with high turnover of tenants. If the property is near a main road, it would be useful to check traffic levels in the area at rush hour; if near bars and restaurants, an evening visit to assess noise levels may be appropriate.
If you have children, the location and reputation of local schools will be important. Many children travel at set times to and from school, without an accompanying adult, on the school bus.
You will also want to google an area to see what people say about it. There have been very recent scandals involving the dangerously high levels of lead in the water supplied to the population in Flint through lack of investment in the water infrastructure - which is widely based on the use of lead pipes throughout many areas of the US - and the revelations that water companies across the country were using insecure methods of water testing to manipulate the levels of lead found in their areas. Far from identifying and correcting the situation as a matter of urgency and necessity, the public health authorities actively tried to suppress news interest in the matter including the dismissal of reports from respected third-party findings alarmed by the results of water tests they undertook. A similar situation has been developing for months in East Chicago, Indiana. It becomes hard to disentangle conspiracy theories when the regulatory bodies behave in this manner, so research and investigation are necessary.
An unfurnished property will typically have a toilet and sink in the bathroom, with a bath or shower. The kitchen will typically be fitted with hob, oven, fridge-freezer and sink, and may also contain a microwave, washing machine and tumble dryer or may have access to communal laundry rooms.
A furnished property will usually be more expensive to rent, but each room will be furnished to the extent that the tenant can move straight in and unpack their suitcase.
Some landlords pay for a warranty on their property, which means any physical problems that occur (such as a blocked toilet or leaking window) will be fixed promptly following a telephone call to a maintenance company. Some landlords will not hurry to carry out repairs or callouts quickly.
Be aware of any terms and conditions in the lease, such as smoking, pets and motorcycles. The landlord and/or agent will usually want to do periodic checks on the house to ensure you are keeping the house and garden at a reasonable level of cleanliness and care.
Terms and conditions of the neighbourhood or community association may also be relevant to the property you are renting, for which fines or even eviction could be imposed if you break them. These could cover a range of activities, including maintenance of the garden and location of the trash cans. Be clear whether the fees due to the association is included in the advertised rent.
The appliances provided in a typical rental home will vary in different states.
Agreeing to Rent A Property
A rental agreement allows rental for a short period, typically thirty days, which is renewed automatically at the end of the agreed period. This terminates when the tenant or landlord gives written notice one rental period in advance. The landlord is allowed to revise the terms of the rental agreement, such as increasing the price, as long as they do so in writing one rental period in advance.
A written lease provides a tenancy for a fixed period, which is typically six months or one year. The terms and conditions, including rent, are fixed, unless the tenant agrees in writing to proposed changes. Landlords do not have to renew a lease when it reaches the expiry date, and do not have to provide a reason if they choose not to do so.
With an agent, the process of signing the agreement or lease, and the deposit to pay, will be clearly explained to you. However, you must first be accepted by the landlord.
Landlords aim to accept tenants who are going to pay the rent and leave the property in good condition. They may find themselves subject to legal action by rejected potential tenants who believe they were discriminated against. Therefore landlords usually ask prospective tenants to submit written applications complete with histories and references, and will put in writing why one potential tenant has been chosen over another on the basis of their perceived income security.
The rental agreement or lease you sign sets out the terms and conditions of your tenancy. Read each clause carefully, and do not sign if you are unhappy with any of the contents. If you think anything has been left out or is unclear - such as who pays for the community association fees - ask for the written document to be amended.
The security deposit is typically equivalent to one month’s rent, and the minimum payment of rent will often be a month in advance.
Make sure you get a written quote from the removals firm in advance of the moving day; there are reported claims of disreputable removal firms demanding higher payments once the furniture is in their van. If you are moving from one state to another, a US Department of Transportation number is issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, so you can check with them whether the removals firm is licensed. For moves within a state, requirements vary between state, county or local consumer affairs agencies.
When you move in, check the property for any defects or damage, and take photos of each room. Check that any items listed on the inventory are present, work and are undamaged. Sign and date the inventory and ask the agent or landlord to sign it too.
When you move out, take photos of each room and check that all items listed on the inventory is present. If you have damaged or lost any items, either replace it or talk to the agent/landlord about it. The damage will probably be repaired by the landlord and deducted from your security deposit.
In the event you are unable to pay your rent, the landlord may initiate eviction procedures through the local courts. Successful eviction does not allow the landlord to keep your personal belongings or furniture.
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