Rental Question & Advice

Posted: Sep 26, 2017 12:01 AM
Rental Question & Advice

ar Ms. Lank: After letting her two-bedroom condo in New Jersey stand unused for many years, my wife has decided to rent it out. She wants to keep that furniture, so she's renting it out furnished.

We really want to be selective in the choice of a tenant. She engaged with a Realtor there, who sent us what the applicants or their agents submitted, along with their National Tenant Network reports, which we have found to be much less than desired.

Is it within our rights to ask applicants for the most recent copy of their tax returns (federal and state) so we can verify their income and relationship of the people who would live with them? They could block out their Social Security number.

Are there more issues we should be aware of to avoid problems? -- C. Y. C.

Answer: The Realtor you've hired should know what questions you're allowed to ask of prospective tenants.

Off-hand, I would have said you could ask for income tax returns -- whether you'd find prospective tenants willing to furnish them is, of course, another matter.

But then I realized you want information on the "relationship of the people living with the applicant." The federal government prohibits rental discrimination on the basis of "familial status" -- the presence of children in the family or domestic partnerships. You're not even allowed to ask about that. None of the few exceptions apply in your wife's situation.

Those National Tenant Network reports should provide her with information about prospective tenants' ability to pay the rent and whether they've done so in the past. That's pretty much all she's supposed to consider to make her decision.

It sounds like you've run into all this already. Perhaps it's time to move those belongings into storage and just rent the condo unfurnished.

Or perhaps it's time to rethink whether you folks really want to become landlords at all.

Brother Won't Sell

Dear Edith: My brother, sister and I own a lakeside family cottage.

My sister and I want to sell, but my brother wants to hold on to it. My sister desperately needs the money from the sale. We have two sets of neighbors who are keen to make offers. Do we have any options to force our brother to sell? -- S. H.

Answer: Yes, the law provides a way to force a sale. With a few exceptions, any co-owner can go to court and ask that the property be put up for sale at a public auction.

The process has been described as "foreclosing on yourself," and it may yield less than full market value. And, of course, it won't do much for family harmony. But perhaps a letter from your attorney that politely mentions the possibility would be enough to change your brother's mind.

Or maybe he's in a position to buy your shares out. He'd have his one-third ownership to use as equity if he wanted to borrow the rest on a mortgage.

Dream House Problems

Ms. Lank: I was highly amused by the woman's complaints regarding her new dream house. She was considering legal action.

The light switch doesn't work? It costs less than $1 for a simple unit. A lifetime supply of electrical tape costs under $2. Needle nose pliers go for under $10 -- and you should have those around the house anyway.

The toilet runs? Get a flapper valve and/or flush unit. I just replaced ours on Monday for under $15. And I am 75 years old.

Learn how to do things, especially with the instructional videos available online. Save money. -- T.

Answer: You're right about the sort of minor problems one should probably expect when buying previously owned property. That homebuyer did have one serious complaint, of course: She should have been told about the missing wallpaper that was hidden by the seller's living room furniture.

Old Deed Doesn't Count

Ms. Lank: My grandfather died recently. Years ago, I bought a lot that he owned in a village near his farm, and he gave me the original deed.

I never bothered to change the name on the deed. How would I go about doing it now? -- D. W.

Answer: In the game of Monopoly, handing over the Boardwalk card transfers ownership. In real life, it doesn't work that way. That old deed is proof that someone turned over the vacant lot to your grandfather -- and that's all. Think of it as something like a bill of sale.

It's time to consult a lawyer, and promptly. Too bad you didn't do that years ago when you first bought that lot. Good luck -- you may need it.

Contact Edith Lank at, at or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.