In this week’s episode, Podcast Host, Property Manager & Business Owner, Andrew Schultz, chats about how to check your tenant’s military status.
Yikes! Your tenant failed to tell you that the HVAC unit has been leaking. Find out how ot handle this particular situation.
Last, but not least, we’ll chat about a recently released website for landlords to become more aware of the risks associated with squatters. Listen in to the latest podcast.
Andrew Schultz: (00:00)
Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Rent Prep for Landlord’s podcast. This is episode number 406 and I’m your host, Andrew Schultz. On today’s episode, we’re gonna be talking about a landlord launching a website to help battle against squatters, what to do when tenants ignore water leaks, and how to confirm a tenant’s military status. We’ll get to all that right after this.
Voice Over: (00:25)
Welcome to the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. Now, your host, Andrew Schultz.
Andrew Schultz: (00:30)
If you join the free Rent Prep for Landlord’s Facebook group, our group members get access to our Sherwin-Williams and PPG paint Discount programs. Can ask questions in our monthly AMA sessions and if you have a question or a situation that you’ve never encountered before or just need to bounce an idea off a group of over 13,000 housing providers, this is the place. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do that today over at facebook.com/groups/rentprep. Don’t forget to mention the podcast when answering the questions so we know how you found us. We’re starting things off with an in-the-news article this week. This one comes to us via Casey Dillon Fox News title of the article is Florida Squatter Victim Launching a website to assist other landlords with illegal occupants.
Andrew Schultz: (01:14)
A Florida landlord is launching a website to assist other property owners with squatters after she spent thousands of dollars to remove illegal residents from her own property. My goal is to drive state and federal laws to treat squatters as criminals and to expedite the review of fraudulent leases. Patty Peoples 61 told Fox News earlier this year. Peoples and her business partner Don ejected two female squatters from their home after they moved in illegally for over a month and left thousands of dollars worth of damages. Obviously, you guys can’t see the pictures that I’m looking at here, but there’s busted-up walls, open drywall, destroyed flooring, busted tile. They did a number on this property. The website, pushout squatters.org will launch later this week and will intentionally go by the abbreviation p o s. So many people who responded to news articles use that abbreviation, so I went with a double entendre, said Peoples who is a retired entrepreneur with experience in marketing, the website will be both informational and community oriented.
Andrew Schultz: (02:07)
She said the purpose of the website will be to present the risks associated with squatting the rise in frequency and to offer resources for those attempting to get squatters out, including everything from security resources to legal resources on how to review state statutes. People said she added that other squatter victims will be able to share their stories on the website so others can learn from those experiences. People’s plans to also sell hats and t-shirts with the website’s logo featuring a stick figure, kicking another stick figure out of a house. We’ll use the funds to lobby state legislators for better laws. People said, although people successfully removed the two squatters from her Jacksonville, Florida investment property, they illegally occupied up for 34 days and left behind $38,000 in damages. During the ordeal, Patty lost an interest by her in the home, was physically pushed out of the home by the squatters, and decided that she had had enough of working in real estate.
Andrew Schultz: (02:57)
This is my retirement, so any sort of income that I was trusting to live off of for this year is diminished because of this act of stealing. Peoples told Fox News, that’s essentially what they’ve done. They’ve stolen my home from me. The squatters who have a history of illegal occupancy produced a fraudulent lease when police were called, allowing them to remain in the home until peoples took them to court. Peoples was forced to pay $5,000 in legal fees to eject the squatters. She said that since her story became public, she’s seen a positive impact, including former President Trump mentioning squatters in Florida in a jab at Governor Ron DeSantis, I’ve had hundreds of people send me messages on social media. She said, adding that the stories about her situation have been seen by millions of people. The publicity has also encouraged our local sheriff’s office to pay more attention to this and pursue criminal charges if they can find the squad. She said.
Andrew Schultz: (03:51)
So that’s the end of the article there, and this is a pretty interesting article for a few reasons, but honestly, I think that your opinion of this article will really depend on what side of this issue you fall on. We can all pretty much universally understand that the price of everything has gone up. Rent, groceries, utilities, property values, interest rates, repair costs, taxes, you name it, it’s gone up. This is having an impact on everyone, be it investors of all sizes as well as the tenants who rent our units. That said, I think we can also pretty much universally agree that squatting is bad, not just for the person who owns the property, but also for anyone else living in the property and sometimes in neighboring properties as well depending on how bad the situation is. We’ve had squatters in our buildings before. I can remember that we were working on stabilizing a five-unit building in the city of Buffalo, and when we took over the management of the building, there were three vacant units.
Andrew Schultz: (04:44)
It was pretty obvious to us that when we started managing the property that someone had been in and out of the units, but we didn’t have any active squatters at that time, and because of the area the property was in, we knew that we were going to be fighting an uphill battle to keep people out of the building that didn’t belong there. In addition, the tenants that were in the building were non-payers, so that also needed to be a situation that was resolved. We had to go through an eviction process with those tenants as part of the stabilization effort, we really kind of had our hands full. We ended up having to go into the property and board up all of the entrance doors to the vacant apartments as well as board up windows to prevent people from breaking windows and getting in that way.
Andrew Schultz: (05:21)
Normally that would be enough. You show that you mean business by going out there and protecting the property, and more often than not, squatters are going to look for the easiest place to get into. So if your property’s not an easy target, more than likely they’re gonna move on to the next property. Unfortunately, in this instance, it wasn’t enough. Squatters literally came back to the building and pulled our boards down so that they could get back into the units that they had been squatting in. And here in New York, squatters are seen as a civil issue, not a criminal issue. So you have to go through the full eviction process when you have people that are illegally in possession of your unit. Obviously, we didn’t even know the names of these squatters, so we’re literally evicting John and Jane Doe plus all other occupants. It kind of felt ridiculous taking someone to court whose name we didn’t even know over something that’s being considered a civil matter when in reality, at least in my opinion, obviously I’m not an attorney, but this feels like a criminal matter to me.
Andrew Schultz: (06:13)
It feels like theft to services just the same as if someone illegally hooked up their electric or their cable. Anyway, we ended up going to court to evict the squatters whose names we didn’t know, and obviously, they didn’t show up to court because why would they? So the judge granted our eviction right away, and with that eviction warrant, we were able to get the AL service to do a set-out. I don’t remember exactly how much time passed during all of this, and we were continually going back and securing the building anytime we could, but ultimately we ended up finding out what was really happening. It turns out that as soon as we were done securing the building and leaving, one of the tenants that was in eviction was going and removing the boards from the doors and then quote-unquote leasing the apartments to whoever had a few bucks in their hands that he could get, and that’s what we were dealing with.
Andrew Schultz: (06:59)
That’s why we were dealing with all of these squatter issues and the resulting cleanup and everything else. So we definitely had our hands full with that building. So squatters are definitely a very, very real issue and I have a feeling that it’s only gonna get worse over the course of time. I think the easiest way to try to correct this is to make squatting into a criminal offense such that when police respond, they can actually act on it. I don’t know if that will ever happen, realistically, probably not, but I think that really that’s what it would take to help curtail, squatting that and development of a lot of affordable housing or subsidized housing. But that’s another topic altogether,
Voice Over: (07:40)
Forum quorum where we scour the internet for ridiculous posts from landlords and tenants.
Andrew Schultz: (07:48)
Moving right along, we’re gonna take a look at our forum quorum segment. This one comes to us via Reddit, and the question is, I’m a homeowner and my property manager went to check on the air filters in a rental property and discovered water in the basement. The H V A C condensation tray had overflowed due to the tenant turning off the alarm. The tenant had been down there and saw the water, uh, but did nothing. What is the course of action to be taken here? I have to advise the property manager on next steps, and again, this one comes to us via Reddit, so I have essentially two concerns here. First, were there any damages? And second, why do you need to advise your property manager on what to do? Let’s start with the damages. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the post talking about whether or not there were any damages in the basement as a result of this water leak, and for those who are unfamiliar or may not have basements in their area here in Buffalo, probably 99% of the houses have a basement.
Andrew Schultz: (08:42)
It may not run the full length of the house depending on when the home was built, but pretty much every home here has some sort of a basement. More often than not, the basements are unfinished and that’s where you’re going to find your plumbing, your electrical, and your heating. Typically, if you have water heat leaking onto a concrete floor in an unfinished basement, the chances of there being any real damage from this are pretty negligible. You may have to clean up the water and run a dehumidifier for a bit, but unless you have some sort of a mold issue that’s developed, this doesn’t seem like much of a deal. On the other hand, if your HVAC unit is in a finished space, could be a basement or a closet on the main level, you could have some damages here. And actually, as I’m thinking this through, we actually have a couple properties where the furnace for the upper apartment is in the attic above the unit, um, with the heat ducts running into the ceiling.
Andrew Schultz: (09:29)
So if you were to have an HVAC system and an attic that leaked, that could certainly create some damages for the units below it. If something like this is caught early, the chances of there being major damages are pretty low. You might wind up with some drywall replacement, maybe some footers or partial studs inside the wall, some flooring, things of that nature. But we all know that it doesn’t take very long for repairs to get very, very expensive very, very quickly, especially if it’s a situation where the leak goes on for an extended period of time or if it’s hidden in an area where you can’t see it. Regardless of whether or not this particular HVAC unit is in a finished or unfinished space, the tenant may be on the hook for these repairs. The question mentions having some sort of an alarm that was turned off.
Andrew Schultz: (10:09)
I’m making a pretty bold assumption here that this was a standing water alarm or a water flow sensor or something along those lines that would make an audible alarm or send a notification to an app. In the event that water was detected either at all or over a certain amount of water or whatever the sensor is designed to pick up, I’m hoping that you have some sort of photographic evidence of the alarm being in place and also that the alarm is on and functional because that’s gonna make it a lot easier for you to prove your point. If you ever have to take the tenant to court for this, if you can show that there was an alarm that was either damaged, shut off or removed by the tenant, they’re going to be on the hook for those repairs, and at that point, you’d be able to prove that they’re the ones who are going to be responsible because the issue could have been mitigated had the landlord been notified sooner.
Andrew Schultz: (10:54)
If you don’t have solid proof, the things might get a little bit more tricky. In residential settings, repairs are typically the responsibility of the landlord unless it’s a tenant cause damage. In this circumstance, we’re dealing with a condensation tray that overflowed, what was it that actually caused the tray to overflow? Was there something actually wrong with the furnace that caused it to produce more condensation than usual, which caused the flood? Is there something wrong with the condensation tray such that the water can’t flow out of it to a drain? In my head, I’m picturing a tray similar to what you would put under a hot water tank in the event that it lets loose. Typically, those trays have a line hooked up to them that runs to a floor drain or a sump pump or something similar so that the water actually has someplace to go where it won’t cause damage.
Andrew Schultz: (11:37)
But obviously, if the hole in the tray is blocked up or there’s something obstructing that line, the water’s going to back up and eventually overflow the tray and onto the floor. On my second point with regards to the property manager, I would hope that your manager knows enough about what they’re doing to be able to know how to handle the situation. Property management companies should be able to operate independently without needing to come back to you for guidance on how to handle a situation. I can certainly see them contacting you in this instance, let you know what’s going on, especially if you’re in a situation where there might be an insurance claim or something like that. But realistically speaking, it sounds like the property management company needs to step up a little bit when it comes to their operating procedures and how they handle situations like this.
Andrew Schultz: (12:18)
You as the property owner should be able to turn your asset over to the property manager and have them manage it completely correctly. If they can’t do that, it might be time to start shopping for a new property manager. Frankly, as someone that owns a property management business, bad managers just make the rest of us look bad. This business is already plagued by enough bad actors and people who don’t truly know and understand landlord-tenant law and how to operate rental properties. So be sure that you’re vetting your property management company before you sign a property management agreement. If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, I have a free guide over on my website at whatsdrewupto.com, and that’ll give you the 10 questions that you must ask before hiring a property manager. It’s free, I don’t charge for it. Go check it out, and you might save yourself some serious headaches in the long run.
Voice Over: (13:03)
Water cooler wisdom expert advice from Real Estate Pros.
Andrew Schultz: (13:12)
And onto our final segment of this week’s podcast. This is our water cooler wisdom segment. This one comes to us via the Rent Prep for Landlord’s Facebook group, and the question is, what site or service do you use to confirm or validate military service have to evict and the judge requires a validated documentation? Even if you can’t find out, the court clerk was showing me a potential website, but it cost $40 per person to use to generate the document in my lease. I have a clause where I ask if they’re active military status or not and they checked no and signed a document with the last four of their social, but this is not acceptable. What do you use? I’m in Oklahoma and I’m finding that most civil cases, the courts are requiring this, and again, this comes from the Rent Prep for Landlord’s Facebook group.
Andrew Schultz: (13:57)
There are a couple different ways that I know of to verify someone’s status in the military. The first is to use the website that was mentioned in the post, which is military verification.com. From that website, you’re able to verify whether or not someone is active duty or has been active duty in the past 367 days, little over a year. There’s a second website that will be mentioning later on as well. The other meant that I know is to contact the base directly and attempt to get the information from a live human being. Before we jump too deep into all that, I wanna take a minute to talk about the SCRA or the service member’s Civil Relief Act. This is a piece of legislation that protects military personnel from a variety of different situations such as court actions, evictions, high-interest rates, and a few other things.
Andrew Schultz: (14:44)
It’s a pretty interesting piece of legislation and it’s worth reading into it a little bit more, especially if you own rental property near a military base where you may wind up with military tenants. There’s quite a bit of information about the SCRA on military verification.com, so that’s probably where I would recommend starting your research. But now to talk more about how SCRA relates to real estate, specifically rentals, the S C R A allows for an active duty service member to break their lease. In the event that they receive a permanent change of orders or they receive orders that are going to require them to be deployed for 90 days or more. They get to break these leases without penalty. So if you’re in a situation where you have a military tenant that winds up having to move due to their service or winds up deployed for an extended period of time, you are legally required to allow them to break their lease.
Andrew Schultz: (15:32)
In addition, S C R A does require landlords to get a court order to a victim military member or their dependents. The court is actually required to consider whether or not the service member’s military service has affected their ability to pay, and if the court determines that that is the case, they do have the option of staying the eviction for a period of time. One more thing to note is that if a court enters a default judgment against a service member, that service member has up to 60 days after the default judgment is entered against them to request the court to reopen the case and set the default judgment aside. So the S C R A does do some pretty substantial things to help service members. Now, going back to military verification.com, this is the website that’s used to verify whether or not someone is on active duty, has been within the last year, or has future deployment orders with the military.
Andrew Schultz: (16:21)
When it comes to things such as court cases, evictions, foreclosures, and things of that nature, in order to complete the search, you’re required to provide the service member’s name, date of birth, and social security number, and once you provide that information, they go through and search their records to see if there’s an active duty service member by that name. With that social and date of birth, and based on what I’m seeing on the website, it looks like you may also be able to get a verification with just a name and date of birth, but they won’t be able to certify anything as they need all three pieces of information to complete that identification. So if you need certification for court, this may not work for you. There is a charge for this service. As of this recording, it’s $40 for a verification and $80 if you need that verification certified for court purposes and from that website, I also found a link to service member Civil Relief act.com, service member civil relief act.com, which allows you to get a military verification without a social security number.
Andrew Schultz: (17:18)
So if you’re in a situation where you have a date of birth but no social, this may be the route for you to go. This website appears to be able to supply verification as well and also appears to charge $40. Most importantly, before you go putting data into either of these websites or paying for anything, you should double-check with the court where you’re filing your case to see exactly what information is required of you. You may not even need to go through all these steps as the onus may fall back on the service member at the time of the court hearing to prove that they’re on active duty. The final method that I wanted to bring up would be contacting the branch or base where the service member is located. You may or may not have luck with this, as it seems that most branches and basements are instructing people to go to the one of the websites that we had talked about, but depending on who you get ahold of, you may get lucky and find somebody who’s willing to do a verification for you.
Andrew Schultz: (18:06)
Now, as far as being able to get an affidavit, I’m not sure how that would work in this particular situation, but if you don’t necessarily need an affidavit and you have some time to spend on the phone, that might be an option for you. Hopefully, this helps you to verify your tenant’s military status and good luck on your eviction. Are you looking to fill your vacant rentals? Consider staging your property. Adding a few decor pieces to your place can help tenants visualize themselves living there. Check out our recent blog post on rentprep.com/blog for tips on how to best stage your rental. That pretty much does it for this episode of the Rent Prep for Landlords podcast. Thank you all so much for listening. We truly do appreciate it. Our goal with the podcast is to help as many people as possible make educated decisions when it comes to real estate, and you can help us reach that goal.
Andrew Schultz: (18:53)
If you heard anything in this week’s episode or any other episode that will help someone that you know, please do us a favor and share it with them. If you’re looking to get in contact with me, I can be reached over at whatsdrewupto.com. From there, you’ll find links to everything going on with me over at Own Buffalo, as well as other projects that we’re working on. Grab a free copy of our deal analysis tool today over at whatsdrewupto.com. There’s no obligation and it comes with a companion video showing you how to use it. If you’re looking for top-tier tenant screening services, head on over to rentprep.com. There are multiple products to choose from, including a tenant-paid option, and if you’re over 50 doors, ask about the enterprise-level programs and pricing. We’ve been enterprise users at Rent Prep for over a decade now, and it’s absolutely changed the way that we screen our tenants. Check that out today over at rentprep.com. Again, thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back in two weeks with an all-new episode that you won’t wanna miss. Until then, I’m Andrew Schultz with ownbuffalo.com for rentprep.com, and we’ll talk to you soon.
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