Apartment Renter Tip: Mom & Pop Landlord vs. Professional Property Management: Vol. 1 Tenant Screening

So you are looking for a new apartment to call your home. But you cannot decide which style of apartment living is going to be the right choice for you. With all of the factors flying around in your head like, commute time to work, great school systems, nice neighborhoods, amount of rent you will pay, and how long it will take you to go pick up a gallon of milk; now you need to decide what type of building and landlord do I want to have that will best suit my rental needs?

I do not intend to finish up this blog with a recommendation of which one is better over the other. I do not want you as a renter to read this as an absolute article to point back to and say, because of this article, we are now only going to do it this way moving forward.

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Renter Free Report Download: Top 10 Tips To Get Your Dream Apartment

For a boutique property management company like ours at Belaire Property Management, “Lone Ranger” Landlords are one of our niche clients we market to. In no way want to through anyone under the bus today.

What I will accomplish is giving you a better understanding about the pros and cons, pitfalls and privileges of both. Then, based upon your specific rental needs, you can make an educated decision which is the best situation for you. So lets get started.

The Players: The 2 Types of Landlords

For the sake of our discussion, I want to wrap a few labels around the types of landlords we are going to compare so we can quickly reference them back and forth throughout the article.  There are two basic types I want to identify and they are the Mom & Pop Landlords, and the Professional Property Management Companies.

Mom & Pop Landlords
First I will identify the Mom & Pop Landlords. I classify Mom & Pop Landlords as those Landlords who  own a few buildings being maybe a duplex they live in, or maybe they have branched out to buy two or three smaller apartment buildings. They probably do a majority of maintenance and repairs themselves and are pretty hands on with the day to day operations of the building. They probably work full-time jobs and consider themselves weekend warrior real estate investors, or they may be retired couples or individuals living in the rental property too. This property represents their retirement nest egg and in many cases is their main source of income next to SSI or any other retirement accounts they may have.

There is nothing wrong with living in this type of rental. You may just find a different level of communication and service when dealing with issues like repairs, maintenance, or rent collection. Not better or worse, just different from that of a professionally owned and operated management company.

Property Manager Landlords
On the other end of the scale are your professional property management companies. A Property Manager typically works with different landlords, even the Mom & Pops, to manage the day to day operations of the rental community where you reside. They may specialize in landlords with smaller portfolios, or smaller rental buildings; 2 to 4 unit properties. They may also have in there rental portfolio mid to larger size apartment complexes with 40 to 400 units. A Property Management Company is a full-time operator of the apartment where you live and they are accessible day or night for emergencies, repairs, and administrative details.

This type of rental living environment in a larger complex is going to be different from that of living in a duplex with a owner-occupied landlord. Again, not better or worse, just different. It is up to you to draw back the curtain to look behind the scenes to understand what these differences are, then you can decide.

Tenant Screening

Mom & Pop Landlords
Lets take a look at the differences in tenant screening policies and compare how these may be handled by each party. I have met scores of Mom & Pop Landlords who have carved out a niche for the types of renters they will accept into their property. Many of these small but savvy landlords know exactly what they are looking for and what type of renter they want sharing the living space with. Many of there landlords have had the same residents living in the building for upwards over a decade. They may have a certain type of renter they want there. Without crossing any discrimination boundaries, or getting into how they ended up with the particular mix of residents, you may find a majority of their residents “just happen” to be empty-nesters without children living in the apartment. All of the residents are either retired or close to it with no interest in having parties, large family gatherings, or other types of specific demands from the living space.

These landlords attract the same type of residents they are comfortable with. They probably even share the same hobbies and interest, and maybe even the same bedtime. These residents are looking for a quite, clean place to live, without drama, and pretty much keep to themselves.

When a Mom & Pop Landlord screen this type of renter, they are looking at a more “activity” based renter. What types of activities are going to be going on from the ceiling above me? Are they social butterflies with friends over every night? Do they frequently like to entertain guests? Do they require a larger yard for outdoor living space or pets? All of these factors and more may be the tenant screening criteria you may be looking at trying to rent an apartment from a smaller Mom & Pop Landlord.

All of this may be totally fine with you too. If you fit into the type of renter they are looking for, then this would be an ideal rental situation for you. They would be the perfect landlord for you and you would be their ideal resident. You may be looking at a very short rental application, just a few pages, but you may find the interview to be more of a discussion to get to know you better as what type of person you are. Again, sometimes this approach may be on the boundaries of fair housing and discrimination laws, so be careful. If Mrs. Jones Landlord is looking for a renter who goes to the same house of worship as her so they can carpool to bingo on Wednesday night, this may not be the match for you. Great for Mrs. Smith who shares common interests and activities, but not so much for you.

Conversely, if Mr. Landlord likes working on muscle cars and motorcycles in the garage all weekend long, and you like to sit at home and read when you are not working, then this may not be a match either. All I am saying here is that if you have an owner-occupied landlord, personality traits, common activities, and life styles may come more into play when that landlord chooses the right resident.

The not so attractive side of a less than professional approach to tenant screening is that a less savvy landlords performing a background check may not have those checks and balances in play when screening for a new renter.

Lets face it. There are professional renters out there who would rather target an unsuspecting Mom & Pop Landlord to slip into the building between the cracks and wreak havoc with the landlord and the other residents. So if you are currently living in the building as a tenant, and the landlord lets in an undesirable or professional tenant, then this could be the beginning of a long and painful journey in the place you call your home. Professional renters seek out Mom & Pops Landlords where the rules and regulations may not even be written down, or even part of the rental agreement. Once they move in, they take over the building with the same bad habits they have have in their pervious domains until after a long, grueling, and expensive process, they finally got evicted.

All of this being said, there are those Mom & Pop operations that have their system down to a process and know exactly what they are looking for and how to qualify their preferred target applicant. So if you meet that criteria, and match the profile of the renter they like to have, then this is a perfect way to find that apartment that will absolutely be a match for both you and your new landlord.

Property Manager Landlords
Property Managers on the other hand are often more well versed in fair housing rules and regulations and treat the resident selection process like a business decision. For example, our rental application is 16 pages long and we perform a thorough background check on every application that meets our rental criteria requirement. A property manager is usually in the know for housing specifications as defined by state building and sanitary codes, fair housing practices, disability requirements and guidelines, and a whole host of other considerations. A professional property manager has an operational process for every step of engagement with the resident during the rental relationship.

It all starts with a professional screening process. A property manager will have in place a series of checkpoints and requirements that must be met before they will consider an applicant for residing in a building under their management portfolio.

This is good and bad for the rental applicant. The rental application may be harder to qualify for and take longer with more hoops to jump through to verify for the rental. This could drag out the process of getting approved for that dream rental apartment because you now have a lot of leg work to do digging up, pay stubs, landlord references, job references, personal references, photo IDs, monthly billing statements and a whole host of other details about you and your financial snapshot. It also may take more time for that professional property management company perform the background check too.

Typically for a proper background check, a rental application will have a “consent to perform a background check” form that must be filled out by the applicant allowing the management company to dig deeper into the historical background of the applicant. This form must then be faxed to all of the references listed on the application and the manager will build a personal record of the applicant’s rental history, employment history, and other incidentals to create a composite of the type of person they are considering renting to.

This does take a lot more time to dig through the history of the applicant to perform a background check. In many ways we call this the Easter Egg Hunt once an application is received. The process begins sifting through a mountain of data to do the best we can ensure that person is a viable candidate to live in our rental community.

So lets think this through from a different perspective. This puts a lot of the heavy lifting on the applicant side of the equation to even get the apartment. There are documents, pay stubs, credit reports, et al that are entered into the screening process for you to even start the process to qualify. Sure, you need to jump through a bunch of hoops to even be considered for the apartment. It takes time and a lot of energy to pull this all together. In fact, some management companies even require you to pull your own credit report to even meet their requirements. Lets face it. This is a lot of work to even get the apartment, and after all you are renting it – not buying it!

So what’s with all of the questions you may say? Well look at it this way. Let’s say you are a single mom with two little girls moving into an apartment building you know nothing at all about. You do not know the neighborhood, the management company, or even anything about the neighbors you will be living next to for possible months and years to come. Do you suppose you may rest a little easier at night knowing that ALL of the other residents in the rental community you now call hime had to jump through all of the hoops and provide all of the same bells and whistles you did too, to even get to live there?

When you look at it this way, it doesn’t seem so bad to go through a professional property manager’s screening for the rental knowing that your neighbors have all been fairly and evenly vetted just as you have too.

You Need to Decide

So as far as tenant screening is concerned, you need to figure out what will work best for you. Are you happy living in that upstairs apartment from your landlord knowing it is a smaller building and you may be the only resident there? Or maybe you are one of only two, or three residents living there to sort things out? You may be living in a bit of a mixed bag of residents with a little more drama, but there are fewer seats at the table when trying to resolve a situation. It may just be a discussion between you and your landlord who is the ultimate decision maker at the property. Or maybe your and your landlord carpool to similar activities you both enjoy, or are ripping apart that motor head on weekends. If this is the case, then Mom & Pop Shops in a smaller rental community may be the best fit for you.

However, if you are a resident that is looking for a solid base of neighbors that have all been vetted out as you have, than maybe you will be more comfortable with a professional property management company doing the back ground checks and screening. Granted, there may be drama at any rental apartment you choose to live in because, lets face it, sometimes folks just do not get along in the mix of rental community living. But it does provide a deeper sense of comfort knowing your neighbors have all been equally and professionally screened.

On The Horizon

We hope you have enjoyed Volume 1 in our series and will be back soon for additional information. Upcoming blog topics for our Volumes in discussing our Mom & Pop vs Professional Property Management series will cover comparing issues like:

  • Rent Collection Procedures
  • Maintenance and Repair Issues
  • Resolving Disputes and differences

Do you have any other ideas on this topic you could share to help our online community? Please chime in to share a comment or review. All feedback is welcomed!

Warmest regards,

Brian Lucier
Belaire Property Management
Regional Property Manager
(978) 448-0669 office

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