If you are the owner of a rental property, it is likely that you have considered the liability associated with that. If you have real legal concerns, it is best to speak with a lawyer. There are, however, simple tactics that you can use to help protect you and your assets.
Purchasing rental properties is widely considered one of the best investment choices a person can make. Usually, you can buy them below market value which opens up the potential to make real money. There are real risks associated with being a rental property owner, such as being sued for money or because of injuries occurring at your property. Whether a freak accident occurs or someone gets hurt from landlord neglect, the risk of injury is a real problem facing owners.
As an owner, you need to consider if the returns you make on the property are worth the risks. Even if it is worth it, there are still precautions you can take to protect yourself. If your returns are decent, then you can afford to take additional precautions. If you are more limited in your options, it is best to consult with professionals to get the best advice on what coverage and precautions you should take.
Use a property manager
Managing your properties or someone else’s increases your liability. There have been cases where an evicted tenant hurt themselves while moving out and turned around to sue the property manager. The tenant claimed that the landlord had broken his TV and left the glass in a window well. When he fell in the window well while moving, he claimed the injury was the fault of the landlord. Tenants can make a lawsuit out of almost anything, so it is best to be prepared.
Even after lengthy court cases and a verdict in favor of you, there is still a valuable lesson to learn. It is critical for landlords to have insurance; with liability insurance to cover issues like this the legal fees would have been covered. Talk to your insurance agent about getting liability coverage. To be a property manager in most states you need to be a licensed real estate agent first, and they require E and O insurance, so this is a good place to start.
As a property manager, you need to be aware of local and state ordinances. Take the time to research which forms and documents. A good example is that some states require you to sign lead based paint forms and to put up a flyer on all properties. You need to be careful because states can fine a great deal of money to get you to pay attention to the laws. You have to consider if you really want to risk losing money on something you had the time to research and take care of.
Create corporations or LLC’s
Creating one or several organizations is a great tactic to protect your properties. Each property will need a checking account for all money associated with that location. Setting up a corporation is a simple process, taking no more than thirty minutes and there are several of online companies that will help you get started with the process. You have the option to have a lawyer set this up for you too, but they can cost around $750. This really is too high, considering you can do it yourself. Setting up an LLC can be fun, you can be as creative as you want when it comes to naming them.
You need to check with the bank that finances the property before transferring it to an LLC. The reason being that some bans have due on sale clauses, which means they can call your full loan if you sell the property. Even though the same individual owns the property and the LLC, it can still trigger the clause to be activated. Once a property is transferred to an LLC, it also becomes harder to refinance.
Think of all the things that can cause damage to the property; frozen pipes, backed up sewers, trees falling and even natural disasters or severe weather. Working with agents to get the proper coverage for your properties is a necessity. Discuss all the possible coverage and find out what is not covered; some companies do not include floods and sewer problems. Each property will require different coverage so for each location evaluate the risks against the insurance costs to determine what will work financially and protect you.
Free and clear is not always best
Having a property free and clear with no loans open puts you at greater risk for lawsuits. People will be more inclined to sue when they are assured of a payoff, and if you owe nothing, you will have to pay more for any suits. Opening a line of credit against the property shows up in public records which can help you. Even if you do not owe anything, the full amount of the loan is what is visible, and it could protect you.
Hiring rental property services to take care of your properties and having proper and adequate insurance coverage is the best protection you can give yourself. Always use a reliable and knowledgeable insurance agent who has experience with rental policies. They can inform you of all the potential policies and explain them to you, allowing you to pick what is best for each of your properties.
It is also a good idea to hire an accountant to make sure all taxes are filed and handled correctly and a lawyer to take care of any possible legal protection you may need. It may be expensive to work with these professionals, but if you are new to the rental property owner game, it is a wise choice to get them involved. Understanding the risks and getting prepared early, will make and future problems much easier to deal with. You could stand to lose a lot with one lawsuit, so look into thoroughly protecting yourself, you will thank yourself later.