LOCATING THE PERFECT RENTAL
Searching for a rental on your own:
Websites such as Zillow, Trulia, Hot Pads, Apartments. Com, Craigslist, and many others are popular sources for property searches. These sites have many great properties on them, however unfortunately many of the postings are inaccurate, misleading, or even non-existent. If you are running into this problem, I sympathize with you.
When a private owner is listing their rental without the help of a real estate agent, these sites are their only means of reaching the public eye. For renters, it is the only way to see listings posted directly by private owners. In some areas this may be an effective way to rent a home, however in the South Florida market, most owners and even many apartment communities, have enlisted the help of real estate agents, to rent their units for them. These rentals are posted on the South Florida Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Realtors pay a hefty subscription to use this service which is far more regulated and arguably far more accurate than the consumer products mentioned.
If you do prefer this route of contacting an owner directly, PLEASE do your due diligence in ensuring the person is who they claim to be to protect yourself physically and financially.
Be wary and cautious of the following:
-meeting unknown strangers at a private residence
-sending an unknown individual money for applications, credit, and background checks
-signing a lease without ensuring you are dealing with the legal owner/property manager
-signing leases and contracts without understanding them or having them explained to you
Using the help of a Real Estate Agent
Realtors receive compensation from the property owner who hires a listing agent to advertise and market their unit. This CAN mean that there is no charge for you to use the help of a Real Estate Agent to find your perfect home. However some brokerages charge tenants a Transaction Fee, so it is good practice to inquire about this before choosing a realtor to work with. In addition to hidden fees, you should inquire about rental application/credit report fees and if the agent is willing to show you all available properties and not just the listings they are advertising.
In my opinion it is best practice to find one Realtor to work with who do all of the following:
-educate you on the rental process if you are not familiar with renting in South Florida
-assist with conducting property search to ensure you can find the best homes that meet your criteria
-contacting the property owners to ensure availability, prices and rental terms to ensure you don’t waste time viewing units that do not fit your needs
-creating an organized and efficient schedule so that you can view your favorite properties at one time.
Search Criteria worth pointing out when considering condominiums
-It is beneficial to know the # of parking spaces you will require (many units only provide 1 space)
-If you drive any type of motorcycle or a Truck (pick up style no matter how high end and even if it is not a work truck, some buildings expressly prohibit open bed trucks for some reason), this does not include SUVs.
-If you have any pets (some buildings allow owners to have pets and expressly prohibit renters from having them)
RENTAL APPLICATIONS/ CREDIT SCORES / BACKGROUND CHECKS
Completing a rental application is necessary to provide the property owner with information about you to help show them how great a tenant you will be. In addition to your rental history, references and personal contact information, owners want to know the creditworthiness of their tenants before allowing them to take possession of something as valuable as their house or condo. For this reason you will be required to complete a Credit Report, and Background Check. Experienced landlords and listing agents will not typically accept credit reports that renters download from sites such as credit karma (unfortunately there is a high prevalence of fraud in our area). Some listing agents and owners will also not allow access to their units unless tenants have been "pre-qualified" by meeting a pre-determined credit score requirement. Several condo associations also state they have a minimum credit requirement for all building occupants. For these reasons it is best to know your score before scheduling to view rental units as to potentially not waste your time viewing a unit if they will not allow you to live there. Typically all adults over the age of 18 will be required to be on the lease and will be required to complete a rental application.
When completing a rental application for a real estate agent things to consider are:
-if the application can be completed online and thus be legible for the owners who need to read it
-the cost of the application and who is collecting the fee (avoid paying an individual agent directly for this if possible)
-if the application can be used for any property you are interested in making an offer for so you are not charged additional fees to apply elsewhere
-if you will be provided a PDF copy of the application so that you may provide it to another realtor, if necessary
-if the credit pull is a soft inquiry that will show up on your credit report and not impact your score negatively
-if your social security number will be kept private or if not, who it will be provided to
Preferred Rental Application/ Credit Report Providers:
-company affiliated and recommended by the Real Estate Board of the Palm Beaches and Greater Fort Lauderdale. Charges $30 paid directly on their secure website. Provides rental application, credit report, background check, eviction check. Allows upload of photo ID, proof of income, bank statements or tax forms through their site after submitting application. The credit pull is a soft inquiry that will not negatively impact your credit score. Currently unable to process applications for Canadian Applicants.
-able to provide Rental Application, Credit Report and Background Check completely free for US residents, however does so by advertising their renter insurance policies on their site. Also able to process applications to Canadian residents for a $25 charge. Credit pull is a hard inquiry and will show up on your credit report (will only show up as one inquiry if used to apply to more than one property within a 30 day period)
SUBMITTING AN OFFER AND EXECUTING YOUR LEASE AGREEMENT
The Florida Board of Real Estate has provided agents with standard forms to utilize to execute rental offers and lease agreements. Real estate agents are not allowed to modify these forms or write lease agreements greater than 1 year (an property owner would need to write this lease themselves or hire an attorney). Condo Associations customarily have rules in place that do not permit leases greater than 1 year in length no matter who writes up the documents. Owners and tenants are able to execute lease renewals once the lease term has ended.
You real estate agent will assist you in filling out a Contract To Lease form which acts as a written offer to assist you and the owner to come to agreement about the terms of your lease agreement such as the following:
Move in and move out dates
Move in costs, escrow deposits and their due dates
Utilities (if any) included in rental payment
If condo or homeowner association applications/approvals are required prior to move in
If you agent utilizes e-signature software they can allow you to sign these forms to be emailed to you so you may review and sign online using your phone or computer. This eliminates the need to print, scan, fax, mail or hand deliver these documents.
Once your Contract to Lease is filled out ad you have signed it, your agent will submit this form along with your supporting documents to the owner including:
Proof of Income (paystubs, W2s, employment letter, tax returns)
Proof of Funds (bank statement)
Rental Application (Credit Report, Background Check, Eviction Check)
-if you have anything that could be viewed as "negative" that appears on your report I suggest writing and submitting an explanation letter to help give the owner a more clear picture of how great of a tenant you will be
After the owner reviews and accepts your offer, they will sign and return the Contract to Lease document and send you a Lease Agreement to review and sign if acceptable. The Lease Agreement should be thoroughly reviewed and understood before signing. Once your lease is executed by you and the landlord, your escrow deposit will likely be due to hold the unit until your move in day.
If you are renting a single family residence which does not require association approval you have completed the process and are ready for the Move In Process
CONDO ASSOCIATION APPLICATION AND APPROVAL PROCESS
If your rental is in a condo or townhouse, your lease will be contingent upon approval by the governing association. At this time you will have to apply directly to their office using their application forms and procedures. You will be responsible for an additional application fee paid to the office as well (unfortunately the association will not use the same app, background report and credit check we provide to the owner). Some associations also require an additional refundable deposit made directly to them for use of the buildings amenities. Ideally if these building deposits are required your agent should do their best to ensure they have been disclosed on your contract to lease and lease documents, to avoid surprises. Some associations also require an in person interview. You will not know the complete details of their process until viewing their actual application. The association office typically requires you to submit a copy of your executed lease agreement along with your application.
The association approval process is permitted to take up to 30 days according to State Statutes. It is important to keep this in mind no matter how quick the owner or listing agent claim the process "usually takes". You will not be permitted access to the unit until after receiving approval, so be cautious when scheduling movers beforehand.
MOVE IN PROCESS
On move in day your remaining move-in monies (usually equal to 1st and Last months rent)are due and are to be paid with cleared funds, typically in the form of a cashier's check. Personal checks, business checks or even ACH wire transfers are not considered cleared funds and will not be acceptable to be issued keys. You realtor will assist you in scheduling a time to meet with the owner or their realtor to exchange checks for keys, and grant you possession of the property. Be certain you are issued keys to unit door, building keys/fobs, garage openers, mailbox keys, parking space numbers and that you have the proper contact information for the landlord for submitting your future rental payments. I highly recommend you complete a Property Condition Report and take numerous pictures on the day of move in. You should email this form directly to the landlord and have them sign it as well, this should help to protect your security deposit from being unnecessarily held when you move out.
SEASONAL RENTALS / SHORT TERM LEASES LESS THAN 6 MONTHS
In South Florida it is considered to be "High Season" anywhere from October through April when the rest of the country is experiencing winter weather. During this time the monthly rate for furnished rentals is known to nearly double as the demand greatly increases. When searching for seasonal rentals it is helpful to be aware of the following:
-For all rentals less than 6 calendar months there is a 13% tourist tax that is required by state & county that will be added to your monthly rent it is it is not usually included in the listed prices seen online
-Often listings include the monthly price for annual leases or low-season (summer rates). The rates will be higher for shorter term leases and your agent may have to contact the owner directly to find out price and availability for your specific lease dates.
-Security/Escrow deposits to hold a property are typically due at lease signing and are usually equal to 1 month's rent and sometimes 2 months rent for furnished units.
-Short term rentals almost always require the full rent for the entire lease term to be paid upfront on move in date, or sometimes up to 60 days in advance if securing seasonal rental in advance.
-For condos, the number of times per year an owner may lease their unit and the minimum lease length allowed is regulated by their association and may be 180, 120 or 90 days. There are a limited number of condo buildings that allow owners to lease their units for less than 90 days. In order to earn more rental income for their units, many owners prefer to rent their condos for longer periods of time , and will hold out for 6 or 5 month rental offers and thus turn down offers for 4 or 3 months.
-For short rentals for less than 30 days, I recommend looking into one of the area condo/hotel buildings that rent by the day or week or a single family residence that does not impose rental restrictions on the owner. As a renter you may contact these places directly through AirBnB, VRBO, or their business websites.
PET FRIENDLY RENTALS
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination toward individuals with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)while the American Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with service animals. Obviously I am not an attorney and am not attempting to offer legal advice regarding this issue. I have been informed that an ESA is not considered a "pet" and thus a "no pet policy" would not apply to an individual with an approved ESA. It is not acceptable for your Realtor or an Owner to ask a tenant what condition their ESA is for, just as it would not be acceptable to them to ask an individual what their wheelchair is for, should they be in one. In the transactions involving ESAs that I have assisted with the owner of the unit must first accept tenants offer to lease. If the owner accepts the offer, then the tenant then needs to apply directly to the condo association. For non pet friendly buildings, it has been my experience that the condo board will submit the tenants ESA paperwork to their attorney who will make the determination. I have seen law firms quickly approve at times and at other times they've delayed the approval process by requiring the tenant to provide additional information from the MD, vet records, etc. For all of these reasons it is helpful for your Realtor to be well informed so they may assist in educating owners and their agents of the law and to best assist you with the process.
FURNISHED VS UNFURNISHED