Being a landlord isn’t all lounging around in designer sweatpants while the rent checks roll in.

If you’re managing your property yourself, you’ll find there’s more than a little legwork involved. Whatever your reasons, (and there are plenty, ranging from investing in property to getting stuck with a house you don’t want to live in), buckle up. We’ll be walking you through how to be a landlord.

How to price your rental

Small wooden house with a For Rent sign

A lot of factors go into pricing a rental, but in the end, it’s all pretty simple. If you don’t hit the sweet spot, it’s either going to sit empty or cost you money.

Either way, you lose.

Here are the most important things to keep in mind:

1. What are your costs? Before anything else, do the math and find out how much you need to charge to not actively lose money. Take into account your mortgage payment, housing taxes, HOA fees, upkeep and repair costs, and anything else that will eat into your profit.

It’s okay to not pull in much extra cash right away, so long as you’re in the rental business for the long term. With time—and smart money management—you’ll pay off the mortgage and get your rental income (mostly) free and clear.

2. Timing is important. Just like the housing market, the rental market has slow and busy times of the year. Generally, they match up pretty closely. Demand is highest in the summer, when schools are out and the weather is good. You’ll be able to charge slightly higher prices in the warm months than the dead of winter.

3. High rent is not worth a bad tenant. Sure, the goal of a rental property is to make you money. But there’s more to it than setting your rent as high as you can and accepting anyone who’ll pay it. A good tenant—one who sticks around for multiple years, pays rent on time, and doesn’t damage your property or suck up your free time—is worth more than an extra few hundred dollars.

4. How much are other apartments going for? When in doubt, take a gander at comparable units on the sites you’ll be using to advertise your property. Just remember to take more than the zipcode into account. Other factors include:

  • Nearness to amenities
  • Appliances (washer, dryer, dishwasher)
  • Renovations
  • Square footage
  • Layout
  • Carpet vs hardwood

5. Tenants will pay for something that looks like a good value—even if it really isn’t. Ever seen rental listings advertising things like “heat and water included?” This is a tactic used to attract renters without costing you money.


It’s pretty simple.

If you’ve rented out this particular property in the past (or can get in touch with someone who knows what’s what), then you have a good estimate of what the monthly utilities cost—and that you can use in your favor. Say electricity usually costs about $70 a month. By rolling that into the monthly rent at $80 or $90 a month, you get a little extra cash and an attractive offer for renters.

How to advertise your rental

Once you’ve figured out your pricing strategy, it’s time to start attracting potential tenants. Back in the dark times, that meant putting an ad in the classified section of your local newspaper and hoping for the best.

These days, though, renters tend to start their search online, and that means you need to know where and how to put your best foot forward.

First, pictures. To really sell your property, you’re going to want to use recent pictures of your (clean!) rental. When writing the description, make sure to include all your good features. If there are one or two negative things about your rental, don’t try to hide them. Being honest can actually help you build trust with potential renters.

Which sites you use depends on your needs. Landlords generally agree, for instance, that Craigslist gets them a lot of attention, but that Zillow delivers the better quality tenants.

Here’s a quick list of some of the sites you should consider using:

Of course, some old-school techniques like yard signs and referrals are definitely worth trying out. Test out your options. Soon you’ll find a combination that works best for your area and clientele.

How to screen potential tenants

Attracting the tenants is the easy part—it’s the picking that takes some time and energy.

1. Ask for a rental application. You can find templates online. Look for one that asks for current and previous employers, income level, contact info of previous landlords, number of occupants, number of pets, and personal references.

2. READ that application. Okay, so this is probably a no-brainer, but you should be able to weed out a lot of applicants at this stage. So they aren’t employed? Don’t have a (net!) monthly salary that’s at least 3 times the rent and can’t get a cosigner? Have previous evictions or references that don’t check out?

Those are all very good reasons to not rent to an applicant.

3. Run a credit and/or background check. Once you have your handful of maybes, it’s time to dig a little deeper. All three off the credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) offer credit screening for landlords, and some even do background checks, too. They each had different offerings, so take a look at each before deciding.

Remember, though: a credit check doesn’t tell the whole story. While they’re usually a pretty good barometer when it comes to judging a person’s fiscal responsibility, there are situations where they don’t show you the whole picture. After all, filing for bankruptcy 5 years ago and staying current with your payments ever since is a little different than, say, skipping out on your last 4 credit card bills—both of which can tank your score.

4. Meet for the in-person walk-through. Don’t be afraid to go all Sherlock on prospective tenants in person. There are plenty of questions to ask yourself in order to get a sense of what sort of tenant a person will be.

  • Did they show up on time?
  • Is their car well-cared for?
  • Are their children well-behaved?
  • Do they know what kind of questions to ask about your property?
  • Have they tried to lie about their credit score or job?

Just make sure not to base your decision on age, gender, race, religion, or disability—that’s against the law and can get you sued (plus, it’s generally agreed upon to be pretty gross).

How to write a rental contract

Hand signing a Rental Agreement

First things first—are you a lawyer?

If the answer is no, don’t write your own lease.

As we’ll get into later, there are a lot of laws surrounding housing agreements, and when you’re not familiar with all of them, it’s alarmingly simple to get yourself into trouble.

To get started, you can find templates online for your state or city.

From there, though, it’s worth the money to have a lawyer look over it, especially if you’d like to customize it. If you do it right, it should be a one-time cost for a lease agreement you can use over and over.

How to figure out your rights as a landlord

Did you know that you can’t enter your rental without giving the tenant advance notice?

Or that you can’t evict a tenant by changing the locks—even if they haven’t paid rent in months?

A long list of laws govern the relationship between landlord and tenant, and it’s part of your new job to know them.

The tricky part is that many of these laws vary from state to state. While there’s no replacement for consulting a lawyer if you run into trouble, this resource on state landlord/tenant laws is a great place to educate yourself before you get started.

Useful tips for first time landlords

If you found your way here, I’m going to take a guess: you haven’t been at this landlord thing long. Heck, maybe you’re in the middle of buying your first rental property right now.

Here are a few things the pros already know:

1. Set your available hours. Unless you’re okay with tenants calling you to fix their toilet at 10pm, find a window of time that works for both of you and agree to it ahead of time.

2. You can collect rent payments online. Technology, amiright? These days, you collect rent from anywhere in the world—awesome if you don’t live near your property or choose to interact with your tenant as little as possible. There are plenty of services available (Rentpayment.comCozy, and ClearNow are just a few). Do your research to find one that fits your needs.

3. Be wary of renting to family and friends. You’ve probably heard that sage advice to never do business with family or friends. Well, you probably don’t want to rent to them, either. If you value the relationship, it’s best to keep money out of the equation.

4. Your tenants don’t need to know you’re the owner. Think about it: instead of telling your tenant they can’t paint the kitchen chartreuse and facing their resentment, you play property manager and blame the owner for being a spoilsport. This is an especially helpful (and legal) tip if you’re not great at confrontation or have any reason to be extra conscious of your safety. Just remember: if your business contains your name, you’ll need to change the name of the LLC so paperwork won’t tip off your tenants.

5. Document the state of your property before and after each tenant. It’s possible to wind up with a wild animal of a tenant no matter how well you screen. By knowing exactly what sort of damage has been wrought upon your property—and having the pictures to back it up in court—you’re in a much better position to hold onto your money.

6. Document any agreement you make. You’re probably noticing a pattern here: when in doubt, document. That holds especially true for any changes you agree to make to your standard lease after it has been signed. In this case, what you need is called an “addendum to a lease.” You can find templates online, but it can pay to use a lawyer.

7. Consider insurance. Landlord insurance may not be required by law, but it can definitely be worth it in the event of property damage or accidents.