Respecting a Tenant’s Right to Privacy

Some landlords, especially those who are new to the world of landlord tenant relationships, are not aware of the rights to privacy a tenant has once a lease is signed.  Even though the landlord owns the property, they do not have the right to show up on the premises whenever they like.  More importantly, a landlord is not allowed to send others to a rental property without regard to the privacy of the tenant.  To avoid placing yourself in a difficult position with your tenant and landlord tenant laws, try keeping a few things in mind.

Give Notice

Always give at least 24 hours’ notice before visiting a rental property, preferably in writing via postal mail or email.   When notifying a tenant you must actually make contact with the tenant or be able to provide proof that the message was received (signature confirmation), voicemails are not usually considered sufficient notice.  If the rental agreement states you will give more advanced notice, be sure to adhere to it.  The only times when you a landlord is typically excused from giving notice is when an extreme emergency has occurred (a fire or other disaster) or the tenant has requested a landlord visit.  Never stop by unannounced to show the property to another potential renter or to check on a repair in progress.

Don’t Send Others to the Property

Landlords planning property improvements must also remember to notify tenants before sending contractors to the premises.  Sending a roofer, landscaper, or other professional to inspect the property without notifying the tenant may also be seen as a violation of privacy.  Unless you talk to a tenant and plan the visit in advance you have no way of knowing how the tenant might be inconvenienced for frightened by a contractor arriving at their front door unannounced.

Living With In-Laws: How to Handle a Tense Situation

My wife and I are living with her parents while we wait to close on our new home.  Things were fine initially, but recently my mother-in-law told my wife that I was lazy.  I go to school full-time (retired Army), and have been trying to find a job that doesn’t interfere with my schedule.  Right now my wife is the only one work, but we both worked to earn the money we are using to buy the house. Since I’m not working right now, and do seem to have more free-time than my wife, her family looks down on me.   Knowing that my mother-in-law and the rest of my wife’s family think that I am lazy has put a strain on our relationship. 

Buying a house is an extremely difficult process, and being stuck in limbo while waiting for closing makes the entire situation much worse.  I am sure the stress of the situation led to the comment your mother-in-law made.  Unfortunately, the only way you are going to find out why she and the rest of your wife’s family feel the way they do is to confront them.  The confrontation does not to be negative, hostile, or aggressive.  There are ways to discuss the situation without upsetting anyone.

Talk to Your Wife

Speak to your wife before talking to her family so she doesn’t feel as though you are putting her in a difficult position without first talking to you.  It is possible that an offhanded remark from your wife, or even something you said without thinking, led to your mother-in-law’s statement.  Your wife may be able to answer your questions and calm things down.

Discuss Things With the Family

The statement might have been made based entirely on the fact that you are currently unemployed and your wife is working.  Explain to the family that you contributed your military earnings towards the purchase of the home.  Also, tell them more about the GI bill and the money (if any) you are getting because you attend school.  Some people do not know that one of the benefits of the GI bill is BAH pay when you attend full-time, and many people do not understand how difficult and time consuming college is.

Rush Closing

There is a chance that no one in your family really believes that you are lazy.  They might be strained by the added burden of a young couple coming back home.  Increased utility bills, a higher grocery budget, and more bodies in a home can strain the patience of the calmest mother.  One of the best ways to keep your relationship with your wife’s family in tact is to move into your new home as quickly as possible.

Late Fees: How Much is Too Much?

"The average renter, and many landlords, do not realize there are laws regarding late fees."

Rental agreements are filled with a lot of legal terms that the average renter, and landlord, is not interested in reading.  However, there are a few parts of the rental agreement that both parties should be aware of.  Next to the amount of rent due, the late payment fee is one of the most important parts of a lease.  The renter should know how much they are required to pay if their monthly rent is paid late, and the landlord should know if they are charging a late fee that is too high.

What are Late Fees

The late fee is the amount of money a landlord can charge a tenant who has failed to pay their rent in the time frame indicated on the lease.  Most lease agreements offer a grace period before requiring a late fee.  The late fees are charged to offset the cost of sending notices through an attorney, or processing late payments.

Late Fee Laws

Each state has laws regarding excessive late fees.  A landlord cannot arbitrarily decide to charge their renter $20.00 per day in addition to rent if they are late paying.  Landlords should only charge a late fee that is reasonable and that is clearly defined within the lease.

What is Too Much?

The average renter, and many landlords, do not realize there are laws regarding late fees.  Usually, late fees that exceed $1.00 per day are thought to be excessive.  Unless a landlord can prove that there is a specific reason that justifies a high late fee (legal fees, eviction proceedings, etc.) they usually cannot require a renter to agree to pay an excessive late fee.  The best way to find out how much a late fee should be is to consult your states landlord and tenant laws. 

Finding out if your late fee is in violation of state tenant laws is something that every landlord should do prior to making a rental agreement.  Even if the tenant agrees to the late fee, it can be difficult to collect these fees if a court decides they are excessive.

The Question of Ownership: Making Sure Your New Landlord Owns the Home


The internet is becoming the first place people look when they are searching for a new home to rent.  Popular websites like BackPage and Craigslist give homeowners a free way to list their available rentals.  Unfortunately, there are several scams on free websites that create dangerous situations for unsuspecting renters. 

Growing Scam

One of the fastest growing real estate scams on the internet is individuals claiming a property belongs to them, when it reality it belongs to a third-party who is not interested in renting or seller.  In Georgia, a father and son team claimed ownership of several abandoned or distressed properties and rented them to unsuspecting families.  In Virginia, a man claiming to own a home that really belonged to one of his family members entered into a rent to own agreement with a single mother.  In both situations, the renters were asked to move by the real property owners once their presence in the property was discovered.  Though the victims of both situations were able to find homes and get some of their money back, everything could have been avoid if the renters checked ownership records prior to signing the least.

Verifying Ownership

Once you have met with a property owner in person, check the ownership records to make sure the name on the lease matches the name on the deed.  Contact the county’s tax assessor’s office, or visit their website, and use the property address to verify the name of the owner(s).  Also, get the lease notarized with the property owner to give you an opportunity to look at their driver’s license to make sure they are the person they are claiming to be.

Before investing time and money into a new home, make sure the lease that you are signing is an agreement between you and the actual property owner. Most landlords will understand your caution, and will note be offended by your efforts to protect yourself and your family.


Goring Up Your Place for Halloween

Since we have a six-year-old (who just turned six; it feels weird to type that!), we can’t get very gory in our Halloween décor. She gets scared of Scooby Doo, so you know the blood and gore are out! And I’m not really into the gore so much as I am as, say, the giant monsters and such anyway; but those, too, will have to wait until she’s older.

In the meantime, I am enjoying living my Halloween decorating fantasies out vicariously through my younger sister, who is mentally on the same page as me almost all the time and reflects many of my own tastes and perspectives in what she does. She agreed to share these amazing photos of what she’s been doing to prepare her home for Halloween, and I am psyched to share them here.

She splattered her shower curtain with blood, of course, but she didn’t stop there; she also made a dead man to occupy the guest bathroom! She has all kinds of other spooky decorations out, from tombstones to glowing skulls and all kinds of other nightmarish stuff.

If you want to gorify your house this October, here are a few ways you might want to go about it:

  • Get a bunch of body parts from your local Halloween store (we have Spirit stores all over the place here) and strategically place them all around the house, both inside and out. Douse them with fake blood or, if you’re really feeling ambitious, bits of skin and flesh from spaghetti noodles or something similar just before your event. (I wouldn’t do this in advance just to prevent insects and animals from approaching!)
  • For a mess-free scary effect, just put red sheets over the windows if you have them. Red and orange light bulbs can also provide a creepy effect—as can a strobe light.
  • Freeze fake eyeballs, bugs, and other creepies in ice cubes for a classic, quick scare.
  • Never underestimate the power of a good fog machine.
  • Hang bodies from your tree(s)
  • Splatter blood on anything that’s safe to splatter on. To cut down on mess, do it on plastic wrap, then place the wrap over things (walls, tables, etc.).
  • Create a dim, dank effect with lowered lighting, a humidifier or boiling water, and plenty of spiderwebs draped over everything. Use cardboard to imitate falling boards in a haunted mansion; don’t forget the blood on these, too!

An Open Letter to Terrible Roommates

What not to do if you exist in the same space as other people

Roommates are generally pretty cool dudes. They do awesome stuff like pay the part of the rent you can't afford, and sometimes they're even pretty fun to hang out with. Being a young apartment dweller generally necessitates that you share your living situation, and so most of us go through the process of living with a series of people whose headspace we might not necessarily want to occupy if we were a little bit richer. Everyone who has roommates gets stuck with a bad one at one point or another, be they hyperactive, socially oblivious, or passive-aggressive--or some jackpot combination of all three. Even the most well-meaning apartment companions tend to have some habits that will inevitably annoy their surrounding humans. But for some reason, every bad roommate I've ever had has displayed the same bad living habits. Maybe most young people are just bad at keeping house, or maybe general apathy regarding the living situation tends to manifest in specific, similar ways. Either way, if you live with someone who's not you and you break these basic home welfare rules, you deserve an indefinite string of roommates even worse than you.

1. The dishwasher. It's not a magic food-dissolving contraption. It flushes dirty dishes with soap and hot water. If you put a plate full of food in it, the food will still be there when it's done doing its thing--only cooked on to the plate and much, much harder to remove. Because the dishwasher is not a trash can. It's not a garbage disposal. It's not made of magic. It does what it's supposed to, which is wash dishes. But you have to give it reasonable dishes to work on. Scrape that stuff off before you load your dish into the rack. It's what you're supposed to do. It's not that hard. Similar rules apply to the sink--if you don't have a garbage disposal (and most rentals don't), put the food you don't want in the trash before you put it in the sink. The drain catchers are there to catch small particles, not half meals. Don't be lazy.

Similarly, if you have a dishwasher, don't leave your dishes in the sink if it's empty. The sink is a waypoint for dirty dishes, not a final resting place. If you leave your stuff in the sink for more than a day you're kind of a jerk. (Admittedly, I've broken this rule. I'm kind of a jerk.) And if the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, don't just take the one you want out and leave the rest in there. Then it becomes unclear whether we're in dirty or clean mode, and mingling might occur. Empty it--it's fun! Like a game! You put the right things in the right places!--and go back to making your ramen.

2. Dishes. And pots and pans, and other communal kitchen stuff. If I bought them, they're mine even if I'm letting you use them. You're renting space in my stainless steel wok. Treat it with some degree of respect. Don't get scorch marks on my pans, don't put stuff in the dishwasher that doesn't go in the dishwasher (especially when it says on the bottom that it's not dishwasher safe), don't let things get so dirty for so long that I feel gross using them ever again. If you break something, tell me--maybe even pay me back a couple dollars. Don't leave me wondering. And don't keep my mugs in your room for months at a time. If you're not going to return them to circulation just buy your own mugs you can hoard. I need to get my green tea on.

3. Perishables. They go in the fridge--you know, that place that keeps the things you eat from getting prematurely disgusting. You're good enough at putting your food in there when you've just bought it. Why is it so much harder to put a head of lettuce back in the vegetable drawer after you make a salad? Not only is it wasteful, it makes our kitchen smelly. I know you have a very busy life but proper food storage is really not very time consuming. 

4. Reasonable hours. That's awesome that you're the section leader of your a cappella group. Great job. I'm really happy for you. I'm not as happy that you and your unaccompanied buddies are full-on belting "Don't Stop Believing" at 9:30 on a Saturday morning. If you're going to sing and skip about with joy at least wait until it's a normal time for consciousness. If you're going to howl with laughter at something on YouTube at 3am--kittens are hilarious when you're drunk, I know--at least close your door first. Don't do it in the living room right outside the door to my room. It's Wednesday. I'm sleeping. And if you're going to power-clean--which you should if you leave beer bottles and taco wrappers all over the common areas on a weekly basis--try to avoid the temptation to do so at 8am on Sunday while blasting Li'l Wayne. I'm glad Weezy pumps you up. He can do that through headphones or perhaps at a later hour. 

5. Laundry. It's not just for when you run out of underwear anymore. Dish towels and bath mats are very good at getting dirty and they don't clean themselves. Throw them in with your darks sometime. 

6. Sharing is caring. If you make a big batch of delicious food and you don't share it and then it goes bad before you can eat even half of it you are a huge jerk. Forget kids in Africa; I'm hungry and poor and you just threw out half a pan of blondies because they went stale before you could shove all of them into your face. Next time I'm just stealing your food.

Avoid Car Rental Price-Gouging

How car rental companies screw their customers, and how to avoid it.


Summer travel is unavoidable for many, despite the ever-increasing cost of it; gas prices, plane tickets, hotels, tours, hidden fees and, of course, car rentals.    Despite the economic slow-down (and resulting travel slow-down) car rental companies are reporting growth across the board. Many have sold enormous numbers of rental cars on the used-car market, creating an artificial shortage of rental cars that drives up the prices (something for which many of the biggest car rental companies; Enterprise, Hertz, Thrifty, and  Budget are being investigated). It seems they've also taken a page out of the airline's playbook, creating hidden fees that further add cost to the unwary traveler.

     One of the most insidious ways that car rental companies jack up prices is the insurance charges (referred to as LDW: Loss Damage Waiver) that can be a fourth to a third the cost of the daily rental price. What they won't tell you at the counter is that most car insurance policies already cover liability for rental cars. Some credit cards also carry this type of insurance (though check beforehand because they often carry gaps in the coverage).

    Another way the rental agencies price gouge is upon the return of the car. It's fairly common knowledge, but always gas up the car before you bring it back. If it comes back to the company with less gas than it left, the company will charge as much as double the actual price of gas to fill it up, plus charge fees for the filling.

    Companies will even charge an early-return fee, which could substantially increase the total amount of money for the rental. Often the early-return is increases your original daily rate, and could increase the total price by hundreds.

    Additional drivers, additional drop-offs (dropping the car off at a different location) and drivers under 25 years of age all incur extra fees as well (anywhere from 25% to 500% of the original price).

     To share a personal experience with the pitfalls of car rental, my wife and I went to Maine. We had reserved a sporty coupe for cruising the coastal highways but when we arrived we were given a sporty white Caravan (a minivan, for the non-car person). It was a better rate, so we didn’t complain and we were on our way. We returned the van on the day we said we would nearly a week later. However, because we weren’t aware of the 24-hour clock rule, though it was the correct day it was still past the 24 hour mark from which we rented a week prior. That and we’d returned it a quarter-tank short. The total bill was about twice what it would have been otherwise.

    Budget Travel recommends that travelers book beyond the major car rental companies, looking for smaller companies that stay competetive by not incurring massive fees. They also suggest booking with a car rental company outside of the actual airport rental counter. This avoids the ubiquitous airline fees and often will result in a lower daily rate. Finally make sure you research and prepare to find the best rental prices and read over agreements carefully to avoid incurring those extra fees.



Is It Worth It?

A good friend of mine is considering working at an insurance company because it is in walking distance from her apartment, and she is currently out of work. The thing is, she’s very nontraditional, like me, and worries that it will be so boring that she will hate it.

Having never worked in an insurance office, I can’t make an educated guess—but going by what I’ve heard, I think she may be right. I told her that maybe she could enliven it up a little, but I’d love to hear from people who work in insurance offices—especially those who consider themselves nontraditional people who would rather work in a free school or as a bartender or something rather than such a traditional career setting!—or who have worked in one in the past.

Is it worth it? Is it as boring as it sounds?

Begonia Pots: The Perfect Home for Birds

We bought a pot of sweet pink begonias to hang on our porch because it is a favorite of my aunt, who lives with us. Unfortunately, the flowers did not last very long, and we weren’t sure as to why. We watered them well, gave them plenty of sunlight, and couldn’t figure out their cause of death.

It turned out that the begonias did not die due to our own neglect or ineptitude (though my spider plant did, which is insane, if you know anything about spider plants); it was because a family of birds decided to set up shop in the begonias, killing them—and filling our porch with the sound of baby birds. Which was the better deal? I’d rather have the birds than the flowers, really, though we’ll have to get my aunt some new begonias.

Small, Cool Living Spaces

Apartment Therapy's 2011 Small Cool Contest features stunning design ingenuity

I’m not the type of person who needs a lot of room to live. For most of my life I’ve been cloistered in small apartments and dorm rooms, and that’s been just fine with me. I’m a small person easily kept in a small habitat. But then there are those who have mastered the art of living with a square foot shortage. Every year, Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool Contest showcases the most efficiently utilized tiny living spaces in the country.

This year, the contest received its smallest entry to date. At just 78 square feet, this Manhattan room is barely more than a walk-in closet. Most bedrooms are bigger than this entire apartment. But Luke, its inhabitant, has outfitted it with clean, zen décor that makes it feel entirely livable. He built his own combination full-sized bed/couch inside the room, like a ship inside a bottle. His kitchen amenities consist of no more than a mini-fridge under his desk and a microwave on the windowsill, but when the whole of Manhattan is your front yard, what more do you need in your home than a place to sleep?

Most people scoff at those who try to make it in New York while still young, claiming that in order to live affordably, you’d have to fit your whole life into a box. But the Small Cool Contest demonstrates that a box can make for a fun, beautiful home. With clever divisions of space, ingenious storage solutions, and décor that creates the illusion of depth, these tiny apartments belie a lot of creativity on the part of their inhabitants. Most of the spaces in the smallest contest division, “teeny-tiny,” comprise no more than one room plus a kitchen area/bathroom. They’re not all in Manhattan, either; San Diego and San Francisco boast plenty of compact apartments clustered together, and several entries hail from Chicago and DC. These city dwellers have capitalized on lifestyle efficiency and are able to enjoy some of the best cities in the world without going broke on rent.

Even the larger contest categories, “tiny” and “small,” include some fantastic use of design. I’m a big fan of the use of wall space to store kitchen supplies and larger personal items, like guitars. When your floor footage is so limited, you have to start to think in three dimensions. Tall, stacked, narrow shelves are also frequent players in this contest. As someone who’s about to downsize her living space in a month, seeing clever storage solutions so elegantly implemented has given me plenty of inspiration for fitting myself into my new, tiny home. I like to think of it as playing Tetris in three dimensions and with my entire life. 

The winner of the 2011 contest also hails from New York, although she hangs her hat in Brooklyn. At 460 square feet, Jordan’s one-bedroom falls into the “tiny” category. I like the way a rustic color palette has been encapsulated in a small urban space. The old hardwood flooring with its wide boards and aged amber tone makes a nice base for a homey, vintage feel.

For you city kids who want to maximize your use of the box you call home, the seventh annual Small Cool Contest provides a smorgasbord of design inspirations. All the featured apartments pack a lot of personality into rather tiny rooms. Even those who need room to breathe in their homes ought to appreciate the ingenuity in the arrangement of these spaces.