Title: "The Accidental Landlord: How to Rent Your Home When It Doesn’t Make Sense to Sell It"
Author: Danielle Babb
Publisher: Alpha Books, 2008; 288 pages; $18.95 list ($12.89 on Amazon.com)
The premise of this book is simple: Those who can’t sell, rent. Almost as obvious (and accurate) is the subtext that "accidental landlords" need a primer on investment property ownership, from cash-flow analysis to property management, and all points in between.
In its effort to be a simple, accessible and educational initiation to the basic concepts involved in owning a rental property, this book is successful. But for a novice landlord looking for guidance and tools, I would describe this book as a nice first step on a longer crash course in being a landlord, as you’ll definitely need to reference more comprehensive, locality-specific and detailed guides.
The author, Danielle Babb, describes herself as a real estate licensee, investor and landlord. She frequently, and helpfully, describes her own logistical systems for managing properties and funds. She also dots the text with interesting landlord quotes and survey data in (the unfortunately named) "Talk From the Trenches" sidebars, which help make concrete some of the more abstract and emotional costs of landlording — I imagine these would be important to prospective landlords who are still on the fence.
However, as I know from firsthand experience, one of the pitfalls of writing for beginners on a topic so vast as being a landlord is the risk one runs of omitting critical information. I was surprised to find only a single-sentence mention of rent-control laws and no mention of eviction-control ordinances or city business taxes imposed on rental income. Perhaps because these items did not factor into the author’s personal experience, they were simply never mentioned (though, to be fair, she did spend a page discussing state-level laws). …CONTINUED
But these local ordinances — rent controls, eviction controls and business taxes on rental income — are deal-breakers for many sellers-cum-landlords in jurisdictions where they apply. If you only want to rent for six months, but your municipal code prohibits evictions without just cause, becoming an accidental landlord suddenly becomes a nonstarter. Almost more importantly, rent- and eviction-controls are often unbeknownst to homeowners who haven’t been tenants for awhile. Even more reason why they should at least have been mentioned those issues, accompanied with a recommendation to consult with a local, landlord-side attorney.
On a related note, throughout the book and in a closing appendix, Babb provides property management forms from an organization called The Landlord Protection Agency; in fact, the book is so replete with plugs for the group and for Babb’s Web site’s links to the group’s forms that it reads almost like ad copy in spots. However, all of the forms were missing fair and equal opportunity housing verbiage that most Realtor association forms and landlord lawyers deem advisable at the very least. Other forms would plain old violate the eviction notice guidelines and ordinances in several cities I know of off the top of my head. While I did see an occasional admonition to obtain legal advice, I did not see the level of caution about using generic forms that would be prudent given the potential legal consequences of violating tenant protection laws.
For the average homeowner in an uncomplicated jurisdiction, "The Accidental Landlord" is a good, slow and unintimidating entrée to the prospect of a potentially scary topic. But accidental landlords in non-average jurisdictions may not know where the material is inappropriate for their situation. I’d encourage potential accidental landlords to flip through the book before they decide to take the plunge, but to get a more intensive guide (or a licensed property manager!) for a daily plan of action or tools for executing your lord (or lady) of the manor fantasies. Beyond that, make sure to visit your local landlords’ association and/or attorney to get the straight, detailed dope on what exactly you’re getting into.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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