Thinking about becoming a landlord?

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With the abundance of distressed and low-priced properties for sale, many people are considering becoming first-time landlords. But before you embark on such a venture, it’s important to fully understand landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities.

A landlord usually is responsible for keeping the unit in a livable condition, which includes making the necessary repairs along with ensuring that the property is in compliance with all state and local housing codes.

The landlord sets the rental amount for the property, and being a first-time landlord, it is best to research the area and charge a few dollars lower than the rest. The most qualified and desirable tenants usually shop around, so be sure that your units are priced competitively.

Never judge a book by its cover. It is essential to run credit and background checks on a potential tenant to assure a good credit rating and payment history. A good indication of a potentially unstable tenant is someone who wants to pay you cash on the spot or move in ASAP. It is customary for a tenant to provide 30 days notice before moving.

Before you allow a tenant to move in, conduct a walkthrough and take pictures of any issues with the property, making due note of any problems. These precautions guarantee that no issues will arrive once the tenant moves out since you and the tenant will both know if the current damage was pre-existing or caused by the tenant.

Always maintain the unit in good repair, since a happy tenant will reside in your unit longer and save you the headaches of having to continually find new tenants. Be sure to assess your own tolerance for pets and the damage they can cause, and consider adding a pet deposit if you decide to allow them.

Prospective tenants will most likely be looking at several locations in your area, and will expect a prompt return call to schedule a showing appointment. If you procrastinate, you may lose a prospective tenant before you have a chance to show the property.

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities include timely rent payments, maintaining the cleanliness of the unit while inhabited, taking responsibility for any damage beyond normal wear and tear, and not altering the premises in any way without WRITTEN permission from the landlord.

Multiple laws exist governing tenancy, including fair housing laws. According to state law, a landlord may not discriminate due to race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex and marital status, or disability. Landlords should also check with the city where their property is located to see if there are additional protection clauses.

Almost every landlord eventually rents to a problem tenant, and when you do, you have to be very careful how you proceed. Under no circumstances, for example, can a landlord shut off utilities in response to nonpayment of rent.

Eviction of a tenant is also governed by due process. A sheriff may physically evict the tenant from the property based on court approval, but only if the landlord takes the necessary steps. You may want to refer to the Illinois Retaliatory Eviction Act for more information on this issue.

For more, call 773-407-8800, e-mail or visit

About Giuseppe Zerillo

Giuseppe Zerillo is the managing broker and owner of Zerillo Realty Inc. He is active on many boards, serving as village trustee of Harwood Heights and corporate secretary for Casa Italia. In 2011, he received the IANU Foundation's 2011 David Award for outstanding promise in the field of real estate, and in 2012 he was honored by the Illinois State Crime Commission for his community outreach. Constantly seeking opportunities to give back, he donates to several charities and raises money for children with disabilities.

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