Beyond Backgrounds: Success Stories from Landlords, Renters & Agencies Working Together
Article written by Kahari Smith-Brewer, Outreach Coordinator
A year and a half ago HousingLink started a program called Beyond Backgrounds. HousingLink is a non-profit organization that operates an award winning website where anyone can search for affordable rental housing vacancies and waiting list openings throughout all of Minnesota. Beyond Backgrounds offers landlords access to up to $2,000 of insurance if there is property damage or liabilities that are not covered by the security deposit. This program exists so both landlords and renters can move beyond the background issues that prevent people from finding stable, safe and affordable housing. And we have been doing just that.
We have worked with the Suburban Metro Area Continuum of Care (SMAC), Dakota County, and Ramsey County’s Outside in Collaborative. Through these partnerships, Beyond Backgrounds has supported landlords in renting to more than 50 people with criminal, credit and rental history barriers in their background! Eighteen of those housed have come from the first quarter of this year alone. This is a testament to how essential this program is for those suffering from homelessness, and how beneficial it can be for landlords and tenants alike.
But don’t just take it from us, take it from some of the landlords and renters who have benefited from this program first hand. K.H., a landlord that rented to a Beyond Backgrounds participant said this “I think it’s important to give people a second chance. The renter had some prior issues with renting (evictions), and she just really seemed like she needed a place to go. I also own a restaurant and often hire those who are thought of as unemployable. Those employees are usually the best workers I have. That was the case with this renter. She completed her lease successfully and left the unit in good condition. She was a good tenant and I would rent to others who are participants in the Beyond Backgrounds program”.
There is also Karen, a landlord in Dakota County who had this to say “The tenant and her daughter were very excited to have a home. Even though her background was a bit suspicious, we felt comfortable renting to her with the extra support.”
The renters also comment on how the program has helped them; "I was having a lot of trouble getting accepted to an apartment because I have bad credit” says I.J., a Beyond Backgrounds participant in Dakota County. I finally found a place that was close to the neighborhood my children were used to so they didn't have to change schools and were near their friends. I didn't meet the qualifications for renting because my income was a little lower than they wanted and my credit score was lower. Thankfully, the landlord was willing to accept the Beyond Backgrounds landlord insurance policy, and my kids and I now have a safe place to live”.
HousingLink is always looking ahead. With its dedication and commitment to supporting renters with criminal, credit and rental history barriers, HousingLink and Metro HRA are proud to announce that they are bringing the Beyond Backgrounds program to families with housing choice vouchers. We also have a new partnership with Ramsey County. Through this effort families on the shelter waitlist are enrolled in Beyond Backgrounds to help with their housing search!
HousingLink is also partnering with the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs (MDVA) in an effort to end veteran homelessness. Many Veterans on the homeless registry will get access to Beyond Backgrounds to help them find housing.
With the continued support of our partners in this effort, HousingLink hopes to improve the living situations of families suffering from housing barriers and homelessness throughout Minnesota.
Landlords - How Do You Handle Late Rent Notices?
What do you do when the first of the month flies by and any grace period you offer has passed, but the rent has not arrived?
In this situation, the goal of most landlords is to avoid the expense and hassle of eviction and get the rent and any late fees paid ASAP. This requires effective communication and a good process.
First, let's talk about sending reminders before the rent is due. People feel busier than ever, and a simple reminder could go a long way to getting the rent paid. Set up an automatic email that reminds renters a week in advance that the rent is due. If you have a Facebook, Twitter or other social media account for your property, post a rent reminder message.
Second, let's talk about how residents can pay the rent. Increasingly, flexibility and convenience are the expectation when it comes to making payments. Buy with one click on Amazon, pay by tapping your phone with Apple & Google Pay, and texting someone money with apps like Venmo & Cash are a few examples. In fact, many people no longer have a checkbook! Increase the convenience and options for paying the rent, and you may get paid on a more timely basis.
*Here are a few options to consider:
- Accept ACH payments and e-checks for free using QuickBooks.
- Accept ACH payments using a service like Dwolla.
- Accept payments using the Venmo app.
- Accept payments using the Cash app.
*HousingLink does not endorse or officially recommend these services but shares them as ideas to consider.
Third, let's look at grace period communication. During the grace period, send an email/text or drop off a note that says, "Wow, the 1st flew by! We haven't received your rent yet, get it in by the X (end of your grace period) to avoid the late fee."
Finally, let's discuss how to deliver the late rent notice. Depending on how your renters prefer to communicate, and how many units you manage, here are some options to consider:
- Slide a late rent letter under the door.
- Send a text message.
- Send an email.
- Send a private message on Facebook (if you are connected on Facebook or your property has a business page).
- Make a phone call and leave a voicemail.
- All of the above.
This is a reminder that your rent of $X was due on 'X' date and the grace period has passed. You now owe:
$X - Rent Amount
$X - Late Fee
Total - $X (rent + late fee)
Let us know right away when we can expect payment. If we don't receive your rent by 'X' date we will move forward with an eviction filing. If you need to make a payment arrangement or want to discuss this further, contact us at XXX-XXX-XXXX or email email@example.com.
Tips to Avoid Fair Housing Complaints
Getting a Fair Housing complaint can lead to expensive legal bills and fines for landlords. Follow these customer service tips to avoid complaints:
- Focus on the renter's wants and needs. Sometimes a landlord will show available units based on his or her needs instead of a renter's. This can lead to steering and discrimination. Find out what the renter wants and meet his or her needs first.
- Protected classes are not selling points. Remember that great vacation you took to a foreign land? Sometimes it is exciting to meet a prospective renter with whom we feel a special connection. However, attempting to connect with someone based on a protected class (e.g. national origin, race) increases the risk that you will get a Fair Housing complaint. What if the renter thinks you are making an issue of their national origin instead of just being friendly?
- Let each renter know all of their options. If a renter is looking for a two bedroom and you have multiple two bedroom units available, let him or her know about each one. Fair Housing is about equal choice and treatment. Let renters know all of their options!
- Return every phone call and email. Fair Housing requires that you treat all renters equally. Therefore, make sure you return all phone calls so nobody thinks you are not calling them back based on discrimination. If your advertised unit is no longer available and you don't want to call people back, put a message on your voicemail that states the unit is not available and phone calls will not be returned.
- Treat everyone the same. Treating everyone the same requires that you take a professional approach to interactions with renters. It is a business relationship where you are required to treat everyone the same, regardless of your personal preferences.
- Script your tour. Have a pre-planned, set process by which you show all renters your property and follow it every time. This way nobody receives special treatment and you don't leave room for a complaint from someone who feels like they were provided a lower level of service.
What Insurance Do Landlords Need
As a landlord you want to make sure you have the right insurance protection. What insurance do you need? According to the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, at a minimum you need the following:
- Liability Insurance
- Property Damage Insurance
You may also want to consider an umbrella policy. Additional coverage options include landlord contents and loss of rent insurance.
An Alternative to Eviction - Joint Termination of Tenancy
Joint Termination of the Tenancy
It is expensive and time consuming to legally evict a renter. Though sometimes eviction is the best route, there are other strategies to get renters who have violated their leases to move out. One option is to jointly terminate the tenancy.
To jointly terminate the tenancy, a landlord can let the renter know that the lease was violated. Instead of the renter getting evicted and having that on their record, they can move out early on a date agreed upon by the landlord. No time is spent in court or on legal fees, and both parties can move on to a better arrangement!