July 18, 2011

Most figures show rents going one way -- up

Renters beware and landlords rejoice: Monthly rents keep going up.

An analysis of higher-end apartments in the Baltimore region shows average effective rents -- what tenants actually pay after factoring in concessions -- are up by nearly 6 percent compared with the middle of last year. Separate reports also show significant gains.

The one type of rental that doesn't seem to be doing so well for owners? Houses.

The report on higher-end apartments by real estate information firm Delta Associates focuses on the so-called "Class A" category, newer complexes that come with amenities. Delta says the average effective rent for such apartments in the Baltimore metro area is about $1,450 a month, up 5.7 percent from a year ago.

Here's the breakdown by area:

Continue reading "Most figures show rents going one way -- up" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

July 11, 2011

Q&A: A lead-paint primer for new (and accidental) landlords




The difficult housing market has turned a lot of homeowners into landlords by necessity. They can't sell, at least not for the price they require, but they still need to move on -- so they're renting out their former homes.

For these "accidental landlords," and really any new landlord with an older home in Baltimore, trying to figure out how to comply with lead-paint rules seems daunting. One reader has a whole host of questions, and I thought a number of you would love to know the answers, too.

Enter Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Baltimore. She kindly agreed to do a Q&A guest post, with input from other staffers at the nonprofit.

She has run the coalition for 18 years.


Take it away, Ruth Ann:


Question: How does one best go about the process of getting square with the Maryland Department of the Environment lead rules for renting? Do I test the place myself first? Call MDE first? Call an outside contractor first?

Continue reading "Q&A: A lead-paint primer for new (and accidental) landlords" »

June 13, 2011

Q&A: Renting

You asked for answers to renting questions. Nokomis Johns kindly volunteered.

She's the senior tenant/landlord counselor for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit that has a hot line just for questions in this arena. A BNI employee for more than seven years, her mission is getting "more people informed on the correct laws and procedures before they get into a bad situation."

BNI counselors often provide information about tenant/landlord laws, but they're not attorneys -- and of course the answers to the questions below aren't legal advice. They're designed to point you in the right direction.

Take it away, Nokomis:



Question: What is considered "normal wear and tear" in a rental agreement? I am thinking about what a landlord can deduct from a security deposit and what he cannot deduct.

Answer: Normal wear and tear are things that result from coming and going. They are things that cannot be prevented. For example, the carpet wears down as you walk on it, or after a while the paint starts to crack and peel. These types of things cannot be prevented and the landlord cannot charge you for replacing the carpet or repainting due to ordinary wear and tear. If you do not agree with what is deducted from your security deposit, you can sue the landlord.

Q: I'm really concerned about rising rental costs. Are there rent consumer advocates to help us fight for our rights? For instance, it would be useful for consumers to determine if the rent is fairly priced for the area and amenities. When there's a rent increase, is the amount fair?

Continue reading "Q&A: Renting" »

May 18, 2011

Renters & landlords: To-do's and not-to-do's

Both tenants and landlords lurk here, and I've been wanting to get a discussion going that I thought both groups could appreciate: to-do's and not-to-do's in rental life.

Tenants, what things do you want landlords to do -- and not do? Landlords, what's your list for tenants?

Some things are obvious. Landlords want to be paid on time and don't want to find the property trashed. Renters want maintenance problems dealt with promptly and don't want their security deposit withheld for issues they didn't cause.

Is it as simple as that? Weigh in. You might get people to rethink the way they do things.

The last discussion about renters and landlords grew out of an appeal to both groups by a property owner, who wants each side to treat the other better.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

March 16, 2011

Landlord to tenants: Let's break the vicious cycle

Renters complain about landlords. Landlords complain about renters. If you're been on one side of the fence for a while, chances are you've dealt with someone on the other who burns your biscuits.

So I was interested in the response that one landlord wrote to a question of the day aimed at people renting their home out. Steve, who's from Baltimore and works at a university in town, owns a few rentals on the side and wanted to share an off-topic point by email. I figured it might interest you all, too.

Here it is:


I am a landlord. I believe I am a good landlord. My initial cause was to improve the reputation of landlords in Baltimore City while still making investment incentives for myself. After almost six years of property management, I'm gradually understanding how landlords and tenants in Baltimore get jaded, get sloppy, and ultimately, make their rental counterparts pay for their ignorance.

My current cause has evolved. I still want to improve the reputation of landlords. More importantly, I want to help landlords and tenants understand how things can get ugly and that, by one step in the wrong direction, a snowball of negativity can start rolling down a long hill -- an effect that can gradually grow and influence many landlords and tenants, though undeserving. As far as my investment is concerned, it's a losing one, but one I'm not willing to let go as a complete failure.

Continue reading "Landlord to tenants: Let's break the vicious cycle" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Landlording, Real estate investing, Renting

January 4, 2011

Apartment market takes turn for better (for owners) in 2010



There's a lot of hand-wringing over the less-than-roaring economic recovery, the housing-market mess and the foreclosure crisis. But here's a group that's not complaining: apartment owners.

Employment is growing again, but not strongly enough to encourage people to relocate if they're already renting, which has kept turnover low. Home sales are way below where they were even a decade ago -- a plus for the guys offering an alternative to buying. And foreclosures are pushing people back into the rental pool.

I've got a story about the results here. Bottom line: Average "effective rents" are up more than 6 percent in the Baltimore metro area, according to one research firm, while rents in the upper end of the market rose 7 percent. That's being driven both by rising monthly rents and falling concessions, i.e. "first month free!" (Fewer concessions, in fact, are nearly half the story.)

The figures focus on apartment complexes, but rented-out homes make up a significant part of the rental market. That's trickier to measure. But it appears those rentals aren't seeing the same sorts of gains (if any gains at all) because there's so much supply in the form of homes up for rent by owners who can't sell.

I'm sure that varies a great deal depending on the neighborhood.

Speaking of neighborhoods, here's a photo gallery that biz editor Liz Hacken put together using data on monthly rents in Baltimore communities. If you work your way through the gallery, you'll see which neighborhoods RentJungle says are the priciest. Most at the very top are pretty obvious, but one of the top five surprised me.

Continue reading "Apartment market takes turn for better (for owners) in 2010" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:01 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

October 7, 2010

Report: Baltimore-area rents up -- a lot

Average rents in the Baltimore metro area this summer jumped nearly 10 percent from what they were a year ago, according to real estate research firm Delta Associates.

Holy moly.

"Demand for rental housing in the Baltimore area has improved and fundamentals are looking strong as supply comes into line with demand," the firm says in its newest apartment report, out this week.

The average rent during the summer was about $1,470 a month, Delta Associates says. This is the "effective" rent, the average once concessions and rent specials are subtracted out. The value of these deals is dropping, pushing up the total.

Also behind the increase: fewer empty units.

Delta Associates, which surveys the nicer garden and high-rise complexes known as "Class A," says the vacancy rate is down slightly to 3.6 percent in the metro area. That compares with a national rate of 6.6 percent. (What that vacancy rate doesn't include are buildings still in the process of initial lease-up.)

Effective rents rose 7.5 percent year-over-year in Baltimore's southern suburbs, 12.7 percent in the northern suburbs, 3.4 percent in downtown Baltimore and nearly 16 percent in the Fells Point/Inner Harbor area, Delta Associates says.

Continue reading "Report: Baltimore-area rents up -- a lot" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

August 17, 2010

202-unit apartment complex could lose license

Are apartment owners responsible for crimes committed by tenants?

Many think they aren't, "but in fact, they are," says Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano. "And they must take specific actions to address these egregious criminal acts."

Graziano said late Monday that lack of owner action is why he has issued a notice of intent to revoke the license of the Madison Park North Apartments in Reservoir Hill, a 202-unit complex the city calls a haven of drug dealing and violence. If the license is pulled, no one could rent there anymore and residents would have to move.

A hearing is scheduled for September to determine the fate of the property. The city says its housing agency and the federal government will help relocate renters if the license is revoked -- the law-abiding ones, that is.

More details in this news story.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

March 5, 2010

What rights should renters have?

A new report in Montgomery County asks the government to tip the rental balance of power more toward tenants than things currently stand -- including a cap on rent increases.

The Montgomery County Tenants Work Group, appointed by the county executive after renters advocated for improvements to their lot, is in favor of a law that would "maintain reasonable and predictable rent increases."

"Tenants who move for reasons of greater affordability report that they cannot anticipate remaining in a rental unit or complex for more than one or two years, due to the unpredictable nature of rent increases," the group writes in its report. "More than 43 percent of renters in the Renter Satisfaction Survey [commissioned by the group] reported that they are not confident that they will be able to afford to live in Montgomery County in the future."

In that survey, almost 20 percent of renters said their annual rent increases topped 7 percent. About half said their annual rent increases were in the 4 to 7 percent range.

The group, in case you're wondering, includes renters, renter advocates, government officials and two people representing the landlord point of view -- a property manager and an Apartment and Office Building Association representative. (UPDATE: The Apartment and Office Building Association notes that it, the property manager and the county officials didn't vote on the recommendations -- those were made by the renters.)

Takoma Park already has a rent stabilization law, the group notes. (New York is probably the city best known for its controls on rent increases.)

UPDATE: The Apartment and Office Building Association's W. Shaun Pharr takes issue with the idea. In a statement this morning, he said: "Rent control is a failed social and housing policy that has been outlawed in 34 states because of the damage it causes to a community's housing stock by discouraging investment in rental housing." 

I thought this might spark discussion among Baltimore renters -- and landlords. What do you think of the recommendation?

The tenant group, by the way, suggests that any law include an allowance "for renters to contribute reasonable additional payments beyond the cost of rent to cover the cost of unit improvement."

Other suggestions from the group:

Continue reading "What rights should renters have?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

January 16, 2010

The cost of renting is going down

Renters: Are you paying less to live in an apartment than you were a year ago? A year-end report by real estate research firm Delta Associates says average effective rents in the Baltimore metro area -- including concessions, in other words -- are down 1.3 percent from a year earlier, to $1,375 a month.

But that's more a city phenomenon than a suburban one. Rents declined 6.1 percent in the Fells Point/Inner Harbor area and in downtown, where apartments abound.

In the suburbs, the decrease was largest in Columbia -- down almost 1 percent. West and Northwest Baltimore County rents fell 0.3 percent, Anne Arundel County was essentially flat, North and Northeast Baltimore County rents rose 0.8 percent and Harford County rents were up almost 2 percent.

These are so-called Class A apartments, the nicer options out there.

Delta Associates, noting that the pipeline of planned apartments is shrinking, expects that "rent growth is likely to return over the next three years."

Seen any good deals out there?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

December 30, 2009

Renters feel the sting of foreclosure

It used to be a largely unmeasured problem. But now we have some hard statistics on how often local renters are finding themselves caught up in foreclosure because their landlords fell behind.

It happens a lot.

Of the approximately 5,000 Baltimore properties starting the foreclosure process in the 12 months ending June 30, nearly 40 percent -- 1,900 -- were occupied by renters. That's according to the Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition.

And the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which started a hot line in May for renters in this situation (877-775-0357), has been averaging almost 600 calls a month for help.

I have a story today on the subject, or more specifically about the seven-month-old Maryland law requiring lenders notify renters as they seek to foreclose, and the equally young federal law giving renters time post-foreclosure before lenders can order them out. (Attorneys working with tenants say that lenders, or their contractors, are frequently neglecting to mention this.)

The question I know some of you have is how often renters are innocent victims, and how often they contributed to the landlord's default by not paying. The state has interesting statistics on that topic:

Continue reading "Renters feel the sting of foreclosure" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:30 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Landlording, Renting, The foreclosure mess

October 19, 2009

Negotiating your rent

Over at the Consuming Interests blog, Liz Kay is offering useful advice to renters who want to negotiate a lower monthly payment. And some words of caution, too -- for instance, keep in mind before you issue ultimatums that switching apartments costs money.

If you missed it, you can read here about how a Baltimore County resident negotiated her rent increase down from $100 a month to $25 a month.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

October 16, 2009

Average rents: down

Here's some good news if you're a renter -- and bad news if you're a landlord: Average rents in the Baltimore metro area were 3.6 percent less this summer than they were a year earlier.

That's according to a new report from real estate research firm Delta Associates, which said the average was just under $1,400, or $1.35 per square foot. (These figures are for so-called "Class A" apartments -- nicer places.)

The declines ranged depending on location:

Effective rents in the southern suburbs dropped 2.4% from third quarter 2008 and the northern suburbs fell 3.7% from last year at this time. Effective rent growth in the Baltimore City submarkets was negative over the year, falling 6.1% in both the Fells Point/Inner Harbor and Downtown submarkets.

Another report -- this one from rental listing site -- focused on property owners and managers. In a survey, more than 70 percent said they're seeing more vacancies. Most blamed job loss as a factor, while half "said that tenants moved out because they were trying to save money on rent, or could no longer afford it at all."

Continue reading "Average rents: down" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

August 15, 2009

Rental vacancies here and elsewhere

About one in every eight rental units in the Baltimore metro area was empty this spring -- a vacancy rate that puts us on the higher end of the scale nationwide.

Baltimore's 13 percent rate topped 54 of the 75 largest metro areas, according to the Census Bureau's estimates.

The good news? Vacancies shrunk during the spring, dropping 21 percent vs. the winter. That's one of the larger improvements among large metro areas.

The Census Bureau says the vacancy rate is highest in Memphis -- a whopping 26 percent of units are empty there -- and lowest in Bakersfield, Calif. (2.5 percent empty).

Of course, we have to take all of this with the grain of salt required when dealing with estimates. Does this match up with your sense of things, if you're a renter or landlord?

These numbers, in case you're wondering, include both apartment complexes and single-family homes. And foreclosures could be in the mix: "If the unit is classified as 'vacant for sale only', it will be included in the 'vacant for sale' category," the Census Bureau notes. "If the unit is for rent or 'for sale OR rent,' it will be included in the 'vacant for rent' category."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:29 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

July 30, 2009

FBI: Tell us about rental scams

A few months back, I warned you to be on the lookout for rental scams. Now the FBI, concerned about the problem, is asking people to report potential or definite rental scamming to its Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Here's what the FBI is seeing:

You can’t believe your good fortune—you find a rental home in a nice area through a Craigslist classified ad at an unbelievably low rate. The landlord—who had to leave the country and travel to Nigeria—asks that you wire him two months’ worth of rent. You arrive at the home on the agreed-upon date, but there’s just one small problem—the house is not actually for rent and its owners know nothing about your agreement.

Or the home is for rent, except not by the "landlord" who has your money.

Scammers are going after landlords, too. Wonk reader Lisa says she's had lots of scam replies to her rental ads: "Most typically, the scammers are in a huge rush to move, want to send a deposit immediately and so request your bank info."

The FBI offers these suggestions to avoid falling victim:

Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;

Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;

Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;

Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;

Don’t give out personal information, like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

You know the drill: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

July 4, 2009

Tougher times for renters, landlords

We all hear that layoffs and salary reductions are bad for homeowners and will probably keep foreclosure numbers from dropping anytime soon. But the cuts aren't good for renters, either. And what's not good for renters -- in this case -- is bad news for landlords.

Half of U.S. property managers are having more trouble filling their units with "qualified renters," according to a new TransUnion survey. Eight out of 10 say they're worried about how the rest of the year will go. (TransUnion, a credit-information company that sells renter-screening services, said it surveyed more than 870 property managers last month.)

But what about the people who got foreclosed on? Aren't they in need of a place to rent? As it happens, only half the surveyed property managers reported an increase over last year in applicants leaving foreclosed properties. TransUnion speculates that "many consumers coming from these circumstances are moving in with family members or friends to share expenses."

Local landlords, how are things going for you? (Come on, now. I know some of you are reading. Well -- maybe not on the Fourth of July, but I'll wait.)

Renters, have you needed to make a change -- moving to a cheaper apartment, bringing in a roommate, going back to live with parents -- to deal with tighter finances? (Or are things going so well that you're moving to a nicer place?)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Landlording, Renting, Survey says ...

May 21, 2009

Renters, landlords: scams to watch out for

So you're a renter and you've found an ad for a place with a price that's fabulously low. Or you're trying to rent out your home and just got an email from a prospective tenant willing to send you a deposit sight unseen.

Uh oh.

A word to the wise: Scammers have infiltrated the rental market. It's a slightly more sophisticated effort than the "help me get my money out of a bank account and I'll pay you millions" emails from Nigeria. has examples of questionable emails from supposed renters and landlords. The typical scammer-renter sends a cashier's check that's too high, says "whoops" and asks you to refund the difference -- and after you do, you find out that the original check was a fake. The typical scammer-landlord asks you to send a deposit and promises to send you the keys -- but never does.

Here's what the site says to watch out for in emails.

The major red flags of any scam are:
* Outside of the US
* Misspellings
* Wanting Payments – Cashiers Check, FEDEX, etc
* Unable to personally show you the property
* Is traveling on business and will just send you the keys

Has anyone run into a scam like this?

A colleague once showed me emails from someone claiming to want to buy his house, and it had all the hallmarks. "Send me your bank account information to faciliate the transaction," etc. So home sellers: Keep these warnings in mind, too.

Update: Wonk reader Matt Gonter says he sees ads for suspiciously cheap Baltimore apartments -- like a newly renovated two-bedroom, two-bath, heated two-car-garage condo for $600 a month -- all the time on Craigslist.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:19 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

March 15, 2009

One solution for money problems: roommates

Two decades ago, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore began matching up homeowners in need of roommates and people in need of an affordable place to stay. Now -- with rising mortgage defaults and recessionary job troubles -- it looks like that "homesharing" program's time has really come.

Scott Calvert reports today that St. Ambrose made one more match since July than it did in all of 2007. People are advertising for their own matches, too.

He tells the story of Laura Rogers, who is sharing her home in Southwest Baltimore because the $400-a-month rent makes a big difference financially. As in not losing her home and car.
"Thank God I was getting the money from my roommate," said Rogers, 45, a temporary worker on contract with the state. "I would have never thought about trying to live with anybody, except for this economy."
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:31 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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