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By asking these questions now, you are doing the right thing at the right time. There are many different and absolutely helpful steps you can take to keep yourself informed and lessen the likelihood you'll fall prey to an unscrupulous landlord. At this point, I personally would not pay this landlord any rent. Although, there are essentially several things you can do to arm yourself in this environment; I articulate two (2) below.
First, definitely pay for a service to check if a landlord is in foreclosure still. Although, I believe there a limit to which you should pay, and not all services are accurate or even promising, nevertheless you should consider some type of notification service. One service I know that is accurate & relatively inexpensive is Tenant Protection Services (TenantProtectionServices.com). *** Landlords typically will pay $35 for a tenant credit report. It is proactive and a small fee for a tenant to pay $15 for a one-time report or $25 for a year (of monthly reports) to find out if a potential landlord is in foreclosure or once in the property to be notified if it falls into foreclosure at some point after signing a lease.
Second, I would negotiate with the landlord (on your next deal) at the outset and put some terms into any lease or month-to-month rental. Now, be aware that there is no guarantee that a landlord will agree, and if you are bidding on a rental that has multiple offers to rent, you could be out of luck inserting your favorable terms. I would suggest that you make it a covenant of the lease contract that the landlord makes all mortgage, property tax, HOA dues, & insurance payments. So, if your landlord doesn’t comply with those covenants or obligations, you may be able to forego your obligation to pay rent if you made the landlord’s obligation to pay the mortgage (or taxes) an affirmative covenant of the lease, the breach of which could then relieve you of the obligation to pay rent until the landlord’s default is cured.
If you follow all this and complete your due diligence, you will greatly reduce the chances you’ll have to sue your lessor for your deposit or rents or be surprised one day when the sheriff or the bank rep comes knocking your door, because they won’t; you’ll have already been noticed weeks or months beforehand. All the best.
Todd Rubinstein is a licensed California Real Estate Broker affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential & Commercial Brokerage specializing in Single Family, Multi-Family, Probate, Trust, Conservatorship, Trustee Sale Investor & REO (Bank or Lender Owned) transactions. Also, a licensed California Attorney he once prosecuted some of LA County’s finest, and currently provides advice on a myriad of legal issues, including but not limited to Real Estate, Criminal Defense, Family law and Landlord/Tenant rights and obligations as well as Condo and HOA law.
*** disclosure – I know of the accuracy, because I have an affiliation to the service.
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