Rental market on the rise in Haywood

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | May 07, 2014

In a local market where more people seem to be renting a home instead of buying, it is important for tenants to know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to leasing property.

 

Rental demand increasing

Michele Rogers, co-owner of Select Homes in Waynesville, said Select Homes managed 128 rental properties when she bought the business in July 2010 and now manages 243 properties in Haywood County. Out of those properties, only seven of them are unoccupied.

“In the past three years we’ve seen an increase in what I call reluctant landlords — owners with homes that have been for sale for a couple of years and they have relocated or moved and can’t carry the burden of two homes so turn it over to us to rent,” Rogers said.

Chris Forga, a local real estate agent and rental property manager, has about 85 rentals but only a few are unoccupied. She said long-term rentals are definitely in high demand.

“I have many more people looking than I have houses for. People are renting homes from across the country sight unseen,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll put sign in a yard and before I get back to the office people are calling about it.”

In that regard, the local real estate market has a large impact on the rental market as many of the affordable homes are selling quickly while the more expense homes are being rented out because they aren’t selling.

Forga said she has clients just moving to area looking for a rental until they decide where they want to buy or build and she also has clients selling their house to downsize and renting in order to get free maintenance.

Paying the price

This type of demand keeps the prices of rentals higher in Haywood County.

“It’s all about supply and demand,” Forga said. “This is a better place to live than Asheville and we don’t have to fight traffic.”

Rogers said the average rent for Select Homes’ properties is $828, which has increased over the last several years. But many of her properties are between $1,000 and $1,500 a month.

“But rent is still considerably cheaper here than it is in Asheville,” she said, which is why she has had no problems filling her rentals with qualified and strictly screened tenants.

Rogers said a good number of new people looking for rentals in Haywood County are working in the medical field in Sylva and Asheville but choose to live in between because of the availability and pricing of rentals here.

“We also have a lot of previous home owners that are more middle aged and higher, and they have decided they don’t want to own a home anymore,” Rogers said. “We’ve become very busy people, and we like not having to fix the leaking sink or mow the grass — it’s a definite plus.”

Even though it is still a good time to buy an affordable home, she has seen many people opting to rent instead of having to worry about upkeep and maintenance that comes along with home ownership.

But available rentals are going quickly no matter the price. For Select Homes, a rental is typically filled within two weeks from the day it is posted on the website.

But units at Mountain Trace, a group of 48 newer town homes in Clyde, are filled in less than a week because they run about $800 a month and are pet friendly — another hard-to-find allowance when looking for a rental.

When determining how much rent to charge, Rogers said she starts by comparing a new rental to a similar unit she already has available. Then she has to take into consideration the age of the home, the location, number of rooms and baths and other amenities.

For example, central heating and air conditioning is a highly sought amenity that many older rentals don’t have, which drives up the price. A house with a garage, basement or fenced-in yard also will cost renters much more.

 

Tenant vs landlord rights

With an increasing number of people choosing to rent a home, it is important for tenants and landlords to know their rights and responsibilities before signing a lease. Renters and landlords are both accountable for specific duties around the house and those responsibilities are detailed in North Carolina laws.

Before 1977, there was very little in North Carolina’s law that required landlords to make repairs to rental properties. Before that, the value was based more on the land and not the farmhouse. But when the economy branched out from agriculture, there were more rentals of mobile homes and apartments and the living conditions became a primary concern.

This change led to the North Carolina Residential Rental Agreements Act being passed in 1977, which outlines tenant and landlord duties. Tenants must pay all rent legally due and perform day-to-day maintenance duties in order to enforce the landlord duties.

Tenants are required to keep in clean and safe conditions and not deliberately or negligently destroy or damage on premises.

Tenants also are responsible for damage unless it is regular wear and tear. They must notify the landlord in writing when a repair is needed or if a smoke detector needs to be replaced.

Landlord duties include complying with building codes, making repairs to keep premises in a fit, safe and habitable condition and promptly repairing all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and other facilities.

If a landlord refuses to make repairs, tenants can file a complaint in small claims court. Some states have laws allowing tenants to withhold payments if landlords won’t repair, but North Carolina law does not allow tenants to withhold rent payments unless a landlord consents to it in writing or if a judge or civil magistrate allows a tenant to withhold rent pursuant to a court order.

 

Security deposits

As a property manager, Rogers said she prides herself on keeping up to speed on applicable laws, including the Security Deposit Act and the Fair Housing Act.

The Security Deposit Act outlines how much money landlords can collect for a security deposit and how those funds can be used.

“There is a limit to what (landlords) can charge — if your rental is greater than month to month, the security deposit can’t exceed two months rent,” Rogers said.

Security deposits are to be held in an escrow account and can be used by the landlord to repair any damages beyond normal wear and tear after a tenant moves out or to fulfill any unpaid rent if a tenant breaks the lease. Forga said she is required to outline in the lease the address of the bank where the tenant’s security deposit is being held.

Rogers said a landlord has 30 days after a tenant moves out to disperse the money accordingly with any unused security deposit returned to the tenant.

Landlords are not allowed to discriminate against a potential tenant for a number of reasons, including age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or a disability. Rogers said many independent landlords and owners looking to rent their homes didn’t understand the fair housing laws. For example, an owner can’t tell reject a family from renting because they have children or make them pay a higher security deposit.

“I’m a huge advocate for fair housing — if you do it for one, you must do it for all,” Rogers said.

To ensure Select Homes is fair to all tenants, Rogers said she charges the same security deposit and pet deposit for everyone across the board.

Finding a rental that will accept pets is also a struggle for many in Haywood County. While many owners don’t want to allow pets, Rogers said she encourages them to be pet friendly and charge a refundable pet deposit.

Landlords can charge a “reasonable amount” for a non-refundable pet fee in addition to a security deposit. Forga chooses to charge a non-refundable fee for pets while Select Homes does a refundable deposit.

“We don’t charge pet fees. I don’t believe in it personally because nothing should be non-refundable,” she said. She added that making it refundable gives renters an incentive to make sure their pets don’t cause damage. However, service dogs are not considered a pet and landlords may not charge a pet fee or deposit.

For more information on tenant and landlord rights, read the landlord/tenant booklet at www.ncdoj.com.

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