What legal and screening strategies can an ecovillage implement to protect itself from bad apples but still allow prospective community people to come live on or rent from the community land while we get to know them? Looking to prevent hassles and court battles and complications!
You could start them off with a non-renewable lease, just as people do when they take off for a year and rent out their condo. Once the allotted time is up, they have no tenancy rights. The good ones can be re-signed to a longer-term.
You can require an application, that includes a background check, and ask for references. Look to most places' job applications. Or a few lease/rental agreements.
I deal with here I own property, am a landlord and need to rehab a few more of the houses yet, and have done numerous rounds of legality with people over art. You can ask about certain things, especially if it involves residency (renting directly or indirectly).
The person that showed up midmonth with her son and her live-in in the car to plead with me with waterworks to let them move into one of my needs rehab places and I could 'fix it up after they moved in' ... rang a lot of warning bells. Usually a mid month isn't a good thing unless you're doing a job relocate. If your rent's due on the first and you have to be out by then, the sheriff may be involved. The places in question need roofing, the heat put back in, all the appliances and need serious plumbing work (they were vandalized before I gained them) and both need windows replaced. They are NOT habitable. I do not have $15k to make them so within days especially with a minor involved. Oh, I found out about the three large dogs after I turned them down.
References and checking on their last residence and state of final bills can tell a lot about why someone's relocating. Yes you have a right. A friend that has several rentals in a large urban area, had a fellow show, wanted to move in NOW and had the cash for the move in, and they let him. He promptly quit paying rent, was in a bankruptcy and it took eight months to evict him because of that big B. He trashed out the place while he was there too.
So. You want to be friendly, and get the right people in. You do have the right though, to give it a doublecheck. Paul at the lab has his wonderful gapper program, where you pay a fee and they can put up with you for a short bit... and sort out what sort you are and are you a fit for there. Perhaps a combination of the two.
I know a landlord who operates in an area where the demographics aren't to his liking. He has a very complex application, which is seldom filled out in full. It says right on the application that unfinished ones will be tossed out. So whenever someone raises red flags, he tosses their's out. If an old lady with a good record doesn't finish hers, he will save it, give her a call, and help fill it out. He does this so that he's not accused of discriminating, against those with rotten dogs, crappy cars, rotten kids and facial tattoos. Not that there's anything wrong with those things.
I've had some bad landlords that had lawyers draw up their (illegal) leases. I later took copies of their leases (I had signed digital copies) and adapted them to my own needs when I rented out rooms in my home. The leases were VERY thorough in their release of liability. I adapted them to be more fair to both tenant and lessor.
Try getting some copies of some leases; maybe you know folks who rent out, or a company would be willing to help you out and send you a copy of theirs.
The lease that I use has a basic set of categories:
LEASE TERM - how long? From what date to what date? Can it be renewed and how do parties renew it? What are terms of vacating at the end of lease? This is the beautiful first section where you can state daily/monthly/weekly rates and methods of renewal, if any.
RENT/UTILITIES - rent amount spelled out, deadlines, late fees, payment methods, check terms. Internet and utility usage terms (I have a clause about illegal use of net/utilities = termination of lease). What's included in rent? What isn't? Is lessor allowed to change any utilities? Is lessee? Outage of utilities don't merit refunds. Terms of additional fees, if any.
LEASE PREMISES - what defines the leased premises? What is private? What is shared/common? What can be used, what can't? What does lessee need to maintain themselves? Here I start using the terminology of "home, property, and its systems, furnishing, equipment, landscaping, fencing, livestock, and plant life" to be legally clear about every possible thing on the property that isn't to be touched, altered, changed, removed, or what have you.
RESPONSIBILITIES - What is tenant responsible for? What are the official expectations? Are there gates to keep closed? Locks to keep locked? Curfews (maybe someone on the property works nights, for example). I use a clause about how deposit money can be used immediately to repair damages that may occur during tenancy. Here a landlord needs to know their laws; In Idaho it is ILLEGAL to keep ANY portion of a deposit for cleaning and general post-move-out tidy-up. Legally, it can ONLY be used for DAMAGES. Most Lessors break this law.
HUMAN OCCUPANCY - who is allowed to be there? Are guests allowed and for what time frame? What terms must be met to bring in more or longer term guests/occupants?
PET OCCUPANCY - What house pets are allowed? Same deal; guest/visiting pets? How long, what process of approval needs to be taken, if any?
LIVESTOCK OCCUPANCY - same deal; livestock allowed? How many? Species? Where are thye being kept? What are responsibilities? Medical requirements? Visiting livestock (breeding services for example)? Etc etc.
PAYMENT TERMS - How is lessee to make payment, and what happend to the contract if they fail to pay?
DEPOSIT TERMS - this is always custom; are there pet deposits (in ID it's ILLEGAL to have a "nonrefundable" deposit, check your local laws), livestock deposits, security deposits, reservation deposits? Multiple deposits will require multiple paragraphs about expectations and legalities. What's the amount? When is it to be paid by? What is the deposit for? How can the money be used? What is the time frame for its return? (check local laws about legal time you're allowed to hold a deposit).
PRE-RENTAL INSPECTION - tenant is agreeing they ahve inspected the property, agree to its condition and to leasing as-is.
POST-RENTAL INSPECTION - tenant agrees to leave property as they found it, normal wear and teat accepted (legal conditions in ID). Put final inspection terms here. What happens if you don't show up? If they don't show up? If no inspection is done? Outline time frames as per law and how money will be returned to tenant.
SCHEDULED INSPECTION - are you going to be inspecting the property during the lease? What temrs is that on? I usually write a minimum 12-24 hour advanced express notice of inspection (though I've never done one). This protects lessee's privacy.
MAINTENENCE - How is lessee expected to maintain? Is there plantlife/lawn care? livestock care? Interior maintenance? I reiterate here that "home, property, and its systems, furnishing, equipment, landscaping, fencing, livestock and plant life" are not to be altered, destroyed, removed, or tampered with. Also some verbiage about no liens or encumbrances are to be placed on the property, etc. by the tenant.
RELEASE OF LIABILITY - my words: "Lessee agrees to release Lessor of all liability for any loss of, damage to, or harm to Lessee’s, their guests’, or their agents’ person(s) or property due to their own autonomous choices and actions, or the autonomous choices or actions of any person unaffiliated with and strange to the Lessee. Lessor agrees to release Lessee of all liability for any loss of, damage to, or harm to the leased premises and its real property, furnishings, appliances, native equipment, systems, or plant life due to normal wear and tear, as expressed by Idaho law, or to the autonomous choices and actions of any person unaffiliated with and strange to Lessee." basically, if the tenant or their guests are being stupid and hurt themselves, it's not my problem. If someone breaks in and trashes the place, neither party is to blame. I usually also have a clause about release of liability from animal injury since I have livestock.
LEASE TERMINATION - What happens in detail when lease is up? How does a mutual early termination happen, if possible? Is a breach of contract grounds for immediate termination?
PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES - here I put in smoking, and reiterate that nothing about the property is to be changed or removed. Also a cap on how many people can be in the home/space at a time (no big parties)
CONTACT - multiple reliable forms of contact for all parties, plus emergency contacts or repair/maintenence contacts. Also terms on what constitutes adequate attempt to contact other party. What happens when contact can't be made; judgement calls? Repairs? Approval of visitors? Etc etc.
TRASH SERVICES - info about how to handle trash or where trash pick up is if applicable
Then your fancy final lines of when payment was made, how, and what amount for rent and deposits and some nice signature and date lines :)
And boof! Youv'e got a pretty well rounded lease. It can be altered as needed. And addendums are easy to whip up for after-thoughts.
There is a website called casenet. Here in Missouri the state uses their software to keep a public record of all legal cases online. I have seen casenet sites for other states as well. Bad tenants almost always leave a record.
You will always be treated with dignity. Now, strip naked, get on the probulator and hold this tiny ad: