Deborah Edwards of Apple Valley didn't use a property manager when she and her fiancé rented out her house before they married.
She quickly found out that there was a lot to learn. Everything from a tenant search to city inspections is uncharted territory for most landlords.
"It's really stressful," Edwards said. "Learning all the rules and codes was a huge learning curve."
Fortunately, there are easier ways to learn than trial and error. Lutheran Social Service has come up with an online training program (www.getrented.org) for landlords who may not have time to attend a class. The Minnesota Attorney General and Minnesota Multi-Housing Association in Bloomington also provide consumer booklets or classes,
Lutheran Social Service's RentEd training helps homeowners educate themselves to avoid expensive mistakes, nasty arguments and lawsuits.
"It's important for property owners to stay informed because rules and laws are constantly changing," said Dawn Horgan, housing director for Lutheran Social Service.
LSS created the website after hearing from tenants whose landlords weren't clear about proper notice, leases from states other than Minnesota and side deals. "It's about maintaining a good reputation as a landlord," said Horgan.
Property owners who complete the $40 online class and pass the quizzes receive a certificate of completion good for $250 off the fee for converting an owner-occupied residence to a rental. Minneapolis, for example, charges new landlords a $1,000 conversion fee.
The 90-minute, self-directed course is divided into short video sections on the basics of property owner/tenant laws, tenant screening and selection, leases, vouchers and other subsidies, maintenance and repairs, pests and infestations, and continuing and ending a tenancy.
The course helps property managers with details as complicated as a lease or as simple as properly placed smoke detectors. "One slip-up like a smoke detector in the wrong place can cause you to fail your housing inspection," said Sue Speakman-Gomez, president of HousingLink, a Minnesota-based affordable housing resource.
So far the new online program has had nearly 150 landlords take the course. Wendy Sullivan, a landlord for more than a decade, took the course as a refresher. "This will help a lot of people," she said. "It's a hard lesson if you don't know these things."