I’ve noticed an interesting increase in the number of landlord/tenant-related legal issues that are coming into my virtual law office. Most of the requests have been from landlords who are having issues with collecting rent. Others are requesting new lease agreements.
Landlord/tenant law is one area in which I have not set up my virtual law office to automate some of the process. It’s not a practice area that I handle regularly, but I do have some prior experience drafting agreements and handling collection issues for landlords.
I have been reading in the WSJ and my local paper that because the real estate market is so slow moving, many individuals are opting to put their properties up for rent rather than have them sit on the market indefinitely until the economy rebounds. That would make a record for first-time landlords, many of whom may not have any knowledge of their state’s landlord/tenant laws. Recently my local bar association requested volunteer attorneys to provide pro bono guidance on several areas of law and landlord/tenant law was one of them.
I know there are online resources out there for tenants because I have referred clients to those resources when I am not able to work with them personally online. But are there any good online educational resources for the landlords? When I refer out individuals I cannot represent, I like to also give them free or low-cost online educational resources as well as refer to another virtual law office or full-service law firm.
Many of these folks may be juggling two or more mortgages as they are turning their former residences into rental properties and trying to get on with their plans in spite of the market. My guess is that they are coming to my virtual law office seeking more affordable legal guidance as they work their way through the learning process of being in a landlord position. With school just starting this month, perhaps some of these residences are being put up for rent to college or graduate students – or just from the larger number of former home owners who are now renting rather than buying a new home.
I’m not sure that the online legal service companies that provide standarized lease agreements are going to be able to provide the guidance for customized agreements or to do some practical legal guidance and advice giving to new landlords. The reason I do not have this practice area more automated in my own VLO is because it’s so infrequent that I get the same request for services or questions. It’s hard to build an automated “package” for more than a standardized lease agreement. Many of these tailored questions that are registering on my VLO require a bit more involvement. I’m still sticking with the fixed fee arrangement, but with the caveat about switching to my billable hour if the scope of the project changes, just as I do with small business clients. I wonder if anyone else operating a virtual law office has noticed a rise in landlord/tenant requests for online legal services in the past three or four months?