MONEY winter

Sick of Clearing the Snow? Failure to Do So Could Cost Even More

150304_EM_snow_1
Steven Senne/ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's been a stormy winter for much of the country, so it's understandable if you're tired of clearing snow off your car and sidewalk. But there's more reason than ever to handle these chores like a good citizen.

Earlier this winter—before we knew just how bad of a winter it would be—we ran a post about why it is so essential to shovel your walkway after it snows. The reasons start with getting hit with local fines for failing to clear snow and ice, and they end with the possibility of being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars if someone falls and gets injured on your property.

In Boston, which is on the verge of crossing the mark for having snowiest winter on record, Mayor Martin Walsh plans on increasing the fine fivefold for property owners who don’t clear their sidewalks or snow and ice, or who push snow into the streets. The highest possible fine could be $1,500, up from the current maximum of $300, if Walsh can convince the city council to get on board with the idea at a meeting on Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported. If property owners don’t pay the fines, they would simply be added to the owner’s property tax bills.

“Failing to remove snow from a sidewalk puts lives at danger. It’s a problem for every pedestrian, but it is especially difficult for our children, for the disabled, and for the elderly to face deep, unshoveled sidewalks, and be forced to walk in the road,” Walsh said in a press release. “I urge the City Council and state officials to move this legislation which grants us the authority to deter these violations, hold accountable those who are guilty, and recoup some of the added costs that these violations create.”

Getting sidewalks cleared of snow and ice has also proven to be a problem in many parts of New York City, especially in neighborhoods overrun with foreclosed properties and vacant buildings, where it’s sometimes impossible to track down who, if anyone, is the owner. According to a New York Times analysis, 331 tickets for failure to clear snow off sidewalks have been issued to just 10 notorious properties in the Bronx. The Bronx has been hit with the most fines per capita (more than 10,000 violations), though Brooklyn and Queens properties have received more tickets overall, with 14,000 and 13,000, respectively.

Meanwhile, in places like northeast Ohio, unshoveled sidewalks and walkways are causing a host of problems, including disputes among neighbors and gripes from elderly residents about the unfairness of fines. In some cases, the United States Postal Service has even stopped delivering the mail to residences where sidewalks, walkways, or streets are clogged with snow and ice.

Your obligation to clear snow doesn’t stop at the edge of your property, however. Laws have been passed in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Connecticut, among other places, requiring drivers to clear snow from cars before heading out onto roads. In the latter, drivers face fines up to $1,000 if snow or ice flies off your vehicle and causes damage to another car or motorist, but in most cases, the fine would be a flat $75.

There’s also a bill currently under consideration in Pennsylvania that would allow police to pull over cars and trucks if the vehicle is covered in ice or snow that “may pose a threat to persons or property,” regardless of whether or not any damage has been caused. If the bill becomes law, drivers would face fines of $25 to $75 for not clearing snow and ice from vehicles. That’s cheap compared to Europe, where failure to clear snow from cars in the Alps could result in a fine of €450, or around $500.

MONEY home maintenance

Here’s How to Avoid 5 Hidden Costs of Winter

frozen pipe
Mike Kemp—Getty Images

All that winter snow can take a big chunk out of your budget. Here's how to avoid the worst home problems the chill can bring.

As I type this article, the temperature outside is negative 17 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind chill? Negative 32. And this is, like, our fifth round of this frigid nonsense this year. We’ve gotten used to the cold, so I complain mostly to establish my clout as a northern girl who knows her winter weather and storms. As you might not know, there are costs hidden in the feet of snow dumped on our streets, the ice coating the trees overhanging our homes, and the plunging temperatures that seem unrelenting. (See also: 9 Things You Need to Do Now to Prepare for Winter)

Here’s how to avoid paying them.

1. Frozen Pipes

We had a plumber over the other day, and he was telling us about all the frozen pipes his team has been dealing with this winter. When pipes burst, they don’t only dump water into your home. They run a path of destruction, ruining flooring, flooding furnaces, and more. The costs can be staggering. To avoid this unfortunate situation, make sure your pipes stay warm. The plumber explained to us that problems often arise when people go away and turn their heat down low, so keep your thermostat on a toasty 65 or higher. And learn where your main water shutoff valve is so you can stop the worst damage before it starts.

2. Fire Hazards

When the weather gets frightful, people often turn to secondary heating source to supplement the furnace. They switch on things like electric or gas heaters, gas or wood stoves, and light up fireplaces. Whenever you’re using a flame inside your home, make sure you’re watching it carefully. Fire is one of the most costly tragedies because you could lose absolutely everything you own, including your home. Get your chimney cleaned annually to eliminate the risk of fire. And always open your flue the whole way, which will keep the airflow in proper order.

3. Fallen Trees

With all that ice and snow and wind, there’s a risk that trees around your home might fall without notice. We’ve never experienced this one ourselves, but we did almost buy a home where several sick-looking trees were overhanging the property. I still walk by that place and wonder when the damage is going to happen. Although there’s not a lot you can do to ensure those trees won’t come crashing down onto your roof or worse, you can be proactive — especially since costs aren’t always covered by insurance. If you have trees hanging close to your house, consider trimming them back. Remove rotting or sick trees entirely. You can often get a free quote for the work (get several), and though it might cost a lot upfront, you’ll save costs later on.

4. Ice Dams

We’ve had some impressively long icicles this year. They’re both beautiful and slightly terrifying at the same time. Not only do ice dams pose dangers to people hanging below, but they can also cause some major roof problems by blocking water from flowing freely. Try removing as much snow as possible from your roof. If that’s not a viable option, try removing icicles or hire a professional to come out and do it for you. It will cost less to take care of an issue before it gets downright nasty. To prevent the dams next year, add more insulation to your attic and check out heated wires you can install on gutters that melt ice away.

5. Utility Costs

Now, with the electric components, especially heaters, utility costs can climb. Your heater could be costing you between $50 and $120 per month to run — and when you consider that winter lasts forever some places, that adds up fast. Try running your heater at minimum and — instead — layering up with warm clothes for free. Otherwise, some general home maintenance can take care of a lot of the dollars that are literally flying out your windows. Check around for drafts and cover them up. Get your furnace serviced to ensure it’s running properly. Use thermal curtains to block cold air out on the worst days. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Lower Winter Utility Costs)

Read more great articles from Wise Bread:

MONEY housing

Boomers’ Homes Are Once Again Their Castles

House in Colorado
Getty Images

A new study looks at the relationship older Americans have with their homes and finds some surprises.

Aging Baby Boomers apparently missed the memo about how badly they’ve prepared for retirement. While study after study highlights inadequate retirement savings and planning, a new survey and report sponsored by Merrill Lynch finds that a broad cross-section of older Americans are eagerly looking forward to new adventures and, especially, freedoms, in their later years.

“Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices,” prepared for Merrill Lynch by the Age Wave consulting firm, focuses on the age-related transitions that people are making in the way they live and how they regard their homes. According to the study, nearly two-thirds of retirees say they are now living in the “best home of their lives” and making active efforts to create living spaces that match their new retirement lifestyles. Nearly as many say they are likely to move during their retirement years, and most of this group has already relocated once.

“When I look out at the future of our aging population, I have concerns, too,” said Ken Dychtwald, head of Age Wave and a longtime leader in aging research. “I am not a beginner at this. But I think a lot of our worries are not a fait accompli,” he said. “I think we have, to a fair extent, overemphasized the misery of aging.”

After lives largely determined by work and family responsibilities, boomer retirees find they are experiencing a new sense of freedom about where and how they live. An estimated 4.2 million retirees moved into new homes last year alone, the report found. And while downsizing is often recommended as a new lifestyle for retirees, nearly a third of retirees who relocated actually moved into larger homes. (One reason: One out of every six retirees has a “boomerang” child who moved back in with them.)

Only one in six retirees who moved last year wound up in a different state, emphasizing the strong attachments that boomers have to their existing communities. Among future retirees, 60% say they expect to stay in their current state while 40% want to explore other parts of the country.

From their 60s to their late 70’s, people “think of this as a great time and a time of great freedom,” Dychtwald said. “That word—freedom—came up over and over again.”

Reaching age 60 seems to represent a “threshold event” for people, added Cyndi Hutchins, director of financial gerontology for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. With careers winding down and children out of the house, people take a new look at their futures. Another transition occurs in the early to middle 70s, when many begin to slow down and become less active. “We see a spike in that freedom threshold again at that age,” she said. “We see retirement as a succession of different time periods.”

Whether people move or not, or downsize or not, their homes assume added significance, the study found. “Prior to age 55, more homeowners say the financial value of their home outweighs its emotional value,” the report said. “As people age, however, they are far more likely to say their home’s emotional value is more important than its financial value.” More than 80% of people aged 65 and older own their own homes, and more than 70% of them have paid off their mortgages.

If boomers do reinvest in their homes, it would provide a major boost to the housing and home furnishings business. In the next decade, the study notes, the number of U.S. households will increase by nearly 13 million, with nearly all of this growth—nearly 11 million—occurring among people aged 65 and older.

“Age 55+ households account for nearly half (47%) of all spending on home renovations—about $90 billion annually,” the report noted. “While younger households slowed or reduced spending on home renovations between 2003 and 2013, spending among those age 65+ increased by 26%.”

Common renovations among retired homeowners include: home office (35%), improved curb appeal (34%), a kitchen upgrade (32%), improved bathroom (29%), adding age-friendly safety features in a bathroom (28%), and modifying their home so they can live on a single level if needed (15%).

The report found the South Atlantic states were the favorite place for people to live and to relocate, followed by Mountain and Pacific states.

It also echoed other research that finds people overwhelmingly prefer to “age in place” in their own homes, with 85% of people preferring this option as opposed to moving to a senior or assisted living community.

Leading age-ready home features include a no-step entry; single-floor living; extra-wide hallways and doors; accessible electrical controls; lever-style handles on doors and faucets; bathroom safety features, and, accessible countertops and cabinets.

The Merrill Lynch study is the fifth in its series of seven planned reports dealing with people’s life priorities for their health, home, family, finance, giving, work, and leisure. Its findings are based on a survey of more than 3,600 adults representative of the broader U.S. population in terms of age, income, gender and place of residence.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health, and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How to Evaluate Contractor Bids

Q: I’ve followed your advice and gotten three bids from different contractors who want to do my project. Now what? Do I just hire the one with the best price?

A: Those bids can tell you a lot about the contractors who wrote them—but they may not be very accurate measures of the total price each one would wind up charging for your project. Here’s why.

Unless you’ve given the bidders the exact specifications for your job—in other words, drawings, materials lists, and product names put together by an architect or designer—the bids are at best educated guesses, says Cambridge, Mass., Realtor and renovation consultant Bruce Irving.

The contractor is making assumptions about what you’ll pick as the project unfolds and pricing each component of the job based on those assumptions. So the differences in their bids could very well boil down to differences in their assumptions. And your costs are bound to escalate as the project proceeds, because you can be sure that the contractors will hit you with up-charges for any product or option you select that’s more expensive than his estimate.

If you have hired a professional designer (which Irving recommends for any significant project, because for the added 10% or 20% you’ll pay, he says, you will get you a far better result, professional oversight of the contractor, and a whole lot less stress along the way), the bids are likely much more accurate measures of what each contractor will charge, especially if their bottom lines are just a few percentage points apart. Always throw away outliers. Extreme low bidders are probably desperate for work and planning to cut corners on your job, and super high bidders are probably too busy to take on your project unless you’re willing to overpay.

Whether or not you’re not using a designer, however, bids can be quite useful as character studies about the contractors.

“Look not only at the numbers but at how they’re presented,” says Irving. “Are they clear, organized, detail-oriented, and delivered when they were promised? Do they accurately reflect the nuances of what you told him you’re looking to do?” There’s no guarantee that a quality bid equates to a quality contractor—or that a sloppy one means you’ll get sloppy work—but it increases the odds.

Look for a bid that thoroughly outlines every aspect of the job, from the cost of the porta-potty for the crew to the fee for the town building permits—and of course the contractor’s price for each and every element of the project, with a bit of detail about the options that he’s priced (not just “under-cabinet lights,” for example, but “eight under-cabinet LED light fixtures”).

That way, even without architect specs, you can see, in writing, exactly what he’s proposing to deliver—and charge you—for each part of the job. Once you sign the bid and it becomes your contract, if a question arises later about whether the price includes, say, installing stone or ceramic tiles, you’ll have his description to refer back to.

In any case, the bids should only play a supporting role in your decision about who to hire. “It’s just as important to visit a current project, see the way the jobsite is kept, and meet the crew,” says Irving. “And it’s vital that you talk to his three most recent customers to ask whether they’d use him again—and how close the final price came to his original bid.”

MONEY Investing

5 Things No One Tells You About Owning Vacation Home Rentals

Beach homes
Rich Reid—Getty Images/National Geographic

Owning a vacation rental can be a good investment, but a lot can go wrong if you're not prepared. Here's what to know before you buy.

Owning a vacation home can be a great investment opportunity, but it is one that does have some risk associated with it. Before you ever purchase a vacation home, you should do your homework and plan accordingly. Here are 5 things that can go wrong when owning a vacation home.

1. Annual Returns Can Go Negative

Oftentimes vacation homeowners are faced with a negative annual return especially if they had a down year for bookings or if they had a major repair. Before you ever purchase a vacation home, you should look at all the monthly bills associated with the property and be comfortable enough with the total amount that you could pay on these bills even if the vacation home did not bring in any money.

Just in a few recent years, we have had a terrorist attack on American soil and the second worst financial disaster in the history of our country. These two events had a major impact on people traveling and the amount of disposable income they have to spend on vacations.

The second thing you must research before you buy a vacation home is to figure out the average nightly rate guests are willing to pay for a similar property and how many nights a year the property should be occupied. Once you have these two figures, you can easily find out how much income the property will bring in on an annual basis. When you compare the income to the monthly expenses, you should have a positive cash flow. If not, I would think twice about purchasing the property.

Related: 5 Expert Tips for Managing Your Own Vacation Home Rental

You can find most of the information you are looking for by asking your realtor, property managers who manage properties in the area, and by calling homeowners who list their properties on VRBO.com.

2. You May Not Be Able to Visit as Often as You’d Like

Life has a funny way of jumping in and keeping us from doing things we really want to do. I can’t count on my hand how many times homeowners have told me that before they purchased a property in Orlando, they visited 3 or 4 times a year. Then after they purchased their vacation home, they never seem to be able to break away and visit. You oftentimes find this as kids get older and get into sports or other activities that seem to eat up your weekends.

3. Repairs Can Come Up

You will need to put money back into your property every year to keep it up and maintained. The National Realtors Association estimates that you should budget for 1.5% of the cost of your home to be spent on repairs and general upkeep every year.

So if you purchase a $200,000 vacation home, you should budget to put $3,000 back into the property every year. Now, if you are renting your vacation home out to short term renters, you might need to budget a little more. Guests may not treat a vacation home as nicely as they would their own house.

4. HOA Dues Always Go Up

If you purchase a vacation home in a community that has an HOA, the dues will always go up. In all the years that I have been managing vacation homes, I have never seen an HOA reduce their monthly or quarterly dues.

Related: 8 Clever Ways to Save BIG on the Monthly Bills for Your Vacation Rental

5. Vacation Homes Do Not Always Increase in Value

Just as we talked about before, when we have a huge natural, manmade, or financial disaster, investors get scared and sell their investments. This is what happened in 2008 and 2009. Too many vacation homes flooded the market, and the price on the houses plummeted. Many people were not able to sell their vacation home for anywhere near the price that they purchased it, and this caused many houses to go into foreclosure and some houses to be sold as short sales. The longer you hold onto a vacation home, the better chance you have of making money on the property, but buying a vacation home is not a surefire money maker.

Owning a vacation home is a good investment if you do your homework and research. Many people rush to buy a vacation home for the simple pleasure of just saying they own one. Take your time; buying any good investment is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t be afraid to walk away from the property if you are not totally comfortable.

This article originally appeared on BiggerPockets, the real estate investing social network. © 2015 BiggerPockets Inc.

More from BiggerPockets:

MONEY Ask the Expert

When It Makes Sense to Refinance Your Mortgage

For Sale sign illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Should I refinance my mortgage? I can drop my current rate by half a point.

A: Mortgage rates, though still close to the 19-month low set in mid-January, have recently started inching up. The national average for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.9% as of Feb. 11, according to Bankrate. That’s up from 3.8% the week before, but well below the 5%-plus rates of 2011.

So if you’re a homeowner with good credit and a solid income, now might be an opportune time to refinance.

As a general rule, refinancing—that is, paying off your current mortgage and taking out a new loan at a lower interest rate—may be worthwhile if you can drop your rate by at least half a percent, says Marilyn Capelli Dimitroff, a certified financial planner in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and former chair of the CFP board of directors. For example, if you have $390,000 remaining on an original $400,000 loan at 4.25%, refinancing the balance into a new loan at 3.75% would save you $162 a month.

There are costs to refinancing, of course. You’ll have to pay bank fees, attorney fees, appraisal fees, and title insurance fees that typically total about $3,000 to $5,000. Use a refinance calculator, such as this one from Bankrate, to plug in your current mortgage details, the new loan rate, and the refinancing fees, and you’ll see how many months it would take for the savings to repay the cost. Bear in mind, though, that refinance calculators tend to underestimate the payback time. They typically don’t factor in the mortgage tax deduction, which effectively lowers the net savings from reducing your monthly interest payment, and you may not anticipate every fee you’ll have to pay, so don’t refinance unless you’re planning to stay in your house for at least five years.

Even if all the numbers look good, there’s another factor to consider, says Dimitroff. By refinancing, you’re extending the loan period to 30 years from now. If you’re in year two of the original loan and you’re 34 years old, that’s probably no big deal. But if you’re in year seven and you’re in your late 40s, you may not want to start over with a 30-year loan.

If you’re concerned about extending your loan too far into the future—or if by doing so you will wind up paying additional total interest over the life of the loan, something you can check on any good refinance calculator—consider these two options:

  • Take a 15- or 20-year loan instead of a 30. This will generally earn you a still-lower interest rate, though the shortened loan period will probably result in a higher monthly payment. With the example above, refinancing for 15 years at 3% (the national average in early February was 3.06%) would increase the monthly payment by $725. If you can afford that cost, this can be an extremely beneficial move because it means you’ll be done paying off your mortgage in just 15 years and will save more than $100,000 in total interest over the course of the loan.
  • If you can’t afford to do that, see whether you could take a new 30-year loan, but use some of your monthly savings to pay a bit extra each month and shorten the term of the new mortgage to match the years remaining on your old one. For example, refinancing in year five of a $400,000 mortgage at 5% into a new loan at 3.75% could save around $450 a month. Put $200 of that toward paying down the principal each month, and you can shorten the new loan to 25 years and still pocket close to $250 a month. Or just keep paying the full amount you’re already accustomed to paying each month, and shorten the new loan to just over 20 years, with the freedom to pay only the regular loan payment anytime finances get tight.

Always shop around for your mortgage because rates—and fees—vary significantly from one lender to the next. If you have excellent credit, you may find the best rates from a local savings bank rather than a national bank or a mortgage broker.

More on mortgages from Money 101:
What Mortgage is Right for Me?
Should I Try to Pay Off My Mortgage More Quickly?
How Do I Get the Best Rate on a Mortgage?

MONEY renting

How to Be a Dream Tenant and Snag Any Rental You Choose

Hand holding gold key, close-up
David Muir—Getty Images

Keep pets, friends, and bad credit from ruining your shot at a nice rental

If you are a renter, you have many obstacles ahead of you. Landlords are full of horror stories, and you are just another potential horror story. You want and need to be the best renter the new landlord has ever seen.

No landlord really wants you, but they need you. They need you to help them pay their rental mortgage; they need you to help them pay their personal mortgage, they need you to help them retire early. But they do not need you to come around and damage the premise or cause them a lot of extra work. Here is how to be the best renter you can possibly be.

Prepare for the Apartment Viewing Process

When you set up a showing for a rental property, it is really an interview. You are interviewing the landlord or property management company, and they are interviewing you. Make a critical mistake in this process, and you will have to move on to the next property. You do not have to be dressed for church, but do not come looking like you are homeless.

Get A Solid Credit Score

Anyone can have a decent credit score at 18 years old. Apply for a secured pre-paid Visa card, use it for a small charge once a month, and pay the bill when it comes due. Just like that, you will have a 700+ credit score. If you already have bad credit, you are starting behind the 8-ball and may have more difficulties. Clean up your credit report as soon as possible to increase your credit score.

Related: The Top 14 Tips Landlords Wish Their Tenants Knew

Knowing approximately what your credit score is will help immensely, in case there are credit score requirements for the rental. There is no sense in applying for a place you will not get. Bring in your proof of a credit score to help, but know that any decent landlord will also run your application through a credit check process and verify that your version closely matches theirs.

Come Prepared to Rent

You should be ready to rent any place you are looking at; otherwise, why waste your time or the landlord’s? Bring along proof of employment and income, along with your W2, tax forms, or a pay stub. Bring a pen to fill out an application and a checkbook to write out a check for the application fees. If you like the rental, you should also put down a holding fee to hold the rental. If you do not like the place or the landlord, keep the information in your pocket for the next place.

Control Your Viewing Group

Bring everyone along who will be renting — and no one else. A landlord will assume that your friend who arrives with you and is “living somewhere else” will be moving in as soon as you sign a lease. If your fiance who has just gotten out of prison stays in the car, I will also assume he looks so rough no one will rent to him, and I will also assume he will be moving in. Do not be offended if the landlord wants to keep criminals out of their multifamily rental.

If you have kids, do not let them run wild in the rental. It is not your place yet. If you are viewing an occupied unit, remember that it is someone else’s house. The current tenants do not even want you there, but they know the landlord needs to show it. If your kid steals a toy from the current renter and you have to come back from your car to return it, please do not be offended when you are politely declined for the rental.

Clean Up Your Pet Situation

Get rid of your “lab mix” dog that looks and acts like a purebred pit bull. Landlords do not like pit bulls, insurance companies do not like pit bulls, and many cities do not like pit bulls. If you have a 200 lb. bull mastiff, expect to be declined as a renter in any places that do not also allow horses. If you have six cats, get rid of at least four of them. Do not even apply if you have an intact male cat.

If you have a fish tank, keep it under 55 gallons. I have had renters with 200+ gallon saltwater fish tanks, and while they are impressive, they are way too big. Do not think for a minute that large or poisonous snakes are a great pet in an apartment, even though they are quiet. If your dog barks, get a bark collar for it.

If you have more than two pets, in any combination of dogs and cats, you are going to have a problem, especially if you can barely afford the rent.

Learn Move-In Etiquette

Once you have been approved, plan on moving in during the day. You can start as early as 7 a.m. during the week — or even 8 a.m. on the weekends — but do not start moving in after 8 p.m. Wait until the next day. Do not block the other tenants’ cars with all of your mover’s cars. If you have to temporarily block driveways and garages, be prepared to quickly move out of the way in short notice. Other tenants need to go about their day and do not want to be inconvenienced by you.

Watch for the walls and ceilings when you move. Do not scrape the walls and break ceiling light fixtures. If you drop trash in the hallways or common areas, pick it up. If you see a neighbor, introduce yourself if they do not do so first. Your neighbor is your ally. They are the ones who will tolerate your noise — or call the cops on you. It’s your choice: be a neighborly neighbor or be the “strange person across the hall.” A simple handshake is all it takes.

Requirements of a Great Renter

Pay Rent. It is impossible to be a great renter if you do not pay rent. You could be a personal friend of Gandhi or a guest of the Pope on a regular basis, but if you do not pay rent, you are a terrible renter by definition. Pay your rent on time; it is due on midnight the evening BEFORE the first of the month. Not on the first, not on the fifth. Set up an auto-pay system so you do not forget; it will save your renter reputation. If you need to pay rent in two installments, pay half in advance, and the rest when it is due.

Do Not Force Other Tenants to Leave. If you have weirdo habits that creep other tenants out, it is a bad deal. Do not deal drugs in the apartment area, or even look like you might be a drug dealer. If you want to be a drug dealer, go do it at work, not at home. If you have a habit of hanging laundry on the deck or using a sheet for a curtain, think twice about it. You do not want to bring down the appearance of the complex because you are too cheap to live like a normal human being.

Do Not Bring in Pests. Stay away from the free furniture on the curbs. It is there for a reason; no one wants it. It is likely to be full of bedbugs. Stay away from bringing home boxes from stores and restaurants that are full of cockroaches. If you bring in cockroaches or bed bugs, do not be surprised if you are eventually asked to leave. It is easier to rid an apartment of pests when it is empty. Pests are non-discriminatory in terms of income level, but low income habits seem to attract them.

Do Not Invite Your Criminal Friends Over. Many criminals who have been to jail or prison have a different mentality when it comes to resolving issues. It typically becomes a fight waiting to happen. Combine criminals, alcohol, and a card game, and it is only a matter of time before someone gets offended and a fight breaks out. When someone gets into a fight and they are hit with a 1.5L brandy bottle, they can fall against the stairway railing and lose half of their ear. I have seen it happen. If you have criminal friends, go play at their house, not yours.

Do Not Just Hang Around. Do not loiter around the outside of the building or allow your friends to do so. When you come home or your friends come over, go into your apartment. Hanging around looks bad — it looks like you are looking for trouble to get into. And especially do not hang around the building or parking lot around after dark. Hanging around and drinking is even worse; do not drink outside your apartment. If you are grilling alone, a beer to pass the time might be OK. Never drink outside when you have friends over.

Disclose Your Extra Guests. Do not expect that because you have paid the rent, you can have extra people living there. There is a reason why tenants get screened; one reason is to make sure you will likely pay the rent. The other reason is to screen out potential troublemakers. If you want a guest, get them approved by the landlord. Maybe there will be slight increase in rent, maybe not. And extra guests also include extra pets.

Do Not Be Crazy. If you think it is a great idea to come home drunk at 2 a.m. and start a fight with your roommates, think again. The other neighbors do not want to hear you wrestling around like a bunch of wild bears upstairs. If you then think you are invincible and want to go out and find another party but decide to punch the ceiling light on your way out, it will not wind up good. The light fixture is cheap to replace, but I will be charging a much greater amount against your damage deposit for my time and trouble.

Be Quiet After 9 p.m. Most tenants work a typical day job. They expect it to be quiet when they go to bed or start to get ready for bed. If you like parties, loud TVs, shoot-em-up video games, or even loud card games, you need to think twice about whether a multifamily rental is for you. You share walls, ceilings and floors. Your music and sound effects become their noise. If you already met the neighbors, they might come over and help you realize you are making too much noise. If not, they may just call the cops.

Related: How to Find a Tenant in Any Market: A Comprehensive Guide

Do Not Attract Police Calls. Call the cops as often as you need to, but never get them called on you. One call and you could be evicted. If you committed a cardinal sin, like domestic abuse or drugs, expect to be shown the door. If your live in roommate gets arrested for having a vehicle chop-shop in the garage, do not expect you will have until your lease ends to move out; you will be lucky to get until the weekend to move. When bad behaviors are noticed and one gets kicked out, everyone gets kicked out.

After the Move-In

Remember that the hurdle you had to overcome to move in, your neighbors also have experienced. The reason why your rental is nice is directly related to that tenant screening hurdle. You should want to keep it nice and get a great landlord reference.

Your home is your castle, but it is not going to be yours forever. Give proper notice to move out. Keep it clean and mostly presentable. Clean up after your pets and control your guests. Enjoy the time you are there.

This article originally appeared on BiggerPockets, the real estate investing social network. © 2015 BiggerPockets Inc.

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