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Close to Home: Low-risk way for landlords to help

My husband, Brad,and I became landlords for the first time five years ago — renting out the home we'd lived in for 17 years.

We were initially reluctant to become landlords because of all the potential hassles of dealing with tenants, such as rent not being paid, property damage and filling vacancies. We would be counting on the rental income to help pay our mortgage at our new house, and we worried about our ability to choose reliable tenants.

That's how we settled on renting to four homeless people.

I had been volunteering with COTS (the Committee on the Shelterless), southern Sonoma County's homeless agency, for several years as a financial literacy mentor, and I had seen how well COTS prepares their clients to become responsible tenants.

When we learned about COTS programs that reduce risk for landlords, we felt confident about working with them. We became landlords with the Integrity House program, which eased all our fears. (COTS also has two other brokered tenancy programs: Rapid Re-Housing and Rent Right.)

When our first tenants moved in, we charged what was market-rate rent at that time. We haven't raised it since then because we've been so pleased by how the tenants care for our home and with how COTS has stayed involved.

Management has been prompt and responsive. It's as good as having a property manager without the cost. COTS' maintenance crew has handled small repairs for us at no charge.

Our tenants mostly work low-wage jobs. Separately, they would struggle to find affordable housing. Together, they can all afford our large home.

COTS ensures that they each maintain savings so that if they run into difficulties they can still pay their rent.

When one tenant moves out, COTS helps provide us with another screened candidate. We've never had to advertise or experience any interruption in income.

I let our neighbors know what we were doing before we started working with COTS. No one has had any complaints. In fact, one of my neighbors joined us and became a landlord to COTS clients, too.

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