Q: What should I watch out for when making an offer on a tenant occupied property?
A: I assume that you intend to take title to the house with the tenant still in possession of the premises, in which case you would become the tenant’s landlord. If this is the case then, in addition to all of the normal inspections that a buyer makes to determine the condition of the property, you must also determine the condition of the tenancy. First of all you should have made your offer using a standard form residential income property purchase agreement or a regular residential purchase agreement with a “Tenant in Possession” addendum (most agents will have access to these documents through the California Association of Realtors). Both documents require the seller, among other things, to provide the buyer with copies of all current leases, rental agreements, service contracts and other agreements regarding operation of the property.
You should also receive an estoppel certificate signed by the tenant confirming the terms of the tenancy and affirming that no defaults or claims are outstanding against the Seller. Further, provision must be made for transfer of any existing, unused security deposit from seller to buyer because the buyer, as owner, will be responsible to the tenant for return of the security deposit to the tenant at the end of the tenancy, minus any allowable deductions. There should also be some sort of prohibition on the seller making changes to the terms of the tenancy prior to close of escrow.
As a general matter, if this is your first rental property you should speak with an eviction attorney or service regarding the procedures and costs of removing a tenant from the property should the need arise. Further, review a good book on Landlord-Tenant law so that you will know what you are getting yourself into.