Using Crime Statistics and Sex Offender Mapping in your Housing Search

July 26, 2011 by
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What’s the most common question that Realtors can’t legally answer?  “Is this a safe neighborhood?”


Map of Crime and Sex Offenders in the City of Rochester NY

Map of Crime in the City of Rochester NY

The federal government put fair housing laws into place to protect home buyers and renters from a myriad of discriminatory practices.  As a result, landlords can no longer post statements like, “great Catholic neighborhood”, or “no children allowed in this unit”.  Restricting this kind of language is obviously a necessity to prevent certain protected classes from being discriminated against.  Sometimes, fair housing regulations leave Realtors in an awkward position, because answering a question the wrong way might get them in a lot of trouble.

When I’m showing apartments or homes to prospective movers, they always want to know if this is a safe neighborhood.  Unfortunately, I can’t legally answer that question because safety is a subjective term, and my opinions or biases may shape what I consider to be safe. For that reason, Realtors can only provide their client with tools to make that determination for themselves.  In today’s edition of the Democrat and Chronicle, the City of Rochester announced that they will be partnering with to begin mapping crime in the city of Rochester.  The site also maps the location of every registered sex offender in Monroe County. Now agents and individuals can search police reports on a slick Google map interface and make the determination of safety for themselves.

The CrimeReports website maps robberies, breaking and entering, assaults, thefts and sexual assaults.  For some reason, the Rochester Police Department has chosen not to provide the data to map rape or other sexual assaults.  I certainly hope that they reconsider that, considering every woman would want to know this information about their community. When using this site, bear in mind that the RPD is just about the only local police department reporting data to the website. As a result, the suburbs look spotless, but this is only because they don’t report any crime data.  It is also worth noting that you should completely avoid using their neighborhood layer, which is supposed to show you the different city neighborhoods. There isn’t a single neighborhood properly identified on the site. All in all, it’s a great tool to use if you’re looking to determine just how safe your next community is.



Top Tips for New Landlords: How to Build a Strong Lease and Relationship with Your Tenant

July 22, 2011 by in Landlord Tips
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Lease Agreement from

Lease Agreement from

Building a strong relationship with a new tenant and protecting your real estate investment is of paramount importance when crafting a lease agreement.  There are a multitude of considerations at this juncture that are essential to understand.  Brian Davis, Vice President of, is a seasoned landlord and top expert on landlord-tenant relationships.  Here he offers his top tips for new landlords as a helpful tool for navigating lease creation and the ongoing considerations of managing a rental property.

1. Understand the Fair Housing Act and how it applies to your rental.  When advertising for a new tenant, it is critical that landlords and property managers understand and comply with the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from using any of the following criteria when evaluating potential tenants: race, color, national heritage, religion, gender, disability, and familial status. While that may sound simple on the surface, consider that stating in a rental listing “perfect for a single professional” is a violation of the Act (bias against familial status). Advertising only in your church’s newsletter discriminates by religion. What landlords can and should use to evaluate potential tenants is financial data, credit histories, and other background data.

2. Know your tenant by thoroughly screening each prospective renter to avoid problems down the road.  This can be accomplished by a few simple steps.  First, conduct a professional credit check to learn an applicant’s credit history and if they have been fiscally responsible in the past.  Bad credit can serve as a red flag and you may wish to avoid such tenants.

Next, ask for references from past landlords.  However, be on notice that while references from prior landlords are worth a quick phone call, they aren’t particularly telling, because tenants can give fake names and numbers, and even if they don’t, the old landlord may well be painting a rosy picture of the tenant in order to get rid of them.

What a landlord should verify are the rental applicants’ credit, employment/income (and historical stability), criminal background, and eviction history. When landlords run these checks, not only can they determine the best rental applicant, but the landlord can defend against any discrimination lawsuits by producing hard data used to choose one rental applicant over another.

3. Build an airtight lease agreement by knowing the laws that apply in your state through a state-specific lease.  Each state has slightly different laws that impact a landlord-tenant relationship.  Accordingly, use a state-specific lease instead of a general lease to best protect your real estate investment.  For example, California requires all lease agreements to include clauses mandated by Megan’s Law, and every state has different limits on security deposits, late fees, etc.

While not an exhaustive list, other elements a lease agreement should clearly define include: Who is responsible for paying the utilities, which appliances are included and who is responsible for maintaining them, whether the lease auto-renews and for what term, details surrounding fees and deposits, and whether is there an option to purchase – and if so what are the terms?

4. Understand the eviction process. Although many of us don’t wish to think about worse case scenarios, it is important to become familiar with the eviction process and be ready to start the process immediately when a tenant violates the lease.  While the specific documents required are different in each state, all states involve the same general eviction process. The landlord or property manager must serve the defaulting tenant with a particular notice, wait a specified period of time, file in court, attend a court hearing, schedule a date for the actual eviction, and so on, and landlords are well advised to understand this process before actually having to go through it, because it is extremely expensive and takes far longer than most landlords anticipate.

5. Devise a Moving In and Moving Out procedure and be sure it is clearly defined.  One helpful tool is a comprehensive walk-through checklist.  This document will be used for the landlord/manager to walk through the rental unit with the tenant and document the condition of the unit upon move-in and move-out.

6. Offer performance incentives: While most lease agreements include a late fee, landlords can further incentivize timely rent by offering a reward for early rent payment, renewing for a longer term period, and/or any other behavior you want to encourage. Rewards can range from the simple, such as rent discounts, to the complex, such as point systems where tenants earn points and exchange them for rebates, gift cards, updates to the rental unit, etc.

7. Establish a relationship with at least two good contractors. Landlords and property managers need at the very least a licensed contractor who can handle large jobs, and an inexpensive handyman who can affordably fix minor issues. Don’t wait until your tenants’ heating system stops working in January, or the roof collapses, as the time lost in trying to find a contractor by that time will cost real money. Instead form these relationships before you actually need them, and then you will simply be able to make a phone call and have the problem resolved immediately.

8. Stay capitalized. One of the most serious problems small landlords face is lack of cash, as being a landlord involves unexpected expenses. These range from tenants suddenly ceasing to pay their rent, to unexpected repairs, to lawsuits, but the only predictable aspect to these unexpected expenses is that they will happen, and with some frequency. Set aside a hefty amount of cash specifically for rental expenses, and resist the temptation to use it for anything else.

About is the premiere online destination for landlord information and legal forms.  Since 2006, the site has served landlords across the United States with state-specific lease agreements, eviction notices and other essential forms to help landlords protect real estate investments and build strong relationships with tenants.  If you wish to learn more about landlord-tenant tips, or how to build a strong lease agreement, please visit

Date Night in Pittsford

July 19, 2011 by in Pittsford, Restaurants
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The perfect location for date night or girls’ night out, Schoen Place in Pittsford is home to lots of delicious restaurants and sweet spots. Whether you’re in the mood for Mediterranean fare, French-inspired American cuisine, or homemade ice cream, you’re sure to find something to whet your appetite along the historic and scenic Erie Canal.

Looking for date ideas? You can’t go wrong with the classic “dinner and a movie” combination. Start your night with a movie at Pittsford Cinemas in Pittsford Plaza (may I suggest Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2?) then indulge at Olives Greek Taverna, a classic Greek restaurant in Northfield Common that provides delectable meals made with the freshest ingredients. Follow up your dinner with homemade ice cream from Bill Wahl’s Microcreamery right next door. The canal path across the street extends for miles, but a short walk up and down Schoen Place is enough to feel refreshed after a delicious meal. You can take a seat on one of the many benches along the path, feed the ducks, and watch the sun set over the water.

Schoen Place Pittsford, NY Flickr Image by John Lam

No matter which night of the week you venture down to the Canal, you won’t be alone! Schoen Place is a popular spot for both kids and adults to spend time. During the day, the path is littered with walkers, runners, and bikers. If you’re going for a run along the canal, expect to weave your way through strollers, empty of toddlers, waddling precariously close to the the water, tossing bread crumbs and bits of ice cream cone to the many ducks who call Pittsford home. The shops and restaurants are often bursting with people, enjoying the warm summer breeze in one of Rochester’s most charming suburbs.


July 15, 2011 by in Bars, Ellwanger-Barry, Featured, Restaurants, South Wedge, Swillburg
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I knew I was hungry.  I knew that after another long day of helping renters find their perfect new digs, interviewing some excellent candidates for our storyteller internships, and replying to all the great feedback we’ve been receiving by email and on our Facebook and Twitter pages, I could use a beer.  I also knew that despite a fridge full of produce from the Public Market and my vegetable garden, I was in no mood to cook. But what I didn’t know when Ben and I stepped out of our little South Wedge duplex was where we would find this much needed sustenance.

Dicky's Rochester

We wandered aimlessly towards South Avenue, the main business corridor of the South Wedge, knowing that we were sure to find something to satiate both hunger and thirst.  Lux nearly lured us in with their hipstery goodness and the promise of a Wednesday night movie in the bar’s back yard before we decided that their brown-bagged “Luxable” meals weren’t exactly the warm dinner we sought. Maybe a mojito and a po’ boy at Beale Street Cafe?  It seemed perhaps one of the gourmet selections and the mile-long beer list at Tap & Mallet was what we needed, until our feet carried us past that, and we reached the Equal Grounds Coffee House, marking the end of the South Wedge’s little shopping district.  Would we turn back and choose one of the above, or was there perhaps another choice?  Something tucked away in the nearby streets of the Highland neighborhood, where we could eat and drink so cheaply that we might mistake ourselves for thieves?  The answer had revealed itself to us.  We hadn’t realized it until this moment, but our combined subconscious had known all along that we were headed to Dicky’s.

Its hard to find a more comfortable bar than Dicky’s, which is probably why it has lasted so long.  Although it has seen a couple of brief closings, name changes, and of course changes in ownership, Dicky’s has outlived every other bar in Rochester, staking its claim as the city’s oldest bar, having originally opened in 1880.  The trough running along the bar below the bar stools was originally running with a stream of water, so that farmers in the adjacent Swillburg neighborhood could rinse the muck from their boots before tromping around the bar.  Rumor also has it that the trough served, for gentlemen too befuddled to make it to the restroom, as a back-up option for some of their more urgent needs. (This was a time before ladies would be found in such an establishment.)  While everything from the menu to the playlist have been updated of course, the bar still has a charming neighborhood feel that would seem nearly impossible for it to ever lose.

Before finding our seats at the bar, Ben and I took a look at the specials menu.  The $6 seasonal Rohrbach looked tasty, but $6 seemed like a lot for one beer.  As we discussed, the bartender, overhearing, informed us that that was $6 for an entire pitcher of beer.  Wow!  Sold.  The specials board also suggested a $4 fried fish sandwich, and a $13 NY Strip with potatoes and asparagus.  Now, we’re not strangers to Dicky’s, so we know that there’s hardly a better cheeseburger in town, and that no matter what we chose, it would be exactly what we were craving. “Lets just get both the specials.”  It was a unanimous decision.

While we waited for our meal, we munched on Dicky’s interesting new bar snack, uncooked linguini that is deep fried, and then coated in an addictive  mixture of Parmesan cheese, salt pepper, and something that added a spicy little kick.  We made note that the playlist was always just our style, peppered with Bob Marley and Sublime.  Our beer was delicious: a dark ale that wasn’t too hoppy.  And in no time at all, we were looking at two massive plates of food.

Like most Rochester establishments, Dicky’s is well acquainted with the fish fry.  As simple as it was, their fried fish sandwich showed their vast experience in surrounding flaky white fish with a light, crispy layer of breading.  It rested between either side of a soft, fresh roll.  Topped with a piece of lettuce, and a tomato, and served with tartar sauce on the side, we found the fish sandwich to be classic, unadulterated, and very satisfying.  The mound of fat french fries next to it was just an unexpected bonus at this point, because who would imagine such a large meal for $4?

Dicky's RochesterThe quality of the NY Strip that we received was tremendous.  There wasn’t a single bite too fatty to eat, and we were warriors ready to conquer this challenge.  Well seasoned, cooked medium, the steak was juicy and tender, a contender with steaks you’d expect to find at the type of restaurant  with white linens and cloth napkins.  Overjoyed, we turned our sights on the sides.  Our asparagus came roasted to perfection, sprinkled with a little lemon juice.  We found the occasional green onion amongst the mountainous heap of slightly garlicky, well-mashed potatoes.

We were already so stuffed, and so happy that we had chosen Dicky’s, that when we received our bill, all $24 of it, we nearly cried tears of joy that we live in such an affordable, walkable, trendy little city.  Thank you, Dicky’s.  Thank you Rochester.