How to Research your Landlord before you Rent

A lot of people walk into renting a home with naive notions that renting is simple and not too risky. The truth is, renting a condo or house is not always that much of a safe bet. Depending upon your life situation, it’s more or less a necessity, but it doesn’t mean that choosing a place to stay is a decision without risk. Like many major life decisions, finding a place to live requires due diligence even if you’re renting. Here’s how to research your landlord before you lease a property, and get committed to a bad deal.

1. Ask lots of Questions

While it’s good to get to know as much about a property as possible, the real intent here is to learn more about the property owner. Asking a number of inconspicuous questions about the property and it’s history will show you the depth of what the landlord knows or is willing to tell. If the answers to your questions seem vague or hesitant, they might be hiding something, or may just now know as much about the property as they should.

 

2. Ask the Current Renters

There’s nothing stopping you from getting in touch with the folks currently renting the property, and it’s a great way to find out what living there will be like. Talking to the current renters can inform you of if the landlord is neglectful of the property or mistreats their tenants, how fast they deal with maintenance and more. If it’s possible to contact them ex-tenants are the people who can give you a pretty good assessment of what a landlord’s like, and if the property should be avoided.

 

3. Is the Landlord Timely?

When meeting with the landlord before you sign the lease, pay extra attention to their timeliness and ability to be prompt. If the landlord is late, cancels or is poor at making timely contact with you, chances are that’s only going to get worse after you sign the lease. The phase prior to signing for an apartment is when the landlord should want to impress you the most. Failing to make good on appointments can mean that the landlord either has organizational issues or doesn’t care for your business much.

 

4. Check the Property’s Financial Status

Have you ever wondered what happens if a rental property gets foreclosed? The short answer is that you and everyone else gets thrown out on the street, homeless. Landlords are obligated to inform their tenants if a property goes into foreclosure, but some will break the law and ignore this. Worse yet, some landlords have been known to keep accepting new tenants when their property is about to get foreclosed.

Go to the county or district courthouse and talk to the clerk’s office to find information as if the apartment is being foreclosed. Additionally, a public records search can inform you of other financial information like if the property owner is paying their bills, or if the building has had code violations in the past.

 

5. Do a Background Check

There are sites on the Internet that rate landlords, provide reviews and give you more background information of a property before you sign the lease. Even if it costs a few bucks, it’s much better to pay for `background reports on a property and it’s owners than to suffer the costs and consequences of a terrible landlord. This can be a way to find out about past bankruptcies and cases where the landlord was sued by tenants.

 

6. Read the Entire Lease

You can’t stress enough how important reading the entire lease is before you sign it. A lease is a legally binding document and there’s no end to the number of trick clauses a landlord can try and sneak in to bind you into an unfair or burdensome agreement.

Research your local landlord and tenant laws to understand what’s legal and illegal in a lease. A landlord must remove any clauses that are in violation of the law. As you read the clauses, negotiate with your landlord about any parts you disagree with. Sometimes a landlord will be willing to negotiate to make the terms of the lease more fair for both parties.

 

7. Inspect the Property like You’re Buying it

It’s easy to see new furnishings and fresh paint and get fooled by a property you don’t feel like you’re investing much into, but this can be a huge mistake. When doing a walk through, check for things like mould, bug infestations or other forms of damage like you would if you were going to permanently buy a home. Be extra careful while looking for code violations and while checking the electrical work. Take pictures and make note of if there’s proper safety equipment, such as fire and carbon monoxide alarms.

Apartment, Condo or Townhouse Rental

Finding the perfect place to live is no easy feat, the combination of size, neighborhood and affordability isn’t an easy task.  On top of that apartment listings use the terms apartment, condo or townhouse rental almost interchangeably so you have to figure out which works for you.  Let’s take a look at the differences between them to see which works best for you.

Townhouses

Townhouses are typically rows of houses with usually three or four houses all in a row, you will be sharing at least one wall with your neighbors.  Townhouses involve a little more maintenance than either an apartment or a condo, however the landlord will still be responsible for repairs.  There are often community facilities that anyone in the complex can use and that can be anything from a swimming pool to a common area with picnic tables and space to grill.  There are rules to living in a townhouse like you can change the exterior of the property at all and you need to make sure grass is mowed and other maintenance gets done.  Of the three types of rentals, a town house will give you the most square footage along with a little bit of yard space.

Condos

There is not really a great deal of difference between apartments and condos in terms of space, amenities or responsibilities of the tenants. Condo buildings look exactly like apartment buildings, however they tend to be a bit more upscale and a few more amenities thrown in.  Condos may have hookups for a washer and dryer whereas an apartment won’t.  Condos come with monthly fees and that may be the responsibility of the landlord or he may pass it on to the tenant.  Condo maintenance fees will take of things like landscaping, some repairs and cleaning of common areas.  Unlike apartments condos can be rented or sold to individuals.  If you are looking for a place to live in an urban area then you may find plenty of apartment buildings that have “gone Condo” where the rental units are sold individually and no longer monthly rentals.

Apartments

Of the three an apartment is least expensive option.  There will be no management fees and typically rents on apartments are cheaper than either a condo or townhome.  Utilities may or may not be included with an apartment rental, whereas they are not likely to be in a townhouse or condo.  There are fewer if any extra amenities in the average apartment building unless you rent on the higher end.  There will also likely to be far more apartments on the market than either townhouses or condos.

Which one you choose will really depend on budget and the kind of lifestyle that you want to live.

Should You Rent an Apartment or a House?

Should you rent an apartment or a house?  That’s a pretty common question and there are definite advantages to both.  Which you choose will depend on your needs for space and privacy.  Let’s look at the advantages of both and see which option works best for you.

Renting an Apartment

Let’s start with the advantages of renting an apartment.  It can be far cheaper than renting a house especially if you don’t need much space.  On top of that apartments can be rented with the utilities included whereas a house rarely is.  Apartment complexes may also have some recreational equipment such as gym facilities or a swimming pool.

There are disadvantages to living in an apartment as well.  Let’s start with the biggest one…your neighbors.  You could live in an apartment for years and have wonderful neighbors or you could live next door to students who want to party six days a week and the noise travels.  It can be hit or miss.  Neighbors can also mean you lack privacy, everyone can see who comes and goes into your apartment.

Renting a House

There are perks to renting a house chiefly that there is far more space and your neighbors aren’t living on top of you.  Houses typically come with some yard space that you can take advantage of, this is great particularly if you have children.  You won’t be bumping into neighbors in the hallway and you can do laundry whenever you choose to.

Now for the drawbacks to renting a house over an apartment, the biggest on is the cost.  The cost of rent on a house is probably the same or more than a mortgage payment.  It may make better financial sense to buy rather than continuing to rent.  Houses come with yard maintenance such as shoveling the driveway in the winter and mowing the grass in the summer.  It is more likely this responsibility will fall on you not the landlord.  The landlord may provide mowers and shovels but expect you to do the work.  You are also going to have to pay for utilities yourself and that can add up fairly quickly.

What to Choose

Do you start looking for a house or an apartment for your next rental?  That really depends on what you need and the budget.  If you want to rent long term you may be better off in an apartment.  Ultimately you will have to decide which works for your situation.

Finding an Apartment that Accepts Pets

If you need to start looking for a new place and you have pets you might find the situation a bit of a challenge.  Finding an apartment that accepts pets is much like finding a needle in a haystack but it can be done.  You may end up paying a deposit to make sure that your pet doesn’t destroy the place, but that is still better than getting caught with a pet you’re not supposed to have and finding an eviction notice on your door.  The type of pet you have will make a difference as well, cats tend to be more accepted than dogs.  If you do have a dog then you are going to want to try and find something close to a park or walking trail.  Here are some other issues with having a pet.

Limitations

Some landlords will allow you to have pets provided that they aren’t too big or the wrong breed.  You need to ask the landlord about this ahead of time.  Some landlords will allow a cat but not a dog, some will only allow a dog that weighs less than 40 lbs.  Larger dogs may be allowed but they may not necessarily allow what are considered dangerous breeds like Pit Bulls.  If you have a large dog you may be able to sweet talk your landlord if you give very good references.

Deposits

It is entirely possible that the landlord can ask for a deposit if you have an animal.  You may have the best dog or cat in the world but the landlord will want to protect themselves in case your pet causing any damage.  When the time comes to move out and there is no pet causing damage then you should have no problem getting your deposit returned to you.

Finding Enough Space

You need to balance out the needs of your pet with what you can afford.  Some pets need to have more room, a Rottweiler takes up more room than a Yorkie.  You need to make sure that there is enough space, do you have a place for the litter box or a dog crate.  Make sure there is more than enough space for both of you to live comfortably.

Nearby Amenities

Having a cat in an apartment is fairly easy, you just need to make sure you change the litter box regularly.  Dogs, even little ones are going to need regular walks.  Are there any parks nearby that you can take your dog to?  You need a place nearby where your dog can do their “business”.  If you’re looking for an apartment in an urban area then be aware of the local leash laws and the fines for not cleaning up after your dog.

Renting Your First Apartment

Moving into your first apartment is a big deal, it’s a step into adulthood and you will create some incredible memories.  If you are renting your first apartment you may not know what it important aside from how much the rent is.  There is a lot of factors that go into making an apartment a great place to live.  Let’s look at what factors should go into choosing your first apartment.

The Neighborhood

Aside from cost, the location is most important factor that you need to consider. Ideally you want a safe and friendly neighborhood that is also affordable.  You want neighbors that respect your privacy while at the same time being friendly.  You want amenities close by like grocery stores, pharmacies and public transportation if you need it.  A great apartment is no good if it is in a neighborhood that terrifies you.

Monthly Rent

Rent is typically paid on a monthly basis due on the first.  Make sure that you have a lease or rental agreement outlining the amount of rent, the length of the lease along with what’s included.  Some apartments will include heat, water and/or electricity.  Find out what utilities that you have to pay yourself and roughly what they cost each month.  Utilities can add up fairly quickly eating away at your budget.

Check for Damages

You should have a walk-through with your landlord before taking possession of the apartment.  Spot and point out any damages in the apartment like holes in the walls or broken tiles.  Outlining them ahead of time saves you from being blamed for them when you are ready to move out.  Also by pointing out any damages before you move in gives the landlord time to get anything fixed before you bring in your stuff.  When it comes to painting or hanging pictures on the walls, check with the landlord before you take on the project.  They may not appreciate you painting the living room forest green or any color outside of what they approve.  You could end up paying hundreds in damages for them to restore the apartment to the original colors.

Regular Maintenance

The last thing you want to check is whether or not the apartment building itself is well maintained.  Is there litter in the hallways or is the property around the building a mess.  Well maintained properties are a pretty good indicator of a dedicated landlord that wants to keep their property in good shape.  That’s good for you as a tenant because if anything goes wrong they are likely to deal with it right away.

Renting your first apartment is a time to be excited… you have your own place that you can decorate as you wish or do what you like.  Enjoy it!