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.

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