Renting Tips: How to Screen a Landlord

Renting Tips: How to Screen a Landlord

People who can’t afford to own a house or are still saving up for their own property usually opt to rent.

If you are one of those who are planning to be a renter for the first time or you’re moving from one apartment to another, then there are certain things you need to prepare for, such as saving up for the big move and finding the right place to live in.

However, you should also consider the landlord, since an irresponsible one could make months of your life into a very bad experience.

As is generally known, landlords screen potential tenants; but since renting is a relationship between the tenant and the landlord, it is equally important for you, as a potential renter, to screen the landlord, too.

After all, entrusting your private information to persons you hardly know is not that simple.

Ways to Screen a Landlord

There are many ways to assess a person, but it takes more than a cursory glance or one conversation to determine if the landlord is a good, responsible one or not.  Here are some ways to screen them before signing the lease:

Check the public records and find foreclosure

It is important to check on the property’s status. You could lose your deposit and the unit you’re renting if, without you knowing it, the landlord doesn’t own the apartment and worse, it’s in the foreclosure process.

Check if the property’s ownership and tax records, and if there are any foreclosures in any of their other properties.

Additionally, you can do a background check on the landlord and see if they are embroiled in any kind of misdemeanor.

Talk to neighbors and be aware of complaints

It is important to know if there are complaints about the apartment you are about to rent or about the landlord. Check the building’s name and also if there have been complaints from previous tenants. Repeated complaints can be alarming.

Talk to neighbors about the landlord’s behavior.

Is he responsive to complaints?

Does he check on the property’s maintenance?

Ask questions about rental.  How often does he raise the rent?

Consider asking the landlord for references from former tenants.

There are also other ways to check for complaints.  The Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and other review aggregator websites can give you an idea if former or current tenants are airing either their satisfaction or disappointment online.

Two sites dedicated to tenant reviews are Rate My Landlord and Review My Landlord.

You can also Google their name, the building’s name, or the name of management company as well as look into their social media pages.

Check the building structure’s appearance and condition

Before choosing an apartment or building to rent, you have to tour the place and personally see if the structure is in good condition and if it is safe for you to stay in.

Basically, you’d have an idea of how responsible and caring a landlord is by the way the building looks.

All electrical wirings should be checked by electricians, all outlets must be working.  Extinguishers should not have been stocked for so long that labels are not clear to be read or that it has gathered a thick layer of dust and cobwebs.

Are tiles free from molds? Check the garbage disposal since an unsanitary one could indicate or cause an infestation of mice or insects.

Don’t compromise your and your valuables’ safety because of a damaged door or broken window locks.  Moreover, pay attention to cracked and broken windows.

Gather information about tax payments, such as when the building was purchased and who purchased it and how much was it purchased for.   Again, see to it that the building isn’t facing foreclosure or bankruptcy.

The property must be a safe place to live in.  Ask questions while you are taking the tour.

Interview the landlord

After the landlord’s interview with the tenant, the tenant has to interview the landlord also.  This is a good way to find out how knowledgeable they are about the property and how they handle requests for repairs, late payments, and so on.

Of course, you need to read the terms and conditions in the contract carefully, and ask questions or clarify items when something is vague or unclear.

How to spot a good landlord

Like in any other business, there are honest and responsible landlords and there are those who are not.  It’s important, therefore, to determine if the person you’re dealing with belongs to the former group and not the latter.

To determine this, you can try to spot the following characteristics.  In general, good landlords:

Are compliant with legal and safety regulations

They will be able to produce proper documentation such as certificates for gas and energy performance, and common licenses like a certificate of occupancy, a housing business license, a rental registration certificate, and/or other permits required by the local or state government.

Moreover, you would want a landlord who has a valid building insurance policy.

Are careful when screening potential tenants

They will ask for identification and even references, sometimes including employers and/or previous landlords.  They are likely to check your background and conduct credit checks and might require a guarantor.  Similarly, they would want to know if you have pets or if you smoke.

Remember, if they screen their tenants carefully, then you at least know and can rest assured in the fact that your next-door neighbors have passed the same scrutiny, too.

Use up-to-date tenancy agreements

They will make sure that the agreement they ask you to sign is not outdated and contains specific terms.

An important note: check if it specifies the conditions in which your security deposit will be used and if you will be able to refund it once you leave the place without damages.

In connection to this, a good landlord will also have an inventory form.

Make sure that everything is good condition

They will make sure that the apartment is fit for viewing and that the place, in general, is pristine, without any garbage strewn in stairwells or mold build-ups.

They will fix any broken appliances or fixtures before you sign any agreement and that smoke alarms, locks, and other items are working properly.

Are knowledgeable about the building

They are aware of the property’s taxes as well as the details about utility suppliers such as those for electricity, water, and gas.

Are easy to communicate with

They should be accommodating and are willing to answer any of your questions.

They should also be on time for an appointment, can be easily contacted, and will respond to your queries before, during, and after you view the premises.

There are many other characteristics that you should observe.  For example, it would be a plus if the landlord goes out of his way to introduce the new tenant to neighbors, which could be an indication that he is in good terms with them, and point out some local establishments like laundry services, grocery, pharmacy, and so on.

Flexibility is also a good trait to look for, such as listening, weighing, and understanding reasons for delayed payment, e.g., medical emergencies.

Responsibilities of landlord and tenant

Since letting and renting an apartment or building is a mutual relationship between the landlord and tenant, each one has their respective responsibilities.

As a renter, it’s important for you to become familiar with what your landlord is responsible for as well as your own obligations to avoid inconveniences, misunderstanding, and even unexpected expenses during or after your stay.

Landlord’s responsibilities

It is the duty of the landlord to keep the house or apartment to be rented safe.  They are responsible for the repairs and maintenance necessary to make the place fit to live in.  In short, it is their obligation to make certain that the apartment is habitable.

You should check the rules of the state you’re living in regarding specific landlord responsibilities since these could differ from one place to another.

Also, don’t just scan the contract when signing – make sure to read the whole thing carefully so you are not faced with surprise repair expenses down the line.

To give you an idea, the Landlords’ and Tenants’ Responsibilities, as outlined by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, says that the place’s electrical system (lighting and wiring equipment) should be in good condition.

Plumbing facilities should be in working order, which includes hot and cold running water. A working toilet, wash basins, bathtub and shower should be located in a ventilated room that allows privacy.

A kitchen with a sink should not be made of absorbent material such as wood.  Gas and heating facilities must also be working properly.

There must be safe emergency exits, too.  Stairs, hallways, and other areas must be free from litter or garbage. There must be working smoke detectors in common stairwells.  Roof and exterior walls should be waterproof and weather protected.

Doors, windows, floors, stairways and railing are supposed to be in good repair.  Main entry doors should have operable deadbolt locks and windows should likewise have locking mechanisms or security devices.

There must be adequate natural lighting in every room.  Also, there ought to be clean and sanitary areas like a garden or a detached garage that are free from garbage and pests. The garbage receptacle must be in condition.

Tenant’s responsibilities

In return, you have obligations as a tenant.  Again, to give you an idea, the California government states that if a renter causes the property to become uninhabitable, they cannot expect the landlord to make it habitable for them.

The landlord is also not obligated to repair damages if they are caused by the carelessness of the tenant, their guests and visitors, or their kids or pets.

Similarly, the landlord cannot do their duty of repairing defects and damages if the tenant interferes or prevents them from doing so, e.g., if they refuse to let the plumber into the apartment.

The state says that it is the responsibility of the tenants to keep the place clean, maintained and cared for.

This includes keeping the place in a sanitary condition and the garbage properly disposed of; practicing proper use of gas, electrical, and plumbing fixtures to avoid overloading electrical outlets, or allowing gas or plumbing fixture to become filthy.

The tenant is also obliged to keep anyone – their guests or pets, for instance – from damaging, destroying, or defacing the place in any manner.

No part of the structure should be removed, and the rooms should be used according to their purpose.

Should the tenant find that security devices are not in working order, the landlord needs to be notified.

Because renting is a landlord-tenant relationship, both has to do their part to keep the property clean, safe and fit to live in.  Please check the regulations in your state.

Tenant rights

As a tenant, you have to know your rights when you rent a house or apartment.  This is to keep risks to the minimum or, in some cases, keep yourself from being duped by a scheming landlord.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides some tips that can protect your rights as a renter, such as:

Requirements

Because there is a possibility that there are other applicants for the said house or apartment, the best way is to be prepared with requirements when you meet the landlord.

Having documents with you during your meeting, such as written references from your previous landlords and/or employers, your credit report, and a filled up rental application will not only impress your potential landlord, they will also see how serious you are about getting the place.

Lease

Before signing the contract, make sure you have read and understood the agreement stated and ask questions about some provisions that you may find unacceptable.  For instance, there may be restrictions about guests or pets.

Also, you should make sure that the agreement states the stipulations on the use of your security deposit and what issues or expenses would be deducted from it, as well as refunds when you move out.

Documentation

It is best to keep everything in writing and keep a copy for yourself.  Keep your communication with the landlord open but always follow up oral agreements with a letter.

Keep all correspondences and other documentation in a file, so that you have papers to show in cases of dispute.

When you move in, you need to walk through the apartment with your landlord and record any existing damage to the premises.

This should be put in a checklist or move-in statement, and you must be provided with a copy.  Additionally, you might consider taking photos of so you will not be charged for damages that are already there when you move in.

Privacy rights

Understand your privacy rights. Know the amount of notice your landlord must provide before entering your apartment to avoid misunderstanding – after all, the landlord has the right to enter the premises but you, as a tenant, has the right to your privacy.

Safety

You should also be mindful of your safety.  Find out if any criminal incidents have happened in the building or in the neighborhood, if the premises seems vulnerable to burglary or intrusion, and so on.

You should also research on laws in the locality or state regarding security, such as requirements on window locks and deadbolts.

Learning more about these will allow you to determine if your landlord is required to provide you with additional security measures.

Insurance

Because a landlord’s insurance policy does not cover the personal belongings of their tenants, you will not have any benefits should there be incidents like fire, flooding, theft, vandalism, and so on.

Therefore, as a tenant, you should not have second thoughts about getting a renter’s insurance.  It costs very little, depending on the policy that you will get, but you can relax more if you know that your valuables are protected.

In summary, a good landlord cares about the property and the tenants.  They are aware of their responsibilities and know the rights of their renters.

Remember to take time to learn about the landlord and the property you want to rent because you will be spending months living there and spending your hard-earned money, too.

ratetake

ratetake

Martin - Head of Real Estate and Finance at RateTake
Martin is Head of Real Estate and Finance division at RateTake. He creates content that helps people understand and make the right decisions for their financial future.
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ratetake

Martin is Head of Real Estate and Finance division at RateTake. He creates content that helps people understand and make the right decisions for their financial future.