I’ll admit it: I don’t like to stay in the same place for long. My rental history is all over the place. After living in almost a dozen apartments in two different states, I’ve had my share of experiences dealing with landlords. And let me tell you – the good ones are few and far between.
Ideally, a good landlord will be available and responsive and won’t come off as creepy or overbearing. He’ll cash your rent check in a reasonable amount of time, enforce rules to make sure all tenants are respectful of the space and to one another, and unclog your shower drain when you ask. Unfortunately, not all landlords are this cool.
I once rented an apartment from a couple that wouldn’t confront the drug dealing gang members living a few yards away from me. Even worse, they made it pretty difficult for me to break my lease so I could flee to safety. Another landlord gave me a verbal warning when she saw my dog using the grass in front of my (pet-friendly) apartment building as a bathroom.
Landlords are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get. That is, unless you flex your high-level sleuthing skills before you sign a lease. Here are a few tips for avoiding the bad landlords and finding a good one.
Talk to current tenants
Who could possibly know the good, bad, and bizarre traits of your potential landlord better than his current tenants? If you happen to bump into a resident of a building you’re interested in, ask her if she’s had any problems with the landlord resolving issues or making repairs. Learning about the experiences of others can give you a pretty clear idea of what it might be like to live there.
Enlist the help of friends and family
Whether you’re moving down the street or across the country, chances are you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who has rented an apartment in your new ‘hood. Work your network of coworkers, friends, and family to see if they know of any openings in a building with a cool landlord.
Check online ratings and reviews
What do you do when you’re looking for a new place to get your oil changed? If you’re anything like me, you spend about three hours reading Yelp reviews before making a final decision. The same strategy can be applied when looking for a place to live. Search for the names of apartment buildings and management companies on Yelp and other online review sites to get the inside scoop on potential landlords from previous and current tenants. You can also take your investigation one step further and order a background check on CheckYourLandlord.com.
Read your lease carefully
If you’ve found your dream apartment and get good vibes from the landlord, the most important thing to do before signing on the dotted line is to read your lease agreement very carefully. The legalese is super boring, but you should know what it is you’re agreeing to. If you have any questions, be sure ask your landlord for clarification and have her revise the lease if necessary. This will make it clear you mean business and will (ideally) prevent conflict from flaring up in the future.