Do some background research of your own before handing over your private information and signing a lease.
It’s standard practice for landlords to screen potential tenants. References, work history, banking information, and even your Social Security number are fair game. But what about your landlord’s references? How concerned should you be about trusting someone you hardly know with your private information?
Be it a company or an individual, a rental in New York, NY, or Atlanta, GA, before you hand over your Social, you might consider doing some research of your own. Here are six ways to conduct a landlord background check and screen your property manager before you sign a lease.
1. Check public records
A quick search of public records can provide loads of information on your potential new landlord — whether an individual or a corporation — as well as the property itself. When researching a landlord, look for red flags indicating bankruptcy, general liens on all assets, criminal records, and any lawsuits. Property records will show any liens placed specifically on the building, whether there is a foreclosure in progress, and any other legal actions specific to the property.
Tax records are a wealth of information as well, revealing when the building was purchased, by whom, and the purchase price. If you’re dealing with a property management company, research any recent foreclosures on their properties. Keep in mind, if the property management company is underwater or filing for bankruptcy, your lease term might be shorter than you think.
2. Consider complaints
When hunting for renter complaints from previous tenants, read critically and remember to consider the source. Begin by researching the name of the building to see if any past or current tenants have posted about their experiences. Repeated complaints by many tenants over a period of months or years are probably worth noting.
If your landlord is a property management company, consult the Better Business Bureau or your local Chamber of Commerce. You can also consider leveraging social media to see if anyone you know has had experiences with the company. If your landlord is an individual, get your Google on. Take a look at RateMyLandlord.com or ReviewMyLandlord.com, two websites that crowdsource tenant reviews, to see if you can get some intelligent insight on your prospective new digs.
3. Talk with your neighbors
There’s no better resource for checking landlord behavior than your potential new neighbors. They have firsthand experience and are probably more than happy to give you the real deal before you sign on the dotted line. Ask if they know how often the rent increases or how the landlord handles repairs. Is the landlord present around the property and responsive to requests from tenants? Do they frequently stop by unannounced?
If you’re unable to connect with other tenants or neighbors, take a look into neighborhood-specific blogs and other platforms. They’re a treasure trove of information and are becoming more and more popular. They’re produced by the people living and working in your potential neighborhood and building. If there is a scoop to be had, you’ll find it here. Finally, if the rental market isn’t competitive and time permits, ask your landlord for references from former tenants.
4. Look over the property’s appearance
You can glean many clues about a landlord’s character from the physical appearance of their property. Is the building’s exterior well-maintained or is the paint peeling? Be sure to scope out the garbage and recycling area. Allowing garbage to pile up invites vermin to take up residence as well; we all know rats don’t make ideal neighbors.
While aesthetics are important, also look closely at safety-related items. In the hallways, are the fire extinguishers in good working order, or are they covered in cobwebs with outdated inspection tags? Check to make sure there are no broken or cracked windows and pay attention to the doors to your unit as well as the building. If doors are left propped open, this could compromise your safety.
In the unit, take the time to carefully inspect appliances. Are they clean and in good working order? This is the landlord’s opportunity to make a good impression on you, the potential renter. If things are amiss, imagine what could happen six months from now when something breaks down — not a comforting thought.
5. Investigate the building condition
You might think that eyeballing the physical condition of a building would be a good indicator of its overall health — but you would be wrong. Some problems can be seen with the naked eye, but unless you’re an electrician or an inspector, you might not be able to spot more serious issues that lurk beneath a pretty facade. Electrical problems, mold, or rodent infestations are hard to spot and can be serious threats to your personal health and safety. To get the real deal, check to see if there are any building violations pending.
More than likely, you’ll need to make a phone call to the appropriate city department to do some checking up. However, many cities like Chicago, IL, and New York, NY, now have searchable online databases.
6. Interview your landlord
Before you’re approved to move into a new property, a common part of the application process is a tenant interview. But what about turning the tables and interviewing the landlord?
Solid Ground, a Seattle, WA–based renter’s advocacy group, suggests asking your landlord a series of questions before signing a lease. Having pertinent information upfront allows you to make an educated and sound decision. It also gives you an opportunity to assess how willing she is to provide information in general.
Entering into a lease agreement should not be taken lightly. Your landlord depends on you to uphold your end of the contract, just as you depend on them. Do your research upfront and save yourself the headache of dealing with a problematic landlord down the road.