Location and layout may be top of mind when you’re looking for a place to rent, but there’s something that could have a much bigger impact on your life: the landlord in charge. Since landlords are responsible for everything from maintenance issues to assessing fees, a poor landlord experience can quickly turn your dream rental into a nightmare. If you want to keep your living space serene and drama-free, make sure to pay careful attention to these eight warning signs and know your renters’ rights.
1. The building’s common areas are in poor shape.
Cracked ceilings, hallways reeking of trash, a dirty laundry room—consider these to be warning signs of what’s going on behind closed doors. After all, if the most public and visible areas of a house rental or apartment complex aren’t properly maintained, chances are high that individual rooms and units aren’t receiving any extra TLC.
2. The individual units don’t look so hot either.
Poor maintenance is a big red flag, says John Liston, a landlord in Boston and Manager of Strategy & Operations at HelloAllSet. “If, while you’re walking around, you see a lot of minor damage in the unit, then it’s highly likely that your landlord puts the bare minimum of effort into maintaining the unit,” says Liston. “Individual tenants can only cause so much damage and tenants are more likely to let damage linger if they inherited the unit in poor condition.”
3. The landlord isn’t easy to pin down.
If a landlord is hard to get a hold of for an initial meeting, renter beware. There’s nothing worse than having major maintenance issues and a landlord that doesn’t respond to requests in a timely manner.
4. The lease isn’t clear (or there isn’t a lease at all).
A straightforward lease is essential if you hope to avoid unmet expectations and unexpected fees down the road. There are a few crucial things that should be laid out in addition to the obvious rent total and preferred method of payment.
Terms of lease termination, occupancy limits, and pet policies are just a few of the items you should be on the lookout for. Also important is documentation of the rental condition upon move-in and who is responsible for maintenance and/or repairs down the line.
Because you could be landing an apartment with a slumlord, make sure that there are terms listed for inspections, and any other reason s/he could be inside your home (double check to ensure these terms adhere to landlord-tenant laws).
5. They ask for an abnormally high deposit.
Maybe you are considered a high-risk tenant, or the landlord is behaving cautiously because of issues with previous tenants. Such factors could be dictating a higher-than-normal deposit, but it’s important to protect yourself as well. Research the required deposit amounts of nearby rentals and try to determine what you’ll be responsible for when you move out.
6. It seems like a killer deal.
Sometimes a desperate landlord might offer up a better-than-average deal. But if you’re in a hot rental market and a landlord is offering a price or terms that seem too good to be true, they probably are. Beware of rental scams before you fall victim to one.
7. Existing tenants don’t have many (or any) good things to say.
The landlord/tenant relationship might not give most people the warm fuzzies, but people will certainly talk if a landlord isn’t upholding his or her end of the agreement. If you come across a plethora of poor reviews on sites like ApartmentRatings and MyLandlordScore, you may want to pay attention and stay away.
8. They don’t make a good first impression.
If a landlord shows up late to an initial meeting without an apology or if your initial interactions seem rushed, unprofessional, or even rude, consider this a red flag. Healthy landlord/tenant relationships require an open line of communication, so that both sides feel comfortable voicing concerns when they arise. If you don’t have that from the get-go, it could be the perfect time to walk away.
Denise Supplee, co-founder of SparkRental.com, says the first appointment can be very telling. She recently had an appointment in which the landlord didn’t show up or answer her calls the rest of the day, leading her to blacklist that community for all of her clients going forward.
Supplee’s biggest piece of advice for renters is simple: “Look at the clues and listen to your gut.”
Good advice, indeed.