Finding A Rental: Things To Consider
Fresh and New
Oh the excitement of your own place! What color schemes are you planning on, what kind of curtains are you getting, and where will you put your furniture? There are so many things to plan for, so many things to buy; you are already imagining all of the fabulous gatherings you will have in your cozy little spot. The barrage of thoughts waltz through your mind, just as the pen you are holding begins initialing the lease, and finally signing your name to seal the deal.
Then it sinks in, you are now legally obligated for a specified amount of time (usually 6-12 months). Our emotions often get the best of us; especially when things are fresh and new, with a natural adrenaline rush to boost the euphoria. Sure, renting your first place is new, and exciting; but, don’t leap before you look. Researching your potential landlord will save you time, headaches, and potentially, a lot of money in the future.
By the time you are done reading this article; you will have learned how to research a potential landlord/property, some basic terminology on rental agreements, and how to know who your landlord is, and deal with less than worthy landlords (believe me there are enough to go around). I’ll offer a few tips on researching any potential landlord you may be considering. When renting any property, research is crucial.
Can't we all just get along?
Ah, harmony for us all. In a perfect world it works like this; the renter pays their rent on time, the landlord responds in a timely manner to property/maintenance issues, the renter takes pristine care of the property. The landlord (Lessor in lease terminology) and tenant (you are the Lessee in lease terminology) enjoy a peaceful, symbiotic relationship.
In the real world, we all know it just doesn't quite always work in this manner. Suffice it to say some people are just jerks. Some of these people actually do become landlords. In no way am I saying that all landlords are slum-kings; but, you really need to keep a close eye on your landlord if you feel even the slightest hint of deception.
Do your research!
When I say research is crucial, I mean research is crucial! If you are reading this now you are most likely familiar with the internet and all its glory. The internet is an obvious resource to tap when researching your potential landlord. Google search your landlord, see what you can find. If you are under a larger property management company, try searching under the news section in Google search. Often times, you will manage to retrieve a substantial amount of data pertaining to crime.
What happens if you can’t find any articles, or very few? That is probably a good sign, less crime, less news. Take a drive by/through the property grounds at night, try different nights of the week. If you can’t live with that trash truck driving by at 4 am every day, you may want to reconsider you location. Talk it up, talk to the people you see on the property; often they are more than happy to disclose their thoughts on the property’s management.
The real cost?
Find the total cost of your new place, keeping all the charges/fees/assessments transparent is always a sign of a stable lease. Most landlords will disclose how utilities and such are to be assessed on the line item typically labeled UTILITIES. If the landlord states they will only pay electric in the lease, then it is up to you to pay all other utilities.
Know what your whole cost is upfront; call the utility company and see what the average bill is for gas, water, electric, sewage, trash, etc. I cannot tell you how many people I have dealt with that did not realize that their utilities were not included in their total rent cost until they got a disconnect notice from the utility company, or some other odd circumstance. Always, always, save all of your receipts and paperwork. You never know what and when you will need it.
One important part of many lease agreements is the schedule of charges; not all leases carry a schedule of charges, but some do. So, for those that do, I’ll go over it briefly. Basically what it does is lays out all the potential charges that the landlord may or may not assess to you, depending on the condition of the apartment upon exiting your lease, and quite frankly their personal opinion. I once worked for a property management company that would get people to sign these things, and then charge away when it was time for the tenant to go.
Landlords will charge you for new carpet if they think they can get away with it, especially if they do all their maintenance work themselves, and source their own supplies. You need to be aware of normal wear and tear, usually the timeframes for normal wear and tear of things such as carpet and paint are dictated in state statutes, but tend to be around five years. Unfortunately, many of the relative statutes tend to be rather vague. Be sure to check your local guidelines, and watch for compliance by your landlord.
Bedbugs feast on human skin
Don't let the bedbugs bite...
Another major point to consider is bedbugs. It is not a pleasant subject to speak of but, it’s a rising problem, and I’m going to address it. I have seen bedbugs shut down whole buildings at complexes. Once they get in, it’s a fight to the end. Removal of these creepy crawlies is costly, and often the wrong treatment is applied. Bedbugs bite and leave huge red welt like marks all over your body. I once received a complaint from a lady saying that she could hear them in the walls and ceilings. So, how do you find out if there has been any recent bedbug activity?
One way to check to see if a property has been contaminated with bedbugs is to call either the health department or code enforcement. The health department is iffy, and may or may not have any related reports to your request. Code Enforcement on the other hand usually has very detailed reports including information on things such as the code violation, recommended solutions, steps the property owner took to correct the problem, dates of occurrences’, if they passed or failed code requests, and the final resolution.
You may have to pay a small fee to access these reports, but it is well worth it. If you ever have a problem with bed bugs, be sure to call your local code enforcement office, and get it on record. It may prove valuable if you need to make your way out of your lease in the future and the problem has not been rectified.
Property management companies can really stink...
Still having problems with your property management company? Do what I did, and contact the owner of the property directly. This works well with rental homes, rather than large apartment buildings. It’s quick and simple to do. Go to the county assessor’s office webpage of the county the rental property is located in, and enter the property information. Get the owners name and mailing address, you can also reverse search the address then to get a possible phone contact.
Using the county assessors’ online database to gather the necessary information I needed to be recently refunded a $2300.00 deposit that was owed to me by going above the property management company and directly to the owner. It turned out the property management company was pocketing my rent and telling the owner I had skipped out a few months prior. Luckily I saved all my receipts and paperwork, and the 400+ pictures I took to document the condition of the house, both before moving in and after; the owner was dumbfounded. I promptly received my deposit back. It pays to protect yourself from your landlord. Read more stuff here.