Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things all renters need to know

I have been a renter for a good portion of my life after college (8 years and counting) and a landlord for about 1 year.

Unfortunately, I have had more than my share of bad landlords as well as bad property management.  Here are some items that any renter should watch out for, and questions any renter should ask their landlord before signing on the dotted line.

  1. Do your own research about the neighborhood.  Make a couple visits to the area in the evening.  Does the neighborhood look safe?  How is the security of the apartment complex.  If you hear a lot of loud music and or cars with chrome wheels, I'd probably start looking elsewhere.  
  2. How are the other tenants like?  This will require you to either talk to a former tenant and/or walk the hallways on the weekends or evenings.  For example, if you find out that a family of 5 live in a junior 1 bedroom down the hall, this may not be the best place for you to reside.  
  3. How is the condition of the building?  Is the building well maintained?  If there are shingles missing or falling off that have not been repaired, or locks missing from the security gate, this may be an indication that the management company is not on the ball.
  4. Research the management company and apartment complex online.  With our great technology and information revolution, you can pretty much find anything online.  People who are happy with where they are living may not always write about it online, but people who are fed up with the management company definitely would.  Start by doing a general search on Google.com, ApartmentRatings.com, and/or Yelp.com.  Since disgruntled tenants are more likely to post their complaints, take the reviews with a grain of salt.  But they are valuable, nevertheless. 
  5. Understand all the costs.  What costs are paid by the owner of the complex, and what costs are shared by the tenants?  Usually tenants will pay for electricity and gas, while the management company will pay for water and garbage.  There are unique situations where tenants share the water bill.  This can add up as most management companies do not have individual meters for water, so they pro-rate the charge among the tenants based on "headcount".  This can be very inaccurate.  In addition, there is no incentive for the management company to conserve water -- they may leave the sprinklers on for an obscene amount of time and let the water waste away into the drain.  A unit that is advertised at $1250/month may end up costing  you $1350/month from these additional expenses.  Considering this, you may just decide to look for a better complex at that higher price point.
  6. Make sure to document everything.  Sadly, I believe one of the ways unscrupulous management companies make money is by deducting obscene charges from your security deposit after you move out.  They have no incentive to be "nice" to you since you are no longer their tenant.  Within the first week of move-in, whether they provide you a check list or not, make sure to document every little thing that is wrong with the complex, and either email and/or mail it to them certified.  The reason for this is you want to make sure you have everything documented and time stamped in case there are any discrepancies later. I have personally moved into apartments that were never cleaned, or with broken and worn furnishings, and been blamed during move out that it was my fault.  My guess is that they probably blamed the previous tenant as well, took their money, and just didn't bother fixing it. 
  7. Move out inspection.  Make sure to go over the move-out inspection with the manager in detail, and ask for copies of any documentation or checklist the manager may have used during the process.  If they give you a cost estimate, make sure to get it in writing.  I had countless times during the move-out inspection where the manager will tell me that everything is fine, and they will only charge $100 for cleaning, then when I receive my security deposit find out they charged me $600 for a bunch of additional fixes that were never documented in the managers move out inspection.
  8. Know your rights.  The management company is required to return the balance of your security deposit within 30 days of you vacating the property.  In addition, they have to provide you detailed, 3rd party itemized receipts of all the work they have deducted from your security deposit to bring your rental unit up to par.  I had rented from a management company before where they deducted large expenses from my security deposit without proper itemized receipts, when pushed, it turns out they decided to remodel my unit and never actually cleaned or fixed any items. I ended up getting most of my security deposit back.
At the end of the day, the management company only really cares about one thing -- profits.  Make sure you take the proper steps to protect yourself as well.

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