Tips For Tenants

Looking to rent a house or an apartment? Is this your first time renting?

Here are a few of the basics that will save you from many of the all-too-common costly mistakes folks make when renting.

Do Your Homework

  • Location - the rent may be low, but is it a safe neighborhood?
  • Landlord - what is the reputation of the landlord or property management company? Be sure to check  with the BBB and/or other agencies that track landlords.
  • Visit - drive by the place you would like to rent at different times of day/night. Is it noisy after dark? Do gangs hand out in the parking lot? What is the general condition of the buildings and grounds?
  • Talk - listen to what other tenants in the neighborhood tell you about the place/landlord. Have the police been called often? Is there a neighborhood watch? Do people tend to rent long term or mostly leave after one year of leasing?
  • Laws - be familiar with the state and local landlord/tenant laws. What are your rights as a tenant? What are your options if you have problems with your landlord?
  • Building - how old is the building? Might it have lead-based paint? Is it obvious that the landlord takes pride in keeping the building and grounds in good condition?
  • Lease - read the entire lease agreement. Is it in harmony with state/local laws? (See Residential Rental Agreement)
  • Rules - what are the rules associated with the rental unit? Are there HOA rules? For instance, what are the rules for parking an RV, decorating the outside of your unit during Christmas, or planting flowers in the Spring? If you are unfamiliar with HOAs be sure to read: HOAs Are Here To Stay.
  • Fees - ask, are there any other fees? If so, what for? Can the landlord legally require such fees?
  • Pets - what are the rules regarding pets? (See Teacher's Pet)
  • Smoking - what are the rules regarding smoking?
  • Roommates - what are their policies regarding roommates and your financial responsibilities if a roommate refuses to cover their part of the rent/utilities? (See Roommates As Tenants)

For the Record

  • Agreements - a nice smile and a handshake aren't sufficient. Oral promises aren't enough. Get everything in writing. Keep copies of all email and other correspondence.
  • Security Deposit - make sure you have in writing exactly how your security deposit will be handled. Know what will be required to get your full deposit back when your lease is over. (See Keep It Clean)
  • Contacts - obtain and keep readily available the full name, address, and telephone number of each person you must deal with when renting.
  • Emergencies - make sure you have the names and numbers for the best people to contact for any emergencies - whether fire, break-ins, leaks, or otherwise.

Utilities

  • The Payee - who pays for the utilities? Are you only responsible for what you use in your unit or a percentage of the total cost for the utilities for all the units in your complex?
  • Costs - what are the average costs of utilities for the rental unit?
  • Control - who controls the utilities, the tenant or the landlord? In other words, if the landlord pays for the utilities from out of your rent, s/he may also have full control of the thermostat, water, etc. Are there any signs that another tenant, or the landlord, has found a way to tap into your utility service(s) at your expense?
  • Internet - what are your internet/TV needs? Is there only one provider in your area? If more than one, are you free to choose which one? How reliable is the service that is provided?

Inspection

  • Property - make sure that the inspection report is sufficiently detailed. (See Making A List)
  • Pictures - take pictures of everything questionable to avoid paying later for damages that weren't your fault
  • Signature - make sure that you get a signed copy of the inspection report
  • Devices - are all the required safety monitoring devices in the right place and operational - such as the smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detector, and fire extinguisher(s).
  • Appliances - are all the appliances clean and correctly working?
  • Safety - do all the doors and windows have the required and functioning locks? What is the fire escape plan for your unit?
  • Pests - is there any evidence of lice, mice, roaches, or other pests? (See Uninvited Guests)
  • Control - do you know where, if necessary, to turn off the main water supply, the electricity to the whole unit, and the gas? Are these control switches easily accessible?

Renter's Insurance

  • Yes! - it is important to have your property covered for damages and/or theft.

Communicate

  • Be Nice - it never serves you well to have an adversarial relationship with your landlord.
  • Expectations - each landlord is different. Learn what the expectations are from your particular landlord. (See What Should Owners and Tenants Expect)

Misc

  • If you expect to work from home, is it even permissible? Do you use service vehicles for your job? Can they be parked at your unit? Will everything you need be available and if not, will you be permitted to make the changes to the unit you will need in order to do your business?

We hope this is helpful to you as you move forward to rent.