There's nothing worse than finding a great rental property only
to learn later on that the landlord isn't interested in returning
your calls when repairs need to be made or a problem needs to be
fixed. Landlords have their own ways of researching prospective
tenants, but what strategies can a renter employ to research a
prospective landlord and their properties?
Fortunately, there are several strategies that would-be tenants
can use to research the potential landlord's financial standing as
well as the condition of a particular property.
Nowadays, this information is more important than ever given the
growing number of renters throughout the country.
Rent vs. buy calculator
According to the latest Census data, the number of renters
nationwide increased 8.2 percent between 2009 and 2010. In all,
renters occupy 37.1 million housing units in the U.S.
Furthermore, a National Apartment Association poll found that 76
percent of respondents believe that renting is a better option than
buying-up from 71 percent in 2008. Perhaps that's why a 2010 Trulia
survey also found that more than one in four renters said they plan
to rent forever.
So if you're among the growing number of renters, follow these
three steps to ensure your landlord isn't a slumlord:
1. Do a formal check on your landlord
For a specific investigation about the owner of a property, you
can try an online service such as
For a fee of $12.95, CheckYourLandlord.com provides its clients
with a basic report about a landlord. The company also offers a
more comprehensive report for $27.95.
As a first step, the company tells renters-especially those
renting individual homes-whether the prospective landlord's name
matches the name of the property owner. If it doesn't, that's a big
red flag and a sign of potential rental fraud, says Michael
Schaeffer, founder of CheckYourLandlord.com.
"We're also able to say if the landlord has filed bankruptcy,
has judgments against them, civil filings, or has been sued by
other tenants. Maybe that's another red flag that suggests you want
to move on to another property," Schaeffer adds.
In its reports, CheckYourLandlord.com rates a landlord's risk
levels in 15 different areas.
A landlord with a homeowners association, vendor's lien, tax
lien or notice of default is ranked in the high-risk category.
Meanwhile, an owner or landlord with a mortgage on the property
would be considered normal and be ranked in the low-risk
"We base everything on factual, public information and we simply
rank the risk and tell the renter: 'now you have all the
information,'" says Schaeffer.
2. Use an apartment ratings service
To get insights into an apartment you may be considering, check
out any number of online apartment rating services that have become
popular in recent years. Among the biggest are ApartmentRatings.com
With 1.2 million ratings and reviews of apartments nationwide,
ApartmentRatings.com bills itself as "the most comprehensive
database of apartment ratings and reviews anywhere."
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In addition to offering photos, sites like these provide
information on amenities, the rent, as well as reviews from current
tenants. ApartmentRatings.com urges would-be renters to "find out
what tenants say BEFORE you sign a lease."
When accurate and truthful, tenant comments can offer a true
glimpse into life at a apartment complex. For instance, are people
complaining about maintenance problems, safety issues or an
absentee landlord? Or do tenants seem to be generally satisfied
with the management and overall condition of their apartments?
Despite there being no fool-proof way of discerning how
legitimate these comments are, spending some time online at an
apartment review site can give you some overall perspective and a
general opinion about a building and the landlord.
3. Talk to neighbors and public officials
It can also pay to have face-to-face conversations with tenants,
neighbors and people in the community about a given landlord. Their
feedback might make or break your decision.
Lastly, while a check with city or county agencies is more time
consuming, the effort may be worth it if it reveals a landlord's
housing violations for health code infractions, poor plumbing or
bad electrical work.
After all, no one wants to be stuck renting a dilapidated
apartment from an absentee slumlord.