Tips for choosing a good landlord?
August 16, 2020 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I am currently looking for a new apartment to move into next month. My current landlord is a nightmare, and I wasn't happy with the landlord I had before this place. How do you vet landlords? What are some initial red flags to look out for?

Most of the guidance around rentals is geared towards landlords looking to find good tenants. Well, I want a good landlord! Someone who tells the truth, maintains the unit, and isn't a bully or otherwise weird and awful.

How do you vet your landlords? Should I stick to big companies to minimize risk? I know superintendents can behave badly as well.

My problems so far have been with private landlords. My past two landlords did not follow the rules/regs set out in the tenancy act, and both tried to force uncomfortable, too-close relationships on me that soured into harassment when I put up boundaries and tried to steer the relationship back into pure landlord/tenant business. Both seemed professional and reasonable in my initial dealings with them. I contacted former tenants for references and all seemed well.

I've joined a tenants group online and it's clear that there a lot of terrible landlords out there. They seem to primarily target young, unmarried women. I fit into this category, and I definitely seem bully-able as I'm quiet and shy.

So again, what do you look out for when you rent? I am especially interested in answers from other women who live on their own and have been renters for a long time.

I am NOT interested in advice or suggestions on how to deal with bad landlords -- past or future.
posted by Stoof to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd look for somewhere owned by a large property management/commercial real estate company, instead of a individual property owner.
posted by sagc at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I've been a renter for most of the last 20 years, generally from private landlords, and almost always on my own. Some landlords have been better than others but I've been lucky to avoid any really bad experiences, and for the few years I rented from a larger company the experience wasn't better or worse overall. A couple of things that may help:
  • Be very thorough in examining places you tour. Look under sinks for signs of leaks, mildew, or sloppy plumbing installation, run the taps, turn lights on/off, open closets, inspect out-of-the-way common areas like laundry rooms and parking areas for cleanliness, etc. I consider visible under-sink mildew and water damage to be a red flag as it reflects lack of care for the property (and thus for you as the tenant) . If the apartment is dirty or maintenance/construction debris visible when you tour it that is at least a yellow flag as well.
  • Avoid on-site landlords and property managers. While I'm sure this isn't universal, most onsite managers I've met have come across as at least moderately intrusive, over-familiar, or adversarial towards the tenants. I pay my rent on time and treat the property with respect—I am not interested in having my landlord or their agent monitor my activities as part of the arrangement.
  • In a casual and friendly way, when I view a unit I try to engage the landlord in conversation so I can draw out their attitudes towards their tenants, the property, and the area. I am actively fishing for what lies beyond "professional and reasonable" here. It's amazing what people will let slip—warnings about the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood, assumptions about me based on my age/race/sex, attitudes about current and former tenants, you name it.

posted by 4rtemis at 3:27 PM on August 16, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I've rented from both private and management landlords, and overall found the management companies more professional, but sometimes a little harder to deal with when you need something done or have a request or something. But most of them have a corporate structure so they have to behave better or you can complain to someone about them.

I usually like to ask how long people have stayed in the property in the past. If the lease is a year and most tenants move out after the year, I bet the landlord is crappy. I used to favour renting basement suites in a converted house, or an apartment in a small 4-plex or other small building, and then I ask how long the other tenants have been there. Usually if the answer is at least a couple of years, that's a more positive sign.

I ask landlords to primarily communicate with me over email - it leaves a paper trail and makes everyone act more professionally. If they call me, I will talk to them but request that they send a follow up email so I have a copy of what we agreed, and if they don't do it in about 24 hours, I do it myself. Don't be too casual in emails.

Say things that reinforce that you understand your rights. When looking at properties I would ask questions like "your management firm follows the tenancy laws that require you to give me 24 hours written notice before you enter my apartment in anything other than an emergency, correct?" "I assume that all the locks will be changed before I take tenancy?" "who is the emergency contact if something happens in the middle of the night like the heat stops working or I smell gas?" "If something in the apartment needs repairs, will you arrange the repair or am I responsible for it and you reimburse me?" If there is any damage in the apartment, ask if you can do a move-in inspection together so that they can be made a note of and you won't be responsible for them at the end of your lease. Take pictures. Ask how often inspections are done. If your landlord drops by, don't let them in. Say "yes I have a second to talk, I'll be right out." and then talk to them in the hallway or yard or whatever.

Overall, just try to play the part of a professional young woman, don't be a pushover and don't be too agreeable. Try not to give off a whiff that you'd be bully-able. When I was younger I used to kind of play the part of "a business woman." My job is super casual, but I dress up a bit and take out my nose ring for apartment renting. You just want to read as someone who is not going to be messed with. Be picky with them, don't be too nice! Good tenants are really valuable - you're a hot commodity. Don't be too easy to impress!
posted by euphoria066 at 4:26 PM on August 16, 2020 [13 favorites]

There’s some great advice in this thread. I would add that it can help to do a quick check to see if anyone has sued this landlord before. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a bad landlord. If there appears to be a pattern, though, that can indicate that something is amiss. Give Yelp a quick search also. It’s not a rock-solid indicator of truth, by any means, but some surprising stuff can pop up there, especially if people have grievances and not a lot of ways to resolve them.
posted by corey flood at 5:33 PM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I always do a deep dive search of the property address online to look for feedback people have left on various review and aggregator sites. People will admit online what current tenants won't say to your face/on the phone when you contact them for references.
posted by shaademaan at 5:36 PM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

My landlord is great. A few things that helped:

* The property is a condo. Since it's a condo, I'm not reliant on my landlord for very much -- the condo association does all of the work for the shared infrastructure, and they're motivated to actually do it, since the units are mostly owned by the residents.

* The property is upmarket / not the cheapest possible thing around. At the bottom of the market, you're much more likely to have unprofessional landlords. When you can afford to pay higher rents, your landlords know you have options and that you will leave if you're unhappy.

* My landlord lives on the other side of the world. Very hard to have a bullying or a too-close relationship when your landlord is thousands of miles away.
posted by phoenixy at 8:09 PM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Avoid on-site landlords and property managers

Seconding this. Just don't ever lock yourself out of your apartment - that's the one situation where I've found resident managers useful.
posted by Rash at 9:12 PM on August 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I guess I'm an outlier. All of my best landlords have been anything but easy to categorize beyond NOT being in any way connected with a " large property management/commercial real estate company". I suppose if I had to pinpoint a common element it would be that I already knew people who were renting from them. The word of mouth was good.
posted by philip-random at 12:16 AM on August 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

IDK where you are but here NZ avoiding rental agencies and property managers is top of my list. They are all awful - and the nicer the advertising the worse they area.

Be wary if they want to rush you through or babble constantly so you can't think.
posted by unearthed at 1:29 AM on August 17, 2020

With my current landlord, the apartment was in great shape and he was completely considerate of the current tenant at the time. The previous tenant worked overnights and he made it clear that we would not be viewing the apartment when he was sleeping (and followed through on it). I took it as a very good sign and he’s been great ever since.

That may sound small, but that + the condition of the apartment told me everything I needed to know. Sometimes the answer really is in the details.
posted by Amy93 at 3:52 AM on August 17, 2020

Avoid any company with a lot of properties marketed to students, they always seem to be the worst for a) never fixing anything and b) trying to screw you out of the deposit by any means necessary, assuming students are mostly too poor and/ or naive to take them to court.

I loved our property management company, before we bought our place. They fixed everything fast, sometimes fixing first and arguing with the owner about the necessity later (the whole windows-painted-shut debacle). I think we were just lucky, but it probably helped that they generally managed more expensive properties than ours, and were local rather than a large chain.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:26 AM on August 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Don't rent a property that the owner has moved out of, ie. their former home. It was their home - and they will have EXPECTATIONS. If it is being managed by a property agent - the expectations will be moderated. But you will complain that there is leak in the ceiling - and the owner will point out that you were supposed to clean out the box gutter. (I was the owner and left the instructions with the property manager.)
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 5:48 AM on August 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

Simple. Ask them for references from former tenants.
posted by KatNips at 2:24 PM on August 17, 2020

Response by poster: From the OP
"I contacted former tenants for references and all seemed well."
posted by Stoof at 3:37 PM on August 17, 2020

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