Before You Rent: Know Your Potential Landlord

Renting a home; be it an apartment, studio, single family home, or even a farmhouse; is a tough experience to go through. And finding the right place to live in is obviously quite an important part of the process. But it’s easy to overlook what could possibly be the difference between the perfect place, and a nightmare: the landlord.

A great landlord can turn an otherwise unremarkable rental home into a pleasant experience. Conversely, the most beautiful home at the greatest price in the best neighborhood can easily turn out to be the worst rental you could ever experience, with the wrong landlord.

There are plenty of guides out there for how to find that perfect rental. But what about finding that perfect landlord?

Here are five questions you can ask your potential landlord and what the answers can tell you about what kind of person you’re about to depend on for housing.

How long has the unit been vacant?

The amount of time a rental unit has been on the market is a good indicator of whether or not the rent is fair. If the rent asked for a unit is too high, it will remain on the market while renters look for better deals. Many landlords forget that when a unit is vacant for months, they are losing rent.

A rental on the market for too long means the landlord is being stubborn about the rent. And if a landlord is stubborn about the amount of monthly rent, you can be sure the landlord is also stubborn about other things as well. Stay away from landlords who won’t reduce the rent on a place that has been vacant for more than 2 months if the market for rentals is strong.

What were the last tenants like?

This is a question best asked casually. What you are looking for here is judgment by the landlord. Listen carefully to the response. Did the landlord complain about some aspect of the tenants, like they’re economic state, ethnic or religious background? Did the landlord speak about the tenants, or about their behavior?

If he or she speaks addresses the tenants rather than their behavior, then the landlord is judgmental and probably will think similarly about you in due time. Be wary of landlords like this. A judgmental landlord can’t see past his or her perceptions of you. This won’t be a good rental experience.

Does the unit have Lead Paint?

This is a rather obvious question, but the answer can tell you a lot about the landlord. You’ll need to find out when the place was built if it isn’t obvious. You can do this by going to the city or county assessor’s or recorder’s office and looking at the public records.

If the house was built before 1978, when lead was banned from home paint, and the landlord tells you that the house doesn’t have lead paint, run away, and run away fast. A landlord that doesn’t disclose lead paint is in violation of federal laws, but take it from me personally that the law isn’t always enforced, and you don’t want to risk something like this. Dealing with lead paint is one thing, dealing with a landlord who is willing to risk your life for his or her own profit is another.

What kinds of repairs and improvements can I do?

This is a big one, especially for you long term and house renters. A good landlord will be proud of the rental unit, and will be concerned about its future value both financially, and as a rental unit. Thus the response of the landlord to this question will give you some big clues.

If the landlord is all too willing to let you make repairs and you have given the landlord no information to suggest you are a professional contractor, and especially if the landlord is willing to let you make improvements; then you might want to reconsider this rental and landlord. This is the worst kind of landlord: one who likely owns multiple rentals and won’t put a penny into any one of them.

The response you want is one that indicates the landlord cares about the rental as if it were his or her own home. You want a landlord who questions your qualifications to make repairs and especially improvements. You want a landlord who wants to make sure that anything you add to the home will increase its value.

What is the neighborhood like?

This is another key to the kind of person the landlord is, but it also gives you some idea of what life will be like in the neighborhood. Again, listen for signs of a judgmental landlord by how he or she speaks about the neighbors. Pay attention for obvious lies about the quality of the neighborhood as well.

A good landlord will be honest and up front with you about the neighborhood to the extent the landlord is aware. And a good landlord should be involved based on conversations with the previous tenants or personal experience.

A landlord who lies about the neighborhood is the worst kind, as they seek rental income at any cost. Your peaceful enjoyment should not be one of those costs. If the landlord wants you in despite the neighborhood not being quiet and friendly, it is a sure sign of a bad relationship. Walk away.

With these questions, and careful attention paid to the answers, you will gain a great deal of knowledge about the landlord. In a rental situation, the landlord-tenant relationship is extremely important, and is the difference between a rental experience you’ll never forget, and one you’ll wish you could.