First Person: What the Landlord Is Really Thinking

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As the owner of a collection of small rental properties, I’ve been dealing with tenants and rental issues for 20 years. As a young man, I was a renter for a long time and know the issues renters experience. Careful research and preparation will pay-off in the best apartment for the best monthly rent possible.

Here are my tips for getting the best deal and the best place when renting an apartment:

Start Looking Early

Moving is a major endeavor, don’t leave it to the week or even the month before you need to move. I recommend looking about 60-90 days out. This allows time to find a place, get approved and still have time to change your mind.

Be reasonable

Your monthly rent should not be more than about 25% of your monthly take-home pay, or about one week’s salary. Don’t push higher, you will only create problems for yourself, even if a landlord approves you.

Get your finances together

Landlords run your credit when you apply to rent a unit. US law allows you a free copy of your credit report each year (annualcreditreport.com is the only official US government website) so check yours in advance. Have any errors removed and pay off anything negative that’s hurting your profile. A good job is more important to me than credit and we always review reports, not just scores, as people do have problems. We look for a constant pattern of bad debts, not just individual problems.

Bad credit will cost you money. For example, we allow tenants with credit scores above 720 to move in with a $300 security deposit and charge others two months rent, which can be $2,000.

Talk to other tenants

When you arrive to look at a unit, talk to the other tenants. Ask if they like living there and what the negatives are. If they like the building, they will be more than willing to share their experiences. If they hate it, probably more so.

Make multiple visits

Never rent a unit after a single visit. That quiet unit you see on a Tuesday afternoon may be the center of the neighborhood party on the weekends. Visit during the day and night, during the week and a weekend if possible.

Negotiate

There is usually some leeway in rental rates. If you have good credit and a good job, try to get a reduction. Rates usually go down the longer the term, so consider signing for a longer term. If a landlord is unwilling to move on the monthly rent, consider other things. Parking, painting the space, installing new appliances, carpet or air conditioning, even including free utilities are items for negotiation. Even if you like a particular building, research other buildings and rents in the area so you can use the information in your negotiation to rent an apartment.

Read the lease

When you decide to move forward and are presented a lease to sign, read the whole thing carefully. Regardless of what you have been told, it’s what’s written on the lease that matters. Check the monthly rate, the term and other details and ask questions. A lease is a contract and you are signing it. You cannot simply move out anytime during the lease, you must wait until the end. If you leave early, the landlord can sue you for the whole amount left on the lease. If a tenant rents an apartment from us, signs a lease for a year for $1,000 a month and then leaves after six months, they are responsible for that other $6,000.

Communicate

After your move-in, communicate with the landlord about any issues or problems immediately. If you have financial trouble, let your landlord know and communicate with them. I am much more willing to work with tenants who let me know honestly about problems and rarely evict them. Evictions come when people hide or try to avoid paying rent intentionally. If you want to leave early, let the landlord know and work with them to find a new tenant.

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