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Red Flags for Renters

Don't let your initial excitement about a new place make you ignore these common red flags.

Kate Mallison
Kate Mallison

Renters just want to find a good place to call home. Unfortunately, scams abound, and it can be easy to find yourself in a bad situation. When applying to rent an apartment or home, here are some red flags you should watch out for.

The application was non-existent, or too easy

You apply to a property by giving basic details like your name and contact info, and guess what? You got approved! You may not want to celebrate just yet, however. It’s standard for most landlords to run a credit and background check on all applicants. Foregoing this process may mean one of two things:

  1. the landlord doesn’t care that much about the property and may not respond to maintenance issues, or  
  2. they may be trying to lure potential renters into a bad situation, either a scam or a house that has known problems.

As tempting as it may be to move ahead, it’s important for renters to spot this red flag and be aware of what they might be getting into.

The landlord or manager isn’t responsive

You find the perfect apartment online, like the pictures, and contact the manager to find out more information. Days go by, and you finally hear back: a two lined email that answers only one of your questions. Frustrated, you write back, but more days pass before hearing anything.

If the landlord or manager doesn’t respond to queries while you’re looking, how can you expect them to respond to maintenance requests or to questions you have about the lease? No one wants to be bugging their manager constantly, but it’s important to be able to get the information you need when you need it. If you have someone who is non-communicative from the start, chances are that won’t change once you start renting.

Related: Building Better Relationships with Tenants

The property is unkempt

When you schedule a showing, this is the chance for the owner or manager to make sure the property shines. They should make you want to live there. If the apartment hasn’t been cleaned or is in disrepair, this is a red flag. Sometimes there may be extenuating circumstances if the previous tenants just left or the management is making repairs, but in most cases, everything should be presentable and in working order.

Showing an unkempt place may mean the landlord doesn’t care about the state of the property. If that’s the case, how responsive do you think they will be when something breaks and needs fixing? If there’s already a repair list on day one, any issues that arise while you’re living there will probably just go on the bottom of the list. Don’t let yourself get caught in this situation if you can avoid it.

If, for whatever reason, you find yourself needing to rent a property that has fallen into disrepair, make sure you get time-stamped, photographic evidence of the state of the property before renting it. This should be done before you move in. The last thing you need is to have a landlord claiming you caused damages that were already there before you moved in. Documenting will help you avoid this costly mistake.

Related: Sustainable Ways to Update Your Home

Common scams

An unfortunate reality with apartment hunting online is dealing with scams. Common sense is your best friend here. If something about the situation feels strange, it’s better to walk away and find a new opportunity.

Be extra wary of “landlords” who are out of state and have no representative to meet you and show you the property. Walk away from any situation where you aren’t able to see the inside of the property or if you are asked to accept the keys through the mail. Lastly, never wire a security deposit without viewing the property and signing an official lease.

Again, you should never be asked to send money before seeing the property and reviewing the lease.

Where’s the lease?

Although every situation is different, it’s generally not advisable to rent from someone you don’t know with only a verbal contract. Having a record of what you agree upon isn’t just for the landlord’s protection; it’s also to protect you from bad situations. With a detailed lease, the landlord won’t be able to change the terms of the rental agreement whenever they want; they are bound to this contract just as much as you are. With a simplistic “lease,” any ambiguities that are left undefined can be amended, changed, or clarified later, usually in the landlord’s best interest. It’s far better to leave no stone unturned so that you can cement the terms of your agreement for the entire lease period and won’t be surprised later.

Related: What’s the Difference between a Lease and a Rental Agreement?

Furthermore, signing a detailed lease provides you with some important guarantees. Landlords have certain obligations when renting a property, usually involving repairing broken appliances and fixtures. However, if this is not specified in the lease, they may not be legally required to make the repairs. Say your water heater breaks and your landlord refuses to fix it. With a comprehensive lease, their duties to make repairs would be outlined in the document, giving you legal recourse in a tough situation. Without a written document detailing responsibility for repairs, you would be stuck.

Related: Rental Property Repairs vs. Improvements

A broken water heater is just scratching the surface. Waiting for repairs is inconvenient. Dealing with an emergency that wasn’t your fault can be catastrophic. If your apartment floods from a burst pipe or catches fire and is completely destroyed, where will you go? Some states have legal requirements that landlords need to provide alternative housing for their renters. For other states, renters are at the mercy of what is stated in their lease.

Make sure you’re protected where it counts!

Final word

Just because you’re renting doesn’t mean you should put up with a bad situation. Don’t let yourself get taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. Ask questions, be thorough, and trust your instincts.

You’ll be home before you know it.

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