Ask LH: What Do I Need To Look For In A Landlord?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve always been able to find plenty of good apartments, but end up with a crappy landlord each time. How can I find a home to rent that isn’t owned by someone awful? Sincerely, Home Wrecked

Dear HW,

There are definitely good, honest landlords out there, so you’re not out of luck. It also isn’t so much about finding a good one as much as finding one that you get along with and respect. There are plenty of nice people in the world but you’re not going to like them all. Honesty and kindness aren’t the only qualities that will matter in a landlord-tenant relationship.

Pick the Right Type of Landlord

First things first, you have to consider the type of landlord you’ll be dealing with. Sometimes your landlord will be a large corporation, and other times they’ll just own a unit and you’ll be their only tenant. These factors can have an enormous impact on the quality of your tenancy, so you need to pick the right type first.

Corporate Landlords

When you rent from a corporation that owns quite a bit of property, there are plenty of pros and cons. Generally corporations will own large properties and they’ll be bought and sold frequently. The company managing the property on the day you move in might change while you’re living there. This could have a positive or negative impact, and you assume that risk when you decide to live there. If you’re looking at a larger apartment complex, find out who owns the property and how they manage it. You can learn these details by making a call to the leasing office or checking the property’s website (if one exists). Call the company, find out how long they’ve owned the property, and ask how rent pricing has varied on your type of unit over the past five years. Because corporations are most interested in a profit, they’re more likely to raise the rent significantly when your lease is up because a single vacancy isn’t a huge loss to them. They also do not know you personally and will have little sympathy if the significant rent increase is suddenly far beyond your means. This isn’t the case with all corporate-managed properties, but it is with some and why you should look at how the rent has changed over time.

On the upside, these large complexes are often very nice. Many come with several amenities and are well-maintained. For the most part, you’ll be left alone to live in your apartment and won’t be bothered. So long as you can afford to always pay your rent on time, you’ll be a valued tenant.

Multi-Property Local Landlords

Landlords who manage multiple properties locally are generally a good option for most people. Of course this will depend on the specific landlord, but assuming you find one you like you won’t have to deal with a lot of the problems you’ll encounter with a corporation or a single-unit owner (detailed in the next section). Local landlords with multiple properties will care you take care of the property, but generally won’t have an excessively watchful eye. So long as you take good care of the place you shouldn’t have any trouble. You also will have an easier time negotiating rent increases if the proposed amount is too high. Although this type of landlord owns multiple properties, tenant turnover still has a greater impact than it would on a corporation. On the whole, there are generally no major upsides or downsides.

Single Unit Landlords

Landlords managing only a single property, such as a unit or house they can’t currently sell, have some significant advantages and a few disadvantages. When renting from this type, you’ll often be expected to keep their place in great shape. They once lived there and they’re going to want to sell the property some day, so it’s very important it looks good. This is especially relevant when they are trying to sell their property. You’ll be able to stay as long as your lease allows, but if you plan on living there for a while you may find that you’re uprooted sooner than you’d like. It can help to ask the landlord if they plan to sell at any point in time, but they may not be forthcoming with this information as they don’t want to risk your departure.

On the upside, you can often find a great apartment for less than it’s worth. Your landlord will likely be most concerned with covering his or her mortgage payments rather than turning a profit, which means a mutually beneficial relationship for both of you. This type of landlord will generally prefer to be more hands-off as they do not run a business and have to deal with maintenance concerns on their own. This means problems can sometimes take a little longer to fix, but that’s not a major downside. What’s particularly great is that they will appreciate the bare minimum — paying your rent on time and treating the unit well — more than any other landlord.

When it comes to single-unit landlords it is most important that you find one you like. You’ll interact with them more than any other type, as you’ll be their only tenant. If you don’t get along, you can expect problems down the road.

Research Your Landlord

Once you’ve picked a type that works best for your particular situation, it’s time to do a little research. Do a search online when you’re dealing with large-to-medium-sized companies, whether they’re remote or local. In the event you’ve chosen a large property, look for reviews about that specific property. If you’ve chosen a medium-sized local landlord, look for reviews on his or her property management company.

The very best source of information on a particular property is other tenants. Not every tenant will want to speak to you about their living experience, but if you knock on a few doors or ring a few bells you’ll likely find someone who will answer your questions. If their quality of living is particularly bad, you’ll have little trouble finding out.

Finally, make an effort to get to know your landlord. Before signing the lease, ask a few questions about them and their philosophy on property management. Find out what’s most important to them so you know before moving in. If you’re planning to rent from a single-unit owner, feel free to get more personal. Ask them why they’re renting, what they do for a living, about their interests, and so on. These topics don’t have to be brought up in an awkward way. If they haven’t moved out all their things, simply comment on something you like and start asking related questions. You’re just two people, so having a normal conversation to get to know each other is completely reasonable.

Be Sure You’re Not the Problem

If you’ve had a string of bad landlords, it’s worth considering that you might actually be the problem. In the same way you should examine any problem, if you and your behaviour remains the same in each instance there’s a good chance you’re the problem’s common denominator. Be sure to take an honest look at your behaviour before blaming every landlord you’ve ever had. It’s entirely possible they’ve all sucked, but if you’re ruling yourself out you’re not looking at the entire picture. If changing your behaviour and expectations can solve the problem, that will be a heck of a lot easier than finding the holy grail of landlords that always seems just out of your grasp.

Photo by Stephen VanHom.

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