Ask LH: How Can I Spot A Bad Landlord?

Ask LH: How Can I Spot A Bad Landlord?
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Hi Lifehacker, I recently read the article on spotting a horrible roommate. I have a related question: how can I spot a horrible landlord before I move in?

I have been in situations where I had lovely chats with landlords, but once I signed on the dotted line, their personalities did a complete 180 and things became very problematic. One landlord, for example, suddenly forbade me from sharing the fridge a week after I moved in, and it eventually escalated into things such as splashing water on my toilet paper and turning off the router in his room every time he left the house to prevent me from using the internet.

Life isn’t necessarily any better with estate agents: I had one who refused to list furniture on the inspection check list. What signs should we all be looking for? Thanks, Lease On Earth

Dear LOE,

The bottom line is to get everything in writing: once the lease has been signed by both parties it becomes a legally binding contract, so it’s important to make sure any “dos” and “don’ts” are clearly spelled out.

If the contract states you’re allowed to use kitchen utilities for example, the landlord can’t arbitrary decide to restrict their use once you move in. Also, wherever possible, try not to sign a long lease initially, as this will lock you in for the long haul if things suddenly turn south.

Other than that; communication is key. Make sure you’ve had extensive talks with the landlord prior to moving in and come prepared with plenty of questions about what their expectations in a tenant are.

Most unreasonable people have a hard time hiding this fact; you’ll get a sense of how much of a control freak they are pretty quickly if you ask the right questions. The key is to run through various scenarios (cleaning responsibilities, noise restrictions, internet usage, etc.) and carefully gauge their reactions.

Once you’ve thrown your lot in with a particular landlord, it also pays to document the accommodation from top to bottom; especially your main living quarters. Even the friendliest landlord can turn nasty when it’s time to move out and money is on the line — so keep photographic evidence of any damage that’s already there, no matter how minor.

If you still end up with the landlord from hell, there are various organisations that will be able to lend a hand. Here are some links to the tenants’ unions organisations and relevant departments in each state:

If any readers have additional advice, feel free to let LOE know in the comments section below.


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  • One thing I learned early on in my rental days is to never go with a privately managed property.. I’m sure they’re not all bad but having a Real Estate in the middle keeps things neutral (for the most part) and objective. They’re not all wonderful.. I just feel that the times I’ve dealt with someone privately (twice), it was MUCH harder to get anything done or disputes settled etc.

    “I had one who refused to list furniture on the inspection check list. ”

    List them yourself.. they might like to say “tick all the boxes” or “put Y next to everything”.. but if you’re not happy with it, don’t tick it.. don’t put a Y next to it.. list EVERYTHING you feel comfortable with.. the inspection report happens AFTER you signed the lease, not before.. so you can be as pedantic as you like..

    Remember the estate agent is going to be batting for the owner, not you, in almost all cases. So if they can get away with not marking something down, they will and then you will likely end up paying for it when you move out.

    • Yeah, this so much. I’ve run into a few people who self-manage and they often fail to be able to de-personalise the experience. For them, when you ask for a repair you’re asking them to spend THEIR personal income to fix it. So they are much more keen to bodge it up themselves or get some dodgy el-cheapo property maintenance subbie to do it. And they’ll debate you on _every_ _single_ _thing_ until you just give up out of frustration.

      Also, my personal rule is to never live with a landlord. It’s fine if you move in with someone who is leasing, but not if they own the place. It’s pretty much like the above, except many times worse, as they’re *in your house* keeping an eagle-eye on every single thing you do.

      I’m sure there are many self-managers who are fine, but in my personal experience they’re the exception to the rule.

      Going with a third-party agent puts a buffer between you and the owner and a (somewhat more) impartial eye on the situation.

      But remember; at the end of the day the agents get their income from the owner, not you, so keep *everything* documented, including all correspondence.

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