Ask LH: How Can I Spot A Bad Landlord?

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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