Our guest blogger Russell works for Response Mine Interactive, an internet marketing company in Atlanta, GA. He has dealt with bad landlords for the past three years, and has filed a lawsuit against one. Currently he is working on a client specializing in furniture.
Dealing with Bad Landlords
So, you’re out of your parents’ house and out of the dorms on your way to freedom. Almost. The apartment seemed too good to be true when you first found it, but it no longer is. Unfortunately, it is very common, especially in college towns, for landlords or property management companies to take advantage of younger tenants. I have dealt with many such people and learned the hard way how to protect yourself and get what you deserve.
Start Building Protection Against Future Problems at Move-In.
It almost goes without saying, but make sure you document EVERY LITTLE THING that could possibly be wrong with your apartment – even if it is something that can’t be fixed, such as a stain on the countertop. Use your cell phone to take pictures when you find something wrong. You’ll need these records when your landlord blames you for the problem and tries to keep your security deposit, or bill you for damages.
Let’s start with the basics. Sign for your keys and document the number of keys given. If they look bent, most likely they will break shortly (from experience), so ask for new ones.
Walk into your living room/dining room area. Check the ceiling for any repaired damage and document. Are there any hooks left on the wall that weren’t removed? It doesn’t matter if it’s been painted over, still – write it down. Any chipped tiles/baseboards/missing or stained grout? What condition is the carpet in? If it’s rather worn – write it down. Ensure all lighting fixtures, outlets, and switches are undamaged and in proper working order. Closely inspect your door knobs and doors, walls where they may have damaged, windows (glass, locks, verify all will open and stay open), and window coverings. One tricky one is to look through the peephole; commonly this will get painted over.
When you get to your kitchen, test every burner on the stove plus the oven. Then inspect for cleanliness. I’ve actually moved in to an apartment where two burners didn’t work! Inspect your refrigerator and freezer for cleanliness, dents/dings. Ensure all your cabinets will close and latch, and all drawers glide smoothly. Verify there are no stains or chips on the counter top or in the cupboards. Check your dishwasher (I have had one full of dirty water upon move-in), sink, faucet, and sprayer. Finally, inspect windows, electrical outlets, etc. as you did in the living room and dining room. Make notes of any problems.
In the bathroom, verify that toilet flushes and fills properly, and is leak free. Check the shower, note any mildew in or around the tub, and verify that the faucet hardware is all in proper working order. Do you have a towel bar(s) securely affixed to the wall? What about a toilet paper holder? Again, verify the basics of the room.
Your bedroom check is going to be about the same as the living/dining room. Make sure you make a note of the smallest imperfection.
If you’re lucky enough to have a balcony or porch, inspect this as well. If you have a wood balcony, verify it as well as the joists if you are on an upper floor (the under parts). I had one at one point which ended up collapsing because they would not fix the joist. Thankfully, nobody got hurt.
When Something Goes Wrong, Keep Your Cool.
Ever hear the old saying, “You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar?” Approach your landlord / property manager with a friendly tone, and just say you need to get something fixed. As long as you have a decent property manager, this is all it will take. However, if it doesn’t, you may need to take more serious action.
Get to know your maintenance person (if you have one) and remember to tip him. I once went without heat, because the girl in the office said the maintenance guy was offsite. However, when he came back, he stayed late to fix my heater because he knew me.
* Once you know your maintenance man and he knows you’re a nice person, go directly to him with your problem.
Document every instance you contact the property manager with a problem. If they don’t want to fix it, don’t give up. Do not raise your voice, just take a firm stand. If they still won’t repair it, review your lease. Find the address to the building management company (or landlord’s home address), look online to find a demand letter template, and write a demand letter. Explicitly state what the problem is, the dates and times you have reported it to management, and the denial to fix it. You must send this certified mail WITH a return receipt. Unless the problem is serious (lack or heat or water, for example), the first time give them 30 days to fix it. Second time give them 15 days. Third time give them 7 days. Use certified mail with return receipt every time. At this point you can take them to court if nothing has been done.
I hope you will find a nice apartment with a good management company, and you will never have to deal with problems. However, the odds are that you will at some point deal with landlord who just doesn’t care. The key is to try and remain calm and pleasant, but firm. You will get your requests completed much quicker than if you act overly aggressively.