A landlord can single-handedly make or break a living situation – and yet many people don’t bother to check out their landlord before signing a lease. Imagine if your apartment was broken into, and no one came by to put up a new door. Or if your refrigerator went kaput one month into the lease … and never got fixed. These things have happened – and all were due directly to the landlord.
So how do you make sure your potential landlord is on the up and up? There are several steps you should take to cover yourself:
Check lists of slumlords. Some large cities have these listings, where they publicize the worst of the worst throughout the city. There are listings for New York, for example, so do some googling for your area to see if there are any known slumlords, and who they are. If your landlord’s on the list, don’t sign!
Also, in college towns, there’s probably a slumlord or two that everyone knows about – talk with people who’ve lived in the area and find out who it is. Try to avoid renting from this person, if possible.
Go to Yelp, Angie’s List, or whatever other consumer review sites you can find. Look up your potential landlord and see what people have to say. Though, remember, that in the case of landlords, people only tend to complain bitterly or praise effusively – you’re not likely to see too many 3-stars. I bring this up because, even if you have mostly negative reviews, it’s not necessarily totally damning – though it’s a bad sign. (Also a bad sign – if all the positive reviews are written by people without photos in their thumbnail, who’ve only written one review. These are most likely fake accounts set up to deceive you.)
Look them up via the Better Business Bureau. If it’s a reputable larger company, they should be listed. See what grade the BBB gives the company, and how many complaints have been lodged against it. Good companies should have a rating that’s B+ or higher. Anything else is a red flag.
Ask your potential new neighbors. If you know someone who already lives in the building, ask them. If you see someone entering or exiting the building when you’re looking at apartments, go ahead and politely ask them what they think of the place. Likely, they’ll be happy to respond, particularly if the landlord’s not around. By talking to one or two actual people, you’ll get another data point in your research.
Google the landlord’s name. It’s simple. Make sure to put the name in quotation marks and google both “firstname lastname” and “lastname firstname,” or if it’s a management company, all the different formats that the company’s name takes. See what pops up. It only takes a few minutes and you might be surprised.
Google the location’s address. If something terrible has happened there (think murder, fire – anything that would be in a newspaper), or if there are chronic problems with the building, or if the landlord’s on a list that you didn’t find by googling the name, likely the address itself will pop up and lead the way in your research.
Once you’ve done all this, assess what you’ve found. Most of the information should be either positive or neutral. If it’s all negative, look to live elsewhere. If it’s a mixed bag, consider the source: for example, if one potential neighbor doesn’t like the landlord, but the BBB reviews are good and the Yelp reviews are lukewarmish-positive, and nothing else popped up negative, you’re probably fine.
While having a fabulous landlord is preferable, if you’ve already settled on a place you’d like to live, the idea here is just to make sure your landlord will live up to the lease agreement, repair things as needed, and be respectful of your need to live comfortably in your new apartment.
Best of luck!