It’s the spooky time of the year again, so let’s take a look at another one of apartment hunter’s nightmares – unknowingly renting a place with a criminal past. Yes, it can and does happen. It even happened to one of my fellow My First Apartment bloggers a few years ago. In that case the first telltale sign was – as it often is – that the rent was far below market. Any time you find an apartment that looks like a super great deal, considering the condition and area, ask yourself what’s the catch.
There are many factors that contribute to picking the perfect place. While most prospective tenants focus on size, price, location and charm when looking for an apartment, it’s easy to miss checking out another important factor: its criminal record. Believe it or not, an apartment with a background of crime is more common than you think, and can have a huge impact on future tenants.
In 2011, a young couple moved into an apartment in Tulsa, Okla. During the three months when they lived there, each experienced sickness including nausea and vomiting, severe breathing problems and migraines, and both tenants went to the hospital several times for their illnesses. Only after they had been ill for months did the couple discover that the apartment beneath theirs had once been a meth lab, and was recently busted and shut down by the police. Since cooking meth requires little hardware and is easy to conceal, there have been hundreds of cases like this, affecting the health of tenants who have moved in next. Meth contamination cannot be seen and the clean-up is expensive, from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, so an unethical landlord may just skip the cost and keep quiet.
Tenants who have moved into apartments where prostitution or drug dealing took place may face both unsettling and dangerous futures in their new home. With unsavory strangers loitering around their apartment and knocking on their door looking for the previous tenant, feelings of privacy and safety can be compromised.
Unfortunately, in many cases where an apartment has a criminal past, a landlord will not warn future tenants before they move in, so the prospective tenants have to do their own research.
Searching for the Truth
If you have rented apartments in the past, you may have found out the hard way that not all landlords are as honest as they should be regarding your apartment. In fact, landlords are not required by law in many states to warn a potential tenant of criminal activity in their apartment or complex. Therefore, if your apartment – or others in your building – has been a place for criminal activity, chances are you may never be told, even if you ask up front. To make sure your future home has a clean past, there are some steps you can take.
The best place to start your investigation is a basic Internet search – just Google/Bing/Yahoo the exact address. Then research police reports for the unit in question as well as the town you are planning on moving to, in order to see if your potential apartment or those nearby have experienced criminal activity. When scanning for results, check for break-ins close to the apartment, as well as drug-related activity and sex offenders close by, as these could indicate danger for new tenants. Also research any accidents, such as fires or structural damage that may have occurred at your prospective rental building.
Another way to research is to simply type in the address of your apartment on a website that provides criminal reports by location. If your searches yield no results, the apartment probably has a clean criminal record. Also, if you are curious about whether a death has occurred in your new place (either by violent or natural causes), there is a website that will, for a fee, dig up the dirt for you.
Another way to find out if the apartment in question has a criminal past is to ask the neighbors. Knock on a few doors near your future apartment and ask the residents if any unusual/illegal activities or recent tragedies that have happened around the complex. Another good question to ask your potential neighbors is whether the community feels safe, and if they find that strangers or non-tenants hang around the building, as this may be a tip-off to a drug or prostitution activity. Make sure you ask in a friendly, casual manner so your future neighbors don’t think you are accusing them of doing something against the law.
While looking for a new apartment can be exciting, it is a process that requires much attention to detail. Do your research and check for the danger signs. You’ll be glad you did!
Our contributor, James White, is a freelance construction worker and blogs in his free time at Homey Improvements. He also enjoys hiking, photography, and improving his own home. Follow him on Twitter@DIYfolks.