When a unit is up for rent is when the whole building looks better than ever. The owner comes by to spruce up the area out front, make sure everybody’s front balcony or porch looks nice and ensure all the walkway lights are working properly. But if you’re a renter, don’t take any apartment building or home at face value. Unfortunately, there are some details the landlord won’t tell you unless you explicitly ask about them. When you’re smitten with a potential home, you may forget to ask important questions.
Don’t let that happen to you! Keep your guard up when you’re looking for a new apartment or home and remember to ask these 8 important questions when you speak to the manager or landlord.
1. Why did the last tenants move out?
The previous tenants may have moved out for perfectly normal reasons, like choosing to buy a house or needing to move for work. But you should be concerned if they moved because they couldn’t get along with one of the other tenants, or experienced security threats that frightened them. The landlord may not be able to tell you too much, for privacy reasons, but even a vague mention of some dispute with the other tenants should raise concerns.
2. How do you screen tenants?
Ideally, the landlord should screen all tenants thoroughly. He should require several references, look into their housing history, run a background check and even speak to their bosses. You’ll naturally discover the screening process if you apply to be a tenant. If all the landlord asks for is a large cash deposit and no references, there is a high chance that some less-than-upstanding citizens live in that building, as well.
3. Have the police come here in the last year?
If the landlord says that the police have visited the building, ask why. If he doesn’t give you this information, it could be public information you can find at the police station. If the landlord says the police have not visited the building, confirm they’re telling the truth. Should you discover they’re lying, that should be cause for concern—he or she may be trying to cover up the dangerous activity to attract tenants.
4. Have there been any break-ins?
Find out if there have been break-ins and how they occurred. If the intruders broke in without much of a challenge—like by breaking a lock or popping open a window—you should ensure these weak security points have since been fixed.
5. Have you changed the locks?
It’s imperative that the landlord changes the locks on the units each time a tenant moves out. The old tenant could have made copies of those keys and handed them out to dog walkers, friends and other complete strangers.
6. How quickly do units turn over?
If many of the tenants have lived in the building for years, then that is a good sign—they probably haven’t faced too many challenges or been frightened off. But if the units turn over every six to 12 months, that should be a red flag.
7. Do you permit subletting?
If the building permits subletting, ask what their process is for selecting subletters. Does the landlord interview them? Or is it up to the discretion of the person on the lease to select a subletter? If residents are allowed to sublet their unit to just anyone, that can pose a safety hazard.
8. What are the tenants like?
No landlord is going to come out and tell you if his tenants are troublesome. That being said, some landlords genuinely love their tenants, and you can clearly see that in the way they talk about them. Try to live somewhere where the landlord gushes about his tenants—that’s probably a safe and drama-free building.
It’s the landlord’s job to put people in units, so they’ll do their best to make the building sound like a safe and happy place to be. But you can typically determine which landlords are covering something up, and which ones are truly proud of the community they’ve built in their building.