I’m a Renter – Should I Screen My Landlord?
Landlords are used to screening tenants, and most know how to read a reference, check a criminal history and interpret a credit score. Tenants, on the other hand, remain stumped. It’s not common for tenants to run background checks on their landlords. Many fear that asking the difficult questions will put them out of the running for an otherwise great apartment. So how do you tell a good landlord from a bad one?
Hard, But Not Impossible
Landlords need only your Social Security number and your consent to fire off a screening application. Armed with these tools your landlord can, within minutes, access your credit score, eviction record, previous foreclosures and civil suits. He even gets to charge you for the privilege.
Most tenants, on the other hand, do nothing. Landlords are not obliged to disclose personal information and many tenants are scared to ask for fear of overstepping.
When it comes to information, the landlord holds all the aces. Yet tenants are just as likely to fall prey to scam artists and ropey landlords as landlords are to unscrupulous tenants who never pay a penny in rent. Luckily, there’s plenty of information out there if you know where to look.
Five Ways to Screen A Landlord
You don’t have to be a super sleuth to screen your landlord. All you need is internet access and a smidgen of personal charm.
- Search the public records
It’s a good idea to check that the landlord does in fact own the property you’re about to rent. Begin by accessing the property records in the county courthouse — some counties make these available online. The last recorded name in the register is the legal owner of the property — make sure the name matches your landlord. While you’re there, check to see that your landlord is current with his property taxes, doesn’t have any judgments filed against him and is not about to lose the property to foreclosure. Make a list of any other properties he owns too.
2. Do A Drive By
Take a look at the other properties in your landlord’s portfolio. Are they occupied? Well maintained? Rentals that show signs of neglect indicate a landlord who’s not much interested in his properties beyond receiving the rent. If you feel brave, knock on the door and ask the occupants their opinion of the landlord. How quickly does he respond to complaints, how diligent is he with repairs? Does he safeguard his tenant’s privacy or is he always nosing around?
3. Read Reviews
If you’re taking a lease in a large apartment complex, check out the reviews on sites such as Apartment Ratings. Better Business Bureau keeps a list of complaints filed against local service providers; Angie’s List and the Rental Protection Agency do something similar. Put a call in to your local Chamber of Commerce and your city’s housing board. If your landlord’s on their radar, it’s probably not good news.
4. Talk to the Neighbors
Everyone loves gossip, and nothing’s guaranteed to set the neighborhood tongues wagging more than a bit of scandal. You can bet your bottom dollar that if the property has a history of damage, mess, harassment, kicking down doors, nasty and obstructive relations, evictions, visits from law enforcement and threats of court action, the neighbors will know about it. Find out what the previous tenants had to say about the landlord. Were they happy in the property and if so, why did they leave? What did they moan about? For the acid test, ask how long renters tend to stay. If previous tenants stuck around, the landlord’s likely a safe bet.
5. Get To Know Him
A few well-placed questions can elicit a wealth of information. Before signing your lease, ask your landlord why he’s renting. Is he a single-unit landlord or does he make a living from this? What’s his job, what does he do in his spare time? What are his decorating boundaries, how does he like to be paid, what does he do with the security deposit? These topics don’t have to sound like the Spanish Inquisition. You’re just two people having a chat in a friendly and professional way.Human intuition is a great thing. If your landlord says or does anything that raises a red flag, follow your instincts.