Learn about a landlord before renting


Tenants expect to be checked out by a landlord, but how often do tenants check out landlords and their properties?

Probably not often. This is surprising when one realizes that many tenants invest thousands of dollars, and at least a year of their lives, in a home that can either be a pleasure or a great source of discomfort.

A tenant complained about poor maintenance at her complex and about how she was treated when she approached the landlord about the problems. She said, "When I was walking to the rental office, a man passed me and said, 'Don't come here, the place is terrible!' I came anyway, and that gentleman was so right!"

I once drove through a fairly new, good-looking, upper-middle-class complex to meet with tenants who complained that for several summers the air conditioning hadn't worked properly. A tenant said she had assumed that the landlord provided the heat and air conditioning. After moving in, she discovered that each apartment had individual units, and that tenants paid monthly for heating and air conditioning.

L Tenants need to be more careful when selecting an apartment.

Tenants should survey the area for convenience to work, shopping centers and schools, and check if the neighborhood is one where they want to live. Walk through an apartment complex in the daytime and note the general condition of the property and the kind of people who live there. Notice the lighting, and the noise of other tenants.

Go to the complex on the weekend during the day and talk to tenants who are coming and going -- or knock on several doors. Ask them these questions:

* Is it reasonably soundproof? Excessive noise is one of the most vexing problems tenants face. Sometimes tenants make too much noise, but sometimes the problem is that the complex was poorly constructed. One might consider the top floor, so that no one is above you.

* Are there roaches or rodents? What steps does the landlord take to control pests? This is important for people sensitive to certain chemicals.

* How does the landlord respond to maintenance problems? Promptly and with courtesy, or does a tenant have to file reminders over weeks, which are rudely received? When the maintenance people come, do they know how to fix the problem or do they pretend it's fixed, leaving the tenant to complain again. This is especially true with air conditioners and refrigerators.

* Is the air conditioning adequate, especially for the top floor?

* Is heat always available in the winter?

* Is the plumbing adequate with a steady flow of water? Is there always hot water?

* Does management inform the tenant, in advance, that maintenance people are going to enter the apartment? Do the maintenance people treat tenants' property with care?

* Does management promptly clear snow and ice from steps, sidewalks and parking lots?

* How safe is the neighborhood? The apartment complex?

* Is there adequate parking -- especially at night? Tenants don't want to walk three blocks to their apartments.

* What kind of rent increases have been asked for in the past?

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

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