Warning Signs To Look Out For When Renting An Apartment Or Home
Renting a new apartment or house can feel like a chance to start over, a fresh environment to put down roots and create new memories. But when looking for an apartment to rent, be sure to pay close attention to the details, both in the rental agreement and in the unit itself. While most people focus on the larger amenities a rental home has, it is often the smaller features that can reveal the true condition of a building and its potential for stress-inducing issues.
Listening to your gut is a good place to start. If something doesn't feel right about the unit you're considering - or if the rental agreement sounds too good to be true - honor your instinct and listen to what it says. Property owners are not necessarily in the rental game because they have a charitable urge to house and shelter people. It's a business, and they're in it for money. And, unfortunately, it's up to prospective tenants to make sure everything is safe and legal.
Below are some red flags to look out for when renting an apartment or home.
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No Heat SupplyPhoto: Tiia Monto / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
In the vast majority of rental situations, landlords are required to provide a heat source as part of renting a safe and habitable unit. The extent of this responsibility, however, varies by city or state.
In San Francisco, landlords must provide a heat source year-round that heats interiors to 68 degrees between the hours of 5:00 and 11:00 am and 3:00 and 10:00 pm. In New York City, landlords must provide a heat source from October 31 to May 31. Interiors must reach 68 degrees between 6:00 and 10:00 pm and at least 55 degrees throughout the night. Check with your local laws regarding heating (or air conditioning) requirements before heading to an open house.
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Obvious Signs Of DamagePhoto: Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
One of the more visible warning signs of a questionable rental property is the presence of physical damage. Windows, light fixtures, fans, and moldings should all be in one piece and free of cracks and holes. If there are chips in the sink or the countertop, it doesn't necessarily need to be a deal-breaker, but report it to the landlord immediately in case it develops into a larger issue; take photos of it and send it to them if necessary.
Also, be on the lookout for stains. If carpets, walls, or ceilings are stained, it could be a sign of water damage or it could just be a sign of a landlord who doesn't care.
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Visible Signs Of Water DamagePhoto: Atomicdragon136 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
Water damage most often results from plumbing leaks or leaks in the roof. Signs of water damage can be obvious - such as standing water on the floor - or it can be more subtle, like discolored patches in the ceiling, walls, or flooring.
Another good way to check for water damage is to give the property a good sniff. Water-damaged spaces smell damp, musty, and stale. If left untreated, water damage can encourage mold growth; allergic-like reactions, respiratory infections, and memory loss are just a few symptoms of mold infestation.
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Appliances Don't WorkPhoto: Lisafern / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0
If the electricity is hooked up in the apartment you're touring, test out the appliances. Plug the refrigerator in and confirm all lights are on and the motor is running. If you have a smartphone charger with you, test out a few of the electrical outlets in the property to make sure they all have juice.
Be sure to test out gas appliances as well. Turn on each burner of the stove and make sure they light. Flip the oven on and make sure it warms up.
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Suspicious Rental AgreementsPhoto: Blogtrepreneur / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
Before paying a deposit or agreeing to rent a property, ask to see the lease or rental agreement. While both documents serve the same purpose of establishing a tenant-landlord contract, a lease is used for a fixed, longer-term rental, such as a year's lease. A rental agreement is used for shorter-term contracts, like month-to-month leases.
Regardless of the type the landlord is using, review the document carefully beforehand. All wording should be legally sound and clear. Read the policies and fees regarding early termination, pets, and late payments. If there is language that puts you on the hook for repairs or upgrades that are not your fault or responsibility, don't sign. When in doubt, consult a lawyer.
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They Didn't Do A Credit Check Or They Asked For Cash UpfrontPhoto: Scott J. Waldron / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
A legitimate, responsible landlord wants to rent to a trustworthy tenant. The first place to verify the financial trustworthiness of a tenant is to run a credit check on them.
If a landlord doesn't do a credit check, be leery. They cannot run a credit check without your permission, so if they say they already have, back off. Also, never pay a landlord cash upfront - with cash, check, money transfer, or any other payment mode - without seeing the place inside and out and first turning in an application. Relinquishing money before you've even seen the place or met the landlord smacks of deceit.