Before you lease an apartment, your landlord learns a lot about you: where you work, how much you make, and what your credit looks like. But how much do you ever learn about your landlord?
While you can’t ask a landlord to fill out an application, you can do a background check before you sign a lease.
Always ask your landlord questions
In most cases, a landlord doesn’t have to give you his personal information or even tell you if he owns the property. And while most landlords won’t hand over their personal information to a prospective tenant, a good landlord will be happy to answer a few questions. Here are a few you should ask:
- How long did the last tenants stay?
If a landlord tells you the previous tenant only stayed a year, ask about prior tenants. If you notice a pattern of people leaving when the lease is up, there may be a problem.
- Who handles your maintenance?
Most properties need small repairs and maintenance from time to time. If a landlord says he handles small repairs himself or hires a local company, there’s a good chance he takes care of his properties. If he can’t answer right away, be wary.
- What’s the neighborhood like?
Most good landlords care about their properties enough to keep an eye on the neighborhood. If the landlord doesn’t know anything about the area, that could be a red flag.
Get the gossip on the landlord
If you’re looking at an apartment in a multi-unit complex, go back on a weekend when people are likely to be outside and ask a few tenants how they feel about the landlord or property manager. You’ll likely have a better picture after asking three or four tenants.
If you’re considering a private house or smaller complex, ask around the neighborhood. Since the neighbors aren’t leasing from your landlord, they’re likely to give you a candid impression of the landlord—and the property.
Look for reviews of the landlord
There are several online review sites for current and former tenants to rate both the property and the landlord. Try running a quick online search for your landlord’s name and the property name to find reviews.
Research the history of the property
Finally, before you sign a lease, make sure your landlord owns the property and the property isn’t in foreclosure. While it’s rare, some people try to scam unknowing renters by claiming to be a landlord of a property they don’t own, taking security deposits and first month’s rent before disappearing.
The likelihood of a scamming landlord is small, but if you’re concerned, you can find property records at your local courthouse or online through your county’s website.