Bad landlords are bad news, and they come in many different types. They can make you hate living in an otherwise perfect apartment. However, it’s not easy to spot a bad landlord before you move in. Here’s how you can take steps to protect yourself, in case you’re stuck with one of the three most common types.
Type 1: The security deposit grabber
This landlord will consider your security deposit his from the get-go and will look for any excuse to keep your money when you move out.
Protection: Conduct a thorough walk-through before moving in.
Protect yourself against future problems before you move in. During the initial walk-through, make sure you document every flaw you find with your new apartment, even if it’s something that can’t be fixed, such as a stain on the countertop. Make sure to take pictures when you find something wrong, so you’ll have documentation. That way, if the landlord blames you for the problem, or tries to keep your security deposit, you have proof that the problem existed when you got there.
A few areas needing special attention:
- In the living, dining and bedroom areas: Are hooks left on the wall from a past tenant’s framed picture? Even if they’ve been painted over, write it down. How about the carpet? If it’s worn out, write it down. Also, ensure all lighting fixtures, outlets and switches are in proper working order. Inspect doorknobs and doors, windows (glass, locks, check that all will open and stay open) and window coverings. Also, remember to look through the peephole; this will often get painted over.
- Kitchen: Test every burner on the stove, plus test the oven. Inspect your refrigerator and freezer for cleanliness and dents and dings. Ensure that all of your cabinets will close, and that all of your drawers glide smoothly. Check countertops and cupboards for chips and stains. Check your dishwasher, sink and faucet. Finally, inspect windows, electrical outlets, etc, as you did in the living room, dining room and bedroom.
- Bathroom: Check the shower for mildew, as well as the grout around the tub. Flush the toilet to make sure it runs properly and make sure it does not leak. Verify that the faucets work and do not drip. Make sure your towel bars are securely affixed to the wall, and that the toilet paper holder is in place. Again, the key here is to verify the basics of the room.
Type 2: The intrusive landlord
This landlord does not respect your privacy or boundaries.
Protection: Establish a cordial distance from the start.
One of the worst kinds of landlords is the one who feels free to stop by at all hours, ostensibly to check something in the apartment or maybe just for a friendly chat. This typically happens when you rent a single unit in a private house or in a small rental building, and your landlord lives on the same premises. The landlord tenant-relationship can get too close, and you lose your privacy. If that happens, it is difficult to re-cast the relationship without hurt feelings, and you may end up having to move.
Type 3: The non-responsive landlord
This landlord is nowhere to be found when the heat stop coming in or shower turns into a trickle.
Protection: Stay calm, firm and document.
Make sure you first approach your landlord (or property manager) in a calm, friendly tone. Explain what you need fixed. When you realize that no one is making an attempt to fix the problem, you know you are stuck with a non-responsive landlord and need to take additional action.
Additional up-front protection: If you live in a large building or apartment complex, try to befriend your maintenance person — a nice tip on the move-in day can really pay off! Usually the maintenance person will be able handle minor fixes, like unclogging toilets, draining air from the radiator or replacing hard-to-reach light bulbs. You may be able to bypass the landlord entirely.
However, for bigger and more expensive problems like a chronic leak in the ceiling when it rains or replacing a window that won’t shut properly, you’ll need to get the landlord or management company to approve and finance the fix. If they are unresponsive, don’t give up. Continue asking for the fix in a firm tone, but also start documenting every instance you contact the landlord (or management company).
If there is still no response, you need to send a formal demand letter (you can find templates online). Explicitly state the problem, the dates and times you have reported it to management, and their ignoring of your request or their denial to fix it. Then send this letter to the landlord’s business address, using certified mail with a return receipt. Unless the problem is serious (lack of heat or water, for example), give the landlord or management company 30 days to fix it. If that doesn’t work, send another letter. This time, give them 15 days. If still no response, repeat. The third time, give them seven days. Use certified mail with a return receipt every time. If nothing has happened, you now have the documentation necessary to take the landlord to court.
Hopefully, you’ll find a nice apartment with a good landlord, and you’ll never have to deal with bad landlords. However, as you move into your apartment, it does not hurt to take steps to be prepared if the landlord turns out to be less than perfect.