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How to Spot (and Deal With) a Bad Landlord


iStock.com/Nicola Katie

Most landlords and property management companies are professionals and businesses that only have the best interests of their tenants at heart. However, as anyone who has ever dealt with a bad landlord or property management company knows, these people have the power to make their tenants’ lives miserable. The good news is, you never have to deal with bad behavior. Once you know the signs, you can steer clear of bad owners and management companies and report that people and businesses are doing the wrong thing.

Behavior that makes a landlord or property management company bad

Every state has landlord-tenant laws that govern the responsibilities of tenants and landlords or property management companies to each other. When owners and property management companies do not follow these laws, you can see them as bad.

For example, if something breaks in your rental property, like a pipe or the HVAC system, your landlord or management company should handle the problem for you in a timely manner. If they do not send someone to replace or repair the property within a reasonable time, they are not fulfilling their responsibilities. Landlord-tenant laws also govern other aspects of your rental agreement, including how often landlords can increase your rent, how much notice they must provide before entering rental property, and the condition of your rental property.

Landlords and property management companies can also be considered bad if they impose unreasonable laws on you that are not covered by your state’s landlord-tenant laws. For example, you might view your landlord as bad if he doesn’t let friends visit you or if he tries to put a curfew on you.

How to spot a bad owner

Dealing with bad landlords or property management companies can be stressful and costly if you need to find a new place to live quickly. You can save yourself this heartache by looking for the warning signs before signing your lease.

  • If an apartment seems insanely cheap, or the landlord demands an unreasonably high security deposit, you may have a bad landlord on your hands. Some landlords charge higher deposits if you have pets or have a poor rental history, but they need to be transparent about this.
  • You can tell a lot about an owner from the condition of their property. Good owners make sure their properties are safe and well maintained. Poorly maintained lawns and gardens, broken appliances, cracked ceilings and visible trash are all red flags.
  • A rental property should also have power when you inspect it, even if it is unoccupied. Without power, you cannot test fans or appliances or even properly inspect dark rooms. A lack of power may suggest that the owner is trying to hide something from you.
  • You might have the same feeling if your property inspection seems rushed. A good landlord will give you all the time you need to inspect their property and decide if it’s right for you.
  • Trust your instinct for the owner when you meet him. While they don’t need to wear a costume, they should dress and behave professionally. If they are late or uncommunicative, they may not be as responsive to property issues that arise as you would like. If something seems wrong to you, listen to your intuition and keep looking for the right location.

Once the lease is in front of you, there is still time to go back. Read the document carefully and make sure it is correct. It should also spell out the terms of the lease, including rules about pets, occupancy limits, and what happens if you break your lease. Question any terms that seem vague or unfair, and see if the landlord will make any adjustments for you. Leases should also be from the National Apartment Association or similar, so look for official logos indicating that the document is legal. Don’t sign until you are completely happy with what to expect. A good owner will be sensitive to your needs.

How to deal with a bad landlord

Be sure to leave a paper trail when dealing with your landlord. Keep copies of letters you send or email for your inquiries rather than making phone calls. Having proof of your interactions can help you build a stronger business if your landlord acts badly.

How to report a bad owner

You should always try to resolve any disagreements with your landlord or management company before involving others. If you can’t come to a resolution, read your state’s landlord-tenant laws to see if your landlord or management company is behaving in an illegal manner. If this is the case, there are several groups that can help you. Look for state agencies and nonprofit groups dedicated to protecting tenant rights and handling tenant complaints. They can advise you on the best way to proceed in your area.

If you don’t get a resolution, you can step up your efforts and seek legal representation. Look for a lawyer who specializes in helping tenants with bad landlords. If you can’t afford a lawyer, look for a nonprofit group that offers free legal help.

If you are renting a property insured or assisted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and you have a bad landlord, contact the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Multi-Family Housing Claim Line at 1-800 -MULTI-70 (1 -800-685-8470) rather than a state agency. The ministry does not want to provide financial assistance to bad landlords who do not live up to their responsibilities. They can fine your landlord or even ban them from renting properties to other low-income tenants.

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