Going out and leasing an apartment can be a lot of fun, or just hard work. Maybe you are in a new city or moving out of your parents house but whatever the reason you need new digs, how do you avoid getting burned when you lease an apartment?
Be sure you are dealing with the landlord! Recently a fraud artist in Vancouver was convicted of scamming prospective tenants out of tens of thousands of dollars. His rouse was to offer the rental house he was living in for rent. The thief collected deposit and first month rent checks from many unsuspecting victims before finally getting caught. When the tenants tried to move in to the house he gave them excuses about the place not being ready yet.
While this kind of fraud is hard to prevent because the criminal had the keys and was legally in possession on the property, watch for inconsistencies when dealing with Landlords. Ask questions about the property that the Landlord should know. For example, while inside the building you might ask about the age of the roof and last replacement date. Most property owners will know the condition of the roof right away. You could also ask when the Landlord bought the property and how the market was than - another question any property owner will know immediately without hesitation.
Ask similar questions in a different way later and see if the responses match. A truthful person never has to remember what they said while a liar must remember everything to ensure consistency.
When filling out a lease be sure the landlord provides their home or office address. Don't let a landlord use the property address for service because you, not them, will be living at the property. You need to be able to find the landlord in case of emergency or dispute.
If there is even a hint of doubt that you are dealing with the property owner check with City Hall, the Assessment Authority, or the County Records Office (depending on where you live) to see who the registered owner is. Don't give money to a "friend" or "relative" helping out the landlord unless you have met the actual property owner and been instructed to pay the helper. The "friend" could be acting without the knowledge of the true property owner, even though they might be close to the landlord.
Careful with paying cash for rent. Cash is not really traceable, so if you choose to pay your rent and deposit in cash be sure to get a signed, dated receipt from the landlord. Otherwise pay by check.
Inspect the property carefully. Before moving in, go through the property and inspect everything for damage and correct function. Open every door and window. Test the lights. Turn on the appliances and run the hot water. Run an empty load in through the dishwasher and the washing machine. Flush the toilets and run water through the sinks. Look for dings and holes in the walls.
Anything that is not working properly or is damaged needs to be noted on proper inspection paperwork and signed off on by the landlord and the tenant. Be sure to keep a copy of the inspection report in case there is a dispute later.
Keep your lease and paperwork safe. When you decide to lease an apartment, start a large envelope for it. Into the envelope goes the ad you responded to, a copy of the lease, a copy of the inspection form, copies of rent checks or receipts, copy of the damage deposit evidence and anything related to signing up for utilities. Keep all this information safe in one place, adding to as you pay the rent each month.
Document your dealings with the landlord. If you email the landlord about a maintenance issue and they don't deal with the problem, print the email and put it in your lease envelope. If the lease ever goes into dispute you need an evidence trail of how you conducted yourself and how the landlord acted. Pay your rent on time every time so that there is no reason for the landlord to bother you.
When you are ready to move on, give good notice. Not just the minimum notice but give as much notice as you can give. This lets the landlord find another tenant and minimize vacancy which will encourage the landlord to treat you well. Remember you need to leave the place clean and damage free to get your security deposit back, so plan ahead and deal with any damages before you move out.
Leasing an apartment does not have to be a bad experience. If you show respect for the landlord that invested hundreds of thousands in a building that you can live in, you are likely to get the same respect back and have a happy stay in the apartment. In all things be responsible and your life will be much easier.