How to Avoid a Renting Nightmare

Thinking about renting? In any given city, a high number of owners renting out property are honest and seek to give good value to their renting tenants. Before we bought our house many years ago, we enjoyed a positive renting relationship with the owner of our apartment building. But he was getting on in years and felt it was time to sell his rental property. Our positive renting situation underwent a sea change.

The new owners of the rental property were everything the elderly owner was not. They wandered in and out of the rental apartments when tenants were gone, even pawed through personal property. Rent became confiscatory, renting a nightmare and the tenants left like rats leaving a sinking ship–including us. We began searching for a temporary renting situation.

The house we rented, while our own was being built, met the needs of our pocketbook, but not much else. It soon became apparent that the house we rented way too quickly was not insulated, filled with critters that filled traps, and proved an electrician’s definition of a firetrap. Because we knew renting was only temporary, we touched nothing, not even putting pictures in the walls. Yet when we moved out of the rat-infested rental, the owner, who knew exactly the condition of the building when we moved in because we did a detailed walk through, tried to withhold deposit based on the condition of the house–things we hadn’t touched. (We hadn’t put any of those details in writing when we rented.)

More recently, a young family excitedly decided on renting their first house after living in an apartment for several years. The house was older, but looked ok, until they moved in. They took the owner’s word that the house they were renting was in good condition. However, that wasn’t exactly true. In fact, it was patently false.

Water pressure was non-existent, the plumbing so old it constantly plugged up, mold caused havoc with health, and the renters found termites. Though the owners were warned about one of their trees, nothing was done until it fell on the wife’s car, which was in the driveway. “Act of God,” the owner said, and refused to reimburse the couple renting the house for the damage done to the car.

Utilities proved to be far more usurious than rent. When the couple moved out, they carefully cleaned the rental, even using a professional rug cleaner machine on the ancient carpet–and had witnesses to their care. They left an address for the return of the deposit check. It never arrived. When the owners were approached, they accused the couple of trashing the rental and refused to return any deposit.

These renting situations, unfortunately, are not as rare as they should be. However, there are steps a potential renter can take to help find not only a suitable rental, but fair owners as well.

When renting, ask lots of questions. Why did the last renters leave? (If possible speak to them. Ask them how readily the owners responded to breakdowns/needed repairs.) Ask, What is the rent? What do utilities cost? What do expenses average per month? What am I responsible for if something breaks or goes wrong? When we move out, exactly what is expected?

When renting, make sure to have a contract and read it carefully. Know your responsibilities–and theirs.

Before renting and before moving out, go through the rental apartment/house and note any problems-in writing. Take pictures of the rental inside and out before moving in and immediately after moving out.

Don’t assume the owner is out to gouge you. Though miscommunication happens, remember many owners are just trying to do their best. This is part of their livelihood. Try to work things out. Firmly, but politely, let the owner know what the problem is and get a definite time frame of when you can expect a response. If this doesn’t work, don’t let things slide month after month with a vague promise of “I’ll take care of it.”

When you have a complaint or an owner’s promise or statement, make sure to confirm it in writing. Because the young couple did everything by phone, they had no paper trail to support their side. ALWAYS put things in print.

Sometimes a renter/owner combination doesn’t work even when both are trying their best. Time then to move on. But often a bad situation can be avoided. With some preliminary effort, most renters can find a suitable rental and forge a positive relationship with the owner.

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