How to Rent Without Getting Taken Advantage of, Pt 1

Or, my approach at it this time, seeing as how I’ve never quite managed it.

I’ve been living in places for the past four years where the landlords don’t take care of the houses they own, and only mostly or kind of repair dire or cheap problems with the rentals. I’ve also had landlords who use your deposit for repairs and even make you put down another deposit once they’ve spent your original one (this makes me crazy; that’s not what a deposit is for). I’m unsure whether landlords everywhere are kind of slimy, or if it’s a particular problem in Provo where it’s so easy to take advantage of gullible and too-nice-to-start-a-conflict Mormons. I’m also unsure if it’s a bigger problem with the poor population of Provo–maybe if we could afford to pay more, the landlords would take better care of the houses and apartments.

There have also been a number of people of my acquaintance who have paid deposits and first and last month’s rent, only to discover that the apartment doesn’t actually exist, or wasn’t owned by the people they paid the money to. It’s a scam, but it’s apparently pretty prevalent. This makes me particularly furious, because a lot of people can only afford one deposit and first and last month’s rent–it’s a lot of money, and they take it from rental to rental because it’s all they have.

But we’ll start with part one: How to Not Rent a Dump (if it’s possible).

Part two will be “What Questions to Ask the Landlord”, including tips on how to avoid getting scammed, and that will air tomorrow. This one turned out to be kind of long.

If the apartment is occupied, ask the current tenants about the generalities of the house. Ask about the cost of utilities, and try to get an idea for how much they used them. The first two winters we lived here, we only had the heat on for about four hours a day because we couldn’t afford the gas bill, so the cost of our gas utilities were comparatively low. We don’t have any window A/C units–just a swamp cooler and fans–so our electricity bill is also lower than tenants that put an A/C unit in. Ask them how responsive the land lord is, and how quickly things get fixed. Ask about the process for things getting fixed, and if everything they ask about gets fixed, or only some of it. If it’s only some of the things that get replaced or fixed, try to investigate if it’s reasonable things that get replaced, or only cheap things. If the landlord is also at the viewing, try to call the tenants or drop by at another time to see if they will talk to you more freely. They may not want to disclose everything, because they may be afraid that if they’re honest the landlord won’t give them their deposit back, but do your best. Talk to the neighbors if it seems like they might be helpful.

Utah is overdue for a very large earthquake. If you’re in the Salt Lake region of Utah–including Utah County–and the house or apartment you’re living in was built before 1990, it almost certainly wasn’t built to code, which means that it’s more likely to be damaged or destroyed in the earthquake unless it has been retrofitted. Consider that before you move in, too. A lot of people like to shrug off the possibility of an earthquake in this area because one has never happened in living memory or even historical record. But the earthquake is a very real thing! The Japanese said the same things about the Sendai region of Japan when geologists warned them, but in 2011 a magnitude 9 earthquake hit and caused a lot of tragedy. Geological cycles can run on thousands-year-long cycles–much longer than recorded history, particularly in the Western United States. The Salt Lake region of the Wastach Mountain Range is about 300 years overdue for an earthquake, so when it happens it’s going to be big to release all of the built up pressure. It’s impossible to prevent casualties in natural disasters like this, but having a house or an apartment retrofitted or built to code will increase your family’s chances of surviving, especially if the quake happens at night when your family is at home (check to see if your children’s schools are up to code, too. If the quake happens during the day you want them to be safe). Having buildings up to code dramatically reduces casualties. The 2011 earthquake in Sendai Japan and the 2004 earthquake in the Indian Ocean were of similar magnitudes (around 9) and occurred in places of similar population density, but the earthquake in the Indian Ocean killed about 15 times the number of people that it did in Japan, in large measure because the Japanese have earthquake-safe infrastructure. It’s worth it to get a house or an apartment that’s up to code! So find out when the house or apartment was built, and inquire about any retrofitting that has been done if it was built before 1990.

When you move in, if anything is dirty or broken, make record of it. Take pictures. You want proof–if you end up needing it later–of what damage and dirt was there before you moved it. Documentation can be very powerful.

When you look at an apartment, look at EVERYTHING. When we looked at our current place, I was taken in by the large kitchen and multiple bedrooms for an affordable price. Since we weren’t sure if our family would be getting bigger before we moved (and it did), I wanted a two bedroom apartment. What I didn’t look at: the details. Under sinks, in window sills, at ceilings. I watched the people who came to look at the apartment when we decided to leave do the same thing. All they saw was the size, not the gross details.

So, here is a list of things to look at specifically. If there’s something wrong, request that it be fixed before you move in. If the landlord’s not willing to do this, consider another place. If they won’t fix things before you move in, they’re even less likely to fix it when you’re living there. And request that things be cleaned–you should be able to move into a clean apartment, you shouldn’t have to clean it when you get there. The old tenant’s messiness shouldn’t be your new problem. I’ve known multiple people (myself included) who have moved into disgusting, or only superficially clean apartments. Everything should be clean before you move in. If it’s not clean when you move in, tell the landlord and try to get them to clean it, or to pay you to clean it.

Sinks. In them, at the plumbing, under them, around them. Sinks are one of the problem areas. Look for water damage and past leaks. Look at how gross it is in the cabinets under them. The cabinets under our kitchen sink are unforgivably disgusting, complete with dust bunnies, water damage, and exposed wood–no linoleum. Look at the plumbing for rust, or poorly done repair jobs.

The stove/oven. Look to see how clean it is. Lift up the range to see how clean it is under the range. Look inside the oven, look on the sides. If there’s a drawer, look in the drawer. Look under the stove. Bring a flashlight if you have to. If anything’s dirty, request that it be cleaned–even if it requires moving the stove.

Fridge/freezer. Again, look everywhere. On the sides, front, inside, in the drawers, the shelves. Look under the fridge. Request anything be cleaned or replaced. If there’s a lot of ice built up inside the freezer, request that it be defrosted and wiped down before you move in. Check to see if it smells.

Cabinets and drawers. Open them. Every single one. Look for holes, animal droppings, water damage, pretty much anything that could be wrong. Check to see if they smell.

Medicine cabinets. OPEN THEM. I don’t keep anything in my medicine cabinet because I’m pretty sure that anything kept there would make me sick. It’s scarily rusty. Make sure that they have all of the doors (seriously), and if they don’t request that they be replaced. If any of the mirrors are broken, request that they be replaced.

Toilets. Open them up, see how clean the bowls are. Look at the base to see if it’s been wiped up or if there are exposed screws (these hurt to bump against, and you don’t want your kids scraping themselves on rusty screws), and around the toilet for water damage or problems with the linoleum. Look inside the tank to see if there are any obvious problems.

Closets. Open them. Look in the corners and on the floors, look for holes in drywall. Check to see if the shelves are rickety or dirty. Check any rods to make sure that they are stable.

Tile/linoleum. Look at the tile and linoleum. If it’s tile, check for cracks. If there are cracks in the tile, it will only get worse while you live there. If it’s linoleum, look at the edge of the linoleum where it meets the wall, and corners. Look for holes or breaks in the linoleum, or exposed underfloor. One of my friends has exposed underfloor in her bathroom, and when her landlord shows the apartment, she sands it down so that it’s hard to see and refuses to replace it. If there are issues, request it be fixed or replaced.

Carpets. Look at ’em. If you can tell that they are dirty, there are pounds and pounds of dirt caked into that carpet. Don’t be afraid to request that they be cleaned, or even replaced before you move in. Some carpets, especially in really old apartments, can be really grotty and nasty. I cleaned the carpets in our front room once. I ran that carpet cleaner over the carpet five times, and after the fifth time the water I was dumping out was just as dirty as it had been the fifth time. I finally quit because it was 2 am, and I was pregnant. I’m not sure it’s possible to clean this carpet.

Walls/painting. Look for holes in the drywall, in particular where pictures may have been hung, where curtain rods are hung, and in closets and cabinets. Those are places where it’s likely to have holes, and may be easy to hide them. Look at the paint to determine if it needs to be painted before you move in. Look to see if the paint job is bad. A bad paint job can really irritate you while living there (it has really bugged me). Look at the floor boards, doors, jams, cabinets and shelves to see if anything needs to be painted. Request that anything be fixed, painted, or replaced.

Windows. Look for broken ones. Request that they be cleaned, outside and in. Look at the window sills to see if they are rotting or damaged. Look at the wood framing the windows on the outside as well. A lot of the older houses in Provo has the wood on the outside rotting out around the windows. If windows open, check to make sure that they open all the way or if they get stuck, and if they open vertically, that they stay open on their own. One of the windows in our current apartment opens, but it won’t hold itself open. Literally the day we moved in, we opened it because the house was roasting, and it crashed down and cracked a giant X shape in the window. We told the landlord about it and he has mysteriously never gotten back to us about it. We put duct tape over it and it remains cracked to this day, three years later. Our back neighbors also have a cracked window. Again, request repairs or replacements when necessary.

Corners. Look at corners. Look in ALL the corners, inside and out, up and down. Look for spider webs, filth, dirt, holes in carpeting, damage…just look. Nobody looks in the corners and it’s where the most disgusting stuff usually is. Request that things be cleaned, repaired, or replaced.

Ceilings. Similar to corners, nobody looks at ’em. Look for spider webs, damage, mold (especially in bathrooms, this is a good indication of how well ventilated it is), whatever. Look at the light fixtures and ceiling fans, which are more likely to be dirty or have bugs in them. In the bathroom, check the ventilation fan to see how powerful it is. Make sure that the lightbulbs all work.

Vents. Look at them, see how dirty they are. Make sure that they are bolted down or into the wall. Request replacements for missing screws, and request that they be cleaned if they’re dirty.

Water heater, electrical box, furnace, etc. Find them. See if they are installed up to code. If the earthquake happened while you live there and the water heater’s not strapped down it can start a fire and burn your house down, even if your house would have otherwise survived the earthquake.

Fireplace. If it has a fireplace, ask about how often it is cleaned (professionally, preferably) and if it is safe to have a fire in there. Fire places need to be cleaned every year if they’re used–they’re a major fire hazard otherwise.

These are the major things to look for. Don’t be afraid to write down what you want to look at, and bring the list to the viewing. I’m doing it, and it’s helped me catch a lot of problems with potential sites.

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One thought on “How to Rent Without Getting Taken Advantage of, Pt 1

  1. Pingback: How to Rent Without Getting Taken Advantage of, pt 2 | The Hun Bun

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