All too often, landlords and tenants believe that an application for tenancy from a prospective tenant means the landlord has all the power to decide on whether or not the tenant is good for the landlord.
This is not and should not be the case. Tenants are just as open to being exploited and held back by misdeeds from a landlord as the landlord is from the tenant.
As much as tenants need to put their best foot forward when they enter a landlords’ property – landlords need to put their best hand forward to open the door.
This post is for both tenants who want to learn how to pick out and evaluate a great landlord and landlords who want to learn how they will likely be judged in the process of Landlord Screening.
What Is Landlord Screening?
Landlord screening is a process or period whereby tenants evaluate a potential landlords’ viability. Landlord screening is focused on the expected experience the tenant will likely have from interactions with the landlord.
When you landlord screen, you are not looking at a property through the lens of whether or not you would like to live here – you are looking at it from the perspective of ‘Is the landlord reliable when it comes to property renovations and repairs.’
How Do You Screen A Landlord?
Unlike when landlords have to screen a tenant, a tenants’ access to information on a landlord is far more available and obvious – If the tenant just knows how and where to look; which unfortunately most tenants don’t. I’m writing this post with the intention to change that.
Keep in mind, just as landlords can use friends, agencies and property managers to review you as a tenant – you can use the same people to help you review a landlord.
When it comes to landlord screening and learning to find a great landlord in a sea of mediocrity or worse; there are 4 avenues that a tenant must investigate:
- The Lease Agreement.
- The Landlords’ Personality.
- The Landlords’ Property.
- The Landlords’ Referrals.
What Makes A Great Landlord:
1. The Lease Agreement.
The most important foundation of any good tenant and landlord relationship is understanding the relationship. Your relationship is not that of friends, it’s that of business and a business relationship is founded on a complete lease agreement.
A good lease agreement puts aside personal feelings of unfairness, harshness, unresponsiveness, unprofessionalism, unreliability, and inappropriateness. If it’s ink it’s in stone – someone either did or didn’t do what they promised to in the contract and the agreed-upon consequences were enacted.
It’s important for tenants to not see a lease agreement as a one-sided dictatorship of what the tenant owes the landlord. A lease agreement is in itself a negotiation and by the end of it; both the landlord and the tenant must come out of feeling as if they got a good deal.
If you’re interested in learning everything you should know about the aspects and purpose of a lease agreement and how to make sure it’s not a one-sided show of force on the landlords’ side; I’ve written out just such a post (HERE).
2. The Landlords’ Personality.
As important as it is to make sure you and your landlord are in a rock-solid and fair lease agreement, as a tenant; it is your duty to make sure you are renting from a landlord who has a reasonable and fair personality.
The following 5 qualities are what every tenant should pay attention to when evaluating the personal characteristics of a landlord and or their property management agency:
Just how responsive will the landlord be? The last thing you want as a tenant is to have an issue on the property (leaking water from the ceiling) and not knowing whether or not you can try fix or when and how the landlord will fix it.
Does the landlord or their property manager respond to calls and emails quickly, do they have a procedure for emergencies, and will they fill you in when and how work on the property will be done?
Ask how you are expected to contact the landlord in the event of a problem (spare contacts and all) and what you can expect in the way they or their property manager will respond to you?
Will the landlord respect your privacy, space, and time. You may be living on the rental property but you don’t own the property – and more importantly; you aren’t the only one with access to the property.
How will the landlord interact with you in the case of having to get renovations and repairs done on the property, when inspections need to be made and when you have done something you shouldn’t have done.
Respect isn’t a lack of consequence for you but it is a way treating you humanely.
You should definitely ask about the procedures for operations that would interfere with your day and plans.
Nothing should be hidden to you as a tenant with regard to anything that affects your tenancy. This includes considerations of raising rent, the landlord not wanting or having to end the tenancy contract at its next interval, who, why, and when has to enter the property for renovations or repairs and problems with specific pests.
A landlord who tells you of a running problem that they are trying to fix which you otherwise wouldn’t have known of unless you’d signed the agreement is someone who could save you a lot on time, money, and worry down the line.
See how easily they tell you about the faults of the property instead of just how easily they sing praises of everything about it.
As a tenant, you are most likely going to mess up once or twice (or a lot more than that) during your tenancy over months or years on a property. Don’t fault the landlord if you have to pay a late fee when you miss your rent-paying window, making you pay for renovations when your kids draw on the wall or telling you to kick-out your roommate who’s been lodging for free for a few months now.
Rules will always be rules. But that being said, you do want to make sure you have a landlord who will treat you like a person and not a checklist. Some things will be out of your control and if your landlord seems like a “rules over everything” sort of person – you’re going to have a hard time when you’re going through hard times.
Ask some questions on how the landlord factors in leeway and leniency for unforeseen events and things out of your control. Better you know and prepare now if your landlord tells you that if you miss a payment window because you were in the hospital; you’re getting charged the late fee – or find a nicer landlord.
As annoying and unnecessary as it can seem, you better of with a landlord who documents everything and anything as it comes to and through him; instead of a landlord who courts your time and tells you, they’ll log it in later.
You never want disputes over misplacements of contracts, payments, queries, and messages. Though potentially time-consuming; it’s also hassle-free.
Keep an eye out for how the landlord presents and stores necessary documentation for your tenancy; how neat is their office and do you have a folder?
Ultimately, when it comes to evaluating a tenant on their personality; your focus as a tenant is to gauge (to the best of your capacity) the most likely level of professionalism the landlord will treat you to in the face of interactions and conflict.
In a perfect world, the lease agreement wouldn’t be needed at all or would cover every single possible event that could happen to both the tenant and the landlord with rulings that are fair for everyone.
Unfortunately, the lease agreement can’t and won’t cover every possible situation that can happen between a tenant and a landlord or any 3rd party factors that can influence your tenancy – most likely, it won’t even cover half of it.
A good personality doesn’t equal favoritism- it’s not about a landlord who won’t punish you for repeatedly breaking the contract. It’s about a landlord who can look past the contract and factor in the circumstance where it is necessary.
3. The Landlords’ Property.
As previously stated, this post isn’t about picking a place you want to rent but you can learn a lot about a landlord by the subtle state of their property.
The small things that may not change whether or not you want to live there; can tell you what you will experience from the tenant if you live there.
A lot of small defects.
An abundance of unfilled drill holes, chipped walls, cracked or broken tiles, peeling paint, blocked gutters, carpet stains, missing handles, etc are all clear signs that the landlord has a threshold for what they are willing and not willing to fix.
If it wasn’t fixed before you got there, what makes you think it will get fixed while you’re in there. It could also imply where their responsibilities end and where your responsibilities as a tenant start.
Point out such issues and ask if you should expect them to fix it or if it’s on you.
Small things turned big.
Termites killing a tree or leading to the downfall of certain furniture and structures does not just happen – it’s allowed to happen.
Any signs of damage-left-over-time will give you a hint to how a landlord treats complaints and renovations.
For big issues, it won’t just tell you that the landlord has slow and low responsiveness and reliability but it also informs you that they may not even approve of you sorting out problems that affect you. If termites were breaking down your wardrobe and the landlord wasn’t coming to your aide’ wouldn’t you rather sort it out than have your clothes heaped in the rubble?
Quality of renovations and repairs.
Has the landlord told you that she recently got the house walls painted and when you visited the property did you come to find out that she forgot to mention that the windows were also painted too?
Or maybe you’ve been told he got all the kitchen plumbing redone and yet the sink still has a faucet that keeps on leaking.
The truth is, though you only sign a lease agreement with the landlord over who’s responsible for what on the property when it comes to their side of things; there’s often a whole dedicated team who will handle certain things on the landlords’ behalf.
If the property has a lot of sketchily done renovations and repairs; your prospective landlord may be more focused on saving a quick buck than making sure you have a pleasurable tenancy.
4. The Landlords’ Referrals.
I’ve discussed learning and ensuring you have a great landlord through the lease agreement contract, through talking to them and learning of their personality and through looking at their property from a more evaluative review.
Now, we are going to use what may be the most powerful way of evaluating a landlord; asking people who have worked with the landlord before.
This can be done by looking at the ghosts of the past from current and prior tenants, neighbors, and their renovation and property management team.
These are the people who have been where you are and are now where you may or may not want to be; for every question you had from asking the landlord and every assumption you made from looking at the contract and property – it can all be reinforced or proven wrong by just asking someone who already knows.
Is the landlord communicative, reliable, understanding, quick to make repairs and renovations do they have a criminal record, etc?
Landlords make sure that you involve the contact details for references in almost every facet of your life; from work to landlords, to roommates and spouses. Perhaps you should consider doing the same.
When and Why should you screen a landlord?
Ideally, you should be screening your landlord while you’re screening the property at the same time. After all, they are a package deal; making a decision because of one, will automatically tie you to the other.
It’s not about getting a great landlord or a great property – It’s about getting a great landlord and a great tenant.
Concerning why you need a great landlord, consider the following:
a. A great landlord will save you money and stress.
A tenant has the final say on most changes that can be done on a property and how they will be done. If you come to find out that you have a less than useful landlord; you’ll soon come to see that it’s going to cost you time, money, and peace of mind.
Time in that needed repairs won’t happen when you need them to happen (if they happen at all), money in that you might end up having to pay unexpected costs yourself and peace of mind in that your landlord tells you who you have to use to get things done.
b. You can’t just move if you find out the tenant is terrible later.
Once you’re locked into a lease agreement, you’re stuck with it for a while (months to years at a time) and if you find out you can’t tolerate your landlord once you’ve already signed the dotted line; you’ll either have to grin and bear it or pay a rather hefty fee to get out of your lease early.
Save yourself they bill and the worry by making sure you know and like what you’re getting yourself into from the start.
c. The landlord is going to be your regular neighbor.
the last reason as to why you need to make sure you find yourself a great or at least tolerable landlord is the fact that you are going to have to and need to interact with your landlord for as long as you occupy the property.
If you feel uneasy at the property because the landlord is too overbearing or if you feel stressed because you find out that tenant takes forever to fix plumbing issues; you are going to have a terrible time where you live.
Make your rental home a little more homely and a lot less foreign by making sure it comes with a great landlord attached.
Conclusion – Special Note To Finding A Great Landlord.
Make sure you are not and will not be the problem. It’s often too easy to play the blame game with a deck of cards that always favors you. Your landlord should be closer to a business partner or your boss than they are to being your friend.
As you are obligated and encouraged to evaluate a tenant, they are obligated and encouraged to do the same and when you feel as if the landlord is being unreasonable and cruel – it might just be you who’s been expecting too much for what was previously agreed upon.
If you want to learn more about what exactly a landlord is likely to hold you accountable for and how exactly they are going to screen you. I have just the post for you (HERE)
I stand by my above point that the most useful guarantee and assurance of a great landlord is also the same guarantee that ensures a tenant has to be great, and that is the lease agreement.
The contract holds you both accountable to the most important key areas of tenancy and if you want to learn more about what you should expect from a lease agreement that holds both you and the tenant accountable to key areas; I have written a post that goes over everything you need to know (HERE).