The first priority of most apartment hunters is to find a home that is clean, comfortable and in a good location. While all this is important, it’s also crucial that you investigate the business that manages the building where you plan to live. If you don’t do your homework before signing your lease, you could end up spending the next year as one very unhappy renter.
Why Do You Need to Investigate a Property Management Company?
The property management company has control over your housing. A good one will respond promptly to your complaints, make repairs, and keep the building and grounds safe and clean. A bad property management company, on the other hand, can make your life miserable through neglect, unprofessional staff and bad policies.
Things to Consider
1. Licensing and Reputation
In many states, property management companies must be licensed to operate. Contact the real estate licensing commission in your state to find out if a property management company holds a license in good standing.
Other sources of good information about property management companies include online review sites, such as Yelp, the Better Business Bureau and the housing forums for your city on Craigslist. Friends, families and co-workers can also steer you towards good property management companies. When reading reviews or talking to people about different companies, ask about things like property maintenance, response times to repair requests and whether former tenants got their security deposits back in a timely manner.
2. Hiring Practices
Property management company employees typically have keys to tenants’ apartments, so be sure to ask a property management company about its hiring standards.
3. Tenant Services
Here are some services that you should ask about:
- Rent payment options: Does the property management company accept credit cards? Is there a fee to use a credit card? Do you have the option of paying your rent online? Does your building have a drop box or management office where you can leave your rent check?
- Credit reporting: Some property management companies report your rental payment history to credit bureaus. While this can be a double-edged sword if you regularly have trouble coming up with rent money, it can also improve your credit score if you consistently pay your rent on time.
- 24/7 Assistance: If you lock yourself out of your apartment at 3am or your pipes burst on Christmas day, it’s nice to know that you can call your property management company for help. Find out whether the property management company has an answering service or emergency hotline that you can call.
4. Tenant Qualifications
Check the property management company’s website for information about how it screens its tenants. Many companies require prospective tenants to have good credit, meet certain income requirements and have positive references from previous landlords. Others may be a bit more flexible and will work with tenants who don’t have great credit or who have had trouble with landlords in the past.
5. Know The Law
Before you go apartment-hunting, read your state’s landlord-tenant laws. Then, check to see if your city has its own landlord-tenant ordinance. By doing this, you’ll be able to spot illegal lease clauses or troublesome rules before you sign a rental agreement.
6. Read That Lease
Don’t let your new pad’s shiny hardwood floors blind you to the fact that a lease is a contract. Before signing it, read it thoroughly and ask for clarification about any aspects that you don’t understand.
Here are some things to look for in a lease:
- Deposits and application fees: Some property management companies require renters to pay a refundable security deposit before moving into their new homes. Others may only require a non-refundable “move-in fee.” Application fees usually include the cost of a credit and background check, but it is a good idea to clarify what you are paying for before writing a check.
- Rent due date: Rent is normally due on the first of the month, though your property management company may operate differently.
- Grace periods: The lease may provide for a grace period after your rent is due for paying without a late fee.
- Key fees: How much do you have to pay your property management company if you lose your key?
- Termination options: If you need to get out of your lease, do you have options? Some property management companies allow you to sublease your apartment, though you may have to pay a fee. Some leases may also give you a termination option, allowing you to terminate your lease after paying a fee.
- Roommates: Can you have a roommate? If so, do they have to apply to the property management company?
- Pets: What are the rules about pets? If you have a pet, or get a pet, does the property management company require an extra deposit?
- Utility responsibilities: Who pays for the utilities?
Something to Consider: In some states, landlord-tenant law classifies pools, fitness centers and washing machines as “amenities.” Unless your lease specifically states that the property management company or landlord is obligated to keep amenities in working condition, you may have no recourse if they break down during your lease.
7. Don’t Rely on Oral Promises
Property managers will sometimes make all kinds of promises just to get you to sign a lease. For example, you visit an apartment that you like, but there are a few repair issues (leaky faucet, broken air conditioner). The property manager promises to fix these problems right after you move in. Once you sign the lease, however, the problems persist and the property manager never returns your calls. You call a lawyer, but she tells you that the air conditioner is an amenity and the leaky faucet is a minor repair issue, so you can’t legally force the property manager to live up to his promise.
When a property manager verbally agrees to make a repair or to allow you to terminate the lease early, ask that a clause reflecting these promises be added to your lease. If the manager balks, walk away.
What have your experiences been with property management companies? Please share your stories and tips in the comment section.