Renting is a smart choice for many, offering a low-commitment alternative to investing in a home purchase. Most renters agree, however, that the landlord may be the difference between using your money wisely and throwing it away on a poorly-maintained unit or a litigious rental situation. These expert tips are designed to help you spot an honest and attentive landlord that you can rely on. (On the surface, being a landlord seems like a profitable idea, but the hassles can quickly outweigh the added income. Check out Becoming A Landlord: More Trouble Than It's Worth?)

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1. Try for Transparency
It's preferred that your landlord be honest, but being transparent is even more desirable. "Being transparent about the rental property is perhaps the most important quality," acknowledges Paul Gleger, director of communications at HotPads.com. He notes that being upfront about the details of a rental unit matters, citing things like strange temperature fluctuations, cell phone reception issues, and rodent problems as examples of rental concerns that you should want to know about.

2. Find Flexibility
While it may be written in your contract that payment is due by a certain hour on the due date, or that it must be sent through the postal mail, it is nice to rent from a landlord that can work within real life obstacles, should they occur. No one is suggesting that you pay your rent late, but a flexible landlord can meet you on your terms should an emergency(such as hospitalization) arise. In addition, making the rent due on the fifth of the month, rather than the first, for example, can help those with monthly paychecks get in a short grace period and it is a sign of a landlord that will work with you.

3. Pick Promptness
Almost all landlords will require promptness on your part, especially concerning payment or lease renewals. Can you say the same for your landlord? If the landlord or management company can't ensure a quick turnaround on maintenance calls, for example, you might want to shop around for another rental unit. Get the potential landlord to commit to an expected time frame for addressing concerns, especially those that could make a unit uninhabitable (flooding, security issues, noise), and consider their plan of action when deciding on your new place.

4. Choose Customer-Focused
It doesn't matter how high-end the unit is you're considering, the landlord should understand that the client is their reason for being in business. Brian M. Estey, licensed real estate agent and property owner, warns of the "Mister Fancy Pants" landlord, and reminds renters that landlords can't simply command respect. He shares the analogy of the ideal landlord being more like your favorite bartender: "They leave you alone when you don't need them, and they perform quickly and efficiently when there's a task at hand." If your potential new landlord doesn't feel that the customer is always right, you're better off looking for a fresh property. (Investing in rental property can generate serious income, but there's more to it than collecting rent. See Tips For The Prospective Landlord.)

5. Consider Community-Minded
The best landlords will go one step further to provide a potential tenant with the feeling of being "at home" in their new unit. Paul Gleger tells of the best landlords taking the time to introduce the tenant to the neighbors and show them around the neighborhood. By pointing out important spots like the grocery store, bank and dry cleaners, a tenant can imagine themselves staying in a location for a long time, and a feeling of goodwill with the new landlord is established right away.

The Bottom Line
There's more to a perfect place than custom cabinets or a convenient distance from your office. If the landlord is a turn-off, even a short-term lease can feel like a long-term hassle. Investigating the landlord can give you clues as to whether the property will work for your unique situation.

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