Rental hunting can be a daunting endeavor - trying to find a place that suits your lifestyle while playing psychological hide-and-seek with shady landlords and management companies. And while leaks, irritating neighbors and cracked walls may be easy to detect, there are many elements to a rental property that may not be so obvious. Here are five signs to watch out for.
Rubber to the Road
Watch out for indistinguishable lines separating the parking spaces, and cars with flat tires or broken windows. All are signs of neglect on behalf of both the renter and the management company, and could indicate more serious issues.
Lack of Parking
Buildings with a lack of parking for residents often represent a larger issue in the community. People could be using the space in front of your building as a communal parking spot for transit stations, malls, stadiums or schools. While it may seem minuscule, walking four blocks at the beginning and end of each day, or not having a reserved spot or an outlet for the cold winter nights, will become irritating very soon. This lack of parking can also pose a security risk to both you and your vehicle.
Looking In from the Outside
If balconies look as if they're being used as extra storage space - holding multiple bikes, boxes, old tires etc., maintenance and enforcement issues come into question. Management companies usually write cleanliness stipulations into leases in order to ensure the upkeep of a building, and a messy balcony can indicate health code violations on an apartment's interior. Basically, if that's the mess that tenants are leaving outside, imagine how the kitchens and bathrooms must look.
Stranger in the Night
It's usually advantageous to view a building at least twice - once during the day, and once in the evening. And to go even a step further, weekend and weekday viewings can shed completely different lights on a property. But property managers will sometimes be insistent that viewings only occur during certain times - after dark, during work hours, weekdays etc. While you may be limited to viewing the interior of a building during a certain time, there's no restriction that keeps you from doing some investigating on your own at other times throughout the week.
Some management companies allow tenants to conduct their own move-in inspections. You get to scour the suite and list every scratch, nick, ding and stain. Plus, you can account for any "mishaps" you may have while renting - like that scuff you plan on making while bringing your bed through the front door or the spot you're sure your cat will leave in the closet.
But while conducting the move-in inspection yourself helps you in the short-term, in the long-term you'll likely pay. After all, there's a great chance that the last tenant was given the same liberty, and who knows if the leaky pipes or the window that sticks were ever addressed.
The Bottom Line
The strongest tool you have when rental hunting is your gut. There's a reason that all of your questions aren't being answered and why you're being held to the landlord's schedule, not your own. Trust your instincts and make an extensive checklist before signing the papers.