First Apartment 101: How to Deal with Landlords

When you are a first-time renter, dealing with landlords can be very intimidating. They hold the keys to your dream apartment and you have to convince them to hand those keys to you and not to one of the 10 other people waiting in line behind you. At the same time, you don’t want to end up with a bad landlord who makes your first apartment experience a horror story.

Here are some tricks we have learned at My First Apartment to get your landlord relationship off to a great start:

Make a stellar first impression

Your first email or phone call to your potential future landlord creates the first impression. You may think that your presentation does not count until you meet the landlord or his or her representative in person, but that may be too late counter the damage done to your chances by an incoherent phone call or by a sloppy email.

  • If your first contact is by phone, spend a little time planning what you are going to say and jot down a few keywords so you do not forget. Introduce yourself, state which unit you are interested in, ask any pertinent questions (monthly rent, size of unit, availability date, etc.), and schedule a tour of the unit. If you have to leave a message, be succinct and repeat your name and phone number at the end of the message.
  • If your contact is by email, be specific but brief. The landlord does not have time to read long, rambling emails. Keep in mind that the person you’ll be contacting is likely managing multiple units, clients, and properties at the same time, so get to the point in a clear manner and they will appreciate it. Watch you language and grammar, and most importantly, use a neutral email handle. If the email comes from partypete24-7 or goodtimesusiexxx, it will not inspire landlord’s confidence. Use the email address you’d use when applying for a job.

Why is that great first impression so important? It will help your potential landlord or her representative to form an initial impression about how organized (or mature, if you are a new grad) and trustworthy a renter you will be: Will you pay your rent on time? Will you take good care of the landlord’s apartment?

Show up presentable and prepared for the in-person meetings

You don’t need to dress up in your Sunday best for apartment hunting, but minding a few basics will not hurt:

  • No ripped clothing, no offensive T-shirts, no tube-tops or gym clothes. Aim for a clean and neat appearance that says you take care of yourself; therefore you will not wreck the landlord’s apartment.
  • Before the meeting find out what documentation you need to bring. Typically, a landlord will want to see copies of a few recent pay stubs and bank statements, as well as your last two years of tax returns.
  • Have the papers organized in a folder to show that you are not likely to forget to pay your rent. If you are a new grad and do not have much to show in the way of finances, be prepared to explain who will be guaranteeing your rent or perhaps help with security deposit.

Know your facts if you try to negotiate

If you believe there is room to negotiate the rent amount or lease terms, come prepared with comparative information that supports your position. Keep in mind, though, that it is often easier to negotiate extra amenities, maybe a free gym membership if the building has one, than lower rent.

Check out your landlord

Before you sign the lease, it’s time to turn the tables and check up on your future landlord. A bad landlord can lead to a miserable first apartment experience, as the landlord doesn’t keep promises of making repairs, is intrusive and repeatedly visits your apartment to check on make-believe leaks, or harasses you with extra charges.

So how do you make sure your potential landlord is on the up and up? There are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

  • Check lists of slumlords. Some large cities have these listings where they publicize the worst of the worst throughout the city. In college towns, there’s probably a slumlord that everyone knows about—talk with people who’ve lived in the area and find out who it is.
  • Go to Yelp, Angie’s List, or whatever other consumer review sites you can find. Look up your potential landlord and see what people have to say. Remember, though, that on these sites you tend to get the extremes and they can be full of fake paid reviews.
  • Look them up via the Better Business Bureau. If it’s a reputable larger company, they should be listed. See what grade the BBB gives the company, and how many complaints have been lodged against it. Good companies should have a rating that’s B+ or higher. Anything else is a red flag.
  • Ask your potential new neighbors. If you know someone who already lives in the building, or if you see someone entering or exiting the building when you’re looking at apartments, go ahead and politely ask them what they think of the place.
  • Google the landlord’s name. It’s simple. Make sure to put the name in quotation marks and google both “firstname lastname” and “lastname firstname,” or if it’s a management company, all the different formats the company’s name takes. See what pops up. It only takes a few minutes and you might be surprised.
  • Google the location’s address. If something terrible has happened there (think murder, fire—anything that would be in a newspaper), or if there are chronic problems with the building, or if the landlord’s on a list that you didn’t find by googling the name, likely the address itself will pop up and lead the way in your research.

While we all dream of finding a great apartment with a fabulous landlord, typically you have very little contact with your landlord as long as you take care of the apartment and pay your rent on time. As long as your research indicates that your landlord will live up to the lease agreement, repair things as needed, and is respectful of your need to live comfortably in your new apartment, you are good to sign the lease and have a fabulous time in your first apartment.

When you are ready to move out on your own,  tells you step-by-step how to make it happen.