Checklist: What to Ask Smaller Landlords During Your Apartment Walk-Through

High-rise apartments managed by large companies often have a lot to offer renters: great views, plentiful amenities, large professional maintenance and security staff, robust online platforms for rent payment - just to name a few. Prospective tenants can also find online reviews for these types of apartments readily available on Google and Yelp, which is great.

The downside to these high-rises, other than high prices, is that renters don't get the same cozy, residential feel and personalized service that many smaller buildings and private landlords provide. Indeed, the benefits of finding that residential gem of an apartment are amazing: comfy home, tree-lined street, cafe on the corner, landlord downstairs on a first-name basis; but conversely, the pitfalls can often be random and completely unexpected - especially if the landlord is new to the game. And although most renters live in smaller, residential buildings, online renter reviews for smaller  residential properties are almost non-existent so it can be hard to know exactly what you're getting. 

So before you sign a lease for that quaint neighborhood apartment owned by a private or smaller landlord, here's a checklist of key items to confirm during your apartment walk-through - brought to you by reviews from fellow apartment renters on Tenantree in the same situation: 

Heat and Water

If you're signing a lease with a large complex managed by a large, established landlord, you can probably assume the building has proper heat and insulation, and adequate water pressure; but it's best not to gloss over these seemingly obviously points with less established landlords - you might be among their very first tenants in a recently renovated building that might not be prepared for the influx of new renters:

Building Security

Larger apartment complexes often have staff to let deliveries in and keep unwanted visitors out; and while you're not going to have security staff guarding your residential bungalow, you should make sure the landlord has taken steps to ensure your safety and the secure delivery of your packages in this golden age of two-day shipping:
  • Does the building have locks on the outside and inside doors? What about security cameras? Have there been recent issues? Thankfully, this renter didn't run into any problems but it sounds like the previous tenants might not have been so lucky.
  • Is there secure entry for deliveries? Are the mailboxes locked? It's not fun to read that delivery confirmation email while looking down at an empty and unsecured mailroom

Communication and Responsiveness

When something breaks in your high-rise, you shoot an email to an automated system, which directs your request to the maintenance team, who then sends a person to fix everything the next day or so, with communication all the way through the process. With smaller landlords, it can vary (for better or worse); make sure you know the process and set expectations before signing on: 
  • Is the landlord easy to get in touch with? What is the preferred method of communication? Ideally they live on the premises or nearby and are readily available should anything come up - but know what the drill is if that is not the case. Definitely make sure your landlord lives in the general area and doesn't leave for large periods of time. You're not going to get the extra care and attention a smaller landlord can  provide if they live in a different state.
  • What is the process for submitting a maintenance request? About how long until you can expect to hear back? And about how long does a fix usually take? Your life's going to be a lot easier if you end up with Ron
  • Is the landlord required to give you heads up before they enter the premises? Will you know 24 in advance or just hear a pounding at the door day-of? Unexpected and erratic entry can ruin even the best of apartments so make sure you set expectations if they don't. 

Landlord Tech

If you've rented with a bigger company, you've probably gotten used to making online rent payments via a tenant portal. Yeah it's 2020 but portal software can get pricey for private landlords, so make sure you know what your options are: 
  • Is there a tenant portal for rent payments? Can you pay rent online? Find out what forms of payment they accept.
  • If no online payment, is there any flexibility if you're a couple days late once in a while? What happens if you're on vacation and can't pay remotely? 

Noise Sensitivity

Charming old buildings can have, well, "old building sounds." Most renters seem to be fine with a little noise, but it's important to know exactly what kind of noise you're getting into and what your sensitivity is. Making sure you're a good fit noise-wise helps out the landlord too: they don't want to spend the next year getting emails, calls and visits from you about the creaky floors, thin walls, or the college bar down the street.
  • Have there been a lot complaints in the past about noise? Is the street noisy? Are the floors creaky? Does the building use old radiator heat you're not used to?
  • Is there a curfew for loud noises? Have there been any issues with the neighbors recently? 

Get it in Writing

Last but not least, make the landlord conducts a formal walk-through with an actual checklist. Make sure you get all agreed-upon details in writing just in case, and feel free to take pictures after moving in

Let's All Make Better Moves

This checklist is brought to you by reviews from fellow apartment renters on Tenantree. Renter reviews for smaller residential buildings are almost impossible to find, and yet are so crucial to the decision of whether or not to sign a lease. Let's keep passing the information down: If you live in a smaller apartment complex - what should future renters know before calling your apartment home?

Best of luck on the hunt for your next place to call home!

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