Trying to decide between renting an apartment that’s managed
by a property management firm and one where you’ll be dealing directly with the
individual owner? Wondering whether one is better than the other? Here’s some
useful advice on choosing a landlord.
What Tenants Look for in a Landlord
What type of landlord is best (assuming the choice is
between comparable rentals) depends on many factors. These include:
- where you live (tenants in some states have more
than others, especially those in communities with some form of rent
control—this will be a great help if you have a bad landlord)
- the type of rental (you’ll have a lot more
dealings with your landlord if you rent an older apartment that needs frequent
- the number of rentals the individual or firm
managers, and backup available on weekends, holidays, and after-hours
- whether or not your rental has an on-site
- the personality, style, and practices of the
individual landlord or firm (as well as your own).
Differences Between Individual Landlords and Property Management Firms
You don’t need your landlord or property manager to be your
friend. But what you should expect is prompt service handling repairs and other
problems (such as noisy
neighbors) reasonable rent increases (if necessary); no hassles regarding
return of your security deposit;
respect for your privacy;
and other tenant rights; and honest and clear communication.
Here are some issues to consider:
- An individual landlord who handles all the
property management work may not always be available when you lock yourself out
at 2 a.m. or have a weekend plumbing emergency, while you can probably expect a
property management firm to provide round-the-clock service. On the other hand,
an individual landlord who lives nearby and has only one or two rentals, may
provide more personal (and faster) service than you would get from a larger
- Professional property management firms may be,
well, more professional than landlords when it comes to handling repairs and
maintenance; some individual landlords may be less willing to spend their time and
money on repairs if costs are coming directly out of their pockets.
- A professional property management firm may be a
stickler for rules and procedures, such as doing move-in inspections and
rekeying of locks with every new tenant; less emotionally involved than an individual
landlord/owner; and more rational at arriving at businesslike compromises. An
individual landlord, on the other hand, may be more flexible and responsive to
your particular needs and interests (such as having a cat, as opposed to
enforcing a strict no-pets policy, or adding a roommate); on the other hand, this
individual attention may sometimes be more intrusive than desirable.
How to Check Out Landlords and Property Management Firms
Here’s how to do some research on what it’s like to deal
with a particular landlord (whether an individual or property management firm).
Talk to Current Tenants
Ask current tenants (if at all possible) about their
interactions with the landlord or property management firm. You’ll want to know
how quickly repairs were made, whether the landlord ever entered their rental
unit without permission, and in general whether the tenants were satisfied with
the relationship. One good indicator of whether you can expect smooth sailing
is to find out how often there are vacancies in the building. A low rate of
turnover suggests that tenants like living there (and that the landlord has
chosen considerate, law-abiding renters who will be good neighbors).
Check Out Online Reviews of Landlords and Property Managers
One comprehensive website, www.apartmentratings.com, has over
one million reviews of individual apartment and property managers nationwide.
Also, see CheckYourLandlord.com where you can obtain information about
individual properties. Yelp may be another
good source, particularly on large property management firms. And you may find
other useful information just by doing a Google search on the landlord or
property management firm.
Know Your Rights as a Tenant
For more information and detailed tenant forms and
checklists, see the Nolo books Every
Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart, or California
Tenants’ Rights, by Janet
Portman and David Brown.