Difference Between Renting from an Individual Landlord and a Property Management Firm?

Type of landlord may make a big difference in your renting experience

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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 legal rights 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 repairs)
  • 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 manager, and
  • 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 firm.
  • 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.

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