What can I ask my landlord about the neighbors and neighborhood?

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Question:

I'm planning to move and I'm considering various apartment communities in different parts of town. I would like to ask the landlords of these communities about the demographics, crime, neighbors, and the properties' turnover rates. What can I legally ask landlords and what can they refuse to answer?

Answer:

A cautious landlord will no doubt check out your history before offering you a rental. There's no reason why you, too, shouldn't be careful about the neighborhood and building.

There are no laws constraining what you, as a renter, can ask. Savvy landlords, however, shy away from giving answers that might suggest that they intend to illegally discriminate. For example, suppose you asked how many people of a certain religion lived in the building. Even if the landlord knew the answer, he'd be foolish to give it, for it might be interpreted as an admission that he is deliberately choosing or rejecting tenants of a particular religion -- which is illegal.

A common touchy area is the average age of people in the building -- what you've called demographics. Fearing that a charge of age or familial discrimination might be lurking behind your question, a very careful landlord might refuse to say, or offer a nebulous response, such as, "We have persons of all ages in our community." Take a walk around and see for yourself. Or ask other tenants.

That said, there are plenty of topics about which you can inquire and expect a truthful response. For example, ask about the crime rate both in the building and in the neighborhood. You might also ask about the number of evictions in the building within the last few years; look for a low number, as it tells you that the landlord chooses tenants carefully. You might also want to find out more about matters of convenience, such as the proximity of transportation, schools, restaurants, and shopping.

A smart landlord will answer these questions honestly. And if you find one that seems less than forthcoming, look elsewhere.

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