In my blog, I try to answer the questions that people raise. This one had me a bit stumped because it seemed too general. A question that I was recently asked was, "what is the best rental advice for tenants?" I wasn't sure if the question referred to before they agreed to rent or afterwards. For this reason, I'll try to address both in this post. Hopefully you'll find some rental advice tips here that can help you!
Before Signing the Lease:
Know what you can afford before looking at potential rentals. Generally speaking, your monthly income should be three times the amount of the rent per month. Focus on properties that you know you can afford. This will help you not wind up in financial distress later into the rental. Need help with figuring out what you can afford? Take a look at, "How much can you afford in monthly rent?" to help you figure it out correctly.
Make a good first impression when walking into an appointment. Dress and act professionally. Be on time. If you agree to meet at 4:30, don't think 4:45 is acceptable! Make it clear that you appreciate the property manager taking the time to show you the place.
Walk into an appointment fully prepared and ready to go. Have all of the proof you'll need about your status. This should include recent paystubs to show that you are currently working, tax returns to prove your annual income, bank statements to show you are financially prepared to pay your rent, and letters of reference. Your reference letters can be from various sources: your employer detailing your work history with them and why you are viewed as responsible, a previous landlord explaining why they considered you to be an excellent renter, and others who can attest to your character.
Fill out your paperwork correctly and neatly. Be honest about your situation. Don't even think about lying on your application because there's a good chance that the checks that the landlord will run will expose your lie (and that won't make them want to rent to you!). Check out my post, "What can I do to make sure my rental application is approved?" for tips on being selected for a rental.
Read through and understand the terms of the lease before you sign it. Clarify anything you don't completely understand with the property manager. Remember that the lease you'll be signing is a legally binding document. If you violate the terms of your lease, you could be evicted! People oftentimes think that evictions always come from not paying rent. While that is often the case, people find themselves evicted for having additional people living in the home than were listed on the lease, having undisclosed pets in the home (especially in a home that doesn't permit them), or doing something illegal on the premises. Make absolutely sure you understand the terms of your lease before you sign stating that you understand and agree to it. Take a look at, "What questions should I ask before I sign a lease?" for suggestions of things to verify before you sign.
If you mention something to the landlord and he or she agrees to take care of it within the first month (or whatever the period agreed to happens to be), get it in writing.
Carefully inspect and document problems before moving in so you won't be held liable for them. Don't just document issues in writing - take pictures and/or video for clear proof of the condition of the unit before you moved in. This will help you to protect your security deposit. Also share things you notice with the property manager so he/she can include them on their move-in / move-out checklist.
After You Are the Tenant:
Treat the home and property as if it were your own. You know you wouldn't want someone leaving a bag of trash outside the door rather than placing it in the proper receptacle, so don't do it. Keep the home neat, clean, and pest free. Don't do anything that would be considered as negative by the property owner or the neighbors (they could share issues with the owner).
Pay your rent on time. Your problems are just that - your problems. The owner has financial responsibilities and are relying on the rent that you agreed to pay, possibly to cover mortgage payments, taxes, homeowners association fees, etc. Remember that you agreed to a set amount per month for the length of your lease. Be viewed as being a responsible tenant by always paying your rent on time. If you sometimes forget to pay bills when they are due, consider setting up automatic payments so you won't need to remember.
Protect yourself with renters insurance. It's important to note that the insurance carried by the property owner does not cover your personal belongings - that's your job. Renters insurance is relatively inexpensive but when your belongings are stolen or destroyed (say by a plumbing leak), you'll be able to recover.
Know what tasks are your responsibility with your rental. For example, in my Leesburg rental, tenants are responsible for changing air conditioning filters monthly, pest control, screen repairs, and any repairs due to their negligence. All of this is disclosed in the lease. Make sure you understand what you need to take care of in your rental; review your lease as needed if you can't remember.
Communicate with your landlord as needed. If something is wrong, be sure to let them know. If something needs fixing, chances are they won't have any idea about it unless you tell them. If something is communicated verbally, follow up with something in writing, even as simple as an email thanking them for getting the problem fixed for you.
Understand what you are and are not permitted to modify. In our Leesburg rental properties, tenants know that they are not permitted to change paint colors (as we have the units freshly painted before they arrive). Another one of our guidelines is not to hammer into the walls (we suggest 3m strips or command hooks for hanging pictures). Don't modify something unless you have it in writing that it is permitted - if you do, you'll find yourself receiving less than you hope for when your security deposit it returned.
Be sure not to violate the terms of your lease agreement! I know I've said it before, but I can't say it enough - your lease is a legal, binding document. If you've stated in your lease that only you will be living there, don't try to sneak a second person in to live with you. Should a situation arise, talk with the property manager to see if the lease terms could be modified to fit your needs at the time - don't just do something and assume it'll be OK. Chances are, it won't be.
The best rental advice for tenants in my opinion is this - know what it takes to be a good tenant, both before you rent and once you move in. Picture yourself in the property manager's shoes - if you wouldn't like something done to a place you managed, then don't even consider doing it to the place you rent.
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