Protect yourself when leasing or renting a home
When we first moved to Texas we rented a very beautiful home. My husband, four children of various ages and my mother-in-law. The home was beautiful and when we first moved in we were very meticulous about filling out the “residential lease inventory and condition form”. In the office there were several stains on the carpet which were large and very noticeable and we noted it on the condition form. We were oblivious to the fact that it would have benefited us to take pictures or video of everything we noted during our check-in. Here are some tips for protecting yourself when leasing or renting a home and links to help preempt any problems you may have down the road.
Is the landlord out of country?
A simple Google search reveals that landlords out of country can be very problematic. If the landlord is out of country and does not have a property management company managing fixes locally I would highly consider you bail out and find a different home to lease. While a landlord who lives out of town or who travels frequently ensures your privacy, an out-of-town landlord can be much more difficult to communicate with, especially if the landlord doesn’t contract with a property management company. Things such as paying rent or repairs can be extremely problematic. Consider taking the following steps;
- Establish a firm way to pay the rent such as directly depositing the rent check in the landlords bank account or mailing the rent payment a week early to ensure the landlord receives it.
- Establish a firm method of communicating with the landlord. Email is a good way because it also provides documentation of the communications. Figure out what the time difference is between you and the landlord so you understand any time differences in your communications. Texting is not recommended unless you screenshot the texts and make sure they include a date and time on them. Keep any and all communications in a safe place like cloud storage or a USB device for the duration of your lease.
- Document everything with pictures and video from your phone or digital camera and send them along in an email. Again, keep everything backed up somewhere so you have documentation.
- Ask your landlord about using a property management company or local handyman service for repairs. Some states allow tenants to make repairs themselves and then deduct the costs of the repairs from rent. Check with your local state laws first before using this option and always get it in writing from the landlord that the repair and deduct option is approved.
- Check with the local city the rental or lease is in and verify that the home is an approved rental property and licensed. Some cities or states may not require this but this is a good thing to check and might help you should any problems arise.
Start with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to search your rights as a tenant in your state.
Watch for scams
Here are some red flags to watch out for and why it is important to use a realtor when leasing or renting a home.
- Landlords who want you to wire money (which is the same as sending cash, which is not recoverable)
- Landlords that want a security deposit or rent before you’ve met or signed the lease, or who claim to be out of the country and unable to meet in person.
- Homes for rent that are in pre-foreclosure.
- Once you are in the home, a legal service contacts you and states the home has been foreclosed on and you can pay a fee to guarantee you stay in the home.
- Landlords who keep all or part of your deposit without providing you a detailed list of the repairs and how much each cost. Preventing this starts when you move-in, you should take photos or videos and itemize all preexisting damage.
- Repair and deduct take-back – This is when the landlord approves you to make the repair but then decides not to pay. This is why it is extremely important you have something in writing from the landlord agreeing to the repair!
Review the Lease Carefully
Carefully review all of the lease conditions before you sign. The lease agreement may contain wording that you find unacceptable — for example, restrictions on guests, pets, paint or alterations, or running a home business.
It all starts with move-in on through to move-out, take pictures and videos of everything (before and after) so the landlord cannot claim something was not there when you moved in. To avoid disputes or misunderstandings with your landlord, get everything in writing. Keep copies of any correspondence and follow up an oral agreement with a letter, laying out your understandings. For example, if you ask your landlord to make repairs, put your request in writing and keep a copy for yourself. If the landlord agrees orally, send a letter or email confirming this and asking for their documented approval.
Here are some links to help get you started on educating yourself about your rights as a tenant.