Renters Be Warned
This post is a follow-up to "The Key to Graduate Housing" post I wrote last year. As turns out, when you live in a college town, beware before renting. I beg you: learn from my mistakes.
1. If your sixth sense tells you there is something wrong, LISTEN and go somewhere else.
I should have known better. From the moment I met my last landlord, I knew he was shady. There was just something a tad slippery about his general nature. Unfortunately, I was wooed by the prospect of living in a rather large apartment in a good location for a decent price - with my washer & dryer. I was located near the Giant Eagle in Grandview in a 1000 square foot apartment with rent of $695/month. Living with a roommate took my rent cost to approx $350/month. It was a good deal... or so it seemed.
2. If your landlord does not have a rental office, THINK TWICE before renting.
Without a rental office, you're basically left at the mercy of the landlord. You have to drop rent off or mail it and you have no way to prove that you paid it on time. It's your word against his. There is also no guarantee how fast your concerns will be addressed, if at all. If something is broken, that might not get fixed quickly either. No office means no staff... and probably skimping on all expenses.
3. Read the fine print.
Check out the lease document in detail. If there is an attachment containing a laundry-list of items with a cost of replacement, be prepared to have to pay for any or all of them. Even if the apartment is dirty when you move in, you will be penalized for any dirt you leave behind. Why do you think they require a full month's rent as a deposit? Don't plan to ever see it again; the landlord may do all he can to keep it. In my case, I was sent the lovely letter attached here for your reading pleasure. (two words: spelling, grammar) As you can see, there is an itemized list of things that I could not prove were fine/not broken/in good condition when I vacated the apartment. I'm an idiot and did not walk through the apartment when turning in keys.
4. Make sure you walk through the apartment with the landlord when vacating and turning in your keys.
I should have listened more closely to the Moving Out directions given to students by the Office of Student Life. They specifically mentioned doing a walk through when vacating. I thought they were probably over-reacting. They are not. Do it... especially if item #1 (listed above) applies in your situation.
5. If it seems to good to be true, there is a good chance it is.
See if you can get references on the landlord before renting. Also check online to see if there are any comments listed about them. If you are renting from an individual without references, you might be taking your chances. In my case, this individual plays the system. He knows the amount he charges for move out expenses is small enough to fall into small claims court which is probably not worth your trouble. He also knows that it is difficult to share reviews on an individual landlord without a rental office. He takes advantage of college kids and probably has done so for years. As I mentioned to him in a follow up "thank you" note, I believe in karma.
So, there you have it. There are plenty of good landlords out there I'm sure. If this helps anyone avoid a bad situation, I'm happy to help. It's certainly not the end of the world but $500 is a lot of money when living on student loans. Hopefully you fare better than I did.