Macy Freeman is chronicling her experiences in her first apartment in D.C. This is her fourth installment.
To maintain a good relationship with our landlord, my friend and I have taken certain measures. Whenever there’s an issue, we let her know as soon as we can before it has time to worsen.
Each time we make a rent payment, we send her a short text message letting her know the money has been deposited into her account. It’s a good idea for our records, and she doesn’t have to wonder if we made our payments on time. We also try to be firm with her about our needs and are flexible about reasonable changes she makes.
My friend is especially cautious about our interactions as she’s had a bad experience in the past.
In order for me to explain how cautious you have to be when renting an apartment from someone, let me tell you about an experience my friend had with an old landlord. The last person she rented from was a complete nightmare, so consider this a cautionary tale.
A day after she signed a $650 a month lease, her new landlord wanted to raise her rent and have her sign a completely new lease agreement. When she refused, he got a lawyer. When the landlord’s lawyer informed him that he’d have to uphold the original contract, the landlord told her he wanted to remove the washer and dryer units instead. My friend told him that if he removed the units she would not rent from him, and eventually he let it go. She still believed it would be best for her to stay there because, as a college student, she relied on student loans to cover living expenses and the cost of living in a dorm seemed too high. Unfortunately, this incident was a clear sign of what was to come.
The first time she called him about repairs, he became defensive and told her if she wasn’t happy with the place, he would let her out of her lease. For weeks, they attempted to get repairs done to the apartment, but they’d set appointments and the repairman would never show. Instead of handling the situation, he decided to flip things and accuse them of not following up with the repairman.
They finally told their landlord they would be calling the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to examine the apartment if he didn’t take care of the issues (there was mold in the bathroom cabinet, the tub needed re-caulking and they had a mice problem despite the apartment being clean). The woman who ended up coming to inspect their apartment found additional issues they hadn’t even thought about, including cracks in the wall. She wrote up their landlord and after the threat of fines, he finally addressed the issues. Needless to say, he wasn’t too happy about this and later called to scream and threaten them. They continued to have problems with him even after leaving the apartment.
There are a few lessons to be picked up here: the importance of sticking up for yourself being one of them. After speaking with other students who had rented from the same person, she realized she was not alone and had she met them beforehand she might have avoided a lot of stress. Landlords looking to get over on someone might assume young renters lack the wisdom and backbone needed to defend themselves.
What does the ideal tenant/landlord relationship look like?
On your end, make sure you give your landlord notice before inviting additional house guests who plan to stay for an extended period of time. Inform your landlord of any issues in a timely manner, giving him enough time to address them before things progress. The ideal landlord responds to your concerns in a timely fashion, respects your right to privacy and handles any disputes or issues with the appropriate level of professionalism. According to Dennis Taylor, general counsel of the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate, the three most common issues between tenants and landlords are 1) landlords withholding security deposits after a tenant has left their property; 2) housing conditions that don’t meet District standards; and 3) changes in rent level that do not match District law.
How do you spot a potential “slumlord?”
Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t know you’re entering into a bad situation until you’ve suffered the consequences of it. Trust your instincts. There are also sites and forums designed to help you check out a landlord before you sign your lease, sites like ReviewMyLandLord.com. If you’re planning to post something about an old landlord online, just be sure you can back up all claims to protect yourself from a potential lawsuit. One person learned this the hard way after writing a Yelp review about a rental property. He was sued for defamation.
What are your landlord’s responsibilities?
Your landlord’s responsibilities include: 1) ensuring the apartment is clean and safe for move in; 2) taking care of repairs; and 3) returning your security deposit within 45 days after you’ve vacated the apartment.
Your landlord is not responsible for roommate disputes, which is why you have to be smart when choosing a roommate.
If your landlord fails to address your concerns and you’re not sure how you should address the situation, call or visit the Office of the Tenant Advocate (202-719-6560) for information about your rights as a tenant and how to address legal issues.
What questions should you ask before renting from someone?
If the following questions aren’t already outlined on a lease agreement, you should ask your landlord before signing:
• How long will my lease be?
• Am I allowed to sublet and on what terms?
• Who is responsible for maintenance, landscaping and repairs?
• Who is responsible for paying the utilities?
• When is rent due?
• Are you allowed to be in my apartment while I’m not there?
Protecting yourself from a crooked landlord
You never want to end up in a position where you have to rely on the wrong person in order to move forward. When future landlords call on your old one for reference, you don’t want what they say to ruin your chances of getting a new place. Here are some tips to safeguard you from this:
• Save all of your receipts as evidence that you paid your rent on time. If you’re paying by online transfer, be sure to keep copies of your bank statements.
• Save any e-mails and text messages between you and your landlord, anything that would speak to your character as a tenant.
• Keep track of how long it takes your landlord to have things repaired, how well she or he keeps up with the landscaping outside. I would suggest keeping a small journal. Begin with the day you requested the repairs.
• Take photos of any damages that might be in the apartment.
If this is your first time renting, remember you’re entering into a business deal. Both parties involved should be treated fairly.
Read Macy Freeman’s previous blogposts: