There is continued bad news if you are a landlord, but good news if you are a tenant in search of your next apartment.
The latest survey of rental conditions nationally, done in October by the National Multi Housing Council, a District-based trade association for those who own or manage many properties, showed that market conditions are not improving for landlords.
Only 11 percent said that the market was tighter -- fewer vacancies and higher rent increases -- than three months earlier.
Forty-one percent said the market was looser, meaning more vacancies and lower rent increases.
And about 48 percent said the market was unchanged
"The economy has not improved appreciably in the last three months," said Mark H. Obrinsky, the council's chief economist. "In particular, the current recovery is looking more and more like the previous one, widely known as 'the jobless recovery.' Without sustained job growth, any increase in apartment demand is likely to be muted."
What does this mean for tenants in search of their next apartment?
Don't be afraid to negotiate the rent. If you don't ask, you'll never know.
And don't feel you have to rush into signing a rental agreement. There are plenty of apartments available in the District, Maryland and Virginia. What a change from just two or three years ago.
Q DEAR BARBARA: You often mention the importance of renters' insurance. I agree that such insurance is necessary, but here is the problem: I live in a group house with four other unrelated roommates. No one wants to insure us.
We used to have renters' insurance, but the company informed us that they no longer write such policies for unrelated people living together. Other companies and agents have said the same thing.
Your recommendation, please. -- Bewildered in Bethesda
A DEAR BEWILDERED: Few insurers anymore will write one policy to cover the personal belongings of five unrelated people living together, said Carolyn Gorman, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute's Washington office.
It becomes too much of an administrative problem, she said. For example, what happens to the group coverage when a roommate moves and takes his belongings with him? All five signatures would be needed if there is a claim. The former roommate would have to be located and would have the right to share any money from a claim. What happens if one of the five is a careless smoker and causes a fire when the others don't smoke? In that case, one person would be the cause of the claim, but all five would be penalized by a premium increase.
There is an easy solution, she said. Each roommate buys his own renters' policy. If all five of you go to the same insurance company, be sure to ask whether that entitles each of you to a discount.
If anyone in a group rental by unrelated people knows of an insurance company still covering such a group, please share and I will pass it on.
Constructive or Constricting?
DEAR BARBARA: I understand that a landlord has a right to enter the property for purposes of maintenance, inspection and improvements.
But is it within reason for a landlord to enter a dwelling an average of at least once a month? I find the constant entering of the unit invasive. The landlord always has a legitimate reason, such as a need to check filters, the smoke detector, the heating system or the sturdiness of a balcony railing, as well as making an annual evaluation.
I always receive a letter of notification, but it comes with a threat of penalty if management can't enter because of a changed or additional lock on the door.
What advice can you offer? -- Prince George's County Reader
DEAR PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY READER: I could use more information than you've provided. You said you always get a letter of notification before a visit, and there is a reason provided for entry. That's good to hear. That makes it sound as if your landlord is living up to his responsibilities.
You haven't said how old the building is, how large it is or whether it is subsidized housing. That affects the answer.
Here is one thing to consider: Owners of apartment buildings that have contacted their insurance companies this year to renew their coverage are finding it more difficult to get coverage and, if they get it, the coverage may carry a much higher premium, as well as a higher deductible.
Some property owners have seen their deductible go from $1,000 to $2,500 to $5,000 to $25,000 per incident. Think about this: If the problem is a burst water pipe, it could do major damage to an entire tier of units, not just one, as the water floods down by floor. If the owner or management office knows repair bills are coming out of their pocket or budget, and the building is old and has more than one tier with potential water pipe problems, you can be pretty sure they will be checking for telltale signs more than in past years.
If it's a small building and the owner doesn't make that much money after expenses, he could be extra cautious to avoid damage from burst pipes, burning candles, electrical appliances or aging wiring when he knows that his insurer won't cover as much or at all.
If you live in subsidized housing, you knew before moving in that inspections on a regular schedule were part of the deal in return for lower rent.
Did you know that a landlord also has the right to enter without any notice? That's the case in times of an emergency, such as a burst pipe in the unit, leaking gas, some sort of alarm going off, fire or smoke, or screams of "help" from within. The landlord might also decide it's an emergency warranting entry if a relative, good friend or neighbor calls to request that the unit be checked for fear you are inside, ill and not able to call for help yourself.
The question you have raised has come up before in this column. While some tenants love it that a landlord or management takes such good care of the unit, others scream "invasion of privacy." The only way to have more privacy is to move to a house -- and not one that you've rented.
A True Storage Trunk
A longtime reader wrote that she recently moved from one apartment to another because of a better deal on the rent. Unfortunately, the new place had much less closet space.
She gave a few of her precious belongings away to relatives, thinking that she could always visit them -- the belongings as well as the relatives. She learned to store vertically and, oh yes, has turned the trunk of her car into the "east wing" of her one-bedroom unit. Haven't heard that one before.
Barbara Burtoff welcomes comments and questions but cannot reply to each letter. Readers may write to Apartment Adviser, c/o The Washington Post Real Estate Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or send e-mail to email@example.com.