Unless you're lucky enough to buy a home straight out of college (thanks a ton, Mom and Dad!), you'll probably be sweating it out in a rental for at least a few years. And that means answering to a landlord.
Sure, landlords call the shots on your living situation right now. But they're not (necessarily) the terrifying, all-powerful beings some tenants make them out to be. Plenty of them are ordinary, decent people with an investment in a rental property that they want to protect. Really!
So if you love your apartment and want to stay for a bit while you rustle up a down payment, you'll want to endear yourself to your property owner by making clear that you are an ideal tenant. The ideal tenant.
We talked to some landlords about their favorite -- and least favorite -- renters. Here are their suggestions to make sure you wind up on the good list.
1. Dress to impress -- and that goes for your car, too
The initial showing isn't just to find out if you like the property -- it's for the landlords to decide if they like you, too. Don't show up looking like a slob, a hobo, or a freak. And don't present an irritating, lazy attitude (even if you are, in fact, irritating and lazy). Treat the showing like a job interview.
"I look for demeanor and preparedness," says Barb Getty, a landlord in Zionsville, IN, who manages 22 units.
While no landlords can deny housing based on protected status (i.e., race, religion, national origin, familial status, age, disability, or gender), they can certainly say no if they don't like you. Or if they believe you'll be a destructive tenant.
Still with us? You need to keep your car in order, too.
"I always look at how well-kept their vehicle is," Getty says. "Is it full of garbage and fast-food bags? Is it a mess inside and outside? That's the way the inside of my apartment is going to look."
2. They will investigate you
Tempted to tell a little white lie about your credit score, legal history, or work experience? Don't. Remember what we said about treating this like a job interview? When it comes to renting an apartment, potential landlords will absolutely be following up -- and if they find out you stretched the truth, you definitely won't be getting the place.
"Save everyone time," says Brian Morris, a landlord in St. Marys, OH. "We actually do conduct background checks, and if you have a felonious assault conviction, we're not going to rent to you."
3. Something wrong? Tell them ASAP
OK, you've got your lease on moved into your new place. Congrats! But now it's time to prove your worth. If your sink won't stop leaking or your fridge has adopted a new, disturbing hum, don't just sit on the information. Unless you carelessly broke something (in which case, stop Zorbing in the house), you shouldn't worry about being blamed.
"Tenants won't call because they would prefer to put their head in the sand, thinking maybe it will go away," Getty says. "It only exacerbates the problem. Before long, it's a huge repair issue."
4. They have the power to mediate disputes
Having a problem with a fellow tenant? If you've exhausted the reasonable avenues of reconciliation -- no, we're not talking about passive-aggressive notes -- and still find yourself up in arms, go ahead and call in your landlord.
"Sometimes tempers flare, and it's better to have me slip in and say, 'You need to get along and keep noise low,'" Getty says.
And sometimes, if your neighbors are particularly rowdy, the landlord can even help remove them from the property.
5. They won't judge your clutter, but they will judge your filth
Accumulating grime doesn't just mean the move-out cleaning session will be a royal pain -- it could also be grounds for your landlord to keep your deposit, make you pay for professional cleaning, or even say "bye-bye" before your lease is up.
"I can see through clutter -- people are just clutter bugs," Getty says. "But if I go in an apartment and there's grease all over the stovetop and the toilet is filthy and there are stains in the carpet, then that isn't working."
Not to mention that layers of filth can also mask bigger problems such as mold or cracks in the wall or flooring. Remember, your temporary residence is their permanent possession -- and there's nothing more disheartening than seeing your home falling into disrepair.
6. Stop ignoring their calls
There are a dozen reasons your landlord might need to talk with you -- from making an appointment for a plumber to come by, to discussing an issue with your next-door neighbor, to showing the place to a potential buyer. And let us tell you, ignoring their texts and phone calls makes everything more complicated. And it could mean a bad reference when it's time for you to leave.
"I absolutely hate when I text, I call, and there's no response," Getty says. "That just drives me crazy. We're all busy; we all work. It makes my life so much more difficult, because I have to drive there, knock on their door, and leave them a written note."
Communication is especially important if you're having financial troubles that could compromise your ability to pay your rent on time.
"We understand things happen, like a job is lost or a check is late," Morris says. "Being upfront with us is so much easier than evading us. We're happy to help if we know the situation."
7. Landlords -- they're just like us!
Just because your landlords own a few properties doesn't mean they're loaded. Property management can be a full-time job, and most of the income goes back into the business, paying for repairs and upgrades.
"A huge misconception from tenants is that they tend to think we landlords are real estate moguls and we're just swimming in money," Getty says. "That's not the truth. A lot of us are just like them."