With homeownership rates dropping across the country, landlords are gaining power. But sometimes they stretch the truth to get you to sign a lease. As a tenant, you might lie about the breed of your dog to ensure your building allows him. Landlords lie too, especially when they struggle with pricing or finding tenants. Be vigilant — here are the most common white lies landlords tell, including one law you shouldn’t rely on protecting you (page 8).
1. ‘Many people are interested, so sign this lease fast’
Desperate landlords will try to create urgency in order to pressure you into prematurely signing a lease. An antsy renter facing a hot real estate market is even more vulnerable to this tactic. But patience is truly a virtue when it comes to anything involving even a relatively long-term contract.
Protect yourself: Hasty decisions rarely benefit anyone. When you’re ready to jump on a rental, take a deep breathe and assess how comfortable you truly are with the lease’s conditions.
Next: This expense is often an afterthought while moving — but it’s important.
2. ‘You’ll get your deposit back’
Moving into a new place always requires an up-front cost. It often takes the form of deposits and fees, which you’d think are refundable. But somehow, landlords and management companies find a way to keep it. They may say they had to clean the carpets — even though you paid to have them cleaned — or they plan to replace them.
Protect yourself: Inspect your local laws to see which protections exist. You may be able to fight back and keep your money.
Next: Mister Rogers wouldn’t approve of some neighborhoods.
3. ‘This is an up-and-coming neighborhood’
If you’re moving to a new city, you likely won’t know which neighborhoods are bad for traffic, noise, or pollution. You may end up with a terrible commute or a car that keeps getting vandalized. And a landlord, desperate to rent out a place, probably won’t try to scare you away.
Protect yourself: Research the area, and visit the property. If you can’t visit ahead of time, ask your landlord for a reference from a past tenant, or reach out to friends who may know people in your future city. The more “insider info” you can get on different neighborhoods, the better.
Next: Really read that lease.
4. ‘Don’t mind the legal jargon’
You need to read the fine print. Whether it’s on a rental agreement, car lease, or signing up for iTunes, a legal landmine could screw you. Yes, it’ll take time. And no, it’s not fun. But it’s more fun than having no legal recourse down the line.
Protect yourself: Carefully read through your lease terms to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Next: Don’t lose your hard-earned cash.
5. ‘Wire me the money and the rental is yours’
A huge red flag of the rental process involves wiring a fee or down payment to a “landlord” before you view the apartment or sign the lease. A classic scam, especially on Craigslist, involves a scammer accepting a payment, setting up a time and place to tour a rental, and then never showing up.
We’ve even heard about scammers showing an empty apartment they manage to access, accepting first month’s rent, and then disappearing into thin air.
Protect yourself: Don’t write any checks until you have a signed lease in hand.
Next: When will this be fixed?
6. ‘I’ll handle the repairs’
Every landlord has a process for your rental repairs. He or she may come over and fix things personally, or they may refer you to a list of businesses to call. Asking about the repair process is crucial. Some landlords don’t deliver after promising a certain repair ahead of your move-in date. Others will insist you pay for the repair up front, but they’ll never send a reimbursement check.
Protect yourself: Get any rules or expectations about the repair process in writing before you sign the lease.
Next: You’ve tried calling, texting, and emailing your landlord — now what?
7. ‘You can reach me anytime’
Let’s say your rental desperately needs a new refrigerator, and your landlord won’t respond to any communication. If you’re at the point where you’re considering sending a smoke signal, then you may need to take more drastic measures. In the meantime, we don’t recommend withholding rent.
Protect yourself: Keep a record of all your communication; save unanswered emails and take screenshots of unanswered text messages. Research state laws that require your landlord to keep the rental livable, and learn what options you may have legally, especially if you haven’t heard from him in over one month.
Next: Rent increases aren’t always fair.
8. ‘This rental is very fairly priced’
Many renters’ worst fear is getting a notice that their rent is increasing. In some cities, those letters are more akin to eviction notices, as prices increase so high that a once-affordable place is suddenly out of reach. While you might think you’ll be protected by rent control laws, there are some states that completely prohibit rent control. In other states, laws regulating rent control is a local issue. Don’t rely on being protected by a law that may not exist where you’re renting!
Protect yourself: Ask about the possibility for future rent increases and understand the local real estate market.
Next: Nobody wants to live in a filthy, rundown home.
9. ‘The property is well-maintained’
Is your potential home clean? Like, really clean? Your landlord may use some Lysol to superficially clean, but you must look for troubling signs. Unresolved issues can seriously impact your health. Get a good idea of the home’s condition. A coat of paint and cheap carpeting can make a dump look decent. And if you’re not careful, a landlord may blame any preexisting damage on you.
Protect yourself: Look for evidence of rodents, pests, and mold. Educate yourself on subtle signs of uncleanliness. Ask questions about anything out of place. And take pictures of damaged areas.
Next: Take a good look around before you sign on the dotted line.
10. ‘You’ll love the neighbors’
Everything could check out, but if your neighbors are a nightmare, you may struggle to stick it out at your rental. Whether they blast music, encroach on your property, or overextend their welcome, neighbors have the power to make or break your living situation. Get your landlord’s opinion on the subject, but don’t be afraid to take extra measures to ensure a smooth way to live side-by-side.
Protect yourself: Visit the property at different times of the day (and night) to get a feel for the neighbors. The last thing you need is an unexpected frat house next door.
Next: Does your landlord drop by all the time?
11. ‘I’ll call before I drop by’
Rules exist regarding when your landlord can drop by the property to “inspect.” If they constantly show up, the law might be on your side. Obviously, a landlord will be interested in whether you’re trashing the property, so it’s understandable they may want to come by now and then. But they need to let you know when they’re coming.
Protect yourself: Document each time your landlord checks up on you. If it’s too often for your comfort, let your landlord know and reference any applicable laws in your state.
Next: But what about pets?
12. ‘You can have a pet’
Landlords may love pets because they can charge you exorbitant fees for them. Pets are tricky. Dogs, cats, and other animals cause damage, so many landlords simply don’t allow them. Others charge deposits or “pet rent” to make up for it.
Protect yourself: This is yet another area where you need to look into local laws and regulations to make sure you’re not getting screwed on deposits and rent charges.
Next: Your landlord may fudge these expenses.
13. ‘The utility bills are cheap’
Many renters overlook hidden costs when apartment-searching. If you don’t budget for electricity, heat, air conditioning, internet service, and other expenses, you may wildly exceed your budget. Proceed with caution if a landlord assures you the bills will be low.
Protect yourself: Call your city utilities office and ask for the home’s utility history. They should be able to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision.
Next: Do you have kids?
14. ‘I prefer no kids’
One way landlords try to skirt the rules is by not allowing children in their properties. Kids are messy and break things. So, some landlords don’t want to rent to families with children. This, of course, is illegal under federal housing laws. If a family with children under 18 wants to rent, their kids can’t be used as justification for rejecting them.
Protect yourself: Research the laws that protect renters, and don’t be afraid to use them.
Next: Your landlord could hike the rent when you least expect it.
15. ‘I’ll let you know if I increase the rent’
Are you looking for odd jobs to cover additional rent you didn’t anticipate? Rent increases happen, especially in trendy areas. But you shouldn’t have to experience a financial roller-coaster ride each month. If your landlord plans to raise your rent, he or she must give you notice ahead of time.
Protect yourself: Generally, a landlord should give you a notice at least 30 days before a rent hike — and it should involve a revised lease. Make sure terms are in writing, so you can prove things in court if you need to. If your landlord does give you proper notice and stays within applicable rent-control ordinances, then you may need to start packing.
Next: Get kicked out?
16. ‘We uphold tenant rights’
Landlords need to abide by many rules. One is their reason for evicting someone. If you don’t pay your rent for months on end, that’s one thing. But if you feel you’re being discriminated against, that’s another.
Protect yourself: Look at what types of legal protections you have when it comes to getting evicted. Certain legal barriers exist to keep your landlord from evicting you.
Next: Know who pays for what.
17. ‘I would’ve told you no painting if you had asked’
Make sure you have a clear understanding of what you can and cannot change within the rental property. If you feel like painting, for example, run it by the landlord. If you do come to an agreement and later your landlord decides to call your changes “damage,” you can find yourself in a bind.
Protect yourself: Get agreements in writing, and always follow the golden rule: Leave it in better condition than you found it.