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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
MD Education

Landlord Bad Business Practices

There are plenty of apartments available that are well managed and have a nice amenities. However, some renters may encounters property managers who do not make their tenants or building upkeep a priority. The information listed below will help you become more informed of what to watch out for, especially if you plan to live outside of the campus neighborhood. The place you choose will be your home for the next 10 to 12 months, so choose carefully.

Good and Bad Signs

Below are a list of good and bad signs that may help to identify if you are making a good choice when choosing your apartment. Some of these issues are more important to some than others.

Neighborhoods

Good Signs

Bad Signs

Public transportation nearby/available parking

Abandoned and dilapidated buildings

Clean buildings and nice landscaping

Trash-filled lots

Nearby stores

Broken glass/non-working cars

Gang and other graffiti

Buildings

Good Signs

Bad Signs

Well-maintained interior and exterior

Decrepit exterior, gang markings, peeling paint, missing window screens or storm windows

Name & contact information of management company posted on the building

Faulty front door, doesn't automatically shut and lock

Safe, well-lit common areas

Broken or no intercom

Secure mailboxes and lobby

No lock on lobby door

Working two-way intercom

Broken or very small mailboxes

Self-locking front and rear doors

Smelly

Safe and well-lit building areas

Laundry and storage areas in poor condition

Parking

Common area walls and floors dirty

 

Worn, dirty carpet, bad lighting and poor paint job

 

Missing fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on each landing, no fire doors on each floor to stairways

 

Has or has had building code violations in the past 12 months

Apartments

Good Signs

Bad Signs

Peep holes and double locks on exterior doors, including a deadbolt security lock

Pry marks or cracks on the front and rear entry doors and frames

Working windows with storms and screens

Noisy neighbors

Clean and cleanable bathroom and kitchen walls and floors

Windows that don't open or close properly, drafty frames

Level floor surface

Rusty plumbing fixtures

Stain-free paint jobs and smooth plaster walls

Toilets that don't empty on first flush and/or don't shut off

Ice in refrigerator freezer and all stove burners working

Poor hot water and poor water pressure

Working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Old kitchen appliances, in poor condition or don't work

Working electrical outlets and enough circuits

Holes in floors, between floors and walls, around pipes and/or walls and ceilings

Modern heating and properly functioning air conditioner unit

Signs of roach and mice/rat infestation

Adequate closet space and storage

Smells of sewer gas, cigarette smoke and cooking gas

Interior doors to bedroom and bathrooms

Water stains

Room size large enough for your furniture

No repair or other work required, apartment is ready to rent

Property Manager/Landlord

Good Signs

Bad Signs

Familiar with building/part of management team

Appears rushed or in a hurry

24-hour maintenance personnel on premises or lives nearby (prompt repair service)

Won't negotiate terms or lease conditions

Answers all questions and willing to put terms in writing

Independent agent, not a landlord, property manager or owner

Pleasant demeanor and professional attitude

Has extra-special rules about elevator use, guests, extra deposits

Rude and unprofessional tone over the phone

No 24-hour emergency number or person on premises

Additional Tips

You should also too-good-to-be-true rental incentives such as:

  • Two months of free rent
  • No security deposit and half off first month's rent
  • Refer a friend and get a $500 rental rebate

In cases like these, sometimes the property owner will drastically cut rent rates on a building in attempt to lure new tenants to a building that has a high tenant turnover due to faulty conditions, or it could be the case of new management looking to fill a building that has recently reopened. You should always find out the reason for such an aggressive incentive. The most desirable apartments usually do not stay on the market for more than eight weeks at a time and rarely offer such generous incentives. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Talk to current tenants. Find out current tenants' opinions of the building and why they are choosing to live there. You should not take what is said at face value, but if every tenant's remarks are similar, you should take what they are saying into serious consideration. You can also check out building review sites such as Apartment Ratings and Apartment Reviews.

Check out the neighborhood during different hours of the day. Sometimes the atmosphere is much different at night than in the morning. 

Ask These Questions

  • Who do you report building emergencies to?
  • Where does the maintenance manager live?
  • Do you have or have you had any building code violations in the past 12 months? You can also contact the Daley Center in Chicago for this information.
  • Do you have problems with roaches, mice/rats? If not, have there been problems in the past? How often do you exterminate?
  • How often are maintenance checks performed? (Should be at least every three months.)

Check These Features

  • Cabinets – do they open and close properly?
  • Flush the toilet & turn on faucets - is the water pressure okay?
  • Floorboards – are there loose floorboards?
  • Common areas, laundry room, recreation room, wall and stairwells – are they clean and well maintained?
  • Visit at another time to access building noise level and scenery – is the night scene all right?
  • Workmanship – are the paint jobs sloppy and/or tub caulking messy?
  • Signs of bug and rodent infestation – look in kitchen and bathroom areas especially under the sink for droppings, nests and other residue.
  • Find out average tenant age group – are you all right with living around this age group?
  • Run the dishwasher and stove and check refrigerator freezer to confirm proper performance.
  • Test air conditioner and heating source to make sure it works properly.
  • Sturdy door locks and working windows.
  • Examine floor for marks and stains.
  • Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors – in working condition?
  • Intercom – works properly?