Do You Make These 5 Renter Mistakes?

PropertyleaseThis post from Taylor at TrendyCheapo came at the perfect time. Taylor is a pretty awesome chick who just quit her job to freelance full time! Woot woot! She’s from D.C. and writes about achieving financial freedom and DIY-ing. Bascially, we were meant to be BFFs. :) Take it away, Taylor:

Are you a rental dweller? I am and I also happen to work in property management! Like Cat posted recently, my husband and I will probably be renting for a while.

During my time in the biz I’ve seen tenants incur charges, miss money making opportunities, and take credit score hits after some common renter mistakes that are totally avoidable with the right knowledge.

I’ve been dying to share these mistakes to avoid in a post and so excited to do so with the fabulous readers of Budget Blonde. So let’s get to it!

Not requesting or taking full advantage of a pre move-in inspection.

A walk through with the landlord before moving in is your chance to inspect and document all superficial pre-existing defects. Time and time again I see renters not take this inspection seriously. (Not going to lie this was me before I worked in the industry).

What happens when you move out and these aren’t documented? They may think you did it and you could be charged for the repairs. Inspect your apartment thoroughly and keep record of all dings, marks, and scratches no matter how minuscule they may seem.

Not contacting management right away for maintenance problems.

Keep your eyes open! If you notice something wrong in the rental while you live there, contact management immediately. A benefit of renting is the convenience of onsite maintenance. Nonetheless, I’ve seen loads of residents who report maintenance issues at the last minute. Major no no y’all.

Small maintenance issues snow ball into much larger problems (like a leaky toilet turning into a collapsed ceiling… yea I’ve smelled it and seen it happen). Report problems before larger ones occur. If not, be prepared for (you guessed it) paying for the damage.

Avoiding the leasing office or landlord.

Get buddy buddy with property management and be a reasonable tenant. Why? You need them. They have your personal information. They’ll be your reference for future rentals. They negotiate your renewal rate and take your rent payments.

Additionally, managers are more willing to meet you half way when you make special requests if they know and like you. They want to keep apartments occupied with “good people” and managers can justify lots of rule bending for “good tenants.” Also, don’t be afraid to talk to them if you’re facing hardship unexpectedly. Lots of landlords offer a one-time courtesy late fee waiver.

Not reading the lease thoroughly or knowing your tenant rights.

It’s surprising how often renters sign documents without reading it or asking any questions. You’re not expected to be an expert always ask if you don’t understand the terms. Also you should research your rights as a tenant in your state. In some situations extra knowledge can make or save you money.

Did you know in some states if you aren’t mailed your security deposit within 20 days you may be entitled to double the amount? Cha-ching! Did you know in most states landlords are not able to collect two rents on one rental unit?

If you need to break a lease and your landlord requests that you pay the lease out in full you could be getting duped. Ask if the unit will be re-rented when you vacate or if you can find someone to take over your lease before putting down hard cash.

Forgetting to leave a forwarding address after move out.

This mistake may have life altering ramifications. You must give a forwarding address every time you move out of a rental in order to receive refunds or final charges by mail.

What happens if you don’t give a new address? The landlord is relieved of its obligation to return your deposit and you won’t receive your final charges in excess of the deposit. Remember that personal information we discussed earlier? That’s enough info to send you straight to collections after 60 or 90 days of non-payment. A potentially devastating hit to your credit score.

I get calls almost daily from past tenants who moved out years ago who didn’t leave an address. Not a good look! Write your address on every piece of move-out paperwork they give you even if you don’t agree with the charges. You can always dispute them later.

And that sums it up! My insider tips to be a rock star renter. Now over to you! Do you have any rental tips I missed? Have you used any of the ones above to save a few bucks? Share below!

About Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford aka "Cat" is a personal finance freelance writer who currently lives in the Caribbean with her husband and spoiled pup, Julep. To learn more about her writing services, please visit her Hire Me page or e-mail her at Cat[at]BudgetBlonde[dot]com. Follow her on Google + to get all the latest updates.

Lovely comments:

  1. I’m not sure if this is only true in Ontario, but most tenants don’t know that your landlord has to pay you interest on your last month’s rent deposit. If he/she doesn’t, you can file a rebate application with the Landlord and Tenant Board. I was a student renting for a few years before my roommate, who was studying accounting, informed me – and my landlord – of this. The landlord owned multiple rental properties for years and he had no idea (or chose to ignore it?)!

  2. It’s so common!! If tenants aren’t familiar with the laws the landlord feels no pressure to abide by them. In the US it goes by state for interest. I’m 99% sure in Maryland the landlord pays interest after the first month and Virginia landlords are except. It’s a pain in the neck to stay current on the state laws as a renter but it could save you money!

  3. ooops exempt*

  4. Many good points. I would suspect that some version of the 80-20 rule applies here — 20 percent of renters make 80 percent of the service calls. We’re all paying rent that includes the service; why not take advantage?

    • You’re totally right! There’s always a few residents you hear from weekly and the others that you see once a year only when they renew their lease – me being one of them. It wasn’t until I started working in a management office that I realized I wasn’t taking advantage of rental services!

  5. I always give my tenants a c/d with ~65 pictures, and a video of the apartment when they move in. That documents the move in condition, and the cleanliness of the unit.

    I tell my tenants that great tenants and great landlords do not really even need a lease, but this protects us both if either one of us is not as good…

    The best thing tenants can do to get their deposits back is clean, clean, clean on the way out. It was spotless on moving in, I expect it to be that way on moving out. It will be the easiest money you ever make. I charge $40 per hour to clean.

    • Wow, that’s an awesome idea and I couldn’t agree more with making sure to leave a rental spotless. I forgot to mention hiring your own professional cleaner is an option to get a full security deposit back. Sometimes people prefer to leave without the hassle of cleaning, however finding your own cleaner is often cheaper than using the residential management company. For example, one of my past employers charged $150 for cleaning and an additional $50 for trash removal (per trash bag). You can easily spend less than that and get the same results with another cleaner.

  6. As someone who owns residential rental property, I completely agree with your list! It’s important for both sides to understand any agreement. Know your rights!

    • Thanks for reading! If there’s mutual understanding between the landlord and tenant the relationship is soooo much smoother.

  7. Becoming buddy buddy with my landlord has kept my rent almost the same for ten years.

  8. As someone who was recently a renter and now a landlord, this is definitely something to avoid -> “Not contacting management right away for maintenance problems.” If management doesn’t know about maintenance issues, they can’t fix it. Even worse, small issues can turn into big ones relatively quickly.

    • Totally true. Big problems aren’t only costly, but an inconvenience for both parties. Who wants maintenance in and out of their home?

  9. One of the places I lived used to get uppity when I sent in maintenance requests, all the time. It never made any sense to me, because I was looking out for the value of *their* property! Stopping things before they’re a huge problem makes so much sense!
    Photographs when you move out is another good one that I learned from my mother in law after she got fed up dealing with her kids’ university landlords.

    • They’re likely too lazy to be bothered, but if something happens they’re never too lazy to send an invoice!

      My college apartment landlord was a slum lord too. People who rent to college students get away with a lot because they’re tenants are inexperienced.

  10. I totally agree with you. You had a good point. Before renting, we should inquire first and know the whole information, check the room and etc.

    • For sure check every inch of the rental and document. You may find a few things that they need to fix before you even move in. Great way to cover all of your bases.

  11. Wise tips here, Taylor!! My dad was a rental property owner for years, and it always amazed me how tenants were totally fine with leaving money on the table because they didn’t want to take the time to let my dad know where he could send the deposit return or whatever. I’d be watching for my cash like a hawk!

    • Thanks, me too! Also people who call like 3 years later when they’re trying to buy a house and just notice the collections report? Bizarre. It kills me.

  12. Good tips. I always hand delivered my rent check at the rental office and politely asked for a receipt. It helped me to get to know the manager as well as keep up-to-date on the goings on in the rental park.

  13. There are good landlords and crummy ones & I’ve had both. After sending one crummy landlord multiple written requests over several months for the return of my deposit I finally gave up. Could have sued in small claims but didn’t want to lose time from work to attend court. Unfortunately it’s not often apparent a landlord is a jerk until after moving in.

    • Hi Leslie! Yes, that really does stink. Sorry that happened to you! Even if you don’t go through with it sometimes just the threat of small claims court for a landlord will inspire them to pay. Because it’s likely they’ll spend more money defending themselves then being reasonable and cutting you a check… I hope you have better landlords in the future!

  14. Norma Albertha says:

    Good information Taylor! After two years of calling, and writing and getting excuses that my deposit check was returned to them, or the check was misplaced, I finally went in person and collected my deposit. it is too late now but I should have demanded reimbursement for gas. It was a 3 hour drive. Well, we live and learn.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks and good for you for sticking to your guns! I think landlords get away with a lot because renter’s are unsure of their rights. But you’ll know for next time and that’s what matters. Google your state + landlord tenant code and you can find the regulations that landlords must abide to in your state as far as returning a deposit.

  15. That’s a smart thing to do. Humans make mistakes it’s good to have that back up receipt just in case your check gets misapplied or lost.

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