13 Things Your Landlord Won’t Tell You—That Could Cost You Money
Your landlord will tell you when the rent is due, whether you can have pets or not. But don't assume he or she will tell you everything you NEED to know before you sign the lease. Avoid trouble with these tips.
The building is being sold
Did the landlord fail to mention this? Because the new owners may clear everyone out and you could be looking for a new place to live much sooner than you planned. Not to mention you may have to open your place for showings. “When you move to a new home, it can cost you big time—everything from having to purchase new curtain rods, window treatments, locks and keys, and more,” says realtor Chantay Bridges.
Rent may be negotiable
“You may have the same number of rooms and square footage as your neighbor but there is a strong chance you are not paying the same amount,” says Bridges. While landlords may even raise the rent from time to time, this does not always have to be the case. Tenants who negotiate with the landlord can keep their rent the same or limit how much it rises. “I learned this first-hand years ago. One neighbor disclosed that the landlord did not raise their rent at all,” says Bridges.
You may not get full disclosure on utility costs
You may love floor-to-ceiling windows, but you may end up paying a premium on your cooling and heating bills. Don’t expect the landlord to mention this. “One of my clients moved into an East facing new development one-bedroom apartment only to find out that just her A/C bill was $200 per month in the summer. Unless utilities are included in the rent, it doesn’t hurt to ask the landlord for the latest copy of the utility bill to avoid any surprises. If such information is not available, try reaching out to the utility company directly,” says Maria Tabakova, an agent with Triplemint.
Guilty until proven innocent
When you move out of a property, the landlord will try to charge you for any damage that is beyond normal wear and tear. Depending on how your state’s tenant laws are worded, these repairs will be quoted, or fixed, and the landlord will deduct them from your security deposit. “Most of the time you will have no proof whether or not the landlord is lying about you causing the damage, even if you know the truth. They could have taken photos of the property three years before you moved in when there was no damage, and now they are charging you for it,” says Shawn Breyer, owner Breyer Home Buyers.
Your way to mitigate your risks legally, says Breyer, is to take in-depth photos of the property prior to moving in any of your belongings. Take photos of everything good and bad. After you have the photos, email them to the landlord. This will provide you with a time stamp on your photos, which you can pull up the following year upon moving out. Not sure what to shoot? Here are the 5 things you should photograph when you first move in.
Surprise, no rent control
“Landlords will often hide the fact that a unit doesn’t have rent control. Even in jurisdictions with rent control, like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, not all units are covered,” explains Joseph Tobener, a partner with Tobener Ravenscroft. When a unit is not under rent control, a landlord can jack the rent to whatever they want after the expiration of a fixed-term lease.
What attorney-fee provision, wink, wink?
Not so long ago, all leases had attorney-fee provisions: These allowed the prevailing party in any lease dispute to recover attorney fees. “Landlords have been secretly removing these clauses,” says Tobener.
Fee provisions are important for tenants, especially when landlords illegally try to evict them or fail to do necessary repairs. For example, a tenant with no heat, sewage overflows, and rats has a lot more leverage against a landlord when there is an attorney-fee provision in a lease; this gives the tenant access to an attorney and the courts to force the landlord to correct the situation. Here’s the truth on how much you should really be spending on rent.
Your behavior counts
“Landlords raise rents a lot less for their best tenants. Most landlords dread tenant turnovers so we don’t want to risk losing a great tenant over a few dollars each month. However, we have no problem raising rents 5 percent or more on tenants who have a lot of minor maintenance or other issues,” says Domenick Tiziano, founder of AccidentalRental.
“If you call me for every light bulb that’s out, then I’m inclined to charge more to cover the extra maintenance costs. This doesn’t mean we don’t want to know about maintenance issues. Good landlords absolutely do. We just want tenants to handle minor things themselves,” he explains. “Or if you consistently pay late, I might raise rent an extra $50 per month and offer a $50 discount if you pay on the first of the month. If you are a great tenant and you object to a rent increase, there is a good chance your landlord will lower or eliminate the increase to keep you happy,” says Tiziano. Here are the things you can do to keep a smile on your landlord’s face.
You may be due interest on your security deposit
Landlords in some states and cities are required to pay interest on your security deposit. Those states include Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and Washington State. Landlords in other cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, are also required to pay interest on security deposits for rent-controlled units.
“Do your research before moving out, and if you are owed interest on your security deposit, request it in writing from your landlord along with your returned deposit,” says Jill Caponera, a consumer savings expert with Promocodes.com.
Security deposits must be paid back in a timely manner
In most states, that window is 30 days. In many jurisdictions, landlords are required to give written explanations and itemized lists of any deductions from your deposit, and if this is not provided, you have grounds to sue, says Caponera. Landlords in some states are also required to provide receipts as proof of deductions over a specific threshold.
Some tenants may be entitled to relocation assistance
This is another one that requires tenants to research the laws in their specific city and state. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example, rent-controlled tenants who are being evicted so that the landlord can either sell or renovate the property are entitled to significant relocation fees.
“Some landlords have been known to try to illegally evict rent-controlled tenants with false 90-day eviction notices and little to no relocation assistance. Never let a landlord strong arm you into agreeing to their terms before you know all of your tenant rights,” says Caponera.
Fees, fees, and more fees
You expect that you might be charged a fee if you’re late paying your rent. But there are all kinds of other fees that you might get dinged with. For example, says Amanda Stewart, founding partner and vice president at EPOCH Student Living: “There can be fees for making payments via a credit card, or there may be rules and regulations that have fines attached—like for trash or too much noise.”
You’re on your own
You have more responsibility than you may realize. “If you don’t clear walkways of snow or ice following a storm and someone slips and injures themselves, you may be liable—not your landlord. In case of a flood, sewage back up, or another mishap in which your furniture, clothes or other property is damaged or destroyed, you are liable for replacing lost items, not your landlord. Need a place to stay while repairs are completed? That’s what renter’s insurance is for,” says Lukas Kraus, president of Real Property Management.
There’s a deadline for lease renewals
One of the most important things landlords fail to mention is mandatory renewal clauses that kick in at a higher rate if you fail to act at the end of your lease. “For example, many leases include provisions whereby the lease automatically renews at a much higher month-to-month rent if the tenant does not provide notice of their intent to move out. Sometimes these deadlines are several months before the lease ends, so they can surprise an unwary tenant. The best way for tenants to prevent this is to review their leases carefully and put a reminder in a calendar to provide notice of move-out or non-renewal,” says J.R. Skrabanek, senior counsel with the Snell Law Firm. Next, find out the 22 secrets your real estate agent isn’t telling you.