Inspecting a Rental Property Before Signing a Lease
Before you sign a lease for your new rental unit, you should make sure to carefully inspect the unit for any issues. This can help avert or minimize disputes with your landlord in the future about the condition of the property, as well as providing you with a safer, more pleasant place to live. You should put together a checklist that helps you identify any issues with dirt, mold, vermin, or other types of damage. (When you move out, you should do something similar to protect your right to get your security deposit returned.) Some states require the use of a “Landlord - Tenant Checklist” by law, but it is prudent even if it is not technically required.
Ideally, the landlord and you will fill out the checklist together, but otherwise you can complete it on your own and perhaps ask a friend to join you. The friend can later serve as a witness to verify your observations if a dispute arises. Try to note any problems in as much detail as possible, while marking “OK” next to areas of the apartment that are in an acceptable condition. You should review not only the basic structural features but also areas of the apartment such as heating, light and ventilation, electricity, plumbing, trash and garbage disposal, and security and safety issues, such as locks, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers. If you are renting a furnished unit, you should inspect the furniture carefully as well.
Photographing During the Inspection
An important way to document the condition of the unit before moving in is to take photos or videos of any issues. This will provide clear evidence of pre-existing problems with the unit and allow you to compare its condition when you move in with its condition when you move out. You should take two sets of photos and provide your landlord with one set, which should be signed and dated. This will make it hard for the landlord to challenge your description of any problems with the apartment if you eventually need to sue them.
Fixing Problems Before Moving In
Any major issues that you identify should be fixed before you move into the unit. If your landlord drags their feet on addressing serious problems, such as building code violations, you should think twice before renting the unit at all. The landlord may offer to make certain repairs after you move into the unit, which can be problematic. You should make sure to put this type of agreement in writing, possibly as part of your lease or rental agreement. The written agreement should specify exactly what the landlord needs to do, the time in which they need to do it, and what will happen if they fail to do it.
Relatively minor, non-essential repairs or improvements that you request are more discretionary and may depend on your ability to persuade the landlord. However, you should make sure that you document any specific agreements that you reach. You may want to keep them in a folder with other key documents related to the unit, such as your rental application, lease or rental agreement, security deposit information, checklist and photos, rent increase notices, and other communications with the landlord. Some of these communications may be in the form of emails or text messages. These are just as valid as written documents if you can show that the landlord received them. Proving that a landlord received an email or a text message can be more challenging than it seems, so you may want to print out and mail an important email or text message (with return receipt requested) just to be on the safe side.