And you thought all of the paperwork and legal mumbo jumbo was behind you because you just signed the lease and received your keys… Well, not quite yet. You now have a limited amount of time to assess the rental property’s condition before you except the unit “as-is.” Kind of like inspecting a rental car before you drive it off the lot. The last thing you need is to be held responsible for damage or other problems that occurred prior to you moving in – and you’ll most certainly want to make sure the unit is habitable before bothering to unload your U-Haul.
So, before you dump a single belonging into the middle of a room, follow the steps in this article to ensure your rights are protected. After all, you probably gave the landlord thousands of dollars upon signing the lease, so you deserve a unit that has been prepped and readied for your comfort.
1. Capturing the Moment
You don’t need to make Spielberg or Lucas proud, but you do need to document the condition of the property on some form of film medium (e.g., video tape, digital camera or iphone). Any item that appears to be excessively worn, damaged or inoperative should be filmed for your own protection – prior to unloading and unpacking your belongings. This includes major appliances, wall and ceiling fixtures, heating and cooling units, hot water tanks, toilets, sinks, showers, flooring and yes, even the kitchen sink.
Remember, you are not just looking for appliances that don’t work or toilets that are clogged; you also want to be concerned about items such as carpet, wall and ceiling stains, which may indicate a water leak or prior damage. You also want to visually document any evidence of pest infestations or mold and mildew, which may pose health risks. The idea is to protect your security deposit and your well-being.
2. Assessing Condition
In addition to filming the unit for visual flaws all on your own, the landlord should provide you with a checklist to make notations about the property’s condition. If not, a sample checklist has been purposely provided in this section for your use, because you need to take the rental for a test drive.
That’s right – go ahead and flush all of the toilets, turn on the faucets, flick the switches, play with the appliances, kick on the thermostats and whatever else you can get your hands on – because the visual recording of the previous section should be kept for your own use should there ever be a dispute. But the checklist, on the other hand, should be photocopied and given to your landlord to put them on notice of the condition of the property as it was observed the day you moved in.
3. Addressing Issues
After you’ve thoroughly inspected the unit, the next step before you’re good to go is to address any issues regarding problems with the unit. It’s important before you proceed in taking anything up with the landlord to realistically determine whether or not it’s a problem worth mentioning. The reason for this is that you want to choose your battles wisely, because the last thing you want to do is present yourself as a problem tenant. Any issue brought to your landlord’s attention should be ones about legitimate safety concerns or ones that could affect your security deposit.
Just remember – you may need to ask your landlord for a favor one day, so you don’t want to wear out your welcome. This doesn’t mean you should ever be afraid to speak up and stand up for your rights; just ask yourself if this particular issue is really worth it. Otherwise, if it’s a problem that can be easily resolved on your own without digging into your pockets or expelling too much energy, you may want to go ahead and just take care of it.
One story relevant to this point is shared from AmerUSA – where the tenants (husband and wife in their early 40’s) once called a landlord (who lived three hours away from the rental) to request that he send out a pest control service to remove a single golf ball size wasp nest that appeared under the outside porch. Now, it’s a given that no one wants to get stung by a wasp, but that’s why they sell over-the-counter spray available in every grocery store for a few dollars. Unless it’s a major infestation, ordinary occurrences such as these should not involve your landlord.
For those problems that do need the landlord’s attention, it is suggested that you make a personal appearance or phone call and approach the matter in a casual, but sincere, manner with your checklist in hand. Your first approach should always be friendly and conversational. There is no need to make any serious demands until you see that the landlord fails to respond to your concerns in a satisfactory manner.
If you encounter some resistance (although, it’s rare at such an early stage), don’t get into a heated argument – simply dismiss yourself and tell the landlord you will give it some more thought. Then go back home and prepare a letter that itemizes your concerns and be sure to state why you believe the landlord would be responsible to take care of them. In closing, you should indicate that you do not believe your concerns are unreasonable and wish for a quick resolution. An example of such a letter appears below; you’ll notice the tone is one of concern, but is still a little relaxed.
If you continue to receive resistance, then a second (final) letter needs to be formatted and written in a more serious legal tone – because you will be offering the landlord an ultimatum. Needless to say, at this point, the relationship with your landlord will definitely go sour and may require a small claims court to intervene if tenancy is terminated and either party owes the other money.
This is certainly not the way you want to begin, but the second (final) letter needs to instruct the landlord that if the problems with the rental are not resolved by a particular date, you will have no choice but to terminate your tenancy and request your security deposit and any unused portion of your rent to be returned. If the unit was completely uninhabitable (very rare, as this would violate most local and state laws), you may be entitled to receive all of your money back.