Bad Landlord: How to Tell Before Signing a Lease

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landlord and tenant standing at doorway with keys and lease agreement contract

Finding a place to rent can be a hassle. A house or apartment that seems too good to be true, is probably just that. No matter how dreamy your potential new home may be, you really should do your homework—not only on the property itself, but also on the person who will be renting it out to you—before you sign a lease.

Landlords do their homework on every potential tenant (or at least they should). Most landlords will scour over your credit report, complete a criminal check, eviction history, and even interview friends and employers before they let you move in. Meanwhile, most tenants don’t even know their landlords’ first or last names.

Since your landlord is the person in charge of your home—repairs, upkeep, utility services, and more—you’re going to want to make sure that he isn’t a bad landlord.

To save yourself future struggle, here are a few things to look for before signing a lease.

Doesn’t Offer You Contact Information

Your landlord is typically the person you will need to call if there are any problems with the property (although many larger companies will have superintendents), so if your landlord is hesitant, or even refuses, to give you his phone number, that is not a good sign. If something ever goes wrong with your plumbing or you need your locks changed, you’ll need to get a hold of someone, and likely right away.

Even an email address or P.O. box doesn’t count as good contact information because emails and letters are easily ignored, forgotten, or lost, whereas speaking over the phone will get you much quicker service. If you don’t have a phone number to call, you should walk away before you get yourself into trouble.

Dismissive of Big Issues

When you go for your first viewing, it’s a really good idea to take notice of any issues with the property and to bring them up right away. When you point out the issue, the landlord should take it seriously, provide you with a good explanation for it, and let you know when it will be resolved.

If he instead acts dismissive of the problem, you might want to reconsider living there. As a tenant, you should know about any plumbing problems, pest issues, or anything else that may be wrong with the place. So, if the landlord doesn’t give you any details, or seems like he doesn’t care all that much, you should take that as a serious red flag.

Place Looks Rundown


When I moved into my first apartment, the unit they showed me was rundown and dirty, so I was then showed another unit that was done up nicely and assured that the place that was available would soon be done up, too.

Of course, when I moved in a month later, the place had been cleaned up, painted, and slightly renovated, but not at all to the degree I was told and expected. It took them almost a year before they finished the floors, and a lot of other things never got fixed even by the time we moved out three years later.

Recognizing a place isn’t well-maintained is a good sign of a bad landlord. But more than that, you should be weary of false promises. Don’t always believe their promises to have it done by the time you move in, as some landlords just don’t want to spend the money or take the time to do things right.

Take a look at the building as a whole (as much as you can see), and then compare it with the state of the unit and decide if you think this investment will prove to be a positive experience.

There’s No Lease

You should never move into a place without signing a lease. Without a lease, you have no rights as a tenant and can’t even legally claim the place as your residence. That means your landlord can kick you out at any point without explanation or reason, or he can even keep your deposit, because you don’t have any rights or paperwork to fight it.

 Only Accepts Cash

security deposit cash

A lot of landlords accept cash for your rent payment, which is typically fine, but if the landlord only accepts cash, that might be a sign of trouble—and possibly illegal activity. Your landlord should be willing to accept checks, money orders, or other forms of payment.

Current Tenants Have Bad Things to Say

No matter where you move, you should always observe the neighbors or even introduce yourself. The people who are currently living in the same building as you will have some pretty good insight as to what to expect of the place and the landlord. If they don’t have anything good to say, whether about the upkeep or something else, you might want to take what they have to say seriously.

Online Reviews Tell a Scary Story

There are a lot of websites that allow tenants to leave reviews online now, which makes looking for a place to rent even easier. Just like many people won’t purchase something that has a ton of bad reviews, you might want to reconsider renting a place that has a ton of bad reviews.

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