A lease with a penPhoto: T. Dallas (Shutterstock)

When you’re a renter it can seem like there are endless hoops to jump through to get your foot in the door of an apartment that you actually want to live in. You will need to provide your potential landlord with plenty of personal information about your income and employment history. Sometimes they ask for references. In most cases, they do a background check on everyone whose name is on the rental agreement.

While landlords fear problematic tenants, many tenants have also suffered from problematic landlords whose rental practices are not all overboard. For example, negligent landlords may not keep their properties up to date, which puts tenants’ safety at risk. You could have been sued for violating tenants’ rights. Or they may lack proper licensing.

You may not be able to do a formal background check on your landlord, but you can check them (or their property management company) in other ways. The exact resources available to you will depend on where you live – rental regulations are usually city or county specific – but there are a few steps anyone can take to start verifying their landlord (hopefully before hiring a new one Lease signed).

Gather the basics

In order to check your landlord or property manager, you need to know who they are. Ask for their name and company name if they have an LLC. You may also want to know the addresses of other properties they own. This allows you to gather information from public records and look for reviews from previous tenants.

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Look for a business license

In many places landlords must have a business license in order to be able to rent real estate legally. If this is the case in your area, license databases can generally be found on state or local government websites where you can search for your landlord’s name, business title, or real estate address.

Find real estate and tax records

Find your local database of property records (a Google search like CITY + PROPERTY RECORDS should get you there) and search for your rental using the address or name of your landlord or LLC. This should return information about who owns the property and whether there are liens, fines or legal action against it, e.g. B. an ongoing foreclosure.

You should also be able to find tax records that show information such as property values, purchase prices, and ownership history, and unpaid tax credits. This can be a separate database or search depending on where you live.

Finally, look for public inspection documents or building permits for the rental property. They will inform you if your landlord has violated city ordinances or building regulations.

Look up court records

If your landlord or property management company has been sued (or sued a renter) by a renter, you may be able to find the records in your state or local court database. Evictions or disputes about security deposits can arise here.

Read reviews

If nothing noteworthy appears in public records, you may find helpful information from previous tenants. Google the name of your landlord, property management company, or apartment building. Sites like RateMyLandlord, Whose your landlord, and OpenIgloo (NYC) Compilation of ratings and reviews from tenants. Even neighborhood-specific websites like NextDoor may offer insights.

Talk to current tenants

When checking out the property, try to meet current tenants to ask about their experiences with your potential landlord. Do you keep the property clean and safe? Do you respond to maintenance requests? Do you come by unannounced? How often do they raise the rent? Nobody knows – and is more likely to share complaints – than current tenants.

Find out about tenants’ rights

Tenants can be exploited simply because they do not know their rights. Some cities are more renter-friendly than others, so understanding the recourse to a crappy landlord in your city and state is helpful. You can google this or look at websites with legal information such as Nolo. You can also find information on your state or city website.