5 Things Landlords Will Never Tell You, According to Very Candid Experts

published Oct 25, 2020
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

In ideal living circumstances, your landlord is probably largely invisible: You pay the rent and enjoy your home, and occasionally you may need to contact them over a leaky pipe or clanking radiator. But we’ve all heard horror stories (or lived through them ourselves): rents that have doubled, tenants evicted with little notice, maintenance problems left to fester.

With so much that can go wrong, tenants may view even the best-intentioned landlord as someone they’re in an adversarial relationship with. Landlords can often return that feeling. I remember one landlord who seemingly made my roommates and me pay for the sins of previous college-age tenants by questioning the legitimacy of every maintenance request. (I admit the drywall incident looked bad—but that crack happened on its own!) 

At the end of the day, even the strongest landlord/tenant relationship is still a business relationship. There’s a lot they won’t tell you. And, in the case of bad landlords, sometimes they may hope your ignorance on certain topics will allow them to take advantage of you. To learn more about the secrets landlords won’t share, Apartment Therapy spoke with industry insiders.

You might be able to avoid those credit check fees

You’re already offering to pay rent and put down a deposit—why are there all of those additional feeds on top? While some fees are requested simply to make a few bucks (a pet application fee, seriously?), landlords often will want to run a credit check, which does cost money. Still, you may be able to avoid that particular fee. 

“Now, many states and cities allow you to pull your own credit score from a reputable source and provide it,” explains RentCity CEO Brandon Procak. And you may be able to find a place that will let you pull your own score for free. 

You should get things fixed before you sign

Knowing that the landlord is responsible for upkeep, it can be easy to see minor issues, like a crooked cabinet, as things you can deal with later. After all, moving and searching for a new place is already stressful enough. But Rostislav Shetman, founder of 9Kilo Moving, says you may be giving up a bargaining chip. 

“You may realize that your landlord’s motivation to get the repairs done may drastically drop when the lease is signed,” Shetman says. If it’s not feasible to have everything fixed before moving, he recommends getting in writing what things will need to be fixed, even if it’s not a deal breaker. 

You can ask for upgrades

That said, don’t assume your landlord is going to disappear as soon as the lease is signed. And don’t assume that you can only ask your landlord for maintenance, either. Depending on the landlord, you may be able to suggest upgrades or get permission to do things like paint walls or make small improvements. 

While some think small-time landlords are typically more involved or invested, broker Gerard Splendore of Warburg Realty has actually found that landlords with multiple properties are often open to new upgrades, like a new fridge or stove. In fact, the landlord may even be grateful for the request—if they’re managing multiple properties, they may be happy to put in a new fridge now rather than realize the long list of things that need serious attention when you move out. You may even find a landlord will let you weigh in on paint colors if they need to redo the walls between tenants. 

Of course, this is a case-by-case basis, and some landlords, no matter how big or small their property portfolio is, will say no. But Splendore’s point still stands: No landlord is going to volunteer that it’s fine to put up a new backsplash if you’re feeling DIY-inspired, and it can’t hurt to ask. Just make sure you’re asking in a way that’s likely to get you an answer you want, not simply demanding it. 

They often want you to stay

This came up time and time again: Most landlords want good tenants to stay.

“Finding good tenants isn’t easy, so when you have a tenant who is prompt with payment and overall easy to work with, it makes the landlord’s life much easier and much more likely to keep the rental price lower for a longer period of time,” says Bill Samuel of Blue Ladder Development. That may mean that you also have room to negotiate a lower rent increase. At the very least, if you pay your rent on time and take care of your property, you can rest well knowing you’re basically a superstar tenant. 

Janis Benstock, a broker with SettleDownPhiladelphia.com, puts it this way: “Although there are many advantages to renting, landlords need you more than you need them.” 

But they might not inform you of your rights

Of course, there are unscrupulous landlords who don’t want you to stay, even if you’re a model tenant. Jesse Harris, a property manager at Medallion Capital Group, recommends learning your local rights and protections on your own to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of. That can include knowing how long you have after a landlord gives you notice to move out, limits on rent increases, and if and when you can get a deposit back. 

“Every jurisdiction has its own rules,” Harris says, “and as a tenant, it’s crucial to inform yourself of your rights in order to avoid being taken advantage of.”