Here are 15 shady landlord schemes with a dose of prevention for each.
Scheme: Making shoddy repairs in order to dodge the costs of fixing things right is the oldest scheme in the book. Worse, some landlords try to charge for fixing that leaky sink or recalcitrant space heater. It’s a crock: Under most state laws, renters are entitled to reside in a safe, habitable dwelling on the landlord’s dime.
Prevention: For starters, look the whole property over before signing a lease — it can be very apparent what kind of care an owner affords his tenants. Also, put all repair requests in writing, and refuse to pay next month’s rent until the problem is fixed.
Scheme: In expensive cities like New York and San Francisco, taking on a roommate is a quick and crowded way to slash living expenses. Landlords know this and may try to charge you for the extra body.
Prevention: Know the law. Federal housing statutes prohibit landlords from raising rents on tenants who take on roommates or visitors — to a point. The typical rule: two individuals per bedroom, plus one. So, up to three people (including children) can reside in your one-bedroom apartment before the landlord can jack the rent or issue an eviction notice.
Scheme: Some landlords are excessively obsessive about their properties. They want to know what’s happening at all times within the walls they own. Hence the hundreds of tenant horror stories chronicling landlords who drop in unannounced.
Prevention: Unless it’s a true emergency (fire, flood, earthquake), a landlord is not entitled to enter rented apartments unannounced. The laws differ by state — in California, for instance, landlords must request and enter during normal business hours — but tenants are almost universally protected from curious and prying landlords. Once the lease is signed, the property becomes the sole province of the tenant unless permission is explicitly asked.
Dented security deposits
Scheme: Your apartment may not have taken a beating, but your security deposit might. Call them “creative deductions” — $100 for chipped paint, $200 for ripped carpeting and so on. The big problem: By the time you get your dented deposit back, you’ve already moved out, so what can you prove?
Prevention: Before you move in, do a walk-through with your landlord, checking off any imperfections and taking pictures. Put the findings in writing and make your landlord sign the document. A week before you move out, do the same thing again. If you end up in small-claims court, you’ll be well-armed.
Dodgy lease-to-own options
Scheme: These often opaque agreements allow renters to pay a down payment and monthly premiums in exchange for the right to buy a home outright at a specific price at a set time in the future. Pay late or choose not to purchase, though, and the option goes up in smoke, along with those monthly payments; same thing if housing values plummet.
Prevention: For a little extra dough, structure the option to let you pay fair market value for the home when the time comes. Vet all intermediaries by checking with your state’s Department of Consumer Affairs or the Office of the Attorney General.
Scheme: When rents aren’t set by the laws of supply and demand, as is the case with rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments, black markets spring up. To skirt the rent cap, slimy landlords will accept extra fees — called “key money” — from prospective tenants looking for an edge over competing tenants.
Prevention: Beware excessive broker fees. (A typical fee equals a month’s rent or roughly 15 percent of the annual rent.) Some of that charge may well end up in the landlord’s pockets. If you do smell trouble, you could file a complaint with the local housing authority. Then again, that time might be better spent looking for another apartment.
Threat of eviction
Scheme: Landlords can find plenty of excuses to evict you, from lease technicalities to the occasional late payment.
Prevention: This one has a nasty ring to it, but in many cases, no teeth. If your landlord does file an eviction notice, hire a lawyer immediately. And don’t worry about being suddenly stuck out in the cold: You can’t get evicted until a court has heard your case.
Check-out the entire article on MSNBC.com