When the apartment hunt begins, some questions about potential living spaces can often be easily overlooked or forgotten about. The Houstonian sat down with Student Legal Services Director Gene Roberts to find out what to ask management while touring an apartment.
H: What should students look for when they begin researching apartments?
GR: There are a number of online resources that are available to students to check out the property before they go to tour it. I do think a physical tour of the property is very important because that way a student gets a feel of what the property is like.
I always encourage people to tour during the day, and to drive around at night, that way you’re able to hear noises [and] see what the parking situation is like. Do the security gates close, are they open, what’s working at the evening time when the management may not be at the showcase apartment. It’s good to see [the complex] during the day and at night.
I also encourage students to look at all of the online resources that are available. You can go to the Walker County appraisal district website to see who’s the owner, is it an in-state owner, local owner or someone from out of state? That may affect things like if you have a dispute with the landlord. Are you dealing with someone who is right there on the property, or are you dealing with someone who’s far away?
You can also go online and look at what crimes are in a particular apartment complex or in the surrounding areas to see if it’s a safe apartment. No apartment complex is going to be free of crime, but you can see what types of crimes are going on.
I also encourage students to use other online resources where people can comment, places like Yelp. There are some that are dedicated solely to apartments and housing where students can see what others are commenting about and I would encourage students to leave comments, both positive and negative. If management is doing a great job and they’re responsive to repair requests or something happens and management is doing great, let other people know about that. We want to help managers who are doing great jobs so people know they’re doing great jobs. And if something’s gone wrong, post that as well, just make sure it’s truthful.
H: During the physical tour, what are some important questions to ask management?
GR: Some that I would think about is ‘what’s your renewal rate’ because a high renewal rate is suggestive that the people who are living in the apartments, like it, they want to stay there for another year or another six months.
Ask them what their plans are for upgrades, some of the apartments may be older and it may be time to phase in some upgrades, ask about that, or ask when the last time the unit was upgraded.
Ask about renewal terms. Maybe you can get a better deal if you sign a two year contract versus a one year contract. Ask what are the typical rate increases. Ask any sort of question that’s going to impact your bottom line financially as well as your safety, security and peace of mind and hopefully the leasing agent will answer those questions for you and if they don’t, that might tell you something about the philosophy of the apartment complex.”
H: What should you look for physically?
GR: We encourage to look at everything in detail. Look for the same things that the landlord would look for when you’re moving out. Is it dirty, is there dirt on top of ceiling fans, are the drip pans in the oven range clean, is there mold or mildew, are there unusual smells, does it look like a pet has been there, are the carpets stained? There are a lot of things you’ve got to keep a real detailed focused eye on to see, [if] there [is] some issue with the apartment.
Look around the building, are there cracks in the slab or in the bricks? That might be suggestive of foundation problems. Look up, are there discolored ceiling tiles, does it look like there could have been a leak from the roof, are the windows thin or are they new and modern? That will help with energy efficiency.
It’s almost like doing a home inspection. You really need to pay attention to those things because they’re going to be suggestive of either future problems or how a landlord has dealt with past problems.
H: What are some “buzz-words” that apartments use that can be misleading?
GR: I actually don’t know that I’ve heard too many of those. They will have incentives for students, like if you sign now we will give you a gift card for ‘x’ number of dollars. To me, there is nothing misleading about that as long as you get the gift card. If something like that is presented to a student, I would encourage the student to have a very clear understanding, and hopefully in writing, of when that gift card is going to be delivered.
H: What should a student do if they feel like the apartment complex isn’t being completely upfront with them?
GR: I think the best thing for a student to do if they don’t feel comfortable in a situation after talking to the leasing agent or an assistant manager is try and get that confirmed in writing. The Texas Property Code requires that communication between a landlord and a tenant be in writing and so if the tenant doesn’t feel comfortable, they should send a letter.
When you’re communicating with a landlord, be nice. Landlords are human beings, they are under very stressful job conditions most of the time and if you’re nice to them, they will likely be nice in response back. Just be nice and try to clarify things. It also helps if you’re a good tenant, if you’re paying rent and you’re not being loud and the landlord doesn’t have any concerns about you.