Realty Bites

A landlord asked to see my current apartment before renting to me. Is that normal?

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We often receive emails from readers asking for help in navigating their own real estate crises. In Realty Bites, we try to get them answers.

THE PROBLEM:

We've heard a lot of out-there landlord demands, but this one's a puzzler: a Brooklynite on the hunt for a new rental ran into a building owner who wanted to see her current digs before offering up a lease.

"She asked a lot of super specific questions about my apartment's location, and eventually, if she could set up a time to come by my place to 'see how I live,'" say the renter. "I understand that she's a small landlord who wants to know who will be living with her in the building, but is this standard, or legal?"

THE SOLUTION: 

Legal? Yes. Standard? No way.

"The first reaction I had was ‘this landlord is a creep,'" says Sam Himmelstein, a tenants' rights lawyer with Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue, & Joseph, who notes that advocates do sometimes perform home visits for potential public housing candidates. "But it's perfectly legal. You’re free to say no, and they’re free to say they’re not renting the apartment to you."

Your would-be landlord will only land on the wrong side of the law if she's applying the home visit policy in a discriminatory way against certain groups of renters. But even this would be hard to prove, and you'd be better off focusing on whether or not this is a person you want controlling your living situation, say our experts. 

Besides being invasive, the landlord's request is also just plain inefficient, says a small landlord who has written for BrickUnderground under the pseudonym Craig Roche."I'd imagine that any tenant with an iota of intelligence would clean the place up before an 'inspection,'" he says, and that any red flags about disruptive or irresponsible behavior would come across in interviews with the renter's previous landlords. "So the inspection would do nothing except delay the process and waste time," he adds.

That said, if you're looking to rent from a small landlord rather than a faceless management company, you can expect they'll want a certain level of personal detail before giving you free run of an apartment. "I've never heard of a landlord taking the time to visit someone's apartment, but some do insist on meeting prospective tenants face-to-face, especially in smaller buildings," says broker Gus Waite, managing director of Daniel Baum & Co's Manhattan office. 

If you do face an in-person meeting, remember that this is a time for you to suss out the landlord, too, not just the other way around. "I've seen things blow up at the lease signing with the landlord screaming at the prospective tenant to get the hell out—maybe they asked too many questions or copped an attitude," says Waite. "Kind of a 'Soup Nazi' situation." Much like dating—or the search for roommates—pay attention to potential red flags. After all, most people don't get less crazy the longer you know them, landlords included. So if they start in with outrageous demands early on? "No tenant for you!"

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