Sales Market

How to impress a small landlord (or lose that apartment on the spot)

By Marjorie Cohen  |
May 29, 2012 - 9:58AM

Want to know what turns landlords off and push the reject button on renters? Well, so do we, so we decided to ask one.

A friend referred us to Brooklyn landlord Chris Athineos.

His family has owned small rental buildings in Bay Ridge, Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights for almost 50 years and family members make all the rental decisions themselves--because, says Athineous, "it's too important a decision to leave to a broker." 

He believes it’s important to meet potential renters personally, in part so that they see that the owner is actually someone who cares about his property.

Here, in his words, are what he considers  “red flags” when considering a prospective tenant: 

1. An incomplete/disorganized application: I am looking for an organized package with absolutely no pieces missing. The “I don't have to give you my social security number” line is a deal-breaker. If the prior landlord reference is missing, that’s a very bad sign.

2. “It's just a student loan”: Sometimes, when we run the credit report  it comes up that everything looks okay except student loan payments and the applicant says, “But it's only a student loan. Everything else is okay.” Wrong answer. A student loan is as important as any other debt in a credit rating and as a predictor of who is going to be a reliable tenant. 

3. First impressions:  If a prospective renter comes to meet me and looks sloppy, it doesn’t bode well. Dress as you would for a job interview, first impressions count. 

4. Weird disinterest: When someone never even walks into the apartment and just says “I'll take it” when I open the door, that's a turn-off. Too peculiar.

5. Too many questions: Of course a prospective tenant will have lots of questions and that's fine, but there's a thin line between appropriate and inappropriate. When they seem to be obsessed with the noise issue and want a rundown on all of their prospective neighbors, I worry that I'll have a chronic complainer on my hands.

I can't guarantee complete quiet in any multi-family building. I had a tenant who went crazy over an older woman above him who used to use a desk chair with wheels to get around her apartment. I don't want that kind of thing to happen again.

6. Unrealistic expectations: One prospective tenant seemed very worried about some gaps in the baseboard where the wall meets the floor. She asked if we could close all the gaps. The broker said “Sure.” Not so fast, I thought. 

Our buildings are old, caulking the baseboards will look pretty awful and you can't promise that there will be no gaps at all and that no urban pest is going to get into an apartment. 

7. Hostile attitude: There are ways of asking questions that are reasonable, and there are ways that are not. I'm often asked about bed bugs.

I understand that people are anxious about the subject. But if I say that there has been no history of bed bugs in a building and the applicant snaps back “You know I can check on it” I get a bad vibe.

8. Doesn't agree to the clauses and riders in our lease: I make it a point to go over every line of the lease with a prospective tenant. I have had tenants who have painted hardwood floors white and their bedroom black, and one who took down an entire wall that held the wiring for the rest of the building. 

I have to be absolutely sure that the tenant understands the limitations of a rental lease before I will go ahead with the signing. 


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Avoiding the landlord blacklist

12 insider tips for renting in NYC

The ups and downs of renting from a mom-and-pop landlord

8 things your future landlord will never tell you


Marjorie Cohen

Contributing writer

Marjorie Cohen is a New York City-based freelance journalist, editor and author of over seven non-fiction books. Her real estate reporting has appeared in amNewYork, Investopedia, and The West Side Rag. Since moving to New York five decades ago for graduate school at the Teachers College of Columbia University, Marjorie has lived on the Upper West Side, with a brief detour to West 15th Street when she got six months free rent in a new building.

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