Roommates + Landlords

How to research a landlord before you sign a lease

By Emily Myers | September 30, 2021 - 9:30AM 

Get details about a prospective landlord from your broker and online research—and if you're bold enough—other renters and neighbors.

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It can be tough to know what kind of landlord you're getting before you sign a lease. After all, you don't usually find out how quickly an owner will fix things until you actually need repair work done in your apartment. So how can you research a landlord ahead of time?

There will be some tell-tale signs when you visit the building to tour the apartment—clean, well-maintained common areas will give you a clue. And there are other ways to determine the quality of a landlord such as looking for information online, speaking to departing tenants, asking for intel from neighbors, as well as some online research. Here's your guide to finding a responsible landlord.

Assess the building's common areas

The condition of the building "speaks volumes," says Vicki Negron, a broker at Corcoran. If the building and premises are in immaculate condition, that’s a good sign the landlord cares about the building's upkeep. Negron says she has turned down listings in buildings "that just look terrible."

Trust your instincts. A broken step in the stairwell might not be a major concern for you but what if the front door fails to lock and repairs are slow to happen, leaving you concerned about security?

Make an assessment of the laundry area, storage bins, and the basement. Well-maintained amenity spaces give you a clue about how the place is managed. If you have an appointment with a broker to view an apartment at noon, Steven Kirkpatrick, a partner at Romer Debbas, recommends visiting the building the evening before to check the place out.

"Walk around—is the garbage overflowing? The garbage may be cleaned up by the time of your appointment but if the place is a mess, why should you think it will be clean when you move in?" he asks.

Pro Tip:

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Get feedback from your broker

If a landlord-tenant relationship goes south it's not just the landlord who bears the brunt of a tenant's anger, but the broker too. Negron says it is in a broker's interest to create the right "pairing" between a landlord and a renter. She encourages renters to ask their broker for details about the landlord. 

"We do business with people of integrity and we have integrity so we want to match people in situations where they are going to live in quiet enjoyment," she says.

Some renters prefer buildings where the landlord is in residence, Negron says. There are always exceptions to the rule but in her experience, if the landlord lives in the same building, "tenants figure the place will be more likely to be landscaped, dry, and there will be no bugs," she says. 

Speak to other tenants 

A broker isn't the only one who can give you information about the landlord. A departing tenant, or other tenants in the building can answer your questions and may be the most reliable source of information. "If the tenants are there, ask them. They will give you the real skinny on what the landlord is like," Negron says. 

Catherine Grad, a tenant attorney with her own practice, says not everyone has the nerve to do it, but you've just got to start chatting to people in the building. "If you want the dirt on the building you have to say to others, 'I’m thinking of moving in here, what’s the scoop?'" she says.

Check for violations 

Online searches are an obvious starting point and there's a lot of information out there. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development provides building data and information about complaints and litigation, property registration, violations and charges. 

"First of all, look at the apartment itself—if you see recent violations for leaks you know you’ve got a problem," Grad says. 

A building with very few violations is probably a well-run building and tenants are not calling the city out of frustration, Kirkpatrick says. On the other hand, a building with 70 violations indicates a landlord with a lackluster attitude. 

The Department of Buildings website also provides information about building violations. Grad says elevator violations are fairly common and she wouldn't be overly concerned by those, but violations for leaks, mold, heat, and hot water issues or specific complaints about the apartment are definitely red flags about the landlord and raise questions about the way the building is managed. 

Do some online research

For larger buildings, it's sometimes difficult to figure out who the landlord is. Public information about building ownership is available through ACRIS via New York City's Department of Finance. It's a more complicated search site but can help you find out who is funding the mortgage.

"The documents will usually tell you who the players are," Grad says. That will allow you to search their names online and see what you come up with. If the landlord has had publicity, good or bad, it'll be there.

Another route is to put the address into your search engine. You can also research your landlord via Yelp, which is a good way to find out what current or former tenants have to say. People are more likely to write reviews when they have something to gripe about, but at least you can see what sort of issues are being raised.

You can also find comments about a landlord on building ratings apps and websites. Apartment Ratings, which is also a listing site, has been rating buildings since 2000 and there are several other platforms that provide in-depth scorecards on the city's apartments and buildings, such as Openigloo, RentCity, bitResi, and GoHomeNY.

 

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