We're coming up on the start of a new year! For many of you, this means it's time to make some changes and improvements in your life in the form of New Year's Resolutions. We know first hand from our reports that some landlords can be really awful, but we also know that some renters unwittingly make their living situations worse without realizing it. Here are some suggestions for how to make your apartment life run more smoothly in 2016.
1. Pay your rent on time.
You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but a lot of you out there are paying your rent late. When we were working for a local property manager we saw anywhere from 5 to 10% of our rent checks come in late.
Late rent payments can prevent renters from getting approved for future apartments, cause subsidized renters to lose their housing vouchers, or even keep first time buyers from getting loans.
2. Keep proof of every rent payment.
While some big-league landlords are using modern technology to process rent, many small private landlords are way behind the times when it comes to their accounting. Mistakes happen. Rent payments get lost. They get mis-entered. They get deposited to the wrong account.
Keep proof of every rent payment that you make to your landlord, no matter if it's by cash, check or online bill pay. Get a copy of your current account statement from your landlord on a regular basis and check it against your own records. You may never have a problem, but you'll be so proud of yourself if you ever catch an error.
3. Take photos or video of your living space once a month.
It's easy to get used to living with broken things in your home. It's hard to notice when small problems like leaks are getting worse over time. Take pictures or videos of your living space every month. Archive them on your computer by date and back them up to a shared hosting service like Dropbox or Google Drive. It will help you keep track of your home's condition. It will also give you proof of the extent of a problem if your landlord fails to make repairs in a timely manner. In the event of a break in or a fire, you'll have a decent record of how things looked beforehand.
4. Talk to your neighbors regularly.
City people can live for years without ever meeting the folks who live next door. Nobody likes a nosy neighbor, so don't go overboard with this one, but do make an effort to meet your neighbors. Know who belongs in your building and who does not. Be aware of sick and elderly neighbors who might need help in emergencies. Buy yourself a little extra time to play music at your next party before they call the cops on you. It's easy to do and you might get cookies out of it.
5. Take a look at your apartment from the outside once a month.
Does your place look different than your neighbors? Do they have newer blinds or better windows than you? Are your fire escapes cluttered with debris? Can thieves and peeping toms see into your windows easily? Problems on the inside like leaks and mold often start as problems on the outside like obvious cracks or loose gutters. Don't assume your landlord has seen every problem. You have more at stake than they do if something goes wrong.
6. Find and read your lease, and make sure you understand it.
Lease agreements are legally binding contracts. You can be evicted for breaking the rules. Don't get caught by surprise. Even if you didn't read your lease before you moved in, find where you stashed it and give it a once over. If you don't understand the language, find someone who can help explain it to you.
7. Learn the names of the maintenance workers at your building.
This is not how they pictured their life would turn out. They clean out your drains and fix your clogged toilets. They rake your leaves and shovel your snow. They jump into overflowing dumpsters to pack down the contents. They deal with unhappy tenants, screaming tenants, drunk tenants and dead tenants. Being nice to the maintenance crew can go a long way - especially when it's your turn to need their help.
8. Talk to your landlord (and their staff) like they're humans.
Not every conversation needs to be a confrontation. You don't have to meet your landlord at the door with a gun, or throw furniture around their office, or CC your attorney on every email you send to them. And yes, I've dealt with tenants who did all of the above from day one of their residency. Sometimes landlords will earn this sort of treatment, but give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if you're talking to an employee with no power to make decisions for the company.
9. Clean. Please.
Some people are naturally inclined to be tidy and others are not. That's all good, we're not expecting you to rebuild your entire personality. You may not be willing or able to scrub down the whole place weekly, but try to at least take out the trash and wipe up stray bits of food. Otherwise, when you move out all the bugs and rodents who were living off of your mess will immediately move into your neighbors' apartments in search of food. Seriously, please clean. For all of our sakes.
10. Get involved in your neighborhood.
Rent rates are climbing rapidly. One of the main causes was that people stopped building new apartments for a long time during the recession. There's finally money to build more apartments, but now owners don't want their neighborhoods cluttered up with renters.
If renters want more new housing choices, they need to make an effort to improve their general reputation across the board. Get involved in neighborhood efforts, even if you think you'll only be around for a short time. Take part in local elections and help keep your block looking good. Even if you plan to move in a few months, treat your neighborhood as if you're there for the long haul.
Do you have any other suggestions that would make life easier for renters? Are you going to make any of these suggestions into your own New Year's resolution? Let us know, and don't forget to share this list with your friends!