Hold up on lease, deposit until a look at apartment

FOR RENTERS

November 14, 1993|By George B. Laurent

You have a right to carefully inspect an apartment or house before you put a deposit on it -- and especially before you sign a lease, or an application that will bind you to a lease.

Take along friends or family to help you, and be sure to do your inspection in the daytime so that you will be more likely to see everything. Take your time -- don't let anyone rush you.

If possible, try to rent an apartment that is vacant and ready to be occupied. It is risky to look at a model apartment, usually in the best condition, and then to rent an apartment sight unseen. The refrigerator and stove may be old and worn, as may be the wall-to-wall carpeting and other features of the apartment. Sometimes tenants are promised that apartments in poor condition will be ready on move-in day, only to find that the work has not been done or has been done poorly and that the apartment is dirty.

Be sure to check the layout of the apartment carefully -- is it the right size and design for you? Can your furniture fit in? Has your spouse or roommate seen and approved it?

Check the appliances to make sure they work properly.

Check the locks on the door to the apartment. Are they strong? Is there a dead-bolt? If not, will the landlord allow the tenant to install one?

Finally, tenants should request that the landlord provide a written list of existing damages to the premises, such as marred walls, damaged woodwork or mantels, carpet stains, broken or damaged fixtures, and cracked window glass. Obviously, the tenants themselves should examine the apartment to make sure all such damages are on the landlord's list and that the list is signed. The tenant should have a copy.

Tenants in the inner city have a special problem: Many of the apartments there are in very poor condition and they don't have much choice. If the property is in basically decent condition, but has obviously been vandalized by someone or has been damaged by a prior tenant, then one can probably rely on the promise of a landlord to have the repairs made by move-in time. If, however, it is obvious that the property has been grossly neglected, then it is very risky to rely on the landlord's word that repairs will be made.

Furthermore, tenants should be cautious about dealing with a landlord who does not want to go to the property with them, but who insists upon receiving a substantial deposit or the first month's rent before he will give keys to the tenants so they can inspect the property.

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private non-profit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

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