Renters' inspection checklist
Faulty wiring can spark a fire; mold can make you ill. Steer clear of these and other hazards by spotting hidden flaws before you rent an apartment.
You've heard the statistics: Most fire deaths and accidents that cause injuries occur inside the home.
Since there's little oversight of rental units or landlords, it's up to you, the tenant, to make sure that your next apartment or house is safe, sanitary and secure.
You might think that any obvious flaws would jump out at you. But you could easily be wrong. You might also assume that a municipal inspector — or someone — is checking the vitals of a rental unit. But again, not so.
Given that the last thing you want to do is discover problems after you've lugged your stuff in and signed a one-year commitment, proceed with caution.
See the photos in "Are you sure you want to rent that?" for signs that your best move might be straight out the door. Then print out this checklist, with advice from professional home inspectors, to bring along to the next place you see.
What to bring with you
You may think you'll look ridiculous if you arrive carrying tools, but there's no reason to be embarrassed. The alternative may be to miss defects that could prove costly, or even deadly, later.
- Camera. Snap pictures of any areas that cause concern. Go through these with the landlord before you move in. That way he'll know exactly what needs to be repaired and you'll have proof, if you take the unit, of issues that predated your tenancy.
- Flashlight. Use this to see under sinks, in cupboards and behind appliances.
- Outlet tester. Also called a receptacle tester, this is a $5 to $10 device that instantly determines whether an electrical outlet is grounded and wired correctly. "I want two yellow lights," says Bob Sisson, a Maryland home inspector and owner of Inspections by Bob. "If I don't get two yellow lights, there's something wrong. Fix it, because it's dangerous."
- Tall umbrella. How else are you going to reach the test button on the ceiling smoke detectors?
- Tape measure. Not only can you check whether furniture will fit, but you can get an exact height on the ceiling and compare it to what you're used to. Will it make a difference?
- White tennis shoes. Wear these if you suspect fleas or bedbugs. If they're present, you'll spot them jumping on your shoes. (Remember to remove your shoes before going inside your own home.)
As you're arriving
- Does the neighborhood and parking lot feel safe? Return at night. Is the lot lighted? Would you feel comfortable walking there at night?
- Is there evidence of unfixed items in the common grounds? If so, this could be evidence that the landlord or management company might not be quick to repair problems in your unit.
- Does the lobby door lock when you let it shut?
- Are there sturdy railings along stairways?
- Do the common areas look well tended to? If not, it could indicate that the management company will not be swift to repair problems.
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Doors and windows
- Can you see who is at the front door? If there's no window, does the door have a peephole?
- Do the outside doors have deadbolts? Do they work?
- Open and shut the outside doors a few times. Do they feel secure? Are the hinges tight?
- Do the windows open and shut easily? Do those on the ground level have locking hardware?
- Could you escape from both sides of the apartment, and from every bedroom, in the event of a fire?
- Take the flashlight and look behind the refrigerator, in the cabinets and under the stove, if possible. Are there pest droppings? Are there water stains or indications of mold? Is there a buildup of hair and dust? Does it look like the landlord has done a professional cleaning between tenants? If not, request one.
- Run water in both sinks and look underneath with the flashlight for evidence of drips. Those need to be corrected before you move in.
- Are any markings around or under the plumbing and appliances gray, black or green? This could be mold. If you see mold anywhere in the apartment, "that's a place to walk away from," says Tony Smith, chief inspector for House and Home Inspection Services, in Iowa. "Most landlords are not going to clean it up properly. They're not going to hire a professional remediation firm. They'll attempt to clean it up themselves, and what will happen is they'll contaminate the place more."
- How old are the appliances? Do they have safety instructions and information?
- Does the fan over the stove work? Is there any evidence of moisture buildup or mold above it?
- Does the refrigerator have a buildup of frost? If so, the door's gasket could be leaking. That or other problems could spoil your food and cause your electric bill to spike.
- Is there a fire extinguisher? Check the date on the tag. Has it been serviced within the past year?
- Run some water and test the disposal. Does it clank or make any other scary sounds? You'll want it fixed before moving in so you aren't held accountable later.
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- Shake the toilet. Is it loose at the floor? Are there water stains around the edges?
- Flush the toilet. Is it still running later?
- Get on your knees with the flashlight and take a close look at the plumbing under the sink and at the floor below. If anything looks loose, leaks or seems sloppily repaired, ask the landlord about it -- and snap a photo.
- Do the shower and sink drain properly?
- Is the tile properly grouted so there's no risk of mold? "All the exposed surfaces need to be cleanable," says Claudio Bluer, a California housing inspector and owner of Austral Housing Inspections. "If tiles start to crack, it's not cleanable." This can allow moisture to build up and mildew or mold to grow.
To reasonalble [sic] adult:
study and get your GED. your spelling is telling. and your naivete is appalling. many, MANY, rent because the nature of their employment keeps them somewhat mobile. consider your good fortune to be rooted in one locale.
Check the wiring. Fuses were used in the days of knob and tube wiring, actually quite safe because of the physical separation between conductors. However, there is no grounding. (Remember metal cased power tools?) Beware of splicing romex into the old wiring. And forget about having Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters protection.
One 30 amp fuse? For the whole service?? What capacity was the entire house wired for? In my old house, cartridge fuses protected each leg of the mains and individual glass screw in fuses the various circuits. Be aware what is running on old wiring. . . Hair dryers pull more than a 15 amp circuit. Don't merely upgrade the value of the fuse--the wire will overheat.
In a modern house with 100 or 200 amp service, anticipate 30 amp or more for electric dryer, electric water heater, electric range, central a/c--each!
Talk to an electrician, or do some research, especially on the codes applicable to the construction date.
To assume landlords operate with benevolence is naive. They will balance meeting safety and utility needs of the facility with profit. There is an amortization schedule for carpet wear unless abused by a previous tenant (who lost their deposit). There will be differing perceptions on "needed" repainting between landlord or property manager and tenant. Expect to be a savvy consumer and be prepared to accept some inconvience and compromise. Tolerate what you can and vote with your feet when faced with the unacceptable, however "legal" it may be,
Sadly, my brother had to tolerate a converted back porch/laundry room because that's all he could then afford in So Calif. Surprising what landlords can get away with when they hold eviction power. Consult your jurisdiction on tenant's rights.
This is an excellent article for renters...and even things
for the homeowner to check. Thanks!
This may be another well-intended but nonetheless greatly out-of-touch and unbalanced article by msn. First, the article seems to suggest every landlord is actually a slumlord and must be monitored by a housing-shopper like an agent from the nanny state. Not so! It is in the landlord's interest, for a whole host of reasons, to be sure the unit is good to go before the next lease is signed. A landlord WANTS a tenant to be happy so that a lease will be renewed which is in everyone's best interest. That is especially true in tough times when a known quantity who pays on time and in full beats a new, unknown renter hands down. Second, just as the landlord needs to be up-to-par in terms of putting the best foot forward, so does the renter. Respect runs both ways and a neurotic, nervous nelly who imagines seeing nonexistent mold in every corner and shows up with an umbrella to check the smoke detector (most building have in-house mandatory pre-re-rent inspections, although it seems msn is not aware of this) is a renter a wise landlord would give an application, invite the prospect to "think about it and get back to me. I will be showing in the meantime, of course" and briskly move on to the next candidate to find a less needlessly anxious and more balanced renter. (The receptable tester does sound like a good idea, however, for the protection of both parties.) Third, this article may only be good for those renters who never want to actually rent a unit if they are present in a large metro area. Since fewer and fewer can qualify for a mortgage in today's uncertain climate, rentals are in high demand, especially in preferred locations. It may be a buyer's market on the sales side, but it is a level or owner-weighed playing field in rentals. Since a decent landlord is in the business to rent, it is more likely the unit is good to go and the real fly in the ointment will be qualifying the renter. (That's SO important for landlords to run credit checks, confirm employment, speak to the prior landlord, speak to two other references, etc., before allowing a renter to move in. ) Bottom line, mutual good manners and common sense are what's important. A reasonable landlord will welcome legitimate renter concerns. A reasonable tenant will understand the difference between a needed repair item (a faucet that got a new component repair but is still dripping) and an unwarranted complaint to any frequent feature that may appear in the housing stock and price range the renter has chosen to view. An older building may have fewer electrical outlets and this may be frustrating in the high tech age. But it is not necessarily cause for rewiring for additional sockets...
Good luck to all in finding an apartment that is safe and on your price point this weekend.