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Educational Consumer Tips

How to Be a Smart Tenant

Author: Better Business Bureau

Each year, thousands of tenants file complaints against apartment complexes and landlords for issues that include incorrect billing, trouble getting security deposits back or getting repairs handled in a timely manner.

If you plan to rent, your BBB® offers these tips:

  • Go to to check out apartment complexes and property managers you are considering. BBB Business Reviews show a company’s rating and whether or not there’s a history of complaints.
  • Before signing the lease, make sure you read and understand the rental terms and your responsibilities as a tenant. When is rent due? Who pays for utilities? Are pets allowed? Keep a copy for your records.
  • Before moving in, look over the condition of the apartment in person and document all flaws and defects in both writing and with photos. Have all agreements, such as what improvements will be made and when, put into writing.
  • Find out how maintenance and repair concerns are handled and within what time frame. What is your responsibility when it comes to minor repairs or replacing light bulbs? Remember that you have certain rights when it comes to a livable space, such as heat, water, electricity and clean, safe surroundings. Visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at for information on landlord-tenant rights.
  • Be wary of rental ads on classified ad websites and other online forums. Scam artists post phony ads using photos and addresses of legitimate properties and state they are unable to show the property because they are out of town. Never wire money for a property you have not seen.
  • Don’t skip renter’s insurance. The property owner carries insurance on the building, but it’s your responsibility to insure all personal furnishings and belongings against theft or disasters such as fire, flood or tornado.
BBB warns consumers of the following red flags:

The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers often list a rental for a very low price to lure victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced. If the rental comes in suspiciously low, consider walking away.

Landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via email. Scammers might say they are out of the country on business and ask that the transaction be handled via fax or email. Always insist on inspecting the property in person before signing a lease.

Landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the property. Don’t pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out. Most reputable landlords will allow potential renters to view and see the property before taking any money.

Landlord asks the renter to wire money via wire service. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve. Once the recipient has picked it up, there is little recourse, if any, for getting any money back. If you pay with credit card, however, you can dispute charges if issues arise later.