Before you agree to rent a place, go look at it. Walk through the entire apartment and around the building. Use the Moving In Checklist (Form 1) to help you ask good questions and check out important things as you walk around, such as is the water discolored, does the toilet flush, are there any exposed wires.
Sometimes, landlords think they can get away with renting an apartment that is in bad condition and needs repairs. And, sometimes, they do. But the law requires landlords to put apartments in good condition before renting them. This means that an apartment must meet certain minimum requirements.
The Housing Code Checklist (Booklet 2) summarizes these minimum requirements. Read over this checklist and take it with you when you look at apartments.
You can also find out if any tenants or local housing inspectors have ever reported an apartment or building for housing code violations. Although this takes time, if you really want to know who you are renting from, this information may be worth finding out.
To do this, go to the local Board of Health in the town or city where the apartment is located. Ask them if there are any housing inspection reports listed for the address of that building. If there are, read the reports. If a report shows that there were serious problems, ask the Board of Health if the landlord corrected this problem.
What If There Are Bad Conditions
If you want an apartment, but there are problems with it, ask the landlord when she plans to make certain repairs. If this repair schedule is agreeable to you and you decide to rent the apartment, make a list of the repairs that are needed. Then get the landlord to promise in writing that she will make the repairs and by what date. Putting this in writing can prevent misunderstandings later on and may make it more likely that the landlord will actually keep her word. In addition, if the landlord later refuses to make the repairs and you have her promise in writing, she will not be able to turn around and blame you for causing these problems.
If the landlord agrees to make repairs, but will not put it in writing, you should write a letter or an email to your landlord after you've moved into the apartment thanking her for agreeing to make repairs and then listing what repairs she agreed to make. This will document both the need for repairs and the landlord's promise to make them.
If your landlord requires a security deposit, by law she must prepare a statement describing the condition of the apartment. This is called a "Statement of Condition." See a sample Statement of Condition (Form 3). Make sure all problems with the apartment are listed on this statement. Keep a copy of this Statement for your own records.
If a landlord does not take a security deposit, it is still a good idea to prepare your own statement describing the condition of an apartment when you first move in. See Chapter 3: Security Deposits and Last Month's Rent - Statement of Condition. If you have a camera or a video recorder (or can borrow one), you may want to take pictures of certain conditions in the apartment before you move in. For example, if the window is broken, take a picture of the broken window. Write the date on which you took the pictures on the back of each one. If you make a video, film someone in the apartment saying the date. Spending 20 minutes documenting the condition of an apartment before you move in may save you a lot of aggravation and money later on.