Dealing With an Out of Town Landlord: A Tenant’s Survival Guide

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You may get plenty of privacy from your out of town landlord, but that counts for little when water’s gushing through your apartment like Niagara Falls and your landlord lives three states away. Protect yourself against such frustrations with these top tips.

Deposit the Rent

Establish an easy way to pay rent before you sign the lease. If your landlord’s out of town, you won’t be able to drop off a check the day the rent falls due. Talk to your landlord about depositing rental payments directly into his bank account. Alternatively, pay the rent via an online payment service. If your landlord insists on rent checks, send them in good time and by certified mail.

Negotiate a Grace Period

Landlords often charge a late penalty if you don’t pay rent on time. If you mail your rent checks out of town every month, it’s highly likely that one or two payments will miss the due date, no matter how punctually you mail your checks. The solution here is a grace period. A grace period is the time between when the rent is due and when the late penalty kicks in — typically around five days. Then, if there’s a delay in the mail, the landlord will still receive your check before the late fee is charged.

Establish A Communication Channel

You need to communicate with your landlord, so agree a convenient method and time for doing so. Make sure that you have his home and business number, cell phone number and email address. Agree on the best time of day to make non-emergency calls, especially if you live in different time zones.

Get Legal

You may need to serve legal notices on your landlord, such as a notice to quit. Generally, legal notices must be sent by mail, so ask for your landlord’s current mailing address. For certainty, write this into the lease. Legal notices have to be served within strict time limits; you don’t want to miss a deadline because you can’t find your landlord.

Agree to a More Onerous Lease

Agreeing to a more onerous lease sounds counterintuitive, but taking on greater tenant responsibility could save you money in the long run. Agree to maintain the garden, clean the gutters, snake the toilet and fix minor leaks. Your landlord will thank you for it, as you’ll save him the headache of organizing property repairs from out of town. What do you get in return A below-market rent.

Mind the Gap

Landlords expect a few days’ gap between tenants, which they use to repaint and refresh the property. For an out of town landlord, preparing the property for a new tenant can be a real pain — he has to take time out of his day job, travel, carry tools and possibly find somewhere in-town to stay, all for the sake of a few minor repairs. If you don’t mind scrubbing the baths, steam-cleaning the carpets and adding a lick of paint to the walls, you can always agree to do these jobs yourself. You get access to the property quicker, and you can typically negotiate a rent-free week in return.

Know Your Rights

Landlords are legally responsible for keeping their rental properties in good repair and maintaining a safe and healthy living environment for tenants. If a problem arises that poses a risk to your life, health or safety, the landlord must fix it. Generally, he has a fairly short window to do so, of around thirty days. If your out of town landlord can’t — or won’t — complete the necessary repairs within a reasonable amount of time, carefully consider your options. Some states let you fix urgent repairs, such as a burst pipe or a bug infestation, yourself, and deduct the cost from the following month’s rent.

Viewings

End of lease viewings are a real time suck for out-of-town landlords. When it’s time to move out, offer to show potential tenants around. Many landlords are happy to pay you for your time — the going rate’s around $20 per viewing — and you should receive a great reference for your trouble.

By Jayne Thompson, lawyer-turned-copywriter based in the U.K.


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