Red Flags for Renters to Watch Out For

Trista - October 24, 2021

Owning a home can be an expensive goal that younger people don’t strive for until later in life, when they are married with kids. Most young adults turn to the perks of renting. Renters don’t have to pay for any issues that go wrong while living in the home. Not having to fork over money for repairs, especially during emergencies, can save money. Sometimes renters don’t have to worry about yard maintenance, either. Furthermore, they almost never have to pay property taxes. When renting an apartment or home, you are commencing a new chapter in your life. You get to start making new friends and memories for yourself as well. If you want a promising future in your new home, you want to be sure that there are great rental terms and the house itself is solid. When taking a walk-through, paying attention to detail is essential. Plus, you should ask a lot of specific questions.

If your gut is telling you something, you may want to listen to it. Landlords might seem like they want to help, but they are also running a business. That means they may fabricate things along the way just to get you to sign a lease. In this article, you will read about what warning signs to look out for when renting a home or apartment. Hopefully, you will learn some things along the way that will help you as a renter now and in the future.


30. Look out for visible signs of water damage.

Something you really want to look out for would be visible signs of water damage. Water damage is most often the result of leaks in the roof or from leaks due to plumbing issues. Different signs of water damage can be pretty obvious. Signs such as standing water on the floor would definitely be evidence of a problem, or signs can be more subtle, like discolored patches in the walls, flooring, or ceiling.

According to Ranker, another good way you can check for water damage would be to give the property a good sniff. Although it might sound funny, it really is a good way to tell if there is damage from the water inside the home. Spaces damaged by water will smell musty, damp, stale, and even mildew-y. If the problem is left untreated, areas can be the perfect environment for mold to grow, which can cause allergic reactions, respiratory infections, and memory loss as symptoms of mold infestation.


29. Renters need to keep an eye out for mysterious droppings.

Any sort of animal droppings should give any potential home renters pause when doing a walk-through or inspection. Look out for droppings under the sink. This is often a sign of mice living in the home. Droppings near a water heater can also indicate roaches, even if you don’t see any running around at the time. Although no one could have been living in the home or apartment for months, bed bugs are also a possibility since they can survive up to a year without food.

So even in an empty rental unit, bed bugs could still be lurking in the cracks and crevices. Some signs that bed bugs are living in the vacant home can include discarded shells or coffee-like grounds, which are bed bug excrement, on the floor. If the rental unit is furnished, check the mattresses, box springs, and the crevices of any other piece of furniture for small, reddish-brown colored stains and, of course, live bugs. These are things to be on high alert about, as well as other things you will soon read about.


28. Watch for a white chalk-like substance along the baseboards.

When doing a walk-through of the rental home or apartment, be sure to carefully inspect the baseboards. Look for the possible presence of a white, chalk-like substance. If you find any, this could be a sign that the landlord or the previous tenant tried, or even is still trying, to get rid of cockroaches. They are using Diatomaceous Earth or Borax. People use both of these substances to kill roaches. The gross little buggers tend to love the dark, tight environments of trim and baseboards inside homes.

Maybe you didn’t see any borax or diatomaceous earth present when glancing. You should still run your finger along the baseboards just to be sure. People use it as a popular home remedy in infested homes. So, a line or dusting of these substances along the base of the walls is a warning sign for renters. If you come across this, start asking the landlord questions about it. Also, keep a close eye out for other signs.


27. Pay attention to any signs of termites.

No one wants to know that their new home has termites eating their house from the inside out. So when looking for a new home or apartment, be sure to look for any signs that may indicate termites are doing slight damage to the infrastructure. Keep your eyes peeled for anything that looks like sawdust. It’s actually termite excrement called frass and is left behind when termites munch on wood. It doesn’t always look the same, even in the same home.

Frass can range in color from black to light beige, and by doing a very close inspection of it, it looks like a pile of minuscule, deflated footballs. When taking a tour through an apartment or rental home with wooden support beams or moldings, be sure to look under and around them for these piles of frass. If you spot any, you probably want to reconsider residing in that space. Keep reading to learn more warning signs for renters to notice before signing the lease.


26. Make sure to read all of the rental agreements.

As you probably already know, it is crucial to read any paperwork before deciding to sign your signature at the bottom. This is especially true when paying a deposit or agreeing to rent a property. You should ask to see the lease or rental agreement before making any final decision. While both documents may serve the same purpose for establishing a tenant-landlord contract, a lease is used for a fixed, longer-term rental, such as a year’s lease. In comparison, a rental agreement is used for shorter-term contracts, like month-to-month leases.

No matter what type of lease agreement the landlord is using, be sure to review the document carefully beforehand. All the wording should be legally sound and clear. Read the policies and fees that are regarding early termination, late payments, and pets, too. Make sure to ask any questions about what you are looking at before signing to be sure you don’t agree to anything you don’t understand. If anything is stating that you are responsible for repairs and upgrades that are not your fault or responsibility, don’t sign anything. If or when in doubt, consult a lawyer.


25. Be wary if the landlord doesn’t require a credit check or asks for cash upfront.

Any landlord who is legitimate and responsible wants to be sure they rent to a trustworthy tenant. The first way to verify the financial trustworthiness of any tenant is to run a credit check on them. Be leery if the landlord doesn’t do a credit check on you. Because a credit check cannot be run on you without your permission, if they say they already did a review, back off fast. They don’t seem to be trusting and seem sketchy.

Another thing is never to pay a landlord cash upfront, whether with cash, check, money transfer, or any other type of payment mode, without seeing the place first. You want to see the rental unit inside and out first, giving it an inspection with your own eyes, and first turning in an application if you wish to live there. Relinquishing money before you have even seen the place or even met the landlord just screams deceit and should be avoided.


24. Renters should always identity the source of heat immediately.

Landlords are required to provide a heat source as part of renting a habitable and safe unit for anyone in a vast majority of rental situations. The extent of this responsibility for landlords, however, varies by city and by state. Knowing you have a heater of some sort in your home is comforting because you never know when you will need it. So if the rental unit you are looking at doesn’t have one, you may want to reconsider, especially if you live somewhere where it is a requirement by law.

In San Francisco, landlords are required to provide a heat source year-round that heats the interior of the building to 68 degrees between the hours of 5 am to 11 am and 3 pm to 10 pm. Landlords in New York City must provide a heat source from October 31st to May 31st, with the interiors reaching 68 degrees between 6 am and 10 pm and at least 55 degrees throughout the night. You should check with your local news regarding heating, or air conditioning, requirements before heading to an open house if you are unsure.


23. Hey renters, follow the “too good to be true” statement.

We all have heard the saying, “too good to be true,” right? Because this one falls under that category. A rent price for a rental unit, whether a house or apartment, that is advertised far below market price for your area is more than likely concealing a thing or two behind closed doors that aren’t being discussed. Either the advertised rate is a special, first month only price, or they are going to try to scam you.

Rental scams, unfortunately, are all too common. And questionably, low rent is often a way internet scammers pull in unsuspecting victims, which is too bad. More common scam tactics to watch out for include asking for money before viewing, responding to queries with lightning-fast speed, and posting multiple rental ads at a variety of different price points. If you notice any of these signs, maybe reconsider whom you will rent a unit from.


22. Turn on the faucet to see if the water pressure is low.

When you are touring a possibly rental unit for yourself, turn on the taps in all of the sinks and showers to check the water pressure. This is good to do because low water pressure can indicate several potential issues. On the minor problem end, it could just be a water meter or main water valve that is not fully opened. However, if the issue is more serious, it could be a sign of old pipes.

Old pipes are less efficient pipes and are more prone to leaks or even bursts somewhere in the water pipeline. Be sure to ask how old the pipes are and ask if there was ever any maintenance needed on any of the water pipes, as well. Depending on what you are told, you will have a better idea of what you are working with. However, there is also a practical consideration to bear in mind as well. Low water pressure means it will take a frustratingly long time to do even the simplest tasks, such as washing the dishes or drawing yourself a bath.


21. Look for noticeable signs of damage.

An undeniable warning sign of a questionable rental property is the presence of any sort of physical deterioration. Some very noticeable signs of damage include windows, fans, moldings, and light fixtures, which should all be in one piece and free of holes and cracks. Suppose there are any chips in the countertop or sink. In that case, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a deal-breaker for the property, but report it to the landlord immediately if it develops into a more significant issue, and be sure to take photos of it and send the images to them if necessary.

Also, make sure to be on the lookout for any sort of stains. Are there stains on any of the walls, carpets, or ceilings? It could be a sign of water damage. Furthermore this could signal a lazy landlord who doesn’t care about the property. No matter what you find, note that they could be serious issues within the home. Do not overlook or ignore these problems! It is best to address things right away if it needs to be taken care of immediately.


20. Notice old pipes in the rental unit.

As discussed above, leaky pipes are a big issue. So be sure to look at the actual pipes in the rental home you are interested in. You should pay attention to the water pressure to see if it’s low or not. Why? Because it can increase the likelihood of leaks and bursts. More importantly, old pipes can cause hard or rusty water that creates stains in tubs, toilets, and sinks. Plus, it can even leave a residue on kitchenware when washed with the water from those old pipes.

There are additional concerns about your health and safety if the pipes have galvanized lead in them, which can lead to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can cause symptoms such as fatigue and headache. It can lead to more severe complications like cognitive impairment and reproductive issues. So during your walk-through of the property you are interested in renting, be sure to look under the bathroom and kitchen sinks to confirm that the pipes are sturdy, strong, and free of rust.


19. Renters must pay attention to poorly insulated windows.

Windows are meant to keep heat in and keep the cold out in winter, or vice versa in the summer. Their seals around them and doors should always be airtight. The only way warmth or coolness should be able to get through is when they are open. When a window is old, broken, or its seal fails, it can dramatically alter the temperature of the interior of the unit it belongs to. Meaning, bills will rise unexpectedly, when in the end, it could be avoided.

The result of a poorly sealed door or window can result in high heating and cooling bills and create an uncomfortable indoor environment for those living in the unit. Not only that, but broken or poor seals can also cause doors and windows to rattle constantly, something that would be rather annoying for anyone and would only get worse over time. Also, if the seal is in horrible shape, pests like insects and even small rodents could find a way to squeeze their way in. So look out for broken seals when touring a rental unit.


18. Do not accept inadequate CO2 and smoke detectors.

It is not only common sense for safety. It’s also a requirement in most states for landlords to provide working smoke detectors in rental units. About half of the states in the union also require rental homes and apartments to have carbon monoxide detectors. When taking a tour through a home you are interested in renting, see that the place has at least the minimum amount of smoke and CO2 detectors as determined by your state.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there should be a smoke detector on each level of the property. There should also be a smoke detector in each bedroom. To make sure they are working correctly, test all the smoke alarms every six months. Always be sure to keep fresh batteries on hand for when the existing ones in the device run low. Make sure the batteries are working in the carbon monoxide detectors the same as the smoke detectors, too, and be sure to change the batteries right away when needed.


17. See if there are fire extinguishers in the rental unit.

In addition to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, some states also require landlords to provide working fire extinguishers to all their rental properties. For example, in California, a landlord is not legally obliged to furnish individual fire extinguishers to their tenants. However, there does need to be a certain amount of extinguishers available in public areas of the property. That includes the hallways, building lobbies, and even the parking garages.

It is a good idea to check with your local safety council before touring prospective rental and find out for yourself what the requirements for fire extinguishers are in your area. If there seems to be a lack of extinguishers, especially in the common areas listed above, you should ask the landlord about it. If they seem not to be worried about it, brush it off, or are unaware of the requirements in the state you are in, that would be a concern.


16. Renters should test all provided appliances to make sure they work.

Is the electricity running in the apartment? Test out the provided appliances while you are touring the unit. For example, if there is a refrigerator in the kitchen, plug it in and confirm that all the lights are on and the motor is running just fine. If you have anything on you, such as a phone charger, test out a few electrical outlets throughout the property to ensure they are getting all the juice to reach them that is needed.

Be sure to test out any gas appliances that may also be in the rental unit. If there is a gas stove, turn on each burner and make sure they light and heat up. Also, turn the oven on to make sure it warms up like it’s supposed to. If you test out any issues with any of these things, bring them up to the landlord right away. They may not be aware that some of those things aren’t working correctly. If they try to tell you everything is fine, even though you can see they’re not, you may want to reconsider renting from that landlord.


15. Always read the fine print in the contract before signing.

According to Forbes, standard lease agreements should have a provision about what happens if and when you don’t pay rent on time. Some renters make the mistake of never reading the fine print and then are surprised when they get hit with exuberant fees for a missed payment. Don’t get surprised. Make sure you read all of the fine print included in your contract before making any agreements and signing anything.

It is essential to read and understand how the late fees are charged at the rental property you consider moving into. If something doesn’t seem right to you, look up online what the amount they can legally charge you for any late fees would be in your state. If it’s way off from what they would charge you, it is best for you to walk away and keep looking for a home where the landlord won’t try and pull the wool over your eyes and overcharge you with ridiculous late fees.


14. Double check the buyout clause before making any decisions.

When signing contracts, as stated above, it is imperative to make sure you read everything in the fine print before signing anything. Every place is different and has different rules, so be sure you understand them and agree to them, without having doubts later on. Because things, especially unexpected things, happen to people every day, make sure there is a predetermined and reasonable buyout clause in the contract. Plans can change, and the lease may need to be terminated before the end of the lease.

Most landlords find it reasonable to terminate a lease if the renters give a 6-day notice along with the payment of two additional months’ rent. Renters appreciate the option, should their plans in life change. If you are interested in renting a home or apartment that does not allow you to break your lease, no matter the situation, watch out. Also, not if the landlord charges you a ridiculous amount to cancel your agreement. It’s best to question this situation with the landlord upfront. If you can make a deal with the them, make sure to get it in writing with a witness to sign for it.


13. Consider if renting from a family member is worth it.

When renting a home or apartment, you may think it’s a great idea to lease from a family member. Not only are you helping them out with money and knowing personally who their tenant is, but they may give you a deal on rent or anything else that may be included in rent. Even though it may seem like a good idea, you may want to reconsider signing a lease contract for someplace a family member is a landlord too.

So be careful if or when renting from someone in your family. It might help build generation wealth, but it can also add all kinds of sticky interpersonal problems into the relationship between you and said family member. Professional rental management companies are a surefire buffer between owners and their tenants. So if there happens to be a situation between you and your family member, you risk the chances of it affecting your landlord and tenant relationship.


12. Be aware of deals with “free months” of rent.

Renting a home or apartment can be stressful, especially when, in the beginning, you need to figure out costs for the first month’s rent and deposit upfront. Instead of lowering the rent price for the first couple of months, some landlords offer up to 4 months of “free” rent when signing a new lease. This is, of course, to help attract and get new tenants to go with them. Although it may sound like a steal for you, it’s more like a steal for the landlords themselves in the end.

When the lease expires, for example, at the end of the year, the new expected rent is often too high for the tenant to afford if they want to continue living there. An example of this would be a $2,625 per month net effective on a 16 months lease with four months free, which will turn into a $3,500 per month rent bill when the lease is renewed. So it doesn’t really seem “free” when you have to make up for it, so to speak, later on. This is definitely something to watch out for before making a decision.


11. Renters need to be cautious of contracts that are over two pages long.

When you receive a contract to look over and sign, it should not be more than two pages long. More than that is a bit excessive and unnecessary. Suppose a landlord has a list that consists of more than 50 items that they want a renter to read over and sign, in addition to the lease itself. That could mean frustrating situations for the renter in the future. Of course, you don’t want any surprises later on, so make sure you look it over carefully beforehand.

While going over the terms of the agreement before signing anything, as stated above, keep a close eye on fees and penalties that the landlord might not say out loud to you. Some property owners go a bit overboard in the amount of money they charge their tenants for anything from key replacements to trash tickets. These are things to watch out for and be wary of when making final decisions about your new place of residence. And make sure to ask any questions.


10. Understand that nonexistent or even poor property management reviews are a bad sign.

As you probably are already aware, social media is prevalent in today’s age. Many places have their own social media accounts and websites where customers can leave reviews of their business. When you are renting from a landlord, search for them or the property online. If you are not finding much information on either, you may want to be a bit wary. Unless you know someone else who already rents from them and can validate that they are legit, be careful.

A lack of social or online validation, such as reviews from people, can be a bad sign, even before you get to meet with the landlord and take a tour of the property. As a renter, you need to ensure that they work with a reputable and well-respected property manager. Who will look after their best interest when renting from someone. A good property manager should take good care and see the value in the relationship of both the investor and the tenant. It doesn’t cost a renter anything to get this representation. So make sure you do your research ahead of time.


9. Don’t let them pressure you into signing anything.

When you are unsure about signing a contract with anyone, there may be a reason behind that. As you have heard before, it’s almost always best to go with your gut in questioning situations. Being pressured into anything is not cool, and when it comes to signing a lease with language such as, “this offer is available only if you sign right now,” is a big red flag. Red flags are definitely something to look out for when making big decisions, such as renting a home or apartment.

As you know, leases are legal contracts. Often when individuals glance over the fine print, they may not read everything there due to the language being hard to understand. When signing anything, you want to make sure that you follow every single thing it is stating beforehand. Take the contract home before signing it, and thoroughly review it to ensure you know everything written in it. That is the first step. In addition to that, hiring an attorney for a 1-hour review may save you thousands of dollars down the road.


8. Don’t take any push-back from the landlord.

You should understand that every rental property has some sort of maintenance you have to tend to. You should expect that. However, you should ask yourself how willing the landlord may be to correct the current issues before you decide to move in. Depending on your situation, you want to move into a home that meets your requirements the best. If you are interested in moving into someplace that has a broken appliance or cracked window, the landlord should fix it beforehand. Remember, it’s not your responsibility to fix it yourself, either.

If the landlord of the property gives you a lot of push-back initially, especially when it comes to fixing and maintaining things, how do you think they will be later on down the road after you have been living there for a while? Things are not going to get better. Don’t take any push-back from them because they will think it’s okay to do so whenever they feel like, and that you are just going to accept that, which is not okay.


7. Stay away if the lease mentions mold.

It is just common sense not to want to be near or live in a place containing mold anywhere in the walls or anywhere else. Mold is gross, and not just because of the smell. If you inhale certain black mold strains, especially over an extended period of time, it can cause serious health problems. Which is what would happen should you move into a place with mold, whether you know it or not. For those who live or plan on living in warm weather areas, the heat and moisture can make even innocuous strains of mold grow into an unsightly problem very quickly.

Not only should you look out for any musty smell or other signs of mold when taking a walk through the property, but you also want to make sure it’s not in the lease you are thinking about signing. If you suspect there may be a mold problem in the home or apartment, and the landlord didn’t mention in the contract, point it out immediately. Before signing the lease, make sure there isn’t a mold remediation waiver attached. According to Apartment Therapy, you need to ensure there isn’t a mold remediation clause in the lease as well.


6. Be wary if the landlord happens to live out of state or overseas.

This one is another red flag to look out for when searching for a home or an apartment to rent. Suppose the property owner just so happens to live in a different state than where the rental property is located. In that case, it could complicate matters, especially if legal issues arise between you and the landlord. Another concern about this situation is that they can’t do a walk-through themselves. That means the landlord might not care as much about how it is running, or they are not actually the owner of the property.

Suppose you decide to look more into renting and living somewhere where the landlord lives out of state or overseas. Ensure the lease is with a local property management company or property manager, who can serve in your state, should any legal issues arise, before signing anything with them. If they tell you to go through it yourselves, without the help of a manager, you should reconsider the decision to rent from them.


5. Look out for a landlord who doesn’t present a checklist for any damage in the beginning.

It is imperative to complete a checklist to note any current damage to the property when you first do a walk-through with the landlord of any rental before signing a lease and moving in. The reason for this is due to accountability. If you don’t go over a checklist in the beginning, then you could look over many damaged things, both minor and major. Later, the landlord might blame you for the issues, if you bring up a problem after you move in. They will assume you were the cause of it.

If the landlord is going to blame you for damaged or broken things, they may decide to charge you for said things, even if you are not at fault for those things. The landlord, however, could maybe not have a clue about those things ahead of time, so they wouldn’t feel in the wrong for blaming you. A checklist helps you prove what was already destroyed and what may become damaged while you are living there. It can honestly help both you and the owner of the property out in the end. So ask for a checklist if they don’t provide one when doing a walk-through.


4. Renters must do a walk-through before signing anything.

Another major red flag for renters is if a landlord won’t allow them to view the rental before signing the lease. You may have seen pictures of the unit online. A landlord could even send you photos over through text or email. However, this is not the same thing as seeing it firsthand. These types of prints only show so much. This sign is a bit concerning because the landlord may be hiding something. Perhaps they don’t want you to be aware of an issue. It could be anything from lousy insulation, annoying pests, or even a mold problem. The landlord might not even be the owner or have access to the property.

It’s important to realize that once you sign the lease, you are obligated to comply with its terms. That is, unless the rental lease is describing another property. In some cases, other issues with the lease, or local ordinances, permit you to walk away. Before you sign the lease, demand to see the property. If you are moving in from out of state and it’s possible, send someone to check it out on your behalf. It’s best just to look somewhere else if the landlord refuses to let you check out the property before signing anything.


3. Renters need to discuss with the landlord all cost responsibilities.

All cost responsibilities should be clear. That goes double when it comes to paying for or repairing certain things in any rental. Discuss issues with potentially broken appliances, fixtures, utilities, or even extermination services in the future. It should be clear who is responsible for said things from the very beginning. In Florida, for example, the state bar offers a residential lease form with such information. It delineates what the landlord will pay for and what the tenant is responsible for. Also, the paper states limitations on what the tenant must spend out of pocket for major repairs or maintenance of items listed as the tenant’s responsibility.

If your potential landlord decides not to disclose this information or says that you will simply figure it out later on, they may be looking to stick you with the entire bill. So before you sign that lease with anyone, ask about those costs that may happen, find out who is responsible for said things, and get anything about it in writing, if it isn’t already in the lease itself. It will save you the hassle and stress of having to figure it out later.


2. Don’t hire a landlord who wants you to wire money or pay with cash.

A major red flag to be aware of is if the landlord wants you to wire them money or asks you to pay in cash only for your security deposit or anything else. It is never good to transfer money by wiring or pay with cash to a landlord you don’t know. That sounds very suspicious. It’s not standard practice for any business; plus, it’s quite unnecessary, and it is common for scammers. Don’t allow that to happen. If they are persistent about it, just walk away. It’s not a loss to you.

So before you sign the lease with a landlord who asks for a wire payment or cash only, confirm that the landlord does own the property. Did you use a real estate agent to help you find the property? Make sure they are certified! Also, double check to be sure that the property management company is reputable. We advise that you ask if you can pay in a more established method, such as a certified check of some form. If they say they cannot accept that, do not sign the lease.


1. Renters should be wary if the property owner has a foreclosure status.

Sometimes unfortunate things happen, and the owner of a property may be in foreclosure. If that is the case, the owner may continue to rent to their unsuspecting tenants, which is too bad. Landlords tend to take the first and last month’s rent, along with a security deposit. However, the landlord can still lease the property by the authority through a writ of possession. And it may sound outlandish. However, it happens quite often, and then the renters are without a house, despite paying all of the rent on time. You might not have as much legal recourse as you think when this happens, so be careful!

It also seems that over the last few years, judges have become less sympathetic to tenants. They don’t care about those who don’t do their due diligence and end up in these circumstances. So before you sign the lease to someplace, check public records. Look for the county where the rental is and see if a ‘lis pendens’ is against the owner. This legal document declares that a lawsuit is pending against the property. Furthermore, that the owner is in foreclosure status. If there just so happens to be a pending lawsuit, do not sign the lease. At least contact your attorney first to see if you can negotiate for cheaper rent.