Let’s do a little what-if roleplay situation. NOT THAT KIND OF ROLEPLAY GEEZ.
You go and look at an apartment to live in. You walk around, like the place, and think it’s a pretty good value for your money. But while you’re there, something seems a little off about the guy showing you the place. He’s very concerned about you, what you do for a living, and so on. It takes you 45 minutes to get out of there because he has so many questions for you.
Compare that to situation B. You call up a property management company with hundreds of properties underneath them. They ask you a few questions, maybe pull your credit or request a couple of references, and you’re in business. It’s an easy transaction, because like hell they have time to ask you a billion questions.
Which landlord should you go with? Well, sometimes you don’t have any choice. You’re stuck going with the one who will give you a place to live because the market is hot or you’re in a hurry to find something. But if you do have a choice, you need to stay very far away from the amateur landlord. Here’s why.
Amateur landlords are crazy
There’s one really big reason why you should never rent from an amateur landlord.
They’re crazy. Not regular crazy either. Like ex-girlfriend crazy.
Look at it this way. If you had a whole bunch of your life savings stuck in one asset, you’d probably protect it pretty aggressively too. It’s human nature.
Unfortunately, that very situation makes for a poor landlord/tenant relationship. The landlord is going to be suspicious of your every move. He’ll do things like invent reasons to come over and take a look at things. Maybe he’ll insist on putting new filters in the furnace instead of just leaving it up to you. Or maybe he’ll just give notice and show up one day. It is within a landlord’s rights to do that, but professional landlords don’t usually bother. Again, they’ve got better things to do.
Amateur landlords don’t have much knowledge of the laws either. Here in Alberta (WOOOO LET’S MURDER A COW AND THEN FORCE FEED THE MEAT TO A HOMOSEXUAL, WHO WE ALSO HATE) the Residential Tenancies Act is pretty loose. Unlike in places like Ontario, you can tell someone they can’t have a pet or smoke in the place right in the ad.
And yet, I’ve still seen hundreds of rent ads in my day that blatantly break the law. The biggest one is racism (“Indians preferred” or “Canadians preferred”), but I’ve seen other things as well. You can’t say “you must have a job to rent my house,” yet people do it all the time.
If you’re a smart tenant who knows the rules, you want to rent from an amateur landlord all day long. They’ll make stupid mistakes like not doing an inspection report when you first move in. Professional tenants (AKA scammers) can spot an amateur landlord a mile away, and will exploit the hell out of them.
But if you’re not that smart, it’s better to deal with a bigger company. Or at least somebody who has many units.
How to avoid an amateur landlord
Okay, we’ve established that amateur landlords are crazy. How do you avoid even phoning one in the first place?
There are all sorts of warning signs. Let’s start with the ad. Professional landlords will never bother to exclude anybody in the ad. This means that anything from “No darkies allowed” to “quiet, professional couple preferred” in the ad is most likely from a amateur landlord. A lack of pictures and a terrible description also scream amateur hour.
When you’re looking at the place, a professional landlord will be more likely to ask you to actually fill out paperwork, while the amateur will be the one asking you a million questions. The professional wants everything in writing, while the amateur will be more concerned if he can trust you. Thus, your word is more important to the amateur.
A professional landlord may or may not check your credit or phone your references. Usually, they can tell a lot from the type of job you have, the clothes you wear, or the car you drive. The amateur landlord usually won’t even ask for a credit check or references. Sometimes they will ask, and sometimes they will call, but it’s not terribly likely.
The other easy way to figure out if you’re dealing with a pro or an amateur is to straight out ask. Work it into the conversation somewhere. It’s really not that hard. The amateur will be especially eager to tell you about his grand plans to get big into the business.
If you really know the laws, you should be looking for an amateur landlord to exploit. Lord knows, the amateur will eventually make huge mistakes. But if you’re a regular person, stick with the person who is a landlord for a living, whether it’s a property manager or a big owner. Everything will go much smoother, which is really all you’re looking for.