Signs of a Bad Apartment Complex
When hunting for a new apartment, there are obvious warning signs. Does the building smell of mold? Do the appliances not work? Most renters are aware of these red flags.
However, there are also easily overlooked yet important signs that an apartment complex may be a bad choice.
Review the following list of lesser-known clues before you sign a new lease!
Signs That an Apartment Complex is Unsafe
- Graffiti and other vandalism in shared areas. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the (literal) writing on the wall. Graffiti is a warning that unsavory guests frequent the complex or, worse, that it’s your soon-to-be neighbors disrespecting the building. It also shows that the landlord cares little about the overall state of the property.
- Doors to the outside don’t automatically lock with deadbolts. If an apartment complex’s exterior doors don’t lock automatically, treat this as a bad sign. Your safety shouldn’t be in the hands of your neighbors who, let’s face it, won’t always remember to lock up. For this reason, it’s actually illegal for apartment buildings not to have deadlocking latches on exterior doors1.
- Your apartment unit’s door doesn’t have a deadbolt and peep hole. Both are legally required and will play a major role in keeping you safe1. If the landlords disregard this law, assume that there are plenty others they ignore as well.
- Lack of multiple exit-options in case of an emergency. Intruders aren’t the only threat you may face. In case you face a fire, your apartment must have at least two exit points, as required by law2. These could include large windows and doors either pointing to the hallway or directly outside.
- Your gut makes you feel uneasy, especially after dark. You know that little voice in the back of your head? Don’t ignore it. Visit the apartment complex at night and consider if you’d feel safe walking to-and-from the entrance.
Do motion-detecting lights turn on? If you can peer inside, do the interior hallways look well-lit? It’s a bad sign if the apartment supervisor expects you to fumble in the dark.
It’s important to get a feel for the general neighborhood and to conduct research. ADT’s Crime Map lets you view how areas’ crime rates compare, as well as the frequency of specific types (property crime vs. motor vehicle theft, for example).
Ask the property manager about past crime within the building and what steps they’ve taken to secure the rental properties. Don’t only consider their words, but also their general attitude. An overly relaxed or dismissive answer is a major red flag that the landlord will do the bare minimum (or less) to ensure your safety.
Red Flags that You Might Have a Bad Landlord or Property Manager
- Lots of promises to repair problems. The guarantee to have the unit professionally cleaned before you move in should not be a red flag. But if the landlord promises to fix issues like leaks or replace broken appliances, treat these as suspect.
It’s a bad sign that the apartment complex’s management team hasn’t already solved these problems for the current tenant. Chances are that you’ll be dealt with just as poorly.
- They ask that your mail is sent to a P.O. box rather than your apartment. You may be surprised by how many apartment units are actually illegal. The request to have your mail sent elsewhere signals that the landlord wants no record of your presence.
Other bad signs that your apartment may be illegal:
You don’t pay for individual utilities and there’s no meter within your unit.
Lack of windows
The lack of a written lease or insisting on a month-to-month arrangement
Only accepting cash payment
- Lack of timely communication. Not every landlord is hands-on, but they should have a management team ready to pick up their slack. Send the landlord or their point person some questions and see how quickly they respond.
Still awaiting their answer two days later? Regard this as a bad sign. If the heater fails in winter or the above apartment’s bathroom leaks into your own, you will need a property manager who is readily available.
- Disregard for current tenants’ boundaries. Landlords must give forewarning to tenants before entering their apartments, but this doesn’t always happen.
When you enter a potential new unit, does the current occupant seem surprised? Is the showing at a reasonable time, or does the landlord offer to conduct the showing early-morning or late-evening? Both scenarios show disrespect to the tenant, and you should expect similar treatment.
- Cheaply made or outdated appliances and windows. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—this is the wrong approach for a landlord to take.
The old air conditioning unit may still technically work, but it won’t provide the same comfort or energy savings as a newer model. And those thin window panes will provide little defense against cold drafts or an intruder.
You want a landlord who regularly invests in the property and the renters’ comfort. Unwillingness to make much-needed upgrades is a major red flag for their general priorities.
How to Dig Deeper into the Warning Signs of a Bad Apartment Complex
So you’ve spotted blatant red flags or the landlord gives you the heebie-jeebies. It’s smart to walk away but, if you’re still on the fence, do some research to confirm or dispel your suspicions.
- Talk to the tenant or neighbors. No one can tell you what’s wrong with an apartment like the person who currently lives there. Consider dropping off a note requesting to connect. Ask about their overall experience, the management company, and why they are leaving. Perhaps the large, outdated windows drive up the heating bill in the winter. Perhaps the noise from the nightclub next door keeps them up at night. These are all valuable insights.
An alternative would be to strike up a conversation with another tenant in the building. Their units are most likely similar and will share overarching issues.
- Research the management company. Larger property management companies may have online reviews on Yelp and Google My Business. This is not the case for landlords with only a few properties.
See if your local government has a Department of Licenses and Inspections. If yes, use their website to see public records about the building owners, business licenses, and violations.
All else fails, Google the person’s name and see if you can spot relevant news sources or web pages.
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- “Building Security, Locks, & the Law – FAQ.” Metropolitan Tenants Organization, 2 Nov. 2009, www.tenants-rights.org/building-security-locks-the-law-faq/.
- Eberlin, Erin. “What Is a Means of Egress?” The Balance Small Business, The Balance, 6 Jan. 2021, www.thebalancesmb.com/form-of-egress-2124924.