There are a lot of considerations when you’re finding a new apartment or home to rent. One question that people find themselves asking is, “Should I rent from a private landlord or a property management company?” In this article, we’ll help you research the differences and decide for yourself.
First of all, we should be clear about our terminology. Typically “private landlord” or “private owner” is just what it sounds like. When someone owns a building that they are not living in they can choose to rent it out. For the average person, this may sound a bit daunting, but if you’re handy and resourceful it can be a great way to earn additional income. However, most homeowners will tell you that unexpected expenses occur with great regularity. Heat, AC, plumbing, roofs, leaks, etc. all require maintenance and upkeep.
On the other hand, “property management” is pretty much what it sounds like as well. Instead of a property owner making themselves available on-call 24/7 for maintenance, emergencies, or other issues they hire someone to run the property for them. Property management companies typically employ a variety of contractors for odd-job handyman type of work as well as furnace and air conditioning maintenance and repair. Places run by property managers typically take a cut of the rent as their compensation which may in turn make rent slightly more expensive for you.
Now we’ll look at a few different issues and weight the pros and cons of property management vs private landlords:
The average homeowner is not competent or certified in painting, electricity, plumbing, and any other relevant fields for maintaining a home. Will your private landlord be competent and certified in all of those area? In general property management companies will hire or contract experts in every relevant field so you get work done quick and properly. For instance, if electrical work is not done properly it might run inefficiently and increase your monthly bill. If you rent from a private owner, be sure to ask them who will do each kind of maintenance work.
Speaking of maintenance issues, when something breaks will you have to call your landlord and wait until they are free? Will you be able to make requests and/or payments online? If you lock yourself out at 1 a.m. who will let you into the house? Most property management companies will have a 24/7 support line for emergency requests whereas a private landlord may or may not be available at any given time. If your private landlord goes on vacation for two weeks and your furnace goes out, what is the plan? With a property management company, you rarely have to worry about that type of situation.
Here is the greatest advantage of a property owner. In most cases, you can develop a personal relationship with them and there will be flexibility in the terms of the lease and even with the occasional late rental payment. Property management may have some flexibility in their lease agreements, but they generally have guidelines to follow. If it is important to you to customize your rental agreement then a property owner may be the best choice for you, although the lack of structure can also hurt as much as it helps.
Reviews from former tenants
Just as a landlord will likely ask you for personal references, it is a good idea to ask the landlord if there are reviews from former tenants or any way for you to speak with them. It is unlikely that you’ll be able to Google a private owner and see what former tenants thought whereas property management companies will typically have hundreds of reviews available online. One thing to remember is that angry people leave the most online reviews.
No matter where you rent you should do your homework and learn everything you can in advance. Generally, this will be laid out and accessible when renting from a company rather than a person, but either way, there are some questions you should be sure that you know the answer to before signing a lease:
- What’s your application process?
- Are any utilities included with the rent? Water, gas, electric, garbage, wifi? With many property management companies, this is included in the listings, but sometimes private landlords can be much less formal about arrangements and may have unspoken expectations.
- What day is rent due? Is there a grace period? What’s the late fee?
- What other fees and deposits are required, and which are refundable?
- How long is the lease? You cannot assume that every lease is one year OR that a lease is automatically renewing.
- How do I pay rent? In short, avoid a landlord that wants cash. You want a receipt or canceled check for each transaction.
- Can I pay rent online? Most private landlords won’t have this setup unless it is through a person-to-person app like PayPal or Venmo.
- What is the typical turnaround time for a maintenance call?
- Can I have a roommate? Do you allow subletting? AirBNB?
- Do you allow pets? What are the fees? What’s the pet policy? Be sure to check with your state law. Some states do not allow landlords to charge a monthly surcharge for pets, only a deposit. Not all private landlords are familiar with state law.
- What is your policy about breaking a lease early?
- What is the parking situation? Obviously you should know where your own car will be, but what about guests who stay with you or even have friends over?
- How much notice will you give before entering the home? There is usually a law that corresponds to that.
- How do I submit a maintenance request, and are there maintenance/repairs I’ll be responsible for?
- Who mows the lawn and shovels snow?
- Am I allowed to paint or make design changes to the home?
- Do you require me to have renters insurance?
We hope this has been helpful, if there are any questions that we didn’t answer then leave a comment and we’ll do our best to follow up. In the meantime, if you’re interested in finding a rental property managed by professionals or if you own a property that you would like management of then be sure to go to Cincy Rents.