Tenant screening is a must for any landlord. But what about the other way around? Can a potential tenant screen a landlord, too?
In Washington, D.C., they certainly can.
Thanks to a recent move from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), prospective tenants can now look up any local landlord’s inspections and compliance history in the district.
Offered for free on the department’s public website, the tool lets renters search a landlord’s name or property address, revealing any and all violations in the past three years.
"With this new, free resource, we’re arming district renters with critical information about landlords before they ever sign a lease," said Ernest Chrappah, director of DCRA. "If a landlord has several unaddressed housing violations, you may want to think twice about moving in there."
Of course, this tool is limited to D.C. landlords, but it doesn’t mean other cities won’t follow soon. Want to be prepared? Here’s what you need to know.
Which violations are noted?
D.C.’s tool only includes the nearly 40,000 violations noted by city inspectors, and as most investors know, not every rental property gets an inspection -- not even close. Though many cities do random inspections from time to time, many inspections are conducted due to citizen complaints. A neighbor might smell something suspicious and call up the health department, or a tenant could contact the local building department to report unsafe conditions.
For these reasons, the tool -- as well as any additional city-specific tool that may come down the line -- likely won’t be an exhaustive list of all landlords, nor the potential problems they or their properties come with. And if you’re a landlord yourself? As long as you keep your property in good condition (and your tenant happy), you probably won’t appear on it.
However, if your property has your tenant (or neighbors) feeling unsafe or the home is in poor condition, that’s another story. According to DCRA’s website, some of the most common violations it has cited landlords for include the following:
- Poorly maintained windows, doors, door frames, and skylights.
- Failure to maintain working and sanitary bathtubs, toilets, showers, and other lavatory facilities.
- Cracked or loose plaster, decayed wood, water damage, and defective surfaces.
- Unsecure locks.
- Failure to address a pest or rodent infestation.
- Refusing or failing to make necessary repairs.
Essentially, any violation of building code or local tenant protections could be noted, so it’s important to keep your properties in clean, safe, and functional condition if you want to avoid an issue.
D.C’s new dashboard isn’t the only way prospective tenants can research a landlord or potential property. From Whose Your Landlord and openigloo to Rate My Landlord and other similar websites, the internet is rife with landlord review and rating platforms.
Many listing sites -- Apartments.com, for example -- also allow former tenants to rate and review their previous properties, helping new renters make more informed decisions about where they choose to lease.
It’s even more reason to stay on top of your property’s maintenance and take steps to ensure tenant satisfaction. Don’t forget: Retaining a tenant is a lot cheaper than a vacancy (not to mention the marketing and turnover costs one comes with), so the benefits are twofold.