James has served over 28 years in the Army and I have served 9 years in the Air Force. Therefore, we completely understand moving on short notice and having to make compromises in order to make the time frame and circumstances at hand work together. Sometimes that means having to rely on others for assistance in finding a new home to live in without knowing the area or personally seeing the property. So let’s talk about the risk that you face when renting a property without viewing it personally. Just as important though let’s talk about how to mitigate the risk if you cannot avoid it.
First, what are the risks? Of course the initial risk is getting a property that you absolutely hate. That is what most people are afraid of. Let’s face it, photos are not the best way to judge things. They do not offer smells, views of the neighborhood, finer conditions such as cleanliness, etc. Therefore, the risk is unending. It could be too dirty, too smelly, too bright, too dark, too small, too little water pressure, too open, not open enough, and the list of risks goes on. So how do you keep from hating your unseen property?
Everybody has different opinions on what is important to them and what is acceptable to them. We recommend deciding ahead of time what is important to you in order for you to enjoy a property fully. Then negotiate that item BEFORE signing a lease. For example, if paint color is important to you and you want the color to be changed then you should ask about the color (photos, video) and the policy on changing the color before signing. Keep in mind that some things are like beauty and it is all subject to the eyes of the beholder. For example, if cleanliness is important then ask to see a professional cleaning service receipt before signing the lease. If they cannot provide you a receipt or they did the cleaning themselves then you must decide if the risk is worth it because everybody has a different opinion of what is clean and what is not clean. My wife hates the way I clean and I love the way she cleans. Some things are obvious but most of it is left to interpretation. Don’t ask the landlord “is it clean” because that is a very broad interpretation. So figure out ahead of time what is important to you and ask for as much info on those items as you can get (i.e. additional photos, different angel photos, video, receipts, etc.).
Second, what does the lease say? A lease agreement is the most essential part of any rental property. It lays out what you are responsible for and what the landlord is responsible for. It also covers fees and due dates. For the purpose of this blog though it is important to note that leases have “As is” clauses. Many people think that “as is” means that what you see is what you get. That is true to an extent. It does mean that if the property is dirty and you sign for it in that condition then you are accepting it as dirty. If the lawn is uncut and you sign for it in that condition then you are accepting it as uncut. However, there are limits to what an “as is” clause will cover. This clause does not negate landlord responsibilities. For example, if the hot water heater is broken when you move in that is not covered by the “as is” clause. How do you know what is covered and what is not?
You should look in to state laws and federal laws to learn what is and is not required by the landlord. If something is required of the landlord by law then it is not negated by the “as is” clause. As we mentioned above there are some things that are interpreted too broadly for state and federal governments to regulate such as cleanliness. While an extreme circumstance such as piles of garbage 10 feet high and animal droppings all over the property would not be hard for a court to distinguish, a couple of dust bunnies would be hard to justify as an issue worthy of being released of your obligations.
In the end it is always best to view the property yourself or have a loved one or close friend view it for you. Only under extreme circumstances should you ever rent a property without viewing it. If you must though, remember to negotiate up front what is important to you because after you sign the lease it is too late to ask for changes that are not required by law and the landlord is not obligated to oblige you. If they want to rent the property bad enough they may be willing to cede to your requests. As you can imagine it would not be fair to the owner or landlord for you to sign a lease, move in, and then demand changes that are preferences and not requirements by law. Just as you may not have wanted to rent it in the condition that it is in, the owner may not have wanted to make the concessions that you are requesting. Also, there may have been people other than you that would have loved the property in its current condition that were turned away so that you could rent the property. So to be fair to all parties ask for concessions upfront BEFORE signing anything. Lastly, know your rights and what state law and federal requires and do not go simply based on opinion as they may vary. Ask for videos, additional photos, different angled photos, 5 day out clause be added, or Skype a view of the property. If you don’t communicate your preferences then the landlord will not know.
We hope this is helpful to all those in these unpreventable and impossible circumstances. We want everybody to be happy renting from us and from others. Know what is important to you and express that to the landlord and get it all in writing.