Before You Move

August 26th, 2010 by Andrea Bennett

Three critical things to do before you get a new place.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Before you rent a new place, it’s smart to do some advance work to head off any potential problems at the pass. Has your landlord done everything he or she can to secure the building? Does your building or neighborhood have a history of burglaries or violent crime? Here are three critical things to check on before you move in.

Know your rights

If you thought that there was a universal code governing the relationship between landlords and tenants, well, you’d be wrong. In Nevada, for instance, the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords are not regulated by any state agency. South Carolina, on the other hand, has an extensive list of rights and responsibilities on both sides, in the South Carolina Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. Finding out precisely what your rights are should be your first stop— particularly if you’re relocating across state lines. You can find links to all 50 states’ regulations at www.rentlaw.com.

Ask for the security you’re due

Unlike homeowners, renters usually aren’t in the position to install new locks or subscribe to security systems (which often require a multi-year commitment). The good news is that landlords in most states have at least some legal responsibility to protect their tenants from criminals (or the criminal acts of fellow tenants). First, if your landlord made promises that were part of your basis for deciding to rent the property in the first place—like a doorman, rekeyed locks, or other security measures—you’re entitled to get them. State housing laws (you can find the codes here), which are available from your city manager or in the public library, often detail minimum safety equipment that your landlord must provide, such as deadbolts, peepholes, and safety glass. If these laws apply to you and your landlord won’t comply with them, they may be subject to a fine, or you may be able to install the equipment yourself and deduct the cost from your rent.

Research your neighborhood

The neighborhood you’re considering renting in may look safe, but as in all things, appearances aren’t everything. Has there been a rash of burglaries lately? Is it a haven for other kinds of criminals? There are various ways to find out. You can find out how one city’s record stands up to another’s at Realtor.com’s Relocation Crime Lab, a free search engine. If you’re researching online, you’ll find plenty of subscription services—some as expensive as $20 per month, with a multi-month commitment—which will allow you to see a city’s crime information, the addresses of registered sex offenders, neighborhood demographics, and other information, but you can see all that for no charge at www.city-data.com. And treat the local police department as your move-in resource by giving them a call (or even dropping by, if you’re in a smaller city). They should give you the straight scoop on your prospective building, neighborhood, or even your landlord.