Thankfully, most landlords care about the condition of their properties and make good faith efforts to make repairs, fix water leaks and control vermin such as cockroaches, bed bugs, rats and mice. However, there are many landlords who just don't care. They buy old beat-up buildings not to fix them, but to suck as much cash as they can out of their tenants while ignoring much needed repairs. That's the definition of a slumlord - a landlord who values money over the health and safety of the families who live in their buildings.
With this sharp dose of reality in mind, it's important to have a clear idea of how to spot a slumlord. Look for these signs and stay away!
1. The exterior of the property is in poor condition. Your informal inspection of any building should start with the exterior of the property. Look for peeling paint, broken windows, torn screens, missing vent screens, broken or degraded stucco and exterior mold. These are obvious signs of neglect. If a landlord is ignoring repairs they can plainly see simply by walking around the outside of their building, you know you'll have troubles on the inside.
2. Common areas are dirty and neglected. Over and over we walk into buildings to meet with our clients and find walkways, hallways and laundry rooms all but falling apart. Stained carpeting, exposed wiring and water leaks are all bad signs.
3. The landlord promises to make repairs after you sign the lease but before you move in. We don't like this one bit. Time after time, slumlords say, "yeah, we'll fix that before you move in." But when you show up with your kids, boxes, clothes and furniture, your apartment looks exactly the same. That's not good.
First, you have every right to a safe and habitable rental home. If you see peeling paint, water leaks or other defects, point them out and make a note on your lease that these items will be fixed before you move in. Get it in writing!
The law in California protects you from the actions of selfish, money-hungry landlords. However, tenants cannot put their head in the sand and hope everything is going to be OK. Speak up and speak out. When you make a deal with a new landlord, put it in writing. When you ask for repairs, do it in writing and keep a copy of your note or letter! If the landlord won't cooperate, remind them - in writing - that you've been asking for his or her help for weeks and if they won't help, you will have no choice but to call the local health and housing department.
If a slumlord has taken advantage of you, don't hesitate to contact us so you can learn more about your legal rights and the action you can take to improve your situation in the future.