The Checklist - Or, How to Cover Your Fanny in Case of Damage

Think about the items below when you view the property. In addition, your manager should have a checklist with some of these items listed. If something you notice is not listed - LIST IT! Once you have filled it out, have the manager sign and date it. KEEP A COPY for your records - I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. If repairs are required, get a date of repair as well - IN WRITING! Because once you move in, you can be at the landlord's mercy. Some things to check and make notations on are follows and are usually found on the checklist the manager provides. If the manager does not provide a checklist, print this one and use it.

Outside the Apartment

  • Are there lights in the common areas? Are they lit at all times?
  • Does the roof leak? (Look for staining or mold.)
  • Are the outside areas maintained nicely?
  • Are there hand railings where there are three steps or more?
  • Are the porches safe?
  • Are there any holes, breaks, and loose or rotting boards in the exterior walls or foundation?
  • Where are the garbage cans located? Are they full?

Windows and Doors

  • Does every room have at least one window or skylight, which can be opened, except bathroom, laundry, furnace, pantry, kitchenette, or utility room?
  • Do the locks on all exterior doors work properly?
  • Does wind or rain enter the place through the doors or windows?
  • Are there any broken windows?
  • Do all the windows operate properly?
  • Are there screens on all the windows?

Bathroom and Kitchen

  • Does your kitchen have cabinets and shelves? What is their condition?
  • Do the drains, toilets, sinks and other plumbing fixtures work well? Turn on the water to check pressure and whether or not it gets hot; and flush the toilets.
  • Turn on the bathroom fan it on to check if it is working.
  • Is the floor easy to clean and in good condition?
  • Is the stove safe and in good repair? Do you smell gas?
  • How does the manager let you know when the water may be off?

Bedrooms

  • Are the windows and closets in good shape? Is there a telephone or cable jack in the room?

Flooring

  • What condition is the carpet or linoleum in? Is it dirty? Is it curling up? Are there fleas? (A good test for fleas is to wear white socks and take off your shoes, scuff your feet along the carpet - then look for the little critters on your socks.)

Electric and Water

  • If you have a water heater in your unit is it vented to the outside? (It should not be in your bathroom or bedroom.)
  • Are there any electrical outlets, switches or fixtures that do not operate properly?
  • Do any pipes leak? Open the cabinets under the kitchen and bathroom sinks - these are notorious leaks that renters don't discover at walk-through.

General

  • Does your heating system work?
  • Are there insects or rodents in the dwelling? Obvious at it sounds, look for droppings inside drawers and cabinets.
  • Does the basement flood?
  • Do the walls or ceiling leak?

    Warranty of Habitability

    By law, apartment tenants are entitled to livable, safe and sanitary conditions. Any condition caused by the tenant would not be a breach of the warranty and must be fixed by the tenant. Landlords cannot enforce lease provisions or other agreements that breach the tenant's warranty of habitability. Unsanitary conditions should be reported to the County Health Department's Sanitation Office. Questions of building or fire hazards should be reported to your municipal Building Inspector or Fire Department.

    After making your notes on your checklist, have the landlord or manager sign and date it, and mail him or her a copy. In the case that repairs are not made, you have proof the manager knew about the problem. In addition, this copy ensures the court or Health Department inspector that you have attempted to rectify the problem. Make sure you include the following information on every letter:

    • Your name
    • Your apartment number
    • Your phone numbers - work, home and cell.
    • The date you sent the letter - (this documents your attempts to correct the problems, and looked upon favorably by the courts should you have to pursue legal avenues.)
    • A description of the problems or repairs to be made.
    • A date for action - be reasonable here - unless it is a matter of health and safety, give your landlord at least five days to repair the problem. If the heat does not work, or the toilets don't flush, request immediate repairs or you will report the problem to the Health Department.

    Sometimes being nice won't get the repairs made - in that case you can contact the proper agency. Make sure that you have been firm with your landlord and asked for the repairs more than once before contacting an attorney or agency. Make sure the landlord knows you will be contacting the proper agency. This usually "reminds" them to make the repairs.

    Next: What to do when problems arise