A handy guide to being a “good” tenant

Guest post by Chrislyn Barragan

By: Ben ZvanCC BY 2.0
I wrote a post about what it’s like to work from home as an apartment manager. I wrote about the pitfalls and potential downsides to my job, and the response from you amazing readers was phenomenal.

After reading all your comments, I got inspired to write a post on what I as an apartment manager and landlord look at when I classify someone as a “good tenant.”

I thought long and hard over this and did some research of my own, eventually narrowing it down to six key points:

1. A good tenant pays rent on time

This kinda goes without saying, but the fact remains that people still don’t pay on time. You need to pay your rent on time and in full in order to stay in your apartment. You signed a legal, binding contract to rent from us, and you need to hold up your end of the deal. End of story, that’s it.

Now, we will work with you to negotiate a payment agreement in some cases, but eventually, you still have to pay up. So pay on time and we never have to deal with that, or evict you. Either one sucks for everyone involved.

2. A good tenant keeps the apartment in as close to the condition they find it in as possible

I’m pretty cool with most things. Our contract allows people to hang stuff up, but not to paint. Other places allow you to paint. Your apartment should have policies and rules when it comes to this stuff and you should get a copy of everything you sign (I’ll reference that later on). These copies are your lifeline when it comes to moving out. They detail what you need to do, when you need to do it, and what happens if you don’t do exactly what it says.

The basics are simple: clean up after yourselves and don’t destroy the place. If you abide by this, you should be good.

3. A good tenant takes DETAILED notes and gets copies of EVERYTHING!

Like I said, these copies are your lifeline and guideline. They protect you as much as they protect your landlord and the owners of the apartment. You should get a copy of your lease, anything else with your signature on it, plus a copy of any rules and policies in place.
Also, if your apartments have a charge sheet for repairs (usually anything above normal wear and tear is charged to you), get a copy of that too. That way, if something happens and you get charged for it, you can double check to make sure they aren’t ripping you off. Plus, it helps for other stuff, like residency if you are on a visa, lower tuition if you are a college or university student, and life reasons.

Know your rights, know when to use them and how to use them properly.

4. A good tenant understands that the people around you are human, including your landlord

People mess up, they do stupid shit. They’re human, and each and every person you will meet will be different than you in many ways. So don’t expect everyone to act just like you. And when you eventually are disappointed (let’s face it, you will be), don’t flip out. This is life.

You will never love all your neighbors; in fact, you most likely will not even like them. But, you do have to live with them until one of you moves. Take this as an opportunity to grow as a human being and as a global citizen rather than a new reason to bitch about something.

Of course, if the stupid shit is incredibly bad or dangerous or flat-out terrifying, please report them to the proper authorities, then bitch in a written statement to use later on in a potential court case. I fully encourage that form of bitching, and kudos to you for standing up for your rights!

5. A good tenant is not afraid to ask questions, nor are they afraid to demand answers

If you don’t understand something, speak up! It’s your obligation to make sure you understand what is expected of you, so ask for clarification whenever you need it. Never feel embarrassed to ask questions. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to demand answers. If something doesn’t feel right or sit well with you, tell us and we can work together to fix the problem.

If you don’t mention it, nothing gets fixed and you remain frustrated, neither of which are good for anyone involved, especially you the renter. You have to live with it, so be proactive.

6. Most importantly, a good tenant acts like a grownup

You are old enough to lease an apartment and sign a legal document. The simple fact is that you making these decisions means you have some responsibilities in your life. So act like an adult! Don’t blame others around you for what you are on the hook for.

Now, we do understand that life happens (job loss, etc.) and you can’t necessarily control that. However, this does not mean you have the right to delegate your personal responsibilities to other people, especially those who don’t live with you. You made the conscious decision to move here, so act like an adult and take responsibility for your actions.

I know that there are many things that go into identifying someone as a “good” tenant. There are variables depending on situation, location, and your own background. However, based on what I do and where I am, these seem to be the six most basic tenets that a good tenant needs to have in my opinion.

To my fellow landlords and apartment managers, please feel free to elaborate on your experiences in the comments below. To my renters, these are not set in stone rules, but guidelines to keep in mind that should take you through a lot of rental situations with little to no hassle or fuss.

Anyone else have tips for being a kick-ass tenant?

Comments on A handy guide to being a “good” tenant

  1. A good tenant also promptly reports problems to the right people.

    I can’t tell you how many times I walked into the laundry room to find “Out of Order” signs on machines, despite the half a dozen notices of whom to report problems to. I did the calling, and no one else had reported the broken machines. One time I came home to find a piece of the roof in the yard. I called the landlord and said, “Hey, I’m sure you already know this, but there’s a piece of the roof in the yard.” No one had told him. Ridiculous.

  2. Agreed with Cassie! I love that my current tenants report all problems immediately. It makes it easier for me to respond before an issue gets worse, keeps lines of communication open, and allows me to promptly notify any neighbors that the Issue might affect. Also, on the note about paying rent on time – yay internet! Set up your rent as a recurring payment with your bank. As noted, sometimes people screw up and forget, so this way you don’t have to think about it so much.

    • I truly <3 the recurring payments option my bank offers. I haven't had to write a check to my landlady in since 2008. We live in a mobile home park where we own our home but rent the dirt, so the only time I even need to think about the rent payment is during the annual "we've raised your rent by $15" event.
      It's glorious.

  3. Can we make a list of what makes a good landlord? lol

    I live in a very large complex on the second floor. When we moved in here, under us was a storage unit, which was great because our dog likes to run around and the landlord was aware of this and ok with it. About a year or so after moving in, they decide to turn the unit underneath us into an actual apartment, with people living in it. These people did not appreciate my dog, and often came up to my unit and harassed me (they waited until my husband was gone ALWAYS and only bothered me) and threatened to harm my dog or get us evicted if we didn’t get rid of the dog (I tried my best to keep her running to a minimum and even bought extra thick rugs to put on top of the carpets to lessen the thumping, but I think they just liked to complain) and the landlord addressed the issue by giving us warnings about the dog and at one point told us the dog had to go. The unit below us wound up flooding and the tenants moved out. The new tenants have not made any complaints.

    However, previous to all of this, I had made a complaint to the landlord about the tenants above us: the domestic abuse between that couple is nuts. I hear them fighting/screaming/throwing things at each other/beating on each other almost daily, and my kids can hear it, too. A few days ago the people above us were making pounding noises so loud that the people under us started banging on their ceiling thinking we were making the noise! I have called the police several times and that goes nowhere. The landlord tells me that there’s nothing she can do about it! I fail to see how a dog running is worse than constantly hearing a man beating up a woman and her screaming, but maybe that’s just me!

    Sorry for the rant lol

    • Yeah I’m down with that list. I am a good tenant. I pay my rent, don’t have any pets, let the real estate know when we are going away, look after the place, the garden always looks spectacular.

      The number one that gets me is landlords using the cheapest of everything to look after their properties. Our apartment was painted before we moved in. I have a hell of a time cleaning the walls (just general dirty marks like hand prints around light switches etc nothing major) because washing the wall with a soft cloth and warm water rubs the paint off. No soap, no hard rubbing, just a gentle wipe with a wet soft cloth is enough to rub off the crappy paint and show the old yellow underneath.
      Number two. Fix stuff. If it’s broken FIX IT. We have moved out of two places because the landlord wouldn’t fix stuff and in Australia you would have to take them to court to force them to fix it and that costs money and we might not necessarily win. If you rent an air-conditioned place and the aircon breaks, fix it. If the roof is leaking and water is pouring into the apartment, FIX IT. If the stove is heating up so much that your tenants can’t touch the knobs without a glove on, replace it.

      Oh and if you are going to take photos when you come in for a general 6 monthly inspection, tell the tenants first. We got security camera’s after 4 attempted break ins in the first two months in this place. Then the real estate lets herself in and we have her on camera wandering around taking photographs of everything. And yes, the real estate knows we got security cameras.

      • Our first rent inspection in our current place, they wanted to take photos of every room! Which we’d never had before. We thought about it for a while and then said yes (which I kinda regret now, but oh well). But if we hadn’t been there, they would have just taken the photos, of all our stuff! And we wouldn’t have even known about it! What if their computer got stolen with all those pictures on it?

        And also, everyone else that wants to take pictures these days needs consent forms filled in – they weren’t even going to ask us! If landlords or rental agents want the right to take photos, it needs to be in the lease, or a separate consent form filled in by the tenants, and the tenants need a copy of the privacy policy (Obviously occasional photos like where the water damage where the shower is leaking into the wall is a bit different)

        (Sorry, that turned into a rant – obvs I’m still upset about this. Maybe I should email them and ask to have the photos deleted)

  4. A good tenant also keeps their landlord in the loop about things that could effect the property and its value that’s not material. I live in a large, university centric town and there have been times that I have had to call the police on neighbors or people on our property related to football events or street traffic that accompanies party-centric areas. I try to let my landlord know within 24 hours that the house may be in the police blotter or that xyz happened but it’s all cool now, like when we found a bum sleeping inside of the hallway of our fourplex walkup.

    We also let our landlord know when we are going to be out of town for more than two days. I know this probably wouldn’t work for a lot of people but we have a very functional, professional relationship with our landlord. He even came over once to check on my cat when my house sitter and backup person couldn’t come over while I was away. Courtesy, please & thank you, and saying what you’re going to do and doing what you said you would do go a long way.

    • In grad school, I lived in a basement apartment with the landlords in the main house. Communication was absolutely key between us. They made sure to tell us any time they would have a lot of people over, as a courtesy, if they ever had maintenance people over that would need access to some of the utility boxes in our apartment they gave us as much notice as they could, and even reduced our rent one month because the interruptions from some home repairs upstairs were almost daily for about two weeks. Frankly, my roomie and I weren’t even home most of those days and/or it forced us to be civil and put on pants and bras that day (#gradschoolprobs), but they felt bad for the interruptions.

      On the flip side, we always told them if we’d both be out of town, if we were sending the rent early, or if we had any packages that would be showing up (we shared a mailing address). Courtesy, people!

  5. A good tenant will communicate any issue they may have with rent *before* rent is due. My parents are landlords and they once had a tenant who always paid 2 weeks late, like clockwork. He even included the late payment penalty. My dad finally said something to him after about 4 months of this. Turns out his paycheck came through on the 15th, so that’s when he needed to pay instead of the 1st. My parent changed the day his rent was due from the 1st to the 15th, no problems. All he had to do was ask.

    A good tenant will also make sure that all agreements and conversations they have with their landlord are documented, even if they have a friendly or familial relationship with them (in my case, my parents are my landlords but I have a normal lease and pay full rent). If something is wrong or need fixed, I always text or email my dad about the problem. Often, the things I give him a heads-up on fall in his realm (leaky roof, clothing dryer snapped a belt, kitchen faucet broke) per our lease terms. However, he is just as good as telling me that some of these things fall in our realm (install a window A/C unit). He did give me dad advice, though, on how to do it and what to use, so that is certainly helpful.

  6. I was a property manager for several years, and this thing goes 2 ways: a good tenant does their due diligence on what the law allows and doesn’t allow in their area so they are well informed about what they are signing when that lease agreement is put in front of them. A good landlord does the same thing and doesn’t put illegal provisions in their lease agreement. Many times, landlords look online for “standard” leases and just use them, but they don’t realize that laws are different from place to place and they may have to add or remove clauses that are necessary for their area. It baffles and irritates me to see even in Craigslist ads advertising apartments when I see illegal things being posted (discriminatory “no kids”, or “nonrefundable” deposits which are illegal where I live). People think that just because they’re the landlord they can do what they want and its’ not true!

    • Exactly. In my area, you cannot refuse people for having kids, being unmarried, having pets, family type, etc. However, almost every ad involves something about those! Unfortunately many get around the pets thing by including a line about how lying on the application can result in instant eviction. It’s common to have to declare it as “I didn’t have pets, but now I DO”.

  7. *applauds*

    To this, I would add:

    *Read the ENTIRE rental/lease agreement, including any fine print, BEFORE signing. When I managed a college dorm, students threw screaming tantrums on a regular basis over things that they’d legally agreed to, per their signed lease agreements. (I made a point of informing them that when they entered the “real world”, their behavior could get them evicted and placed on the “undesirable tenant” blacklist. In my home state, it’s nearly impossible to get off the blacklist and housing is very expensive, so too many late rent payments and loud parties can screw a renter for life.)

    *A good tenant keeps landlords informed within an appropriate time frame. A fire or flood should always be reported right away (due to the structural damage they can cause); a doorbell that breaks at 10pm on a Saturday can wait until Monday morning. (Once in a while, landlords genuinely forget things – mine does – so it never hurts to make a note of what you reported and when.)

    *A good tenant gets renter’s insurance (preferably before moving in) and doesn’t expect the landlord to pay for damaged or stolen items. Hopefully it’ll never happen to you, but except in cases of negligence (i.e. refusing to fix broken locks or faulty wiring), it’s not your landlord’s fault if your laptop gets stolen or if your toaster catches on fire.

    *A good tenant uses common sense. I once had a tenant tell me she’d had a set of keys go missing that morning and had changed the locks just in case. That was fine with me; I would rather have had her be proactive and safe than wait for me to get home from my day job to deal with the locksmith. (Yes, she gave me a copy of the new key, and yes, I reimbursed her for the new lock.)

  8. Don’t know if anyone has said this yet cause I just enthusiastically scrolled straight down here to say never, ever, ever, EVER rent from “friends”. Worst. Experience. EVER.

    My husband and I were in a bind a few years ago and an old sort of friend/associate of his mentioned he had a cute little house he wanted to rent out. We could move in straight away, no worries about any down payments or whatever. We needed to move to this area FAST and our current lease was running out, so we said sure, let’s do it. We got to look at it a week before our lease was ending and OH MY GOD. It was a nightmarish disaster. Tiny tiny house (900 sq ft) and looked like a damn bomb went off in it. Seriously there were big holes in walls. We did a ton of work to get it livable, and everyone who comes over always compliments us on how nice we have the place, but that was 3 years ago. We’ve been stuck here dealing with things breaking and not getting fixed, an extremely rigged back door that barely stays shut, wonky plumbing, an incredible insect problem (we have addressed the issue many times and we’ve paid over $600 in pest control) and recently discovering that we are being ridiculously overcharged for rent. We’ve recently decided to move and simply can’t wait to get the hell out of here. What sucks is I just now that once we leave, they will totally fix the place up how they should have in the first place since they know they can’t rent it out for a decent amount to anyone else. It’s only because we’re “friends” that things are overlooked. My small little revenge? I don’t pay rent on time. I know it’s bad, but once I realized they weren’t going to be taking care of things and I started getting bitter, I stopped putting rent before everything else and I’ve paid on different dates for the last 5 months. I seriously feel like they take advantage that we are not going to give them a hard time like any other tenant would, so they just don’t even bother. UGH. Ok, sorry, rant over.

    • WOW…Are you living in my old house?? I cleaned up dog poo, decades old clutter inside and out, fixed large chunks of walls, finished plywood floors, painted everything….All to save a deposit from a “friend” and pay what I thought was cheap rent based on my previous region (which it actually wasn’t for that area) while keeping critters away and dealing with leaks, shit plumbing and electric, you name it. Oh yeah, forgot the closet ceilings that I installed – they never replaced them after roof leaks caved them in and wild animals could freely enter the home. Seriously, hundreds of dollars just in cleaning before we could move in and I got no rent deducted for that.

      After a few years when we moved she got all pissy even though I found a renter for her (that she knew for a decade, had lived with, on very good terms) because her MIL started drama with the prospective tenant after my landlord called her and told her not to preemptively. lol. Then totally flipped about a mirror that she didn’t take with her and in fact explicitly gave to me. grrr… I ended up blocking all online contact and not leaving a forwarding address the day that we moved.

  9. I would add that part of being a good tenant is not making your fellow tenants miserable
    (assuming you have fellow tenants). We recently left our apartment in large part because the people upstairs were so darn loud. They let their child bounce a basketball indoors all day and night, vacuumed at 4 am, and shouted at each other at all hours. Use some common sense and recognize that your actions impact other people!

  10. I agree with everything the author and commenters have said here, especially letting a landlord know when something is broken or unsafe to use. That being said, if you have *certain* landlords don’t hold your breath on said problems being resolved too quickly. I spent a week waiting on a new hot water heater to be installed after one conked out on me.. after starting a new job.. I had to boil water on my stove and do sponge baths in the kitchen before going to work or else have my friend sneak me into the local YMCA she worked at. I kept asking my co-workers if I smelled bad and having to explain that my landlord has different ideas about what ‘basic’ amenities are. It sounds like I’m not alone from some of the comments I’ve read here though. And it sounds like I’m not the only one who just fixes stuff on her own when the management drags their feet on repairs.

  11. I am living in my first not-college apartment, and, in addition to what’s been mentioned before, my landlord mostly just said to stay in touch. We have to get our mail in the main lobby of the building, so I stop by a couple times a week to check that and say hello, ask questions, and let her know if there’s an issue or if my boyfriend’s visiting, I’ll be out of town, etc. I’m fortunate to have a landlord who is super reasonable and responsive to problems as I bring them up.

    I also want to second the part about being a good neighbor, and also to (politely) speak up if you have a problem with your neighbor. My upstairs neighbors were making ALL sorts of noise at all hours of the night, and, being a light sleeper, it cost me a week of sleep. I finally went up there to introduce myself and let them know they had been keeping me awake, and they had no idea! They were super nice about it, and now move around more quietly/limit their dog’s playing during the times when I need to be asleep. Again, I lucked out with really nice neighbors, but it’s always worth a shot to try to work something out. I think most people would rather hear the complaint from you before the landlord anyways, and if it continues to be a problem, you can go to the landlord at that point.

    It’s also worth keeping your habits and preferences in mind when you pick out a place. If you know you have a big, playful dog, or that you like playing DDR at 2am, consider asking for a ground floor apartment. If you’re a light sleeper (like me), ask for a top floor apartment (I’ll be moving upstairs in a couple months). This helps prevent noise problems before they start.

    Oh! Almost forgot: be super nice to the maintenance people (this is something they told me as a teacher as well). Especially if they have to show up at midnight to fix your shower that malfunctioned and is shooting water across the bathroom. Tip them nicely, be polite (it’s probably not their fault that you have a problem), and say hi when you see them out and about. Also be aware that your problem might not be a top priority. Overflowing toilets will always take precedence over your hot water not working, and hot water not working is more important than your broken cabinet hinge.

  12. A good tenant is also respectful of fellow rentees. Like noise, and cleaning. And subwoofer. Oh man, the subwoofer. With videogames. At midnight.

    Good communication always seems to be key. Nurture the relationship with your landlord and you *usually* won’t be just a number who gives you money every month. Usually.

  13. About 3 years I moved back to “home” from 10 years in London. For the time being I stayed at my sisters place till I got a job and get my own place. Fast forward, I get my own place and also get my husband (to be at the time) from the States over. 2 in 1 bonus 😉
    Being a good renter is not enough. I found out 2 months in that the rent was too high. We have regulations here on what you can charge for a place depending on size, location, etc. it’s was over by €300 every month. Long story short, we got evicted when trying to get it reduced via the legal channels we have available.
    In our current place we are being screwed over so hard, we can’t even go anywhere else because we have no savings to pay for moving again. This new place we moved into 6 months ago is breaking down. Rain leaks through the roof into our kitchen (it rains a lot..), bedroom has so many gaps around the windows it’s unbearably cold at night now due to that, shower that had to be installed within 2 months has taken 7 months instead, and there are mice.. And I have 2 cats to avoid these coming anywhere near, the landlord knows about the problems and the cats and he “forgets” about the issues regularly and was fine with the cats as he kept saying he can’t fight the mice as they jut keep coming back. It just says in my contract we can’t have cats..
    Now that I complained that nothing is getting fixed 7 months in and that the shower is taking a really long time to fix I get a message that my cats are a problem (out of nowhere) and they have to go. I’m being threatened with eviction AGAIN. Currently we’ve literally being put ” on hold” as the landlord went on holiday for a month.. The cats can stay.. for now… I’m in limbo and I’ve been a good tenant. I pay a ridiculously high rent on time every month, after letting them know of the problems I don’t harass the landlord to get it fixed. At this point I don’t want to say anything at all in fear of making things worse for myself. Yeah, being a good tenant means nothing sometimes. Renting is a two way street, I just haven’t met a decent landlord in this country. Ridiculous.

  14. If you’re a smoker, obey non-smoking policies listed in your lease! These policies exist to protect residents with breathing problems (such as myself), and also to decrease the chances of someone accidentally setting the place on fire. I am actually in the process of finding a new place to live because one of my neighbors likes to smoke right where air comes into my apartment (which is a violation of the lease). I have asthma, so smoke getting sucked into where I live is a huge problem. The landlords have talked to the guy multiple times, and even handed him a violation notice, but he still smokes next to my door. If you want to be able to smoke, rent a place that will let you do so instead of making other people miserable. Make sure you ask about the smoking policy when you are apartment hunting, BEFORE you sign the lease. If you must live in a place with a no-smoking policy, consider alternatives! Can you smoke in your car? Switch to e-cigarettes? Try to quit?

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