Investigating Your Landlord Before You Lease

Recently, a District of Columbia landlord was ordered to pay the families of two (2) tenants who died in an apartment fire Fifteen Million Dollars ($15,000,000.00). In this case, there were no smoke alarms in the leased apartment, and the windows had been painted shut, trapping the tenants in the apartment when the fire began.

Our firm has seen numerous cases of landlord negligence, unlicensed landlords, and absentee landlords, all of whom do great damage to their tenants.

Before leasing, you should always do the following:

  1. Inspect the particular apartment or house that you will be leasing, and confirm that it has working smoke detectors, and possibly access to a fire escape, or other facilities that would allow you to exit the apartment in case of a fire.
  2. Make sure the landlord is licensed. This can be done through a check with the County or City Landlord-Tenant Office and you can see if complaints have been filed against that particular landlord.
  3. Ask to see a copy of the landlord’s insurance policy or declaration page to ensure that the facility being leased is properly insured.
  4. Review the available information from the local courts about whether or not that prospective new landlord has been sued. For example, in Maryland the Maryland Judiciary Case search site allows one to determine whether any party has been a plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit in Maryland (except evictions). This will allow you to see whether or not your landlord has been subject to any legal actions that resulted in the imposition of a lawsuit of judgment, as well as to determine if the landlord is litigious and regularly sues tenants.

Landlords do a lot to check out their tenants in terms of credit reports, past references and the like. Similarly, tenants should take the time to investigate their prospective new landlord. While a landlord is often seeking only protection against nonpayment of rent, a tenant should be concerned with so much more.