Column: What not to rent: Let the UI Tenant Union be your guide, not a sweet-talking lessor

By Roxana Ryan

Anyone could write this column. Who hasn’t had a crazy landlord experience? We’ve all heard or experienced the horror stories: broken appliances, filthy carpets, old furniture and creepy maintenance workers.

In August, I moved from a three-bedroom to a four-bedroom apartment in the same complex.

I looked forward to the move — what could be better than a few amazing roommates, extra space and cheaper rent? My smooth-talking landlord said the “renewal transfer” would be an effortless process, and I believed her. Silly me.

The night before my summer school final exams, I received a random, awkward phone call. The new apartment was ready, and we were to move in overnight. Wow, thanks for the notice.

To say the least, the new apartment was filthy. A hole in the ceiling gave spiders full access to our living room.

Walking barefoot wasn’t an option due to the cheap linoleum that stuck to my feet in the kitchen and sharp toenail clippings that adorned the carpet. Gross.

One of my roommates, a self-diagnosed “obsessive compulsive neat freak” had a small mental breakdown before embarking on a crazed cleaning spree. It took weeks to organize the chaos. Now it’s two months later and we’re receiving strange power bills, and our kitchen table is shorter than the chairs. Good times.

What annoyed me most was that the situation was entirely my fault. I never went to the Tenant Union for advice.

I rushed to sign a lease by Thanksgiving before all the ‘good apartments’ were gone. I didn’t ask enough questions, and I was too passive.

My biggest advice is to ask questions. Ask so many questions the landlord gets annoyed. Then ask a few more.

Go to the Tenant Union before you sign the lease, even if it all seems clear. I thought mine was fair when the landlord reviewed it with me. After looking at it again last week with the friendly help at the Tenant Union, I learned just the opposite.

If it’s too late and you’re stuck with a sketchy landlord, be assertive and make notes of your experiences.

If someone tells you your washing machine will be fixed ‘soon’ ask for the name of the person you’re talking to, ask for the name of the person who will repair your washing machine and ask for a more precise time. When the unexpected happens, you’ll have a record of what happened.

Lastly, it should be noted that the majority of landlords in the area seem to do pretty good job.

Out of the 175 landlords on record with the Tenant Union, close to half are complaint-free.

Also, around three-fourths of them have less than five complaints in the past five years.

Happy apartment-hunting season.

Don’t let the man get you down.

Don’t give up looking, and most of all, don’t forget to pay the Tenant Union a visit.