Most landlords do some kind of background check on potential tenants, but tenants should be doing similar kinds of checks on landlords. A landlord may be wary of tenants with a bad credit history, a criminal record, or that just has lousy references.In the same way, a tenant should be wary of landlords that have racked up lots of code violations, routinely evict tenants, and have a mile long record in the courts.
Visit your city’s municipal court website
In Philadelphia, anyone can visit the municipal court website and check the track record of their landlord. It’s not the most user-friendly website in the world, but you can search to see how many cases your landlord has in court, and as a public user you can see some of the court documents.
Do your due diligence
Just because there are one or two cases doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider that landlord. Even the best landlords eventually will end up with a bad tenant that they have to evict, or merely get caught for not updating their building for new regulations fast enough. But at a certain point, there’s a pattern that says find a different apartment!
Become a landlord detective
Finding nothing doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Sometimes landlords operate different properties as separate businesses. If you’re in Philadelphia, you can go to Property.phila.gov and search for other properties that your landlord may own, and check out if there is a history of code violations or court cases related to that property.
At the end of the day, it’s only about an hour of work to make sure that your potential landlord isn’t a slumlord. It’s something that we as tenants should just get in the habit of doing for our protection.