Tips on how to be a good tenant
Updated: Jun 10
As a renter, you’ll have good landlords and you’ll have bad ones. There’s not much you can do when it comes to the person at the other end of your leasing agreement, but there are things you can do as a tenant to keep things copacetic and maintain a good relationship with the person who you rent from. Figuring out how to be a good tenant goes even a step further than that, helping you foster positive relationships with your neighbors and the other people in your community. There’s a lot of incentive to consciously do what you can to be a good tenant, and fortunately, it’s really not all that difficult. Here’s where to start.
Be honest in your application
There’s a lot of competition out there for the best apartments. And when it comes to positioning yourself at the top of the application pile, it may be tempting to fudge the truth a little. Saying you don’t have a pet when you really do or that you don’t intend to have regular guests over when you know your significant other will essentially be living there along with you may seem like small fibs, but they’re likely to catch up with you. As with pretty much everything else in life, honesty is the best policy when you’re wanting to be a good tenant, and it all starts with your application.
Actually read the lease
Knowing what you’re agreeing to before you sign your lease is crucial for being a good tenant. There may be something in there that you wouldn’t otherwise know to adhere to, such as noise regulations that state you can’t play loud music after 10pm or rules around how to make sure you get your security deposit back at the end of your rental term. The more well versed you are in the (legally-binding) agreement between you and your landlord, the better tenant you’re going to be.
Don’t rent more than you can afford
The golden rule of housing costs is that they shouldn’t account for more than 30 percent of your expenses every month (or put another way, no more than 1/40th of your annual income). But in 2017, “fully two-thirds of renter households earned less than $60,000,” according to Harvard University’s most recent State of the Nation’s Housing report. With rental prices continuing to climb, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the large majority of renters to stick to the 30 percent rule.
Only you really know how much you’ll be comfortable spending every month, but agreeing to an home that will require an unreasonably significant portion of your income can lead to late payments and missed payments. Part of being a good tenant is renting within your means, even when your means don’t get you that in-unit washer/dryer you really want. And on that note….
Pay your rent
Paying your rent—and paying it on time—is one of the most basic tenets of how to be a good tenant. Your landlord should never have to hunt you down and ask for your rent to be paid. And unless your lease dictates that you have some flexibility in when lease payments are due (say, up to five days from the first of the month) make sure your payment is dropped off on or before the due date. This will go a long way toward maintaining a strong relationship during your tenancy.
Not sure about something? Ask
The saying “it’s easier to apologize than ask for permission” does not apply to the landlord-tenant relationship. If you want to paint a wall, adopt a cat, or upgrade an existing light fixture and you’re not sure if you’re allowed to, ask your landlord before making a move. Any exceptions to what is stated in your lease will need to be agreed upon between the two of you in writing. Failure to do so can result in some serious penalties, including fines or an eviction. It will also erode trust in your ability to be a good tenant. The guidelines surrounding your relationship with your landlord are business-focused, not personal, so don’t make assumptions about what your landlord will be okay with just because you’re on good terms.
Keep it clean
Cleanliness in both your apartment and any shared common areas is a hugely important quality of a good tenant and neighbor. Landlords want tenants who will take good care of their properties and leave them exactly as they found them. While normal wear and tear is acceptable, it’s on you to ensure that you do your part to keep the space clean and in good condition. That’s not to say you have to deep clean your apartment once a week if it’s not in your nature, but be reasonable about how clean you keep your unit, and always be as neat and tidy as possible in the common spaces, both indoor and outdoor.
Submit maintenance requests right away
While you may think your landlord doesn’t want to be bothered with maintenance requests, it’s actually much more preferable on their end to know about—and fix—a problem as soon as it occurs rather than let it fester and potentially turn into something else. This is especially true if it’s a problem with heating, cooling, or leaking, all of which can get more difficult and expensive to solve the longer the problem goes on. If something’s broken, let your landlord know so that he or she can address it.
Kindness goes a long way. You don’t have to build a friendship with your landlord or your neighbors, but acknowledging them with a smile and a “hello” is a small gesture that can make a big difference in how they view you as a tenant. Being friendly during your tenancy will make the whole experience more pleasant, and it can also mean that if a problem does arise you’re treated a bit more generously.
Communicate openly and directly
Speaking of problems, just like with maintenance requests it’s always better to communicate what is going on rather than letting things build up and get worse. Let your landlord know if you’re having roommate or neighbor issues or if there’s some other issue that’s affecting you and your satisfaction with your living environment. It’s always better to speak up and let your landlord know what’s going on, especially since they’re not necessarily on the ground at the property very often. The best tenants are the ones that don’t bring a ton of drama. Openly communicating about things that are going on shows that you’re focused on solutions.
Try not to be too high maintenance
Chances are you are not your landlord’s only tenant and they have a lot going on. While it’s perfectly acceptable (and definitely preferable) to bring up any serious issues that you’re having, not every problem is worthy of a complaint. For example, if the property’s landscapers tend to loudly mow the lawn at 9am and you like to sleep in until noon that’s really more of an inconvenience than a problem that your landlord needs to solve. Find a balance between what’s worthy of reaching out over and what you can handle on your own (or just deal with) so that you’re not constantly barraging your landlord with things that you want them to fix.
Making an effort to be a good tenant is pretty much always in your best interest. It will make your tenancy go a whole lot smoother, and it will also make your landlord much more likely to give you a stellar recommendation when it’s time to move on to your next rental. In general, treat your apartment as you would treat your own house and treat the people around you as you would like to be treated. It’s easy to do, and appreciated by all.