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Signing a lease agreement is a big step! Taking possession is even bigger. Here’s how to protect yourself for that far-away day when you move out.

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Moving into a home is a lot like getting into a new relationship. There’s a honeymoon period and often too much trust given to landlords.

It’s easy to hope everything will be wonderful, but the reality is that lots of things can go wrong over the time you’re in a building and the relationship can crumble.

Smart people in relationships will sign prenuptial agreements. Well, smart renters cover themselves too.

1. Google is your friend

Look for your landlord or management company on the web. If they’ve ever pissed someone off, you’ll likely find mention online. No mention can mean they’re new to the game, they’re so decent no one has anything bad to say about them, or that they changed the company name to evade their reputation.

For instance, let’s call one owner of a previous place I lived in “Big World Rentals.” Well, BWR found themselves in a class action suit and with all kinds of bad press for their tendency to run poorly-maintained buildings back east. They had negative headlines coast-to-coast.

These days, though, they have rebranded with a lovely name and seem like a spiffy company. A quick Googling shows they were formerly BWR. With a little more Googling, one could find a lot of bad stories. Let those alarm bells ring loudly, folks.

2. Take photos

Upon moving in on moving day, photograph everything in the apartment and save them in a file you can’t lose. I’d make a folder in Google Drive and store it in “the cloud” so you’re able to search easily and not worry about it vanishing.

You should also attach the file to an email for the landlords (to “view” only, don’t give them editing permission!). Let them know this is your record of the space, and the photos contained within (list them by filename) reflect the condition upon your move-in.

Document everything that’s not in like-new condition. Include close-ups of flaws and damage.

3. Do a move-in inspection

A move-in inspection may seem like a formality, but it’s not, it’s a document that can lead to you losing hundreds of dollars if you’re not diligent here.

If your landlord doesn’t mention doing a move-in inspection, that’s a big old red flag. Demand one.

From scratches on hardwood floors to pulled seams on carpets, you should be inspecting your apartment extremely thoroughly in your landlord’s presence. Write down every flaw you can find and get the landlord to initial your notes along with the date.

4. Make sure rental payments have a paper trail

The lucky and the few are allowed to pay apartment rentals with credit cards and accrue crazy points, and if you can, go for it! Most of us pay with either checks or direct deposit. Cash, though, is a very foolish way to pay.

WIth checks, recurring automatic payments, or credit card, you’ve got a secure history of payment. With cash, a lost payment receipt on your end can be a nightmare if your landlord’s an idiot like the one I had a few years ago, who would lose checks, never deposit payments, and the like. I couldn’t imagine giving him cash and losing my receipt for the payment.

If you’re required to give post-dated checks for up to a year in advance, make sure you record which check numbers they are, in case a dispute arises or you need to end your tenancy in advance, and so you can stop payment on them.

5. Get it in writing

Did your landlord say it’s okay to paint the place? Have you checked your tenancy agreement? If it says the opposite and all you have is a verbal okay, you could be in trouble at the end of your stay — especially if your building’s owners sell it and all the new owners have to go on is your tenancy agreement, like what happened to me once.

An email, a note, any kind of writing that says they’re giving you permission to do something, it’s what’ll protect you if you have a nasty breakup down the line.

6. See if they’ll pay for upgrades

If you see deficiencies that you don’t mind improving upon, talk to your landlord to see if you can be reimbursed for these purchases. If you don’t do this before you take action, you have no reason to expect them to pay up after the fact.

If they say, sure, go buy a new blind, make certain that you know what the maximum they’ll reimburse is — and it’s wise to get this in writing.

The reality is, it’s unlikely you’ll get this from a landlord, so don’t be surprised if there’s no go on this arrangement.

7. Don’t worry about offending them

It can feel pretty strange to be so nitpicky about a space, but this isn’t personal — it’s your life, and it’s a business transaction. You have every right to protect yourself to the max. That means obsessing over the inspection, making detailed notes, asking all the questions you can.

If your would-be landlord gets offended by you being a pragmatic person, then there’s a good sign it’s not suited to be your long-term home. A professional property agent or landlord understands that you’re taking a risk and they’re prepared to walk you through everything. Anyone who takes offense at this point will clearly not handle things professionally later.

Follow your instincts for situations like these. Moving somewhere you regret is an awful experience, and undoing it can mean blowing a couple thousand dollars.

Take your time, be thorough, and maybe you’ll find the home of your dreams.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.