Beware of “finders” or agencies that promise to find you a place for a fee.  These agencies do little that you cannot do yourself.  They usually offer listings of apartments which you can find yourself, and many of the apartments they list are already rented.  If you use a service make sure your fee is refundable if you do not find a place.
Title & Tax Status Report

Too often renters are scammed by people pretending to own properties they do not own. The hapless tenants only find out later that they gave substantial money to someone they may never see again.

Others move into properties for which taxes are not current and face a possible change in ownership and a new landlord after a tax sale which can extinguish their lease.

Foreclosure Status Report

Foreclosures are rampant all around the country and Philadelphia is no exception. Once a property is foreclosed upon the new owner must honor the tenant’s lease. However, any landlord can make continuing the tenancy a difficult challenge. In addition, landlords in foreclosure are frequently behind in other debts and fail to make timely repairs.

Rental License

Landlords in Philadelphia are legally required to obtain a license to rent a property before collecting any rent. This license is obtained by filing ownership and agency information with the City Department of Licenses and Inspections. The licenses process protects both tenants and the general public by making landlords accountable for their properties.

Even though landlords are not entitled collect rent without a license, some inexperienced or irresponsible landlords fail to get licenses as required.

Ask for a copy of your landlord’s rental license. Or you can call Department of Licenses and Inspections by dialing 311 in Philadelphia and find out if your landlord has a license.

Make sure you give any home you are thinking of renting a thorough inspection.

Take along a copy of the Housing Code Checklist when you inspect the house or apartment.  Run the tap to see if the water is hot; try the lights; flush the toilet; open the windows; and watch for roaches or rodents.  If too many things are not working, you have probably found a landlord worth avoiding.

To be absolutely sure, call the Department of Licenses and Inspections by dialing 311 in Philadelphia to see if there are any Housing Code violations on the property.

Code Violations Report

Rental properties are legally required to meet minimum health and safety standards set forth in the local housing code. When they do not and a tenant complains to the city, an inspection is made and the code violations are recorded. These violations are not always promptly corrected, leaving a paper trail of neglect.

You can find out if the property you are planning to rent has outstanding violations on record with the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections. At the very least this will help you to know what repairs may need to be made before your move in. To get a free copy of any outstanding code violations on a rental property go to:

Department of Licenses & Inspections
1401 JFK Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 

Neighborhood Safety – Before you sign the lease, see the place during the day and night. 

In real estate, location is everything. However, Landlords are not legally responsible for the quality of the neighborhood surrounding their properties. Whether or not a neighborhood feels safe varies from person to person based upon their expectations and past experience.

Nevertheless, objective data, like crime statistics can be helpful. Evaluate the relative safety of a prospective location prior to signing a lease.

Determine if the neighborhood is quiet and safe.  See if people living in the area seem friendly and neighborly.  This is your responsibility.  Ask neighbors about the landlord, repairs and why the last tenants moved out.  Think twice before renting a home from a landlord with a bad reputation.

 Get receipts for any payments you make to your new landlord.

If you leave a deposit to hold the apartment or house, or if you pay for a security deposit towards the rent, get a receipt.  If you cannot get a receipt from the landlord, pay by check or money order and save the canceled check.

 Make sure any promises that are made are put in writing.

Sometimes a landlord will promise to make repairs once you have moved in or after you sign a lease.  If your landlord promises new cupboards, clean carpets or new locks, type up the list and ask the landlord to sign it. If possible, take pictures.  By doing so, you are protecting yourself.  If something, like a refrigerator, is missing that was supposed to be included notify your landlord immediately in writing.