Rental Risks & Realities - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Rental Risks & Realities

WATERLOO (KWWL) -- College students are finally settling into their new schedule and their new home away from home. Young people in the know, know now the time to lock down next year's rental.

"We actually, I think we contracted in November for the next June. I was just ready to be a little more independent, cook my own food, have my own room," said UNI student Jamie Pope.

The allure of having independence and living on your own can lure inexperienced renters into a bad situation.

"Every city you go to, there's good landlords and there's bad landlords. The tenant has to be aware of who they rent from," said Cedar Falls Fire Captain Bobby Wright.

Nobody knows the good from the bad better than Wright. He's the inspector trusted to keep Cedar Falls landlords in check.

"It's about, 75% are clean, the other 25% are, needs work. When I say needs work, meaning the maintenance could be done a little better on the house, windows could be painted, house could be painted. But when it comes to fire code, safety inspections, they all pass," said Wright.

Nearly three years ago, Cedar Falls adopted a new "point system". If a landlord accumulates 15 points, the tenants are evicted, and the landlord can't rent out that property for six months.

"It's a little more strict than it used to be. Cedar Falls really holds itself to a high standard, and they have some of the strictest building codes in the US," noted landlord and property manager Tim Hoekstra.

A look at Cedar Falls records suggests, landlords and property managers are living up to these high standards. The city has not had to suspend anyone's rental permit.

But that doesn't mean you should blindly trust a landlord in the area. Before you sign a lease, do your research and read the fine print. In Cedar Falls, you can review previous or current violations at City Hall. If you're renting in Iowa City, it's all available right online.

"Anytime that we can, we drag people to the website to let them know that information is there," Iowa City Senior Housing Inspector Stan Laverman said.

If you're interested in, or are concerned about, a property, you can review the results of inspections dating back to the nineties. It holds Iowa City landlords accountable for every violation with a clear, unmistakable, pass or fail. The chief housing inspector believes most property owners are proud to publish their good name.

"They want us to go through and not find anything. They take pride in that. That when we do an inspection they know we don't have to find anything. If we go out to a property and its in good condition we can say -- it's in good condition," said Laverman.

Iowa City is working to make the system even better. In the near future, the city will launch a mapped version of their records, allowing renters to pinpoint properties, or even neighborhoods, which have a history of problems.

"Everything that we do is public record. And I think that it's important because we can't recommend to you a landlord. But what we can give you is all the information you need or should be able to use to make an informed decision," he added.

Bottom line -- know what you're getting into. City inspectors are doing their part, but they can't be everywhere, all the time. Which is why students, and really any renters, need to do their homework before signing a lease.

"If you have any doubt in the back of your head that you don't think it's safe, walk away from it. There's a lot of rentals out there," said Wright.

City inspectors said a portion of the rental violations stem from problem tenants -- not bad landlords. They're not just concerned with loud parties. If you rent a house or condo, you're generally responsible for lawn and sidewalk maintenance, and it may be up to you to care of pests -- like mice or bugs -- unless there's an infestation.

Above all, make sure you thoroughly read your lease. If you have any questions, contact your landlord or city hall.

Online Reporter Colleen O'Shaughnessy

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