Decent off-campus housing is hard to come by. For every honest property manager there are dozens of rental scams and greedy landlords. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that that house you want is cheap for a reason.
When looking for a house you might come across Rent Source. Rent Source is a company that lists properties in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Unlike Craigslist, it is free for landlords and housing agencies to list properties on Rent Source. However, it isn’t free for the customer.
It should be widely understood that you should NEVER pay to view house listings. Rent Source will post properties to Craigslist with a phone number only, no address. After spending $90, you find that all the Rent Source properties on Craigslist are already taken.
An investigation by St. Louis’ KMOV News found that the company was started by a convicted felon on drug trafficking charges, and the Better Business Bureau has a warning on it. Rent Source does not supply refunds, regardless of whether you find a home.
When looking in the papers or online for homes, look at the words used to describe the property. A study done by the authors of Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, found that property listings had an interesting correlation.
They found that lower income housing typically uses “empty words.” Words like “fantastic,” “spacious,” “charming,” “great-neighborhood” and other adjectives ending in exclamation points are bad news. There is no quantifiable way to categorize something as “charming.” That word is subjective to the owner, and the owner wants you to rent the house.
Instead, look for descriptive words that are factual. “Granite,” “marble,” “new,” “state-of-the-art” and “stainless steel” all demonstrate something’s quality without belonging to someone’s opinion. You might not like marble countertops, but it’s certainly more assuring than “cute” countertops.
In my personal experience, living east of Troost from campus is a lot safer that most would imagine. The Troostwood neighborhood hosts a wide variety of students and families, and the homes are cheap to rent.
The houses are older and flimsier on the ‘other’ side, so when touring a new place it’s important to make sure all the faucets, doors, and windows work properly. Insulation can be cardboard thin and the plumbing can be held together by rubber bands and scotch tape depending on the house.
Living in these homes can be a crash course in home improvement. Property managers and landlords will make many promises, and might even appear helpful in the first few months, but sooner or later you’ll be on your own.
Unlike UMKC housing, a Troostwood property manager might not care if you leave your bong out on the table or if you leave the lawn unkempt. This lack of caring might sound fun, but will soon become a burden when your manager needs to fix a burst pipe, a fried electrical outlet, or a mold infestation and is nowhere to be found.
Keep note of all of these things, and keep a log of when you contact your manager or landlord of these issues. While you are allowed to withhold rent until a serious problem is fixed, this can lead to an eviction notice. In the state of Missouri, a tenant can repair the home (if they have lived there for more than six months) and have the costs deducted from the next month’s rent.
Know your tenant rights! A slumlord will put in as little effort as possible to fix your home. If you don’t keep track of repairs, it could come out of your security deposit. Easy to read information is available to the public under Missouri’s government site on landlord-tenant law.
Spending time to find the perfect place will save you a year in a terrible lease.