A few years ago, my husband (who was at that time my fiance) and I were in desperate need of an apartment home. I had just finished up graduate school in South Carolina and needed to move up to the northern Virginia area. He was living in a tiny studio apartment that was too close to the Capitol Beltway, otherwise known as Interstate 495. We needed to find a place that was bigger and more affordable than where my husband was living. My husband and I ended up moving to Fredericksburg, Virginia, a charming little town 50 miles from the DC area and 50 miles from Richmond, Virginia’s state capital. I thought it would be the perfect place for me to start looking for a job. My husband could take the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to work every day.
Because I was in South Carolina, I didn’t have much input into where we ended up living. My husband simply went to another complex owned by his landlords and was allowed to transfer the lease. It seemed like such an easy and convenient process. What’s more, the apartment he had chosen in my absence seemed like a nice, respectable place. If only we had known what we were getting into! When it comes to apartment living, exterior looks can be deceiving. And once you sign that lease, it can be hard to get out of it. That can mean being stuck in a terrible living situation for as long as the lease is in effect.
I’m writing this article because my husband and I didn’t do our homework before we moved into our last apartment. I’m hoping to spare some of my readers the same experience we had.
Although I loved living in the city of Fredericksburg, there were problems from the very beginning of our stay in our new apartment. For starters, our neighbors all around us were very noisy at all hours of the night. We’re talking loud, thumping music into the wee hours of the morning. Of course, when we complained about the noise, our neighbors didn’t handle it very gracefully. The noise made it hard for us to get any sleep of course, but the number one clue that we might have to deal with a lot of noise was the fact that our apartment complex was located within walking distance of a college campus. I don’t mean to stereotype college students. After all, I was a college student at one time and I know that not every college student is a partyer. But the first thing our disgrunteled neighbor said when he got our noise complaint was…
“You’re just going to have to get used to the noise. This place is for college students.”
So the first tip I’ll offer to those who don’t like noise is to pay attention to where the apartment is located. Is there a college nearby? A bar or a disco? A factory? Construction? Railroad tracks? If noise makes you crazy, look around the neighborhood before you make the decision to sign the lease. The neighborhood may give you important clues as to who your neighbors could be and what kind and level of noise you’ll have to tolerate.
Our next issue with our new apartment home has to do with crime. Criminal activity should be the first thing you look into before you sign that lease, but I’m listing it second because it was the second issue we encountered. My car was vandalized one night. The hooligan was obviously trying to steal my crappy CD player, but didn’t manage to complete the job. I didn’t keep anything else of value in the car, so he got nothing and I got a big repair bill even after insurance. I had parked my car under a lamp, but as we later found out, the lamp and those around it were not working. My husband and I walked around the complex and counted nine lamps that weren’t functioning, making it easy for shady characters to do their dirty work.
I was lucky that my car was the only casualty. I recently looked up activity at my old apartment complex and found an article about a woman who was almost abducted by a known rapist. And after my car was vandalized, I looked up the crime log for Fredericksburg and found that many criminal incidents had occurred in the complex, some of them involving violence. A quick look at the state police sex offender registry revealed that a couple of registered sex offenders were also living in the neighborhood. We were even visited at 9pm by one brazen fellow who claimed to be demonstrating cleaning products. We called the police and it turned out that he was wanted.
The next tip I’ll offer to potential renters is to do your homework on the crime scene in your new neighborhood. Check the local sex offender registry and local crime logs for criminal activity in the neighborhood. Try to visit the complex in the evening. Are the lights in the parking lot working? Is the shrubbery kept trimmed back to prevent people from hiding in them? Does the air smell like marijuana? Do you see cops? All of these factors are potential indicators as to how safe the neighborhood is.
Construction and maintenance issues?
While we were living in our old apartment, I was diagnosed with asthma. I am very allergic to mold and smoke and our apartment was riddled with both, as well as a terrible ventilation system. Living there literally made me sick. It’s hard to know what kind of construction and maintenance issues you will have to face in an apartment before you move in. Again, my advice is to take a good look at the environment.
In our complex, residents would regularly put their trash beside the Dumpsters instead of in them. As it turned out, a lot of local homeowners also used the Dumpsters at the complex to ditch their household trash. The trash around the complex was certainly a big clue. Another clue was the noise. One morning, I passed by a closed window and could easily hear two people having very loud sex. I was standing on a sidewalk several feet away from the window and couldn’t help but hear them loud and clear. The fact that I could so easily hear these two individuals having intercourse was a clue as to the quality of the construction at the complex. Maybe you won’t hear people having sex when you walk through your potential neighborhood, but I encourage you to listen for noises you shouldn’t be able to hear so easily, especially during the daytime.
Reviews and news articles
I wish I had known about apartment review Web sites before my husband and I signed our lease. Had I had the chance to peruse a couple of those sites, we might have saved ourselves considerable money and grief. Granted, a lot of the reviews you’ll read on rating sites will be negative, but that can help you find out about a community’s shortcomings before you decide to move in. I found my first apartment review site as my husband and I were trying to break our lease, which we did manage to accomplish without penalty. I wish I had found it before we signed the lease. I hope I helped future renters by adding our experiences to the site. Likewise, I want to encourage people who live in rented quarters to speak up about their experiences.
News articles can also be your friend. Before you sign your lease, find out who owns your complex and do a quick Google search for news about the company. I found out some rather unsavory things about the company that owned our complex that I wished I had known before we signed our lease. You can find out a lot about a company through negative and positive press and blogs. I wrote an article about the company that used to own our apartment complex and found that a lot of people were researching it. In fact, I even got a couple of emails from people who had also had bad experiences with the same company. That knowledge would have been much more useful before we committed to living in our old apartment complex.
Thankfully, our terrible apartment experiences are long behind us. By the grace of God, we were able to get out of our lease, mainly because we came up with a lot of evidence that our old neighborhood was unsafe and in violation of their own policies. But it would have been much better if we hadn’t had to break our lease in the first place. Experience is a tough but effective teacher. If we ever live in another apartment complex, you can bet I’ll be doing my homework before I sign the lease.