Renters' rights, steps to take before signing the lease

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) It may be a buyer's market on the home front, but more people than ever are renting.  It seems the safer route to go right now, but with rent rates creeping higher and higher, how can you be sure what you're getting is worth the money?

Ron and Peggy Gorrell have called the Grand Strand home for several years. As flight attendants, they've always been on the go, only landing long enough to enjoy time on their boat. Just a few months ago, the Gorrell's decided to rent a condo in the Myrtle Beach area.

"We agreed on a price and were all set to move in," Ron remembers. "We showed up with our check, ready to get the key and they informed us it had sold the day before and we had no place to move into. At all."

With nowhere to go, the Gorrell's had to find hotels to stay in while they began another search for a place to live. They were in hotels for about 3 ½ weeks. At about $100 a night, it was an extra expense they weren't planning for.

They finally settled on a condo, Ron even went to see it in person and he was assured by the family it would be cleaned before the Gorrell's moved in.

"When we actually went to move in a couple days later, the people who were in there had moved out and it was pretty unsatisfactory. Not acceptable," Ron says.

"You want something that doesn't smell like a dog and kids haven't wrecked, and you want at least a closet to put your clothes in, not all the strollers and cribs," Peggy added.  "It was a surprise, it really was."

The Gorrell's say they didn't even stay one night.  They called the landlord and asked for their deposit back.

"It wasn't easy. I don't think they really knew what the property was like inside, either," Ron says.

Chet Crockett owns Carolina Forest Rental Properties and says consumers need to be very weary of what they see online.

"I know Craigslist is free, but you need to be very cautious when you're looking at properties and understanding who is marketing those properties," Crockett cautions.

Next, if you get a chance to see a property in person, take note of the physical condition of the place.

"You want to be on the lookout for properties that appear to be sitting for a long time," Crockett says.  "If the landscaping is in disarray, grass is tall, no electricity on at [the] property."

He says these are all signs the place may not be cared for on a regular basis. Crockett warns, when it comes to price, cheaper is not always better.

"If you come across a property or someone's marketing a property well below the asking price for similar properties within that development, that's probably a pretty good red flag," Crockett warns.

Another red flag is where the landlord wants to meet you.

"If you've got someone you're meeting at a house and you ask to go to their office and they say, 'Well, I'll just meet you at the shopping center', or 'I'll meet you in this parking lot', that's probably not someone you want to deal with and hand over a deposit to," Crockett says.

He recommends handing money over to a rental agency, because there's more oversight.

Finally, Crockett says if it isn't in your lease, you might as well forget about it.

"I've always learned that if it isn't documented, then it didn't happen," Crockett says, adding, "You need to make sure as a renter, as a consumer, that if a property manager promised you they'd paint the house or re-landscape, make sure it's in the lease."

Crockett says that can also help if you need to take your case to court. As renters, the Gorrell's echo Crockett's advice to back up your claims with hard evidence.

"For any renter, take pictures of the good and bad and everything. Just 20 pictures, and have everything recorded," Ron says.

It could be the extra step that leads to a good night's rest in your new home.

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