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Chris Farrell Aug 21, 2009

Question: The rental market in Miami has gotten very soft, and I can get a much better apartment for the same money that I’m paying now. Virtually all the rentals in Miami are condos. There are almost no purpose-built apartment buildings. So, while I’d like to move into a nicer rented condo, I don’t want to get myself into a situation where I have to move out in 6 months because the owner is in foreclosure. If I asked to see the owner’s credit report I would just get laughed at, so how can I research the status of a condo and/or its owner? Thanks for your help. Jenna, Miami Beach, FL

Answer: It’s a good question. There are a couple of steps you can take, but none of them is foolproof. Yet just as it’s a buyer’s market for homes, it’s a renter’s market for renters. You can’t ask your potential landlord for her social security number and latest credit report, but you can do some due diligence on the person and property before signing on the dotted line.

It’s surprising how much research you can do on the web. For instance, websites like www.rentalforeclosure.com let you see if your potential landlord is in foreclosure. Of course, as we all know the foreclosure data isn’t always complete. That’s why it pays to go to the county tax collector’s website. The property is registered here and you’ll want to see is if there are any back taxes owed. That’s a classic sign of financial trouble. Depending on how diligent you want to be there are a couple of other steps you can take. For instance, head over online to the county’s Clerk of Deeds or Recorder’s office. You can learn whether the landlord may be losing the property. You can research at the General District Court for any civil, criminal or other legal cases against the landlord.

I’d also look at the property carefully. Is it well maintained? If it’s a larger building is the lobby busy? Buttonhole a couple of tenants and ask them how the condo is doing. People love to gossip and share insights about where they live–especially if there are signs of trouble. I’d also ask your potential landlord for a look at the condominium association’s latest budget.

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