Choosing the Right Landlord

the ups and downs of dealing with private landlords and management companies

Lauren Fisher

Nestled somewhere among hundreds of factors renters consider when searching for a place to live is a very important consideration.  Nothing can make or break a rental experience quite like the person or people you deal with from deposit to departure. Renting from a private landlord or a property management company each have benefits and drawbacks that should be taken into account when choosing a home.

Private Landlord

Personally invested in the quality and care of the property. Private landlords often have a more direct stake in the maintenance of their property. A well-kept rental unit has a better market value than a dilapidated one.

Direct access. When dealing with a property owner, you don’t have to wait for communications to relay through several points of contact before hearing back. This allows you to develop a personal relationship with the landlord.

More opportunity for negotiation. Your direct relationship with your landlord means that you can develop a more specialized contract. Sometimes (not always) a private landlord can be more flexible about interior modifications such as hanging shelves, painting rooms, etc., among other arrangements.

Delayed assistance. Private landlords must work around their schedule and yours to handle maintenance concerns, lock-outs, paperwork, etc. This can lead to delayed response times.

Less-developed systems. Policies might be less well-defined when renting with a private landlord. This can result in confusion if either party fails to communicate clearly.

Management Company

Systematic. Property management companies are more likely to have standardized practices and procedures for every aspect of renting. They also have access to and the budget for industry technology, which might mean you can fill out applications, pay rent, and more, online.

Point of contact. Having an office with dedicated hours for handling rental business can prove a valuable resource. Rental companies usually have regular hours during which tenants can call or stop by with questions and requests, which means less phone tag.

Maintenance resources. Rental companies usually have maintenance workers on staff and relationships with contractors who can handle specific problems. This increases the likelihood that repairs are carried out quickly.

Impersonal. Because some companies handle dozens or hundreds of units, you might not always get to work with the same person, and it’s possible to get lost in the shuffle, especially during busy times such as the beginning and end of a university school year.

Strict. Property management companies are systemized for efficiency and there are rules in place to avoid complications and to protect the company and you. Customizing your contract is far less likely with a rental company.

More Top Tips for Renters

Ask around. If a friend lives in a place they like or deals with a landlord they like, there may be units available even if they aren’t advertised.

What is the neighborhood like? Look at nearby amenities and bike/walkability.

Call the local health department. They can tell you if there are any uncorrected complaints against the property. (Eau Claire: 715-839-4718; Chippewa Falls: 715-726‑7900; Menomonie: 715-232-2388.)

Get the name of a possible landlord and run it through Wisconsin Circuit Court Access ( to see if he/she has a clean record.

The Eau Claire Police Department has developed a voluntary Certified Landlord Program. See if your landlord is certified, as it shows a dedication to what they do. Visit

Never sign a lease without seeing the apartment – especially in complexes where “all the apartments are the same” and they keep a clean one on hand to show people like you.

Read and understand all lease paperwork. Make sure all your questions and concerns are answered before you sign. It is a contract, and means you have legal responsibilities as well as the landlord.

A one-page lease could be a red flag. The more paperwork, the better. Tenant and landlord responsibilities should be clearly defined.

Good landlords enjoy answering questions. They want tenants who care about their living space.

If you’re deciding between two places, consider the Paper Layout Experiment. Take the rough measurements of the crucial spaces, and note where there’s vents, doorways, windows, etc. Then measure your furniture, bookshelves, and the like. Divide the measurements down so the room can fit on paper. Then do cutouts of the furniture and organize them in the paper room. Whichever layout excites you more is the winner.