A good property management company can make your life much easier; a bad one can make a living situation unbearable. Be sure you know which kind of company you’re getting before you sign on the dotted line.

In one of my recent posts you’ll recall my surprise when I was offered an apartment before ever meeting the management company. I also wasn’t entirely clear on what a management company was or what they did. Here’s what I learned.

What is a property management company?

A property management company is a private or independent real estate company. They are often hired by real estate investors to run their properties.

Apartment property management companies are not rental agencies. Think of them as your landlord, but instead of the traditional idea of a landlord as one person, it’s an entire company.

Still confused? Real estate investors might buy an apartment building to rent out for profit, but they don’t want to have to deal with the messy work of tenants and building maintenance so they hire a property management company. The real estate investor pays a percentage to the professional property management company to run the whole thing for them.

Legal parameters for property management companies

Many states require property management companies to be licensed as real estate brokers if the collect rent, list properties or negotiate leases. If you live in a state where property management companies should be licensed be sure to check the credentials of your management company before signing a lease.

Another law to be aware of: some local governments require owners to hire a property management company if they don’t live near it.

What do property management companies do?

The duties of property management companies vary by location. They can be responsible for everything from collecting rent to completing maintenance and repairs to acting as a liaison between real estate investors that don’t want the responsibility of being a landlord and their tenants.

In some buildings there are live-in property managers, 24-hour maintenance workers, mail service and more. Those perks usually come with a higher price tag.

For a more modest renter, they should expect their property management company to be responsible for maintenance issues, rent collection and the lease.

Make sure you know exactly what your property management company is responsible before you sign the lease. If you’re lucky, your management company will replace common area light bulbs, cover landscaping and shovel snow and salt walkways in the winter, but it’s not a given.

My property management company didn’t have the best reputation according to my initial research. The company currently manages over two thousand apartment units, so I was worried my roommate and I would slip through the cracks if we had any problems.

However, one of the employees there is truly devoted to customer service and we’ve had no big complaints so far. We asked a lot of questions before we signed though and definitely got on their radar.

Be on the lookout for bad management companies.

In January I’ll share tips on how to protect yourself from a bad property management company.

Read All of Claire Young’s “Finding An Apartment” Blogs:

The Cost of Renting

Bullying Realtors

Do I Need A Real Estate Agent?

Use The Internet To Find An Apartment

Finding An Apartment: Your First Steps