Are you thinking about renting a home without seeing it? Covid has changed the way people buy and rent their homes. But when you buy or rent a home sight unseen, it can turn out to be far different than you expect. We don’t advise renting or buying a home without seeing it in person.

Should You Rent a Home Without Seeing In Person?

Q: Because of Covid, I rented my home without seeing it in person. I signed the lease based on seeing some photos online although I was advised the apartment was under renovations. After I signed the lease, I was shown the apartment and it was uninhabitable. I did not move into the home and I don’t have the keys.

The apartment manager states she will not give me my deposit back because I signed the lease. I need help. What can I do to get my deposit back? I took pictures of the home’s damages that clearly show why I can’t live there.

Don’t Rent a Home Based on Online Photos Only

A: Online portals show us the apartments, houses, townhomes and condos of our dreams. Unfortunately, real estate reality can be quite different as videos, photos and images can be enhanced or even faked.

Today, home buyers and renters often believe that they can see properties online and that the home they rent or buy will be exactly as shown. We’re so sorry that you didn’t get what you signed up for. We don’t know if you were able to tell by the online photos that the condition might be compromised or if you were looking at older photos that showed the property when it was in a different (and better) state and just took the landlord’s word for it that the property was being renovated and that the renovation would be completed by your move-in-date.

Get the Landlord’s Written Guarantee that Your Home Will Be Finished By a Certain Date

That said, if you knew the property was in poor condition, or that it was being renovated, you should have only signed the lease if the landlord promised in writing that the apartment would be fully rehabbed prior to your move in date.

We assume that the landlord made certain representations about the condition of the apartment, but clearly, you were surprised and disappointed. Do you have a paper trail? We hope you corresponded with the landlord via text or email so that you have something that proves what the landlord promised you with respect to the condition of the property.

You should know that when it comes to renting or buying real estate, the law can be quite technical and sometimes form goes ahead of substance. This means what your written and signed document might bind you to the lease irrespective of what you saw online, what you believed would be delivered to you or what was said to you outside the four corners of the document you signed.

Get Help from a Tenant Advocate: Lawyer or Ombudsperson

You may want to find a tenant advocate attorney or an organization that helps tenants with their landlord issues. Your local city or municipality may have a strong landlord/tenant rights division with an ombudsperson who can help adjudicate the situation. Otherwise, the only way you might get the money back is by contacting a real estate attorney to assist you in the recovery of the deposit.

Renting a Home without Seeing It Can Bring Surprises

Let’s talk about the word “uninhabitable.”

Sometimes people use this work to mean that a home is showing wear and tear and might look dreadful. But worn or peeling paint (unless it’s lead paint) may not meet the definition of “uninhabitable” under the law. When you talk with a lawyer and discuss the concept of habitability, you’ll find out that the definition of uninhabitable is when no one in their right mind could live there. Examples might include a property that burned down, suffered a flood, doesn’t have running water, is covered in mold or is rat infested and would be shut down by a building inspector or government agency.

If your pictures of your rental home describe a place that can’t be lived in — and not a place that you wouldn’t want to live in — you have a much better case against the landlord to get your money back. You could call the city or municipality and describe the condition of the apartment and they might even cite the owner for code and building violations.

Your Lease Governs Your Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Still, your signed lease agreement governs your relationship with the landlord. The landlord is supposed to deliver the home described in the lease and you are supposed to pay rent on that home during the term of the lease. If you were lied to or defrauded into entering into the lease, you might have a better chance in court to get your money back. Just know that going to court can be expensive.

Here again, see what your state law or local law has to say about the actions of your landlord. Some local ordinances are more tenant oriented than others. If you entered into your lease in a city or suburb that has tenant oriented laws, you might be able to use those laws in your favor and demand that the landlord return your deposit back if the landlord violated the ordinance.

Start with some research about what sort of landlord-tenant ordinances govern the place in which you live. We hope this works out for you.

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