We’ve always rented our homes.
As a military family, we PCS or move residences every 2-4 years. Purchasing a home just doesn’t make financial sense to us.
Most of us move out of our parents’ homes into apartments with friends or college roommates, then we eventually get a real job, find a partner, and buy a house. It’s so linear.
My life has never been linear.
My active duty Air Force husband receives a housing allowance that differs everywhere we go based on cost of living and various military installations. It’s supposed to cover about 80% of housing expenses, but it often doesn’t even cover that much.
We feel the stigma of renters. Neighbors come to meet us and visibly shy away when they realize we’re renting in their neighborhood.
Do they think we won’t care for the lawn? Do they feel we bring down their property value?
They realize we’re transient and they don’t want to make the effort of a temporary friendship. Most of the people we’ve met in our Ohio town don’t understand military life.
And we homeschool, which often puts up another barrier.
It can be a lonely life.
What Do We Consider Before Renting a Home?
We’ve often rented sight unseen – and I don’t really recommend that, but it’s stressful enough moving across the country or around the world.
We use online sites that specialize in finding military housing like Military By Owner. We’ve found some great deals. And homeowners who use these sites know military families.
We try to find a house to suit us that is less than our allowance. We don’t want to be house-poor. It’s really hard to find what we want since we have a rather large family and we’re at home a lot more than other families.
We pray about what we want and need. After so many years of renting, we have a few items we really don’t want to budge on in a house. It’s amazing to see those prayers get answered in amazing ways.
Research the Neighborhood
Some families are concerned about school districts. We homeschool, so that’s not a worry for us.
I usually join a social media group for military families, homeschoolers, or a city-based group to get info on the area. These are great places to ask questions.
We want a good balance of families with kids so our children can make friends. I want the streets to be safe for walking and biking and rollerblading, so sidewalks are a bonus.
Is it near enough to the base where my husband works? He doesn’t want to commute more than 30 minutes each way and I don’t blame him. Traffic sucks.
Is it easily accessible to a good grocery store and library? These are our priorities.
Ask Owner about Pets and other Things
We have two cats. We know we have non-refundable deposits for them. It’s sometimes very hard to find a good rental that will accept us with pets or cats.
Can I paint walls? Hang curtains or drapes? Can I get blinds or shades?
Can I plant flowers? Can I transplant something that is unhappy in its current location? Do I have to replace a plant that dies? Can I trim trees?
Is there something special I need to know about and maintain – like a water softener? Or a sump pump?
Be proactive. This is not the time to ask forgiveness instead of permission.
Inspect the Home
Document any damages to prove you didn’t make them – inside and out.
Perhaps have a friend come help who isn’t emotionally invested and has a good eye. Make note of broken tile, wall holes, floor scratches, torn carpet, window sills, door frames, counters, cabinets…
If there is furniture left inside the house, make sure it’s in the contract and you’re not liable if it breaks. I prefer to have all the owner’s stuff removed.
Take photos and write it all down on the contract or make a list and have the landlord sign and date it as proof of agreement.
For example, our landlady knows the windowsill in the laundry room was chewed up from her dogs, so we won’t be held liable.
Study the Contract
Make sure you understand everything in it.
Look up your state’s landlord tenant laws and know those.
Ask questions. Make changes. Initial every page and have the landlord do so also and make copies.
Discuss Deposits, Repairs, Requirements, Responsibilities
Is the deposit refundable? What could invalidate the refund?
Are there fees or deductibles for repairs? We usually have to pay for minor repairs like plumbing. For larger repairs, we’ve had a $50 deductible. I guess this is to help ensure we don’t just go around breaking stuff.
What is the landlord’s responsibility? The way I see it, it’s not my house, so they should handle the major stuff. I replace light bulbs and filters. If an appliance stops working, I expect it to be repaired or replaced.
What will you as the tenant be responsible to do? I take care of the lawn by mowing and edging, but I’m not paying for a chemical service to keep it “golf course weedfree.”
Worst Case Scenarios
It seems to me that most landlords don’t want to return deposits. They seem to do anything, make outrageous complaints so they don’t have to return the deposit money – even when there’s nothing wrong with the house. “Normal wear and tear” is a relative term. I can’t imagine moving without a previous deposit to place on the new place. What do people do when it’s required to pay two months’ rent upfront as a deposit?
I owned my home in Georgia when I met Aaron. He was stationed at Robins AFB then. Selling it was a hassle and I regret not keeping it and being a landlady myself. It was a cute little 3BR ranch on a pretty lot, convenient to everything!
Our first rental house in San Antonio, Texas, was near Lackland AFB. Aaron’s cousin went to check out the house for us. It was clean and pretty new. I don’t think we could have done any better with our financial situation at the time. The owners were dual military officers, stationed overseas and the house was through a management company. When our brick patio started eroding and deteriorating, we took photos as proof and repaired it as best we could. We cleaned it well upon move-out and got our deposit back, no problem. We lived there two years.
We lived on Hickam AFB in Hawaii. There weren’t many other options. The housing office is generally fine to deal with, but our neighbors were nightmares. They dug up plants and chopped down protected trees and when housing came to accuse me about it, I got very upset. The housing allowance just disappears when you live on base, but some utilities are usually included. We lived there three years.
We rented sight unseen in Utah – near Hill AFB. When we showed up in our rental minivan in the driveway from a very long flight, the man with our key was unavailable for a while. The condition of the house wasn’t as described or the photos in the ad. It was much more rundown than we expected. The owner was a Navy 06 living in Maryland. Repairs were always a hassle. The local contact down the street we had for “management” suddenly passed away from a heart attack. The neighborhood handyman we were told to call refused to help and complained he never got paid! We always felt the landlord and his wife were suspicious of us. We seldom complained. We did so much to that house that was falling apart around us. We stripped wallpaper and painted the living room and kitchen to match the dining room. They even traveled to inspect the house in person and criticized my cleaning. There was a leak in the basement bathroom wall and the owner’s son spent a month repairing it – with no rent deduction and supplies and dust were everywhere. The entire basement flooded on Memorial Day. The neighborhood rallied together to help me. And the owner’s wife swore there was a sump pump and I could have prevented the flood. There was no sump pump. Upon move-out, we cleaned the house top to bottom and several ladies came to help us. We had to pay for a commercial whole house carpet cleaning and show the receipt. The owner was moving back into the house with his wife. He refused to return our deposit. He made petty complaint after complaint. The wallpaper in the stairwell to the basement was torn, but it was like that when we moved in. The flat stovetop wasn’t cleaned and we should replace it – for $650. I rushed over and scraped it with a razor. Supplies were left in a storage room – by his son. The grass wasn’t manicured and my husband and son rushed over in the dark to borrow an edger and fix it. My kids drew a welcome sign in chalk on the front stoop and he wanted it scrubbed off – even though it was supposed to rain later that week. Really?! Finally, we complained to the neighbors and asked what should we do since he kept adding to his list. They gave him a talking-to and we finally got the deposit check returned – only a couple days before we were leaving the state! We lived there four years.
Overseas housing is a little different. Rental houses must get approval through the military housing office and applications are handled through them. This is supposed to protect us as the American military tenant. Also, rent is due in Euro and our housing allowance is in American dollars. It’s all a bit stressful. We found a nice house in a village near Kaiserslautern, Germany, that was about 45 minutes from where my husband worked at the Landstuhl hospital. We rented this house because it had an amazing kitchen with a big stovetop and two ovens – American size! and an American refrigerator. The bathroom was pretty great too. The housing office puts a lot of pressure on to find a house ASAP so they don’t have to support us staying in temporary housing on the bases. We looked at 3-4 houses before deciding on this one and it was a relief. The landlady and her daughter and son-in-law seemed delightful. They invited us over for New Year’s and were always friendly. We had them over for a celebration dinner with American grilled food. When we did our final walkthrough with a checklist for the housing office, they said everything was cleaned and in order. We breathed a sigh of relief. We had about 10 days until we flew back to the States. The housing office called and said the landlady claimed we owed €3000 for the kitchen wallpaper and another €650 for a cleaning fee. When we questioned this, she didn’t think the bathroom was cleaned well nor the blinds dusted. My husband and daughter rushed over to rewash everything, even though it had been spotless when we left. Germany and old stone houses are dusty. So they canceled that cleaning fee. They still wanted wallpaper money and that ate up our whole deposit. The housing office clerk said they couldn’t request that much as a going rate for paint. They played semantics and we ended up getting part of our deposit back – only €2400. The final insult was that “they were trying to prepare the house for German tenants and they were pickier than Americans.” We lived there three years. Apparently, the house is still vacant – after more than a year. They can’t find or maybe they don’t want another American tenant. Rumor has it that Germans won’t pay the rental fees that is set for Americans through the housing office agreements. The landlady owns 7 or more homes in the area that she rents out – mostly to Americans, because it pays.
We’re now in Ohio near Wright-Patterson AFB. This house is undoubtedly the best house we’ve ever lived in. It’s on a quiet street. There’s a creek in the backyard and lots of wildlife. The landlady just updated the kitchen and flooring and it seems brand new. There are very few problems or inconveniences. She pays for an exterminator to come out quarterly. We have fixed all the toilet mechanisms ourselves since the hard water destroys plastic quickly. We’re being proactive about making minor repairs like patching picture holes in the walls and fixing paint stains. None of the paint in this house is washable!
I hope we don’t have issues upon move-out time. I am pretty weary of fighting with landlords over little things.