FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Just about every renter has a story, and many don't end so well.

Some renters end up paying for repairs, losing their deposits and hashing things out in small claims court, and, to be sure, landlords have their own horror stories about tenants, but Van Danford, chief of housing, has some tips for would-be renters that could prove beneficial in the long run.

"We are here to take care of Soldiers and their families. We just want to get them the right house for their needs, whatever those needs are," said Danford. "The biggest thing that I would advise Soldiers to do is to come into the housing services office so we can make sure they are going to sign a lease that's legal."

Nowadays, many families like the convenience of shopping for a new home online, and while that is a great feature of modern technology, Danford said people need to be careful.

"There are some great and reliable websites to find homes," he said. "Realtor sites like www.militarybyowner.com and www.housing.army.mil are all great sites to find rental homes. The HSO also has listings of local rentals available."

Danford said to never put any money down or sign anything sight unseen.

"Pictures can be deceiving on the Internet," said Danford, "and pictures can be really old and outdated."

Danford added to always shop and compare houses or apartments, and to drive by the property at night to see how it looks.

"If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is," said Gaye Hines, HSO office resident liaison. "Just because you are afraid to miss out on a great deal you found on the Internet, don't put money down on a rental without going inside it first."

Even if a Soldier is renting from a friend, coworker, or another Soldier, they are advised to bring in the lease so officials can make sure the family is protected and that they are signing a lease with a military clause.

Whether it is a permanent change of station or finding a new residence in the area, if a Soldier begins to have difficulty negotiating with their landlord about deposits and damages, they are encouraged to pay a visit to the HSO.

"When renting, families need to decide for sure if their house of interest is the one they want. Once they put down a security deposit, the deposit will be nonrefundable if they change their minds," Hines said. "Don't rush into a home. All Soldiers are authorized 10 nights of temporary lodging expense between each duty station to stay in a hotel while they find suitable housing."

Danford suggests taking a new lease home to look over before it is signed.

"Don't feel pressured to sign your lease then and there. Bring it to us and we will be happy to review it for you," he said. "If your realtor or landlord doesn't understand why you would want to take the lease to look over, then you probably don't want to rent from them in the first place."

"One of the most important steps in moving into a rental home is to make a very detailed checklist of everything that is wrong with the house", Hines said.

"It does not matter how big or small the issue is -- protect yourself. Something that might not have been a big deal to you when you first moved in might be a huge deal when you try to move out," she said. "Don't be too busy to do that critical step, and always try to take date stamped photos."

Hines suggests asking for the last occupant's checkout list.

"By doing this you will have an idea of what to look out for and be aware of," she said. "It is especially helpful if you viewed the home when water and power were not hooked up. Once you get that turned on and move in, you might notice more discrepancies that need to either be noted or taken care of."

If a Soldier feels like they are going to have a problem or is currently having a problem, Hines said they can come to HSO and ask for a staff member to be a third party at the checkout.

HSO is inside the Soldier Service Center in Rm. 160. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

"Sometimes we can get things fixed with just a phone call because of our relationships with most of the property managers in town," she said.

HSO not only helps Soldiers renting off post, but assists Soldiers having problems with Corvias Military Living, as well.

For more information, call 255-1854 or 255-2224.