Renting an apartment is a big decision. Sure, you’re only going to be living there temporarily, but if you’ve ever signed the lease on a bad apartment, you know that a year (or two years, or six months, or however long you’re staying) can go very, very slowly when you have rental regrets. And the best way to avoid those regrets? Do your due diligence ahead of signing the contract. Before renting an apartment, you should always make sure you’re asking enough questions and you’re asking the right questions. And while the specific questions you ask may be particular to your location and situation, regardless of where you’re planning on renting here are 10 questions you should always hit on.
1-What’s included in the rent?
Finances are generally a number one concern when it comes to renting, so it’s important to know how far your dollar will stretch. Some monthly rents include basic utilities like heat, gas, and water. Others offer additional amenities like cable and WiFi. Some cover the roof over your head and nothing else. Long before renting an apartment you should get a clear answer on what your monthly rent will get you. In addition to being necessary information, it can also help you make a choice if you’re trying to decide between comparable apartments (hint: go with the one that gives you a bigger bang for your buck).
2-How and when is rent collected?
Landlords and management companies vary on both the means of accepting rent payments and the flexibility with when those payments are due. While you may think that electronic payments are going to be the norm no matter where you look, many landlords still rely on traditional checks that must be in their mailbox on the first of every month (a small inconvenience for renters, but an inconvenience nonetheless). Depending on your financial situation—for example, if you don’t get paid at set dates every month—you may want to find an apartment where rent is payable by credit card, or where you have some lee-way on when your payment is due. Ask about fees for late rental payments as well, since some landlords or management companies charge hefty fines if your rent is late by even one day.
3-What’s the parking situation?
If you have a car, you’ll definitely need to be apprised of what your parking options are (if any). Is parking included? Is there an additional fee every month? And if there’s not parking at the building: what are your other options? These are key questions to ask before renting an apartment, since parking could add considerable additional fees on to your rent, and if it’s not included, you may be looking to rent in an area without ample alternatives. Knowing you have a place to park your car is important, and if the answer isn’t ideal it’s better to know that before you put your name on the dotted line.
4-Is there automatic lease renewal?
Be wary of automatic rent renewal policies, which might not come up in conversation but could be buried somewhere in your lease. Even if you sign on to lease for a set period of time, some rental companies will automatically renew your contract after the initial term is up unless they get written notice from you that you will not be staying (often required thirty days or more before the original lease term is up). This can be a big surprise to renters who have not experienced an automatic renewal before, and will necessitate the need to break your lease—a potentially costly endeavor. Before renting an apartment, ask if there is automatic renewal. And if you don’t plan on staying past your lease term (or if you just want to have the option not to), schedule yourself a reminder about two months prior to your lease ending to decide whether you want to vacate as planned or stay on.
5-What’s the guest policy?
You’ll want to know if there are specific rules around when guests can stay and for how long, especially if you have a significant other who will likely be staying over pretty often. Some rental companies have rules against guests staying the night for more than a few nights in a row, while others require that you give them a heads up about anyone who will be staying with you. You may need to register their car as well, if they’ll be parking in a provided lot. Knowing the guest policy is important for making sure that you don’t unwittingly violate your lease terms or put yourself at risk of fines.
6-What about pets?
Pet policies tend to vary widely from apartment to apartment. Even if you don’t have a pet now, if you’re thinking you’d like to have the option of adopting a pet later on you should ask about the pet policy before renting an apartment. Are there additional monthly costs? Are there breed, weight, or species restrictions? Many times you’ll find that even in rentals where pets are allowed you will be required to pay a non-refundable pet deposit to cover any potential damages that may incur. This should obviously be at the very top of your list of questions if you already have an animal companion, but it’s a good idea to ask anyway, just in case.
7-How are repairs handled?
It stands to reason that you will probably need some sort of repair during your rental term. If that’s the case, get the details early on about how you go about making a maintenance request and how such requests are carried out. This includes the amount of notice you are entitled to receive before your landlord or a maintenance person comes in to your unit, as well as what you should do in the event you need an emergency repair off hours or on a holiday. And for non-emergency repairs, ask whether are you going to be expected to contribute to the repair costs.
8-Is renters’ insurance required?
Some landlords or management companies require all tenants to acquire renters’ insurance prior to the start of their lease term. Renters’ insurance—sometimes called tenants’ insurance—covers the cost of your belongings in the event of unexpected damage or theft. It’s a good idea to have it anyway and can be purchased pretty reasonably, often for less than $10 a month, but you’ll still want to be aware if renters’ insurance will be required of you. If it is, you will likely need to show proof of renters’ insurance prior to your move-in date, so you’ll need time to get a policy in place.
9-What are the restrictions around decorating?
The specifics of what you’re allowed to do in terms of alterations is probably written out in your lease, but it’s still a good idea to discuss it with your landlord directly. Find out what the guidelines are in terms of things like painting, hanging art and shelves, and other design-related changes you might want to make. It’s always better to ask and get permission than assume something is okay and get penalized for it later on. If you can’t make a lot of changes though, don’t worry: there are plenty of ways to decorate without losing your security deposit.
10-What are the other tenants like?
It can be helpful to know what you’re getting in to when it comes to your immediate neighbors. Your landlord or leasing agent won’t be able to tell you too much about who the other tenants are (the Fair Housing Act prohibits it), but they should be able to give you a heads up about whether they’re mostly students or young professionals or families—or a mix of all three. This shouldn’t matter too much, but if you’re looking for a young building where no one will mind much if you play loud music, or alternately, a building where you may have more peace and quiet to work or study from home, the tenant population may be relevant to you.
Asking these questions before renting an apartment—instead of waiting to find everything out afterwards—can save you a lot of stress during your leasing period. It’s not good to have surprises, especially where your living situation or finances are concerned. In addition to the above questions, be sure to read your lease thoroughly and pinpoint any other areas where you could use a bit more information. You’ll be glad you did it early.Tags: apartment, rent