After weeks of research, you have found an apartment that seems perfect to you. It’s within your budget and seems to have everything you need. You can already see yourself arranging furniture, hanging pictures on the wall and making it a home. But don’t go too far ahead…
Whether it’s your first time renting an apartment or your 10th, there are a few questions to ask yourself before you sign on the dotted line.
“First and foremost, individuals should educate themselves on landlord/tenant laws in their locality,” notes Maiki Paul, (opens in a new tab) a licensed real estate agent in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. “Some states are more landlord-friendly than others, and knowing the rules will help you be your best advocate when things go wrong.”
Paul says you can research tenant advocacy organizations in your area that help tenants understand their rights. “These organizations will also help tenants know the right questions to ask that are specific to their jurisdiction.”
As well as contacting tenant advocacy organisations, we also have expert suggestions on questions to ask when renting an apartment. From questions about the security deposit to what happens when it’s time to move, here are 11 things to ask before signing the lease on your new place.
How much is the security deposit? What is the procedure for recovering the security deposit when I move?
Many landlords will require you to put down a security deposit before you move in. Paul recommends that you find out about the maximum security deposit allowed in your area.
“Some landlords try to take more than what is legally allowed,” she notes. “You can ask them to justify the requested security deposit if it seems out of the ordinary.”
It is common for the security deposit to be the equivalent of one month’s rent, but this can vary. Different states and cities have their own rules (opens in a new tab) on the maximum security deposit allowed, so in some cases your landlord may charge you a security deposit equal to two or three months of your rent. Other landlords may decide to only charge less than a month’s rent as a security deposit, or may not charge a deposit at all.
In many cases, the security deposit is refundable after your lease ends. If this is the case for you, you’ll also want to find out how to get the security deposit returned to you when it’s time to move out.
How will the rent be collected?
“While individual landlords may prefer that you physically send a check, new systems may require you to pay your rent electronically through a portal,” says Allyson Waddell, agent success manager at RentHop. (opens in a new tab). “Make sure you know how to pay your rent in advance to avoid confusion down the line.”
Additionally, you want to be sure you understand exactly when the rent is due and what the penalties are if you are late with the rent payment.
Are utilities included in the rent?
Waddell notes that you should ask if your monthly rent includes things like electricity, water and heat.
“If your building doesn’t cover a utility like electricity, you need to budget for that monthly cost and take that into account when agreeing the rent price,” she explains.
Do I need tenant insurance?
“Some landlords won’t approve your apartment application unless you have tenant insurance,” notes Gunner Davis (opens in a new tab)realtor at Coldwell Banker Realty in Tampa, Florida.
He also notes that even if your landlord doesn’t require it, it may be a good idea to purchase tenant’s insurance for your own protection and peace of mind.
“Tenants insurance normally costs only $15 to $30 per month and will cover the cost of your belongings in the event of loss or damage from theft, fire, vandalism, etc. ” he explains.
If something breaks down, what is the process to fix it and who will pay for it?
“The most important thing I would recommend you check is who is responsible for damages, repairs and upgrades in specific situations,” says Gluch Group Owner John Gluch. (opens in a new tab) in Phoenix, Arizona. “For example, figure out what would happen if there were issues with the washer/dryer, oven, plumbing, etc. These are usually the issues with rental agreements and these are things you should understand in advance.
He also notes that tenants should get this in writing in advance, as it will be much more stressful to figure this out when you’re also dealing with a potentially major maintenance issue in your home.
What maintenance tasks am I responsible for? Who takes care of snow removal and lawn maintenance?
Brian Davis, owner and founder of SparkRental.com (opens in a new tab)says tenants should find out about this before moving in.
“At a minimum, this usually includes replacing batteries in smoke detectors and replacing air filters,” he notes. “In single-family rentals, this often includes mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, raking leaves, and other basic yard maintenance.”
What are the building rules regarding pets?
If you have a pet, it’s important to know if your potential new home is pet-friendly.
“Find out if pets are welcome in the building ahead of time,” says Davis. “If yes, specify which animals are accepted. Be sure to get your breed approved as many owners have weight or breed restrictions for dogs.
Some landlords also require pet owners to post a deposit or monthly pet fee to cover the cost of any damage caused to the apartment by a pet.
Are building renovations planned?
“For those looking to rent long-term, like newlyweds or young families, you should ask about things that may affect you,” says Catherine Mack, co-owner of House Buyer Network. (opens in a new tab). “For example, are there any future building renovations or updates planned? You definitely don’t want to get caught up in a construction site, especially if you’re expecting a baby.
You can also ask if the landlord intends to put the building up for sale in the near future, as this could affect your tenancy.
What am I allowed to change? What am I not allowed to change?
“It’s always worth asking what changes you’re allowed to make to the apartment,” Mack says. “Most people want their apartment to feel like home, but especially if you’re looking to rent long-term, you want your new home to feel like your own.”
Some landlords will allow you to make major changes like painting the walls, while others won’t. The good news is that even if your landlord won’t let you paint, there are plenty of other tenant-friendly ways to improve your apartment.
What is the sublet policy?
Ben Fisher, owner of The Fisher Group (opens in a new tab) in Park City, Utah, notes that you should ask your landlord about their sublease policy before signing the lease. Although you probably don’t intend to sublet your home, unexpected circumstances may arise that require you to use this option.
“If you need to leave your home temporarily but don’t want to end your lease, having a sublease provision gives you options,” he says.
He also notes that you should not attempt to sublet your place without your landlord’s permission, as this can result in eviction and legal action.
What is the moving procedure? What happens if I have to move before the end of my lease?
While it may seem odd to ask about this before you’ve even signed a lease, it could be important down the line. You’ll want to know how much time you need to give your landlord before you move out. One month is typical, but some owners may require longer notice. If you know you will have to move in a year, having this information in advance is a good idea.
Likewise, it’s a good idea to ask what would happen if you were to break your lease and move out early. Some landlords are happy to let you out of the lease without penalty, while others may withhold your security deposit or ask you to pay a lease termination fee.