As you scroll through the apartment listings, you will notice each property’s price, size, location, and amenities. When you find a rental that you think will work with your lifestyle and budget, it’s time to schedule a tour. Your potential landlord will (hopefully) disclose everything the law requires, but don’t expect them to voluntarily get into the nitty-gritty of what it would be like to live in (and pay for) your apartment. It is your responsibility to find out.
To help you avoid a nasty case of renter’s remorse (aka, “I wish I knew that before I signed a lease!”), Jonas Bordeaux of Dwellsy, a comprehensive marketplace for residential home rentals, lists six questions to ask a landlord and six to consider for yourself:
Questions to ask the potential owner:
Will I be responsible for any maintenance? Generally, owners are responsible for repairs (such as broken appliances or a leaky faucet) and pest control. They often take care of yard work and snow removal too – but not always! You may be responsible for simple tasks like changing air filters every few months, or filling nail holes before you head out. Make sure you understand what is expected of you up front.
How do I report a maintenance issue if it arises? Even when it’s a minor maintenance issue, it can be frustrating to wait for it to be fixed. It’s important to understand exactly how to report a maintenance issue, whether it’s through a call, an online portal, or something else. The landlord should also be able to give you a general timeline of when it will take to fix small issues and who will be knocking on your door to do it.
Are there quiet hours or other rules that might affect me? Some rental communities enforce quiet hours or restrict pet ownership. Owners may prohibit overnight stays or limit the length of their stay. Painting the walls or hanging pictures may be prohibited. Rental properties may regulate the temperature of the unit and the cleaning products that may be used. The rules for tenants are usually understandable and expected, but sometimes they can be downright bizarre—especially when it comes to private landlords. It is better to know these things in advance!
What fees will I be responsible for? In addition to the monthly rent, you may be responsible for paying application fees, pet fees, parking fees, utility fees, moving in and out fees, and even elevator fees. If you’re not prepared, they may be shocked when it comes time to pay your first rent check.
What fines might I be charged? If you are By breaking a rule or damaging property, you’ll likely be on the hook for a fine or fee — and that money may or may not get out of your security deposit. You may also be charged if your rent is late or if your check bounces. Know ahead of time which mistakes will literally cost you, so you can avoid them.
What is the cost for my utilities and other monthly expenses? While rent is a big part of the monthly expense pie, it’s not the whole pie. In addition to the fees charged by the landlord, you also have to factor in recurring expenses such as renter’s insurance, energy and water bills, garbage collection, internet, parking, storage, and so on. It will cost you some of these.
Questions to ask yourself:
What is the status of the rent? Are there any spots, cracks or chips? Do you see any mold, mildew or pests? How is the water pressure? Are there bad smells? Do the hardware and locks work? How well can you hear what’s going on next door? Remember that rentals can look very different than what typical units or listing photos might have you believe. If you are an act Note any problems, be sure to point them out to the potential owner and document them with photos or videos.
Are the amenities as advertised? The reality of the amenities advertised may not match your assumptions. The “fitness center” probably consisted of two old treadmills and a bunch of mismatched free weights. Or the laundry facility is “under repair” most of the time. Or “24/7 maintenance” consists of your landlord, his toolbox, and YouTube DIY repair videos. This is why it is important that you check out the facilities yourself when possible and ask questions about any amenities or services that you think you will use.
How noisy will it be? Many tenants really like their apartment, But It’s a block from a train track, across the street from a construction site, or shares a wall with noisy neighbors. Since noise levels are something a landlord may underestimate — or be unaware of — try walking around the potential neighborhood at different times of the day so you can get a feel for any potential disturbances. Before move in. Likewise, if you see any current residents in your building or complex, you can talk to them.
Will it fit all of my furniture? If your sofa can’t navigate the hairpin turns of your stairwell, or if you need Vaseline to fit your dining room table into the breakfast nook, it’s best to know these things in advance. Have any major spaces measured before signing the lease if you are reluctant to give away any of your large possessions. Remember that an empty apartment generally looks larger than it actually is, so don’t trust your eyes to estimate the size.
Will I live with the owner (or property manager, or super)? This may not seem like a big deal at first, but your quality of life can depend on the relationship you have with the landlord or property manager. This is the person who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs. They may enter your apartment periodically for an inspection. In addition to the first impression you make while viewing the apartment, Bordo recommends speaking with your future neighbors if possible. If someone says, “I usually have to beg for weeks before doing repairs,” you should take that seriously. However, take online reviews with a grain of salt. Unlike high-traffic businesses like restaurants and stores that have hundreds of potential reviewers each day, rental units usually only have one resident each year. As a result, landlord reviews are either non-existent or they represent the worst day a tenant has had in a 365-day lease.
Are there “little things” that can become big deals? When there is money to be made, we tend to overlook potential problems. “It won’t be a big deal. I can adjust!” But be honest: Does the money you’ll save on rent outweigh the fact that your previous 15-minute commute will now take 45 minutes? How will having a washer/dryer inside the unit not affect your routine? Are you going to be a slacker on the stairs when you’re hauling heavy bags of groceries on three flights? Will a less walkable neighborhood make it harder to train your dogs? The same goes for many seemingly small issues that may affect your daily responsibilities, routine, or quality of life.