Questions to Ask About an Apartment Before Renting It

questions to ask about an apartment before renting it

More people are renting apartments or homes these days than buying them. Although more people own homes than rent them, the number of renters has increased over the past decade. In 2006, slightly more than 36 percent of people in the US rented. By 2014, the number had risen to be more than 41 percent of people.

People between the ages of 18 and 34 have most always made up the bulk of the rental market. That’s true more now than ever before. In 2006, 62.5 percent of the 18 to 34-year-old age group rented. The number climbed to more than 71 percent in 2014. Younger people weren’t the only ones to start renting more in recent years, though. More people over age 55 rented their homes instead of owned them in 2014, compared to 2006.

Whether you’re a college student looking to move into your first apartment, a 20-something looking for an upgrade or a retiree looking to downsize and switch to renting, the more you know the apartment and its rules, the better. Here are questions to ask before renting a house or apartment:

1. What Are the Terms of the Lease?

Never sign a lease without reading it. It might also be a good idea to talk to the landlord before a lease is even drafted so you have an idea of what will be in it. 

Lease Length: if you’re looking to rent for a year, you want to be sure the landlord isn’t planning on offering you a two-year lease or a month-to-month lease. It’s also important that the lease begins on or just before the date you plan on moving in, not after it.

Rent Amount: The lease also needs to state the amount of monthly rent due and any other costs you are responsible for. It should provide the address of the home or apartment and the unit number as well.

If the landlord can’t give you a straight answer when it comes to the lease or seems hesitant to commit to a lease term, that can be a red flag. In an ideal situation, a landlord will be able to fully describe to you the terms of the lease and their expectations from you. They will also be able to show you a copy of the lease, so you can read it over before deciding if the apartment is a keeper or not.

2. Is a Co-Signer Needed?

One of the most important questions to ask when renting an apartment for college is will you need a co-signer? A co-signer is someone who steps forward and agrees to take responsibility for the lease should you not be able to make your monthly rent payments. A landlord might prefer to have someone sign the lease with you for a number of reasons.

Usually, landlords prefer to rent to people whose annual salaries are at least 40 times the monthly rent. That means you need to earn at least $40,000 per year to rent an apartment that costs $1,000 per month. Some landlords also look at a person’s credit score when deciding whether to rent to that person or whether or not that person needs a co-signer.

If your income isn’t high enough or your credit score isn’t the best, a co-signer can help you land the apartment. But you need to make sure the landlord will allow you to have a co-signer and that your co-signer meets the requirements. Sometimes, the person who co-signs your lease needs to have excellent credit and an annual income that is up to 80 times higher than your monthly rent.

salary lease terms

3. What Costs Are the Renter’s Responsibility?

A perk of renting is that the landlord usually has to cover the cost of repairs or maintenance in the home. The exact things a landlord will take responsibility for and the things they expect the renter to take responsibility for varies from place to place.

Utilities: For example, some apartment rentals include the cost of heating and water in the cost of the lease. Others expect the tenant to pay for those utilities on their own. Some places offer free cable or Wi-Fi. At others, it’s your responsibility to get connected and pay for those amenities out of your own pocket.

Having a landlord that doesn’t pay for heat, water or cable isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. But knowing you’ll be responsible for those things (or not) will determine whether you can actually afford the place. For example, if heat and water aren’t included, can you afford the additional monthly cost of paying for them out-of-pocket?

Appliances: Another thing to find out is what appliances you are responsible for providing. Although an apartment might come with a refrigerator or washer and dryer, the landlord might assume no responsibility for them if they break, meaning you’d be on the hook for repairing or replacing them. That might not be a big deal, but if you don’t want to run the risk of having to shell out to replace a broken refrigerator, having standard appliances not included in the lease can be a dealbreaker for you.

4. Are Pets Allowed?

If you’re among the more than 70 percent of renters who have a pet, there are a few pet-related questions to ask when viewing an apartment. Question one should be, if you are allowed have a pet, and if yes, what type? Some landlords permit both dogs and cats. However, some only allow cats, and others only allow dogs.

The next question to ask is how much extra will you have to pay to have your pet live with you? Many places that allow pets also charge a non-refundable deposit, just in case the animals damage some part of the apartment. Additionally, the landlord might tack on a monthly pet fee.

Having a pet can make finding an apartment more difficult, as there are plenty of “no pets allowed” rentals out there. That said, if a landlord seems hesitant about the idea of allowing animals or quotes a very high pet deposit, you might want to keep looking, even if everything else about the apartment seems great.

5. What Is the Guest or Subletting Policy?

Some landlords are more finicky about guests than others. If you regularly have people stay over for a few nights or if you have a partner who will be visiting your apartment freqeuently, it’s a good idea to make sure the landlord is okay with that. A landlord might be concerned that an overnight “guest” can quickly transform into a tenant who’s living in the apartment rent-free.

Rules for overnight guests will usually be included in your lease, but you still want to be sure that you and the landlord are on the same page before you get to that point. If your landlord is very strict about overnight guests and won’t let you have a visitor stay overnight more than once week or won’t let you have people stay over for more than a few days in a row, you might consider finding a different place to rent.

Whether or not you can sublet the apartment is another thing to consider when looking at an apartment. If your life changes a lot, or if you have to travel for work frequently, subletting your place when you’re gone for a few weeks or month can help you out financially. If there’s even the remotest possibility you’ll need to sublet your apartment, ask the landlord about it in advance. Many will allow subletting, as the practice helps them avoid people breaking their lease or leaving the apartment early.

guest policy in a rental

6. How Are Repairs or Emergencies Handled?

If the heating breaks in the middle of winter, will you be left waiting for days in the cold before someone stops by to fix it? If the light goes out in the hallway, will someone come to change the bulb right away? Some landlords are a lot more on top of repairs and emergency situations than others.

Ideally, when you ask about emergencies or repairs, the landlord will tell you that someone is on call at all times to handle emergency situations. If a super or maintentnance crew doesn’t live in the building, find out how far away they are and how responsive they are to issues.

Also ask about weekends. Some landlords aren’t available on weekends, meaning that if your heater or stove breaks on a Saturday, you might not be able to reach anyone about getting it fixed until Monday morning.

7. How Much Notice Does the Landlord Give Before Entering the Apartment?

You have the right to expect privacy when living in a rented apartment, but your landlord still owns the property and does have the right to enter. The exact rules about entering the apartment vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, for example, Landlords are required to give 24 hours notice before they enter your apartment, if you don’t plan to be present. In the event of an emergency, the landlord has the right to enter without any notice.

If the landlord says they will give you a day or two’s notice before entering the apartment to make repairs or show it to potential tenants, you can rest easy. But if the landlord says they will enter whenever, you might want to find a different rental. Also, make sure this stipulation is included in your lease before you sign it.

8. How Does the Renter Pay Rent?

When rent is due, how you can pay and what happens if you pay late are all things you want to know before signing a lease. Usually, rent is due on the first of the month, by noon or the end of the day. But if you’re moving in the middle of the month, your landlord might agree to accept payment on the 15th of each month for the duration of the lease.

You also want to find out what payment methods your landlord accepts. If your landlord only accepts one form of payment, it can be hassle for you. For example, if your landlord expects to be paid in cashier’s checks each month, you’ll have to go through the process of purchasing a new check every month. Although limited payment options shouldn’t necessarily keep you from renting, the more ways you have to pay, the easier it will be for you to make sure you pay your rent on time each month.

Also ask about late payments. Many landlords offer a grace period of three to five days, meaning you don’t have to pay a late fee if you make your payment by that date. You want to know how much the late fee is and when the landlord adds it to your rent.

9. What Are the Rules for Decorating or Changing the Apartment?

When you move out, you’re usually expected to return the apartment in the same condition it was in when you moved in, minus some general wear and tear. For some landlords, that means covering any nail holes you may have put in the walls or repainting the walls to their original color. Other landlords don’t want you to change a single thing about the place.

It’s important to find out which type of landlord yours is before you decide to rent the place. Being limited in your decorating options might not completely rule out an apartment for you, if you love everything else about it. But if it has yellow walls you can’t stand — and can’t change — you might think twice before deciding to live there.

rental wear & tear

10. What Is Parking Like?

If there’s no parking lot or driveway connected to the apartment or home, will you have to purchase a permit to park on the street? You also want to know how difficult it is to find street parking by your home.

The landlord should be able to tell you upfront about the parking situation and about whether you’ll need to buy a permit to park. In some cases, a dream apartment might not be worth it if parking is a struggle or if you have to pay thousands more to get a permit for a parking spot.

11. Is the Neighborhood Safe?

A landlord who has an apartment in a safe neighborhood will be happy to tell you all about how great the area is. A landlord who’s trying to rent a place in an area with a higher crime rate or with a less than stellar reputation might be a little more close-lipped about it.

If you can’t get a straight answer from the landlord, it’s a good idea to do some research on your own. Luckily, crime statistics are public record and are relatively easy to find with a quick Google search. Along with doing your own research, it can be helpful to ask neighbors or others in the building what they think of the area.

12. What Happens at the End of the Lease?

Even before you move in, it’s not too soon to start thinking about what happens at the end of the lease. You want to find out how much notice a landlord needs when you’re planning on moving out and whether you have the option of renewing the lease at the end of the term.

Another thing to ask about is your security deposit. Your landlord needs to return that to you within 30 days of you leaving or else provide you with a list of damages and the cost to fix them, as a way to explain why you’re not getting the full deposit back.

Ideally, you want a landlord who will make the move-out process as easy as possible. If the landlord expects 60 days’ notice, see if you can negotiate that down to 30 days, to give yourself enough wiggle room when it’s time to move on. If the landlord won’t budge on the matter, make sure you start looking for your new place nice and early, so you have enough time to give your notice.

giving notice at the end of your lease

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone when looking for an apartment. For more advice on what to look out for when renting an apartment and help with finding the perfect place to call home, contact IFR today to learn more about our apartment locator service.