If you’re looking for an apartment to rent or lease, there are certain questions to ask a landlord before renting the place. After all, this is where you’ll be living—you’ll want to be crystal-clear on the rules, right? So, before you impulsively sign that lease and pay your security deposit, make sure to stop, take a breath, and ask a few simple questions to make sure this rental is right for you.
1. What is included in the rent, and what fees will I have to pay?
Rent is just part of your living for the month—the biggest part—so you need to be sure you can comfortably cover all other costs of living in that space, including rent payments, renters insurance, and utility bills.
Most apartments will include utilities like water and sewage as part of the rent or lease payment, but other utilities such as heat, water, gas, electricity, trash, internet, and even pest control can be separate costs from your rent.
“Some buildings even charge an administration billing fee,” says Natalie Young of A+ Apartment Locating in Austin, TX.
Be sure to ask questions about which of those services tenants will need to set up. If the gas or electricity is in the renter’s name, you’ll need to have money available for the security deposit most utility companies require.
2. How many people can live here, and what is the visitor policy?
If you’re planning to live with roommates or have a large family, make sure you comply with the tenant occupancy standards of the apartment before renting.
According to Young, most buildings don’t allow more than two people per bedroom of an apartment, including children. Also, if you plan to have frequent or long-term guests at your rental, ask questions about the landlord’s guest policy.
“Most landlords will want to know if you have a guest staying more than a certain number of days,” says Young.
3. Is my security deposit refundable?
Make sure you have clarity about what part of the money you give your landlord upfront for the apartment or other rental is an administration fee, and what is a deposit.
Some deposits are fully refundable if the apartment is returned in good condition after the renter moves out, and some are nonrefundable.
If the deposit is significant, ask important questions before move-in day about what conditions the lease spells out for the security deposit’s return, how maintenance requests are handled, and if there are any additional fees.
4. Do you accept pets, and if so, are there restricted pets?
If you have animals in your life, your search for an apartment or rental home might be a little more difficult, especially if your pets are exotic.
“It goes beyond just restricted dog breeds,” says Young. “You can’t have snakes in most apartments, rodents like ferrets are often banned, and many buildings don’t accept birds.”
Many landlords and management companies charge renters a pet deposit, a nonrefundable pet fee, or even a monthly pet rent as part of a lease agreement. Ask questions in advance about the pet policy and what your furry pals are going to cost you before you sign a lease.
5. What’s the parking situation?
Depending on the location of the place you rent, parking at an apartment could be no big deal or an additional fee of hundreds of dollars a month on top of your rent.
If you have a car—or two or three—ask your landlord questions about tenants’ parking situations, whether you get a dedicated parking spot, and how much that parking spot is going to cost per month.
Ask the landlord questions about what street parking is like. In some neighborhoods, it might not be possible, or tenants could spend the night before street cleaning circling the block for an hour.
6. What happens if I need to break the lease?
A lot can happen in a year: a surprise new job, a sick parent, an injury, a cross-country love connection. If for some reason you absolutely have to move from your apartment midlease, what will your options be?
Some landlords will require you to buy your way out, while others will just want you to find a qualified tenant to take over your lease, or sublet the apartment.
Policies and laws about breaking a lease vary widely, so it’s a good idea to ask your landlord lots of questions before you commit, sign the lease, and waste too much money on rent.
7. What can I change, and what do I have to change back?
Even though you’re renting, you’ll want to make the apartment or rental home your own. But before you start pinning accent wall colors, make sure your landlord is OK with your making changes to the rental.
“Most places will let you do anything as long as you return it to the original condition,” says Young. Otherwise the maintenance costs of fixing nail holes, repainting walls, and replacing light fixtures will probably come out of your security deposit.
If you’re a DIY expert, though, it’s a good idea to talk through any ideas with your landlord after move-in day. He or she might be interested in keeping some upgrades, or may even help pay for the cost of materials or give you a break on rent for your labor. Just ask questions before you sign a lease.
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