12 Questions Renters Should Ask Before Signing the Lease

For anyone who has ever rented before they will tell you some general advice: check out the neighborhood, price comparisons, parking, etc. But there are so many important questions to ask when you go to look at an apartment and meet with the landlord that go a lot more in depth than just where’s the nearest grocery store and whether or not you’re parking in a garage or on the street. So before you go into any meeting with a potential landlord, try to keep these questions in mind.

1. What utilities are included with the rent? Some important utilities to try and get incorporated are your gas, electric, water, and trash. Much more than those and you’re pushing your luck.

2. What type of heating/cooling is there? Gas heating can be expensive and central air conditioning might just be worth every penny on your electric bill depending on where you live.

3. Are there going to be any restrictions on what utilities I can use? This is important because you don’t want to sign a lease and then later on find out you can’t get the cable or satellite TV that you want. Most new companies to a location will have to install proper wiring which most likely means some serious holes in the walls. Getting something like this done without a landlord’s blessing could result in a bad relationship.

4. What appliances are included? A cheap apartment may not feel so cheap after you have to buy a fridge, stove, washer & dryer, and three window A/C units.

5. Who’s responsible for repairs and paying for it? Make sure that your landlord is going to take care of getting the leaky faucet repaired or worse yet, that leaky roof. After the snow from blizzard of ’10 began to melt, I came home to find my kitchen flooded. Apparently my upstairs neighbor’s roof had leaked and it had made it’s way down through the walls and lighting fixtures. All of this had occurred while they were away in Chicago and therefore gone unnoticed. Even if you have to call the repairman, make sure you’ll get reimbursed and in order to do that you need to get it written into the lease.

6. How old is the building? When was the apartment last updated? Depending on your landlord’s answer to #5, this could be incredibly important to ask. You don’t want to get stuck paying for repairs that have been overdue for a decade or two.

7. Do you have insurance that will cover my personal property in case of fire, flood, theft? Nobody wants to spend an extra $10 a month on a renter’s insurance policy that just duplicates something that their landlord already is paying for. However, most landlords answer to this question will be no.

8. Is there a noise violation policy? I once had strippers who lived in the apartment above mine who would get home at 3 a.m. and play techno music very loudly. Unfortunately I had not asked this question and therefore nothing could be done without something written into the lease for both parties involved.

9. Can I have pets? Kids? Usually one and/or the other will require a higher security deposit and pets may get an absolute no. Be up front and don’t try and hide Spot or Socks because they’re bound to meet your landlord at some point for a routine repair job while you’re away at work.

10. Where can I park my car? Where can my guests park? Sometimes a property will come with a private driveway or a garage, but a lot of times rental properties have on street parking. If you’re moving into a metropolis, it’s important to find out from your landlord if you need a special permit for street parking or if there are times in which it is difficult to park. My old place had on street parking and it required a permit (only $20/year) and I also got a visitor permit for an additional $1. However, there was a farmer’s market in my neighborhood that made parking Friday afternoons and early evening nearly impossible. Besides, you don’t want all of your friends’ cars towed at your house warming party because the cops actually do check the meters at 8pm.

11. Would you be flexible to any changes to the lease before it’s time for lease renewal? This one’s important if you’re starting out with roommates or expecting a change in your dating status. If you have one bad apple in the bunch of roommates and you manage to convince her to leave, you don’t want that to be considered a breach in the lease with your landlord. Also, this may give you a chance to negotiate a lower rent if you are having to sign a long term lease. For instance, the lease you’re signing is for three years, but after a year, you have a great rapport with your landlord and have been good about paying on time or early every month, however you’re not making as much money as you used to. Maybe he’d be willing to cut you a little slack in this bad economy in order to keep you.

12. What are the expectations for when I eventually move out? Does it need to be repainted white? Holes in the walls spackled and repaired? Carpeting steam cleaned? Often times you can move out and make these repairs, clean-ups and changes yourself for a lot less than what your landlord would take from your security deposit. Last time I checked, a steam cleaning vacuum rental didn’t cost $100 but that is what my landlord charged me.

Hopefully these questions will be able to help you tell the difference between a slum lord and a fantastic landlord that you’ll be more or less working with over the next several years of your life. Keep in mind, this person is going to be responsible for whether or not you love or hate your new home.