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The Top 17 Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

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When you start apartment hunting, you probably have a good idea of what you're looking for: how many bedrooms, the general area and how much rent you can afford. While the ads for apartments will usually answer your most basic questions, there are others to ask when renting an apartment that are just as important. Whether you're looking for your first apartment or moving on up to a new neighborhood, the answers to these questions can help you narrow down your apartment choices and find the one that's just right for you.

In This Article:
  1. Is there a lease? What are the lease terms?
  2. Are there any monthly costs in addition to the rent?
  3. What's your security deposit policy?
  4. What is your pet policy?
  5. What are my move-in costs?
  6. Are there any utilities included in the rent?
  7. What amenities are included in the rent?
  8. Who has access to my apartment?
  9. What is your guest policy?
  10. Are there roommate restrictions?
  11. When is my rent due? How can I pay it?
  12. What if I have to move out before the end of my lease?
  13. Can I make changes to the apartment?
  14. What happens at lease renewal time?
  15. What appliances are included with the apartment?
  16. How is trash handled?
  17. Where can I store my "stuff"?

1. Is there a lease? What are the lease terms?

When you agree to rent an apartment, you'll be signing a rental agreement. In most cases, it will be a one-year lease that obligates you to rent that apartment for one year at a specific rental price. That's not always the case, though. In towns with a lot of college students, for example, it's not unusual for landlords to rent apartments for shorter terms to accommodate the student market. A landlord may choose to rent on a month-to-month basis for various reasons. Understanding the length of your lease is vital for your own peace of mind.

Tip: Always always always read the lease in full before signing it. It lays out all the rules you're agreeing to follow.

2. Are there any monthly costs in addition to the rent?

The rent may not be your only financial obligation. Some complexes may require you to carry renter's insurance, for example, or charge a small monthly amount for pest control services. Other monthly costs may include parking fees, fees to use the amenities or storage fees to use a storage area outside your apartment. Make sure you understand all of the fees you'll be paying before you sign the lease. (Note: renters insurance is a good idea even if your landlord doesn't require it. Your landlord's insurance may not cover your losses in case your belongings are damaged or lost in a fire or other occurrence.)

Tip: If your building doesn't offer storage, renting an offsite storage unit can give you a space to keep your off-season gear and other large items that don't fit in your apartment. 

3. What's your security deposit policy?

You'll nearly always need to pay more than a month's rent in order to move into your new apartment. It's typical for landlords to ask for the first month's and last month's rent. Most apartments require a security deposit, which can be as much as a full month's rent. It's important to know the laws about security deposits in your state or province, though. In some states, for example, it's illegal for a landlord to require both a security deposit and last month's rent. Your landlord may also be required to handle your security deposit in certain ways. In Massachusetts, for example, your security deposit must be kept in a separate bank account, and your landlord must give you the details of that account. Knowing the law can alert you to a landlord that's not quite on the up-and-up, or give you some bargaining power. 

Tip: Some landlords are willing to let you pay the security deposit over the course of your first few months in the apartment. If an apartment seems perfect, but the move-in costs are a strain for your budget, it's worth asking if you can make an arrangement to pay your security deposit in installments.

4. What is your pet policy?

If you're moving with pets, you'll want to know whether your pet is allowed in your new apartment, of course, but there are other questions you should ask before you rent. Do you have to pay a pet deposit? Is there a size/weight limit on the pets you can keep in your apartment? Is there a limit to the number of pets you can have? Are there specific breeds of pets — usually dogs — that aren't allowed? Does the pet policy apply to small pets, such as guinea pigs? How about lizards or fish?

Tip: It should go without saying but — never try to sneak a pet past your landlord if they're not allowed. It can negate the terms of your lease, cause you to lose your security deposit, and even result in eviction.

5. What are my move-in costs?

In addition to your rent and security deposit, there may be other costs you'll need to pay as part of moving in. They may include things like a key (or key card) deposit, an elevator fee, an application fee or an administrative fee. These are most common if you're moving into an apartment complex, and may be lumped together into a single move-in fee. Understanding exactly what you'll have to pay can make moving day less stressful.

Tip: Ask about any rules about the move-in day in advance. You'll want to know things like where you can park a moving truck to unload your items, and whether you'll have to pay an elevator deposit — often refundable — to cover any accidental damage that happens during a move. There may be rules about how early or late you can move items into your apartment to avoid inconveniencing neighbors.

6. Are there any utilities included in the rent?

You'll want to know if your rent covers any utilities, such as heating, electricity, water or cable. Some complexes include all utilities, but most leave it up to you to have your own accounts and be responsible for at least some of them.

Tip: Be sure to make arrangements to have any utilities started at your new apartment on or before your move-in date so you don't end up moving in the dark.

7. What amenities are included in the rent?

Amenities are the lovely little extras that make an apartment especially attractive. They may include on-site parking, access to a swimming pool or the use of a fitness club or social room. Those may or may not be covered by the cost of your rent. In some cases, you'll have to pay a separate fee to use the facilities.

Tip: You should also be sure to ask about any special policies. For example, when are you allowed to use the pool? Are your guests allowed to use the amenities with you? Most buildings only allow guests in the facilities when you accompany them.

8. Who has access to my apartment?

You'll want to know who can get into your apartment besides you, and what the policy is for accessing your apartment. In most cases, management has to give you ample notice that they'll be entering the premises to do repairs or inspections, except in the case of an emergency.

Tip: You'll also want to know if the locks to your apartment were changed when the last tenant moved. This should be standard process, but it isn't always followed. If the locks or lock codes aren't changed before you move in, you should ask that it be done as a condition of your renting the apartment. You — and management — have no idea whether the last tenant shared their keys with anyone else.

9. What is your guest policy?

How long can a guest stay with you before you have to let management know? Is there guest parking? Can you have overnight guests? This may not seem like a big deal, but breaking the guest policy can void the terms of your lease, so it's important to know what the policies are about guests. It's one thing if your boyfriend stays over once in a while. If it happens every weekend, though, your landlord (and other tenants) may consider him a long-term guest or even an unofficial resident. 

Tip: If you often have guests that spend a couple of days or more, it's especially important to be aware of the building's guest policy. It may help you decide whether or not an apartment is a good fit for you.

10. Are there roommate restrictions?

How many people are allowed to live in your apartment? Must they all be on the lease? Can you take on another roommate in the future? Even if you're planning to live alone, it's good to know the official policy for future reference, if, for example, your sister needs somewhere to stay or you and a friend decide you're actually more than friends.

Tip: Most lease agreements require you to list everyone who will be living in the apartment. Many also require that all adults living in an apartment sign the lease. This is for your protection as well as the landlords.

11. When is my rent due? How can I pay it?

While it's important to know how much rent you'll be paying, it's equally important to know when and how to pay it. The rent may be due on the first of the month, but many places give you a grace period — often five days — before they hit you with a late fee. It's more and more common for landlords to accept electronic payments for rent, via Zelle, PayPal, bank transfer or even Venmo. Others require a paper check or money order, delivered or mailed to the management office. 

Tip: If you have an awkward pay schedule and an understanding landlord, you may be able to negotiate a different due date for your rent. It doesn't hurt to ask.

12. What if I have to move out before the end of my lease?

Sometimes circumstances require you to move out before the end of your lease. It's common for the tenant to sublet the apartment — essentially, rent it to someone else who will finish out the period of the lease. Your lease should spell out whether or not this is allowed. You should also know if there are any penalties for ending a lease early. In some cases, you may be on the hook for the rent for that apartment for the entire term of the lease. Many leases, however, specify an amount — one or two months' rent, for example — you'll be charged for breaking the lease.

Tip: If you know that you're likely to be moving in less than a year, you may be happier finding an apartment to rent on a month-to-month basis, or look for one with a shorter lease term. That way you avoid costly penalties.

13. Can I make changes to the apartment?

So you've found an apartment in the perfect neighborhood, and it's got a pool — but you'd really love it if the kitchen had sunshine yellow walls. Whether you want to take advantage of the latest decorating trends or hang your favorite posters on the wall, your landlord has some say about what you're allowed to do. In some cases, they'll be fine with anything as long as you can leave the apartment as you found it. In others, there are no changes allowed at all. Knowing in advance what you can do will save you a lot of trouble and expense in the long run.

Tip: While you're at it, you should also ask about seasonal decorations and patio or balcony decor. Some apartment buildings forbid you from hanging anything on your door, and may limit how you can decorate your balcony. If it's important to you to grow a garden on your front porch, for example, you may want to pass on the apartment that limits you to two lawn chairs and a table in your patio space.

14. What happens at lease renewal time?

Will your lease automatically be renewed? Is there a typical rent increase each year? How much notice will you get if they choose not to renew your lease? Is it possible to switch to a month-to-month rental agreement if, for example, you're not sure about another full year? While it may seem awkward to talk about ending a lease before you even sign it, it's important to know about the way your landlord handles lease renewals. It can save you from unexpected surprises further down the line.

Tip: Know the laws in your community. They'll tell you how much notice you must be given before lease cancellation or non-renewal, and may put limits on how much your rent can increase from year to year.

15. What appliances are included with the apartment?

Depending on where you live, the law may require the landlord to supply a stove and a refrigerator, but it's not always the case. Some apartments may also come furnished with a dishwasher, microwave, and even a washer and dryer. Other buildings may not allow you to have a washer in your unit, or put other limits on the appliances you can have. If you know in advance, you can make plans to purchase the appliances you need — or dispose of those you can't take with you. 

Tip: Don't assume that everything you see in the model apartment (or in a staged apartment) will be part of your apartment. Ask if these are the same appliances and fittings that will be in your apartment to avoid unpleasant surprises.

16. How is trash handled?

Trash disposal is a surprisingly contentious item in many apartment buildings. It helps to know how trash collection works and who is responsible. Small multi-family units, for example, may rely on municipal trash collection. In that case, you'll want to know when you can put your trash out for pickup, and where you can keep it while waiting for trash day. Larger apartment complexes may have rules about what and how much you can put in the dumpster. Some newer complexes provide trash concierge service — you put your bagged trash outside your door at night, and the staff picks it up and disposes of it. 

Tip: Check your municipal or state laws about landlord responsibilities to find out what the management is required to provide. In many areas, they must provide closed receptacles to all tenants, and an area where they can be kept.

17. Where can I store my "stuff"?

Your camping gear, your kayak, your Christmas tree, the living room chair that goes with your set but doesn't fit — it all needs to go somewhere where you won't be falling over it all the time. Many apartment units offer storage space in the basement of the building, which may be included in the rent or incur an additional fee. Townhouses may have an attic or basement space. Ask about access to storage, and if there are locks on each tenant's storage area. If there are items you need every day — like your bicycle — ask where it's acceptable to park or leave it. 

Tip: If your building doesn't offer storage, or your apartment doesn't have enough closets, renting an offsite storage unit can give you a space to keep your off-season gear and other large items that don't fit in your apartment.

 

These cover some of the most basic questions to ask when renting an apartment, but it's impossible to cover everything. One of the most useful things you can do is to make a checklist of important amenities for your new apartment, from public transportation access to quiet neighbors, and take it with you when you're looking at apartments. By the time you're done, you'll have a pretty good idea of which apartment is your new home sweet home.

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