Questions to Ask Before You Rent an Apartment

After renting housing for my whole adult life (nearly a decade and a half) I thought I’d become savvy at finding great places. That is, until I came into some serious bad luck with apartments. 

First, there was the cute attic studio that looked eclectic and Pinterest-worthy — but ended up having squirrels in the walls, heat that cut out throughout the winter, and neighbors who liked to do woodwork with a table saw outside my window on the weekends. I moved into a new place that I thought would be better — only to find out the other units in the building were still under renovation and the construction workers all smoked…inside. And when I relocated to sunny southern California, I didn’t realize that also meant pests like termites would be more prevalent than in the cold Midwest where I’m originally from.

After those pretty horrific renting experiences, I’ve learned a few things about what to ask a future landlord before signing the dotted line on the lease. Here are the questions I recommend you ask before you move into a new place: 

What’s the background of the building?

Google is your best friend. Do a quick search on the address and see if anything, like police reports or previous tenant reviews, comes up. See if you can find any Yelp reviews about the management company — and if there’s more than a few people leaving a bad review, be sure to read what their issues were. When you see the place, ask why the last tenant left, ask if there is any history of pest issues, and ask any other questions that came up for you in your research. Try to find out as much as you can about what went on in the unit before you move in.

Are there any future plans for building renovation?

This was a big category I missed when I moved into a newly renovated unit that was surrounded by other not-yet-renovated units. Be sure to ask: Will you be doing any renovations in other units? Are there any nearby construction projects? Road renovations? Talk with the property management company about upcoming plans so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

What are the day-to-day details?

It’s important to ask about all the little things, like where do you take out the trash? When and how is trash collected? I forgot to ask this once and ended up having to carry trash cans down a flight of stairs and carry them back up every week. What utilities will be covered? Is there recycling? Is smoking allowed in this building? What about pets? Is parking included? Are subletters allowed? 

How will rent be paid?

Understanding how and when you’re expected to pay rent is a key deciding factor. Be sure to ask if your landlord prefers check, transfer, or if they have an online portal (that may take a few days to process payments). It’s also good to ask if the rent has increased and what percentage of an increase to expect, as well if there’s any rent control. Ask about which day of the month you’ll be expected to pay rent, and ask if there’s any difference that needs to be paid if you move in earlier. 

Can I get that in writing?

When it’s time to sign the lease, be sure to give it a full review, and if you have a friend with any legal or real estate background, ask them to review it, too. Make sure any tenant’s rights ordinances are included in the lease. Most importantly, if any promises are made before move-in, ask to get them in writing. I was once told a washer and dryer would be installed before move-in — and then the dryer never showed up. Even if it seems silly, make sure you ask for any verbal agreements to be added as an addendum to the lease.

I hope this helps in finding the right place, as it’s helped me find a rental apartment I truly love. If issues do come up, remember that the lease is there to protect both the tenant and the landlord. Happy apartment hunting!

Originally published on August 10, 2020.

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Caitlin Elizabeth is a writer and creative consultant. She is passionate about equality, creative living, and wellness and has spent time in 11 countries around the world. She owns her own creative consulting business and lives with her adopted pup Tula. Connect with her at