Real Estate

As you scroll through apartment listings, you’re taking note of each property’s price, size, location, and amenities. When you find a rental that you believe will work for your lifestyle and budget, it’s time to schedule a tour. Your prospective landlord will (hopefully) disclose everything required by law, but don’t expect them to voluntarily get into the nitty-gritty of what living in (and paying for) your apartment will be like. That’s your responsibility to find out.

To help you avoid a bad case of renter’s regret (a.k.a., “I wish I had known that before I signed a lease!”), Jonas Bordo of Dwellsy, a comprehensive residential home rentals marketplace, lists six questions to ask your landlord and six to consider on your own:

Questions to Ask Your Potential Landlord:

Will I be responsible for any maintenance? In general, landlords are responsible for repairs (such as a broken appliance or leaky faucet) and pest control. Often they’ll take care of yard work and snow removal too—but not always! You might be in charge of minor tasks such as changing the air filters every few months, or filling in nail holes before moving out. Be sure you understand what’s expected of you up front.

How do I report a maintenance problem if one comes up? Even when a maintenance issue is minor, it can be frustrating to wait for it to be fixed. It’s important to understand exactly how to report a maintenance issue, whether that’s through a call, an online portal, or something else. Your landlord should also be able to give you a general timeline of how long it takes to fix smaller problems and who will be knocking on your door to carry them out.

Are there quiet hours or other rules that may affect me? Some rental communities enforce quiet hours or restrict pet ownership. Landlords may prohibit overnight guests or limit how long they may stay. Painting walls or hanging pictures could be off-limits. Rental properties might even regulate unit temperatures and which cleaning products may be used. Usually, rules for renters are understandable and expected, but at times they can be downright bizarre—especially where private landlords are concerned. It’s best to know these things up front!

What fees will I be responsible for? On top of your monthly rent, you may be responsible for paying an application fee, pet fees, parking fees, utility fees, move-in and move-out fees, and even elevator fees. If you aren’t prepared, they can come as a shock when it’s time to pay that first rent check.

What fines might I be responsible for? If you break a rule or damage the property, you will probably be on the hook to pay a fine or fee—and that money may or may not come out of your security deposit. You may also be charged a fee if your rent payment is late or if your check bounces. Know beforehand what missteps will literally cost you, so you can avoid them.

What will my utilities and other monthly expenses cost? While rent is a big chunk of your monthly expenses pie, it’s not the whole pie. In addition to fees charged by your landlord, you should also factor in recurring expenses like renter’s insurance, energy and water bills, trash pickup, Internet, parking, storage, etc. Your landlord should be able to give you a ballpark idea of how much some of these will cost you.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

What condition is the rental in? Are there any stains, cracks, or chips? Do you see any mold, mildew, or pests? How’s the water pressure? Are there any unpleasant smells? Do the appliances and locks work? How well can you hear what’s going on next door? Remember, rentals can look very different from what model units or listing photos would have you believe. If you do notice any issues, be sure to point them out to your potential landlord and document them with photos or videos.

Are the amenities as advertised? The reality of advertised amenities may not match your assumptions. Maybe the “fitness center” consists of two old treadmills and a handful of mismatched free weights. Or the laundry facility is “under repair” more often than not. Or the “24/7 maintenance” consists of your landlord, his toolbox, and DIY YouTube repair videos. That’s why it’s important to check out facilities for yourself when possible and ask questions about any amenities or services you think you’ll utilize.

How noisy will it be? Plenty of renters really like their apartment, but it’s a block away from a train track, or across the street from a construction site, or shares a wall with loud neighbors. Since noise levels are something a landlord might downplay—or be unaware of—try to walk around your potential neighborhood at different times of the day so you can get a sense of any possible disruptions before you move in. Likewise, if you see any current residents of your building or complex, you might talk to them.

Will all my furniture fit? If your couch can’t navigate the hairpin turns in the stairwell of your walk-up, or if you’ll need Vaseline to fit your dining room table into the breakfast nook, it’s best to know those things up front. Ask to measure any key spaces before signing your lease if you would be reluctant to part with any of your larger possessions. Remember that an empty apartment generally looks bigger than it actually is, so don’t trust your eyes to estimate size.

Will I get along with my landlord (or property manager, or super)? This may not seem like a big deal at first, but your quality of life can depend on the relationship you have with your landlord or property manager. This is the person who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs. They may enter your apartment periodically for inspections. In addition to the first impression you form while viewing the apartment, Bordo recommends talking with your future neighbors if possible. If someone says, “I usually have to beg for weeks before repairs are made,” you should take that seriously. However, take online reviews with a grain of salt. Unlike higher-traffic businesses like restaurants and stores that have hundreds of potential reviewers each day, rental units typically have only one resident per year. As a result, reviews of landlords are either non-existent or they represent the worst day a renter had in a 365-day lease.

Are there “little things” that might become big deals? When there’s money to be saved, we tend to overlook potential issues. “It won’t be a big deal. I can adapt!” But be honest: Does the money you’ll save on rent outweigh the fact that your previous 15-minute commute would now take 45? How will not having an in-unit washer/dryer affect your routines? Will you be as dismissive of the stairs when you’re lugging heavy bags of groceries up three flights? Will a less-walkable neighborhood make it difficult to exercise your dogs? The same thing applies to many seemingly small issues that might impact your daily responsibilities, routines, or quality of life.

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