Getting a new place can be an exciting process. It can also require some savvy thinking and careful planning.
It’s important for renters to take steps to protect their own interests and financial reputations. This is especially true when dealing with landlords and leases. The truth is that what’s written in the fine print really can turn your living situation into a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re getting into.
Nobody wants to pay good money for an apartment that doesn’t allow them to enjoy their environment, feel safe, or host friends. So, how can you make sure your new apartment or rental home is a good fit and also protect your rights as a renter?
Here are eight key questions to ask the landlord before ever touching your pen to a lease.
1. What Methods of Payment Do You Accept?
There was a time when paying by check was really the only way to take care of your rent. However, many apartment complexes now offer electronic payment options.
Electronic payment options are a secure and convenient method for paying your landlord. You may even be able to set up automated payments to avoid missing a month, especially if you’re routinely out of town or have a lot on your plate.
You should definitely avoid a landlord that only accepts cash payments. That’s a sign that something isn’t quite right.
Also, never under any circumstances provide a payment before you’ve viewed your apartment and signed a lease. There are actually a ton of online scams on popular websites, intended to lure in and take advantage of renters. They often hinge on collecting payment up front. So if any landlord asks for payment before you’ve signed the lease, beware.
2. What Is the Guest Policy in This Complex?
The complex you want to live in may have a great pool area, tennis courts, and a state-of-the-art gym. However, there is the chance that you may not be able to bring friends to enjoy these activities if a complex has a strict guest policy.
Sometimes, amenities are only open to leaseholders. This might disappoint you if you’re not a big fan of the idea of paying extra for fancy perks that you can’t share with guests occasionally.
In addition, you may be restricted from even letting friends crash on your couch for more than a few nights if your lease has a policy against long-term guests.
3. What Could Cause Me to Lose My Security Deposit?
Some renters receive an unpleasant surprise when they turn in their keys at the end of a lease term because they didn’t fully understand the conditions attached to their security deposit when they moved in.
You probably already know that damages that go beyond general wear and tear could cause you to lose some or all of your security deposit. However, every landlord has different expectations. Some require a professional cleaning and/or carpet treatment (with receipts) upon move-out, so you can’t even do that yourself. You might get your security deposit back, but you’ll have spent much of that money cleaning your apartment!
Resource: Why I’ll Never Be a Landlord
Be sure to ask about the specific types of damage that could result in your potential landlord withholding your money. This is also a good time to ask if you’re allowed to personalize your apartment without forfeiting your security deposit.
4. What Is the Parking Situation?
The parking situation at your apartment can have a big impact on your life. A simple trip to the grocery store can turn into a complicated juggling act if you’re constantly forced to park far from your front door.
Be sure to ask if the parking lot has reserved spaces. You’ll also want to inquire about guest parking. An apartment complex that doesn’t offer a decent amount of guest parking could prevent you from ever being able to host gatherings at your new place, even if it’s technically allowed.
5. Am I Allowed to Sublet My Apartment?
Being able to sublet your apartment is a big deal if you have the type of career or lifestyle that could require you to relocate temporarily or on short notice. You’ll need to know if subletting qualifies as a breach of contract before you sign a lease.
6. How Does Lease Renewal Work?
It’s important to start thinking about the end of your lease the moment it starts.
Be sure to ask your landlord if month-to-month leasing options are available once a lease is finished. Living in an apartment complex that offers a month-to-month option following the end of a lease is beneficial because you’ll have some extra time if your next lease doesn’t start exactly when your current one ends.
Learn More About Renter’s Insurance
7. How Do You Handle Repairs?
Waiting around for your landlord to take care of repairs is one of the most frustrating aspects of being a renter.
You could lose time and money if you sit around waiting for a maintenance visit that never happens. Be sure to ask about the protocols for both routine and emergency repairs. You should also ask what the typical turnaround time is for a repair like a clogged toilet or broken heater.
8. What Is Your Policy for Entering a Tenant’s Apartment?
The way a potential landlord answers this question will be a big indicator of what to expect if you do commit to a lease. You should always feel safe and comfortable inside your apartment.
Landlords need to give tenants proper notice before they are legally able to enter their apartments for things like inspections or repairs. The state you live in has its own minimum notification requirement. Make sure your potential landlord gives you a clear answer regarding the policy of entering your apartment.
Related: The Hidden Savings In a Rent Payment
No matter how great that new place may seem, be sure to ask as many questions as possible before signing on the dotted line. These eight will hopefully save you from potential heartache (and lost money!) that could come from a bad lease agreement.