Thoroughly understanding the terms of your rental lease agreement is critical because your lease is a legally binding contract. Before you sign on the dotted line, you need to talk with your landlord, research the neighborhood, or even speak to other residents to make sure you’re comfortable with committing to the apartment. A year is a long time to live in a building with an unresponsive manager, a no-overnight guest policy, or run-down unit. Here are some questions you need to ask before committing to an apartment:
1. Is the lease short or long-term? A rental agreement can be month-to-month, while a lease can lock you in from anywhere from six to twelve months. Double check how many months the lease locks you into, and make sure you’re able to commit.
2. Do you pro-rate rent? If you’re moving at the middle or end of the month, ask if the landlord will pro-rate the cost of rent.
3. Where and how is rent paid each month? When are payments considered late? Late payments usually incur fees, so confirm when and how rent payments need to be made.
4. Are utilities included? Are you budgeting to pay for your own water and electricity? Either way, find out if the rent is inclusive of water, energy, cable, or internet costs.
5. Are there additional fees on top of the rent? Some apartment buildings charge extra for parking, amenity usage, or storage. Don’t assume that the gym comes free – ask first.
6. Is there a property management on site? What is the process for dealing with emergencies or maintenance issues? Get the contact information for the property manager or landlord, and ask what the protocol is for submitting maintenance requests.
7. Are there regular inspections? What is the policy for maintenance personnel entering the apartment? Your landlord should follow a procedure for notifying you about entering the apartment.
8. Are there rules against personalizing your apartment? If you plan on personalizing your walls, installing a satellite dish, or even hanging up photos, know the limits so your deposit isn’t deducted later on.
9. Are there quiet hours in place? Apartment living involves having lots of neighbors nearby. Don’t get stuck with loud neighbors you can’t do anything about – ask if there are quiet hours, and how your landlord deals with late-night noise complaints.
10. What is the guest policy? Have a friend in town that needs a place to stay for a few nights? Make sure your landlord will be okay with it.
11. Are pets allowed? Apartment buildings have limits on the type and size of pets they allow. Double check the terms of the rental form before you adopt a new pet.
12. Is the deposit refundable? Know the terms of your security deposit – where it’s held, if you get interest on it, and if any portion of it is non-refundable. Go through a pre-move-in inspection with your landlord, take photos, and sign off on the conditions of the unit.
13. Is there any maintenance work the resident is responsible for? If the unit comes with extra features such as a small yard, check if you’re responsible for taking care of it.
14. Are there any improvements or construction planned for the building in the near future? Nearby construction could present a noise issue you’ll have to deal with for an extended period of time.
15. How often are the locks changed? Frequent resident turnover means previous residents could have access to your apartment. Make sure your landlord maintains a secure building and changes the locks between turnovers.