Ask These Questions Before Renting a Home

by Brian Carberry | Updated: Jun 21, 2019

When you’re renting a new home, be sure to ask some key questions before you sign the lease. Though the property may look fine, it’s wise to arm yourself with more information — before it may be too late.

The obvious, but important questions

These are some of the more obvious questions to ask, but still very important.  

  • What is the cost of rent and utilities? This is the most obvious question to ask but is still important. You need to know what it’s going to cost to live in this apartment once you count everything.
  • Are there deposits/non-refundable fees, and for what? You’re going to have to pay a lot up front to move; that’s just a fact of moving. A portion of that cost is going to go to upfront fees, so get to know what those are ahead of time.  
  • How soon are you looking to fill the unit? If they’re looking for someone to move in next week and you’re not looking to move for a month, this probably isn’t the place for you.
  • What’s the procedure to get things fixed, especially in an emergency? If something breaks, you don’t want the stress of not knowing what to do about it. Find out how to do those things early so you can focus on getting things fixed.
  • What payment methods do you accept? You have to pay your rent, and the easier it is for you and your landlord, such as paying online, the better it is for everyone.
  • What are your policies for different situations? Late fees, subletting, pets, early termination, etc.? You want to know what it costs if you have pets, have to break the lease, or anything else slightly unusual. You may not plan on these things, but they’re options you may need to exercise sometime in the future, so it’s better to know about them ahead of time.  

Less obvious, but still important

Then there are the questions you’re less likely to remember to ask. The reasons for asking might not be immediately obvious, but they can tell you a lot that you might not realize is important.

  • What’s the interest level in this unit? You might not be the only one looking to rent this unit. If there are a lot of people looking at it, you’re going to need to act quickly. If there’s less interest, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate for a better deal.  
  • What’s the ideal lease duration? Not everyone is looking for the standard 12-month lease. If there’s a mismatch between how long the landlord wants to lease the unit and how long you want to live, you’re probably going to have to find somewhere else.  
  • How often are the locks changed? This probably won’t be a major concern, but if locks aren’t changed often, there’s a chance old tenants might still be able to access your house/apartment. The answer you’re looking for is “every time someone moves in/out”, and if it’s not, see if you can negotiate that for your peace of mind.
  • Is the unit/building noisy? Find out how much noise there is, especially since you’re most likely not being taken on a tour at night. If there’s loud partying from nearby neighbors, it’s better to know beforehand, when you can let it influence your decision about the rental.
  • Is there construction here or nearby planned? Does anyone like construction noise? Maybe someone does, but if you’re not them, you’re going to want to know if there’s anything planned that’s going to make your life noisy for the next several months, even if it’s quiet and calm now.  
  • What amenities come with the unit? Many apartment buildings try to entice tenants with gyms, common areas, events, and the like. Find out exactly what comes with it so you know if you have to take care of a gym membership yourself.
  • How much notice do you give before coming by the apartment? Some landlords are very active with their building and their tenants, while others like to stay away and only come by occasionally. Whichever one you’re dealing with, make sure you know what their timeline is for visits. You have a right to privacy, and in most cases, they should give you at least 24 hours’ notice before coming by. Don’t be afraid to push back on this if they give a different answer.
  • What’s your ideal tenant? There’s a lot you can get out of this answer. Obviously, the landlord wants someone who always pays the rent on time, but anything else they say gives you an idea of who they are and how they run the building. If they’re looking for the type of person who isn’t like you or their criteria sound discriminatory, you’re probably looking at a place you don’t want to live.
  • Are there quiet hours? On the opposite side of the noise concern, maybe you make noise yourself. In that case, you’ll want to know if you need to wind the party down by a certain time, or make sure your speaker system is turned down during late night movie nights.
  • What maintenance work am I responsible for? Misunderstanding who is responsible for what work on a property is one of the biggest causes of tension and conflict between a tenant and landlord, so make sure it’s clear from the beginning what you’re responsible for paying for and spelled out specifically in the lease.
  • Can I renew the lease? While most landlords just want to make rent money on a property, some might want to move themselves or someone they know in after you move out. Check ahead of time if you’ll be able to renew, or if you’ll be back in the position you’re in now by the end of the lease.  
  • How can I decorate the place? Even if you don’t plan on doing any decorating, find out what changes you’re able to make. Some places are fine with you repainting, while others don’t even want you putting a nail in the wall.

The big question

This is one of the best questions you can ask about the unit. It’s not the most obvious question, but the way that the landlord or property manager answers this question can tell you a lot about where you’re looking to rent.

  • Would you live here? If their answer is an enthusiastic “yes”, you’ve found a good place to live. If not, it's not necessarily somewhere you don’t want to live, but you need to think about why they give the answer they do. If they’re being evasive about why they don’t want to, or the answers they give aren’t convincing, this might not be the best place to live. Reading between the lines can tell you a lot more than any of the more straightforward answers you’re going to get about the building and neighborhood.

When you find the rental you want, don’t jump into an agreement before asking questions about life-after-lease-signing. Some good conversation with your future landlord can make the difference between a happy or a hellacious stay in your new home.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Categories: Renters

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