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12 Questions to Ask Before Renting an Apartment

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You've done tons of searching online, toured numerous apartment complexes and you've narrowed it down to a few top contenders. Now is the time to get answers to all the pertinent questions before signing a lease. After you pen your John Hancock, it will be too late to take these things into consideration to ensure that you find the best place to live.

#1 How do I pay rent, and how are late fees assessed?

These days, nearly every complex has at least one electronic option for paying rent, but there may be a convenience fee from $1-5 for doing so. It may make sense to pay with a hand written check delivered to the leasing office or mailed to the landlord. In that case, make sure you understand exactly when the landlord imposes a late (e.g. five days after rent is due) and how much that fee is.

#2 Under what circumstance will you enter my apartment without notice?

You may not own the apartment, but that doesn't mean the community employees should be able to enter your home anytime they please. In most instances the apartment should give you notice prior to entering your apartment, and legit complexes will be up front about what circumstances warrant them entering an apartment. You may also want to consider safety here. For example, does the landlord require background checks for those employees who have access to your apartment?

#3 What is the community’s guest policy?

Having an out-of-town friend stay with you should be fine, but many communities have policies against guests staying longer than two weeks, or require that you notify the property manager if you’re going to have a longer-term guest. The policy should be outlined in your lease, but make sure you know the rules so that you don’t violate your lease terms inadvertently.

#4 Where will I park my car?

Does your rent include access to one or more parking spaces? Are the reserved, or in an open lot? If parking isn’t provided, what are the alternatives? Street parking? Nearby garages? Be wary of being told street parking is easy to find. It could be tougher than advertise, so you should check it out for yourself.

#5 How far in advance do I need to give notice before moving out?

In many instances you’ll have to give notice 30-60 days in advance of moving out. If you don’t give the required notice, your lease could automatically renew or you could lose your security deposit.

#6 Can I sublet the apartment, and if not, what is the penalty for breaking my lease?

You never know when your job or personal life could require you to move on short notice. In the event that you need to move out before your lease is up, it’s good to know your options. Some apartment complexes are staunchly against subletting, and it could be a serious breach of contract. Make sure up front that you can live with the penalty for breaking your lease if you absolutely have to.

#7 Can I make changes to the apartment and will there be costs involved?

Putting your own personal touch on an apartment can end up costing you at some complexes, while others don’t mind as long as you put things back the way they were when you moved in.

#8 Are there plans to make any updates to the apartment complex?

This is important for two reasons: 1) If improvements are being made then you may have to deal with construction, and 2) updates could add to the amenities, enjoyment and appeal of your apartment.

#9 Are any utilities or services are covered in the cost of the rent? For those that aren’t, how are utility costs calculated?

When budgeting for an apartment, knowing rent covers is important in determining the overall costs and affordability. For utilities not include in rent, each unit may be metered separately, but if it isn’t you’ll want to know how your monthly rate is calculated. Whether or not you’ll have gas appliances can also come into play.

#10 What are my options for lease renewal?

Perhaps the landlord plans to renovate in a year’s time so renewing isn’t an option. Or maybe in a year’s time you’ll decide to move, but what if your new lease doesn’t begin until two months after your current lease expires? Is month-to-month an option?

#11 Under which circumstances will my security deposit not be refunded?

Not cleaning the apartment sufficiently could be enough for the property manager to withhold a portion of your security deposit. A good rule of thumb is that with the exception of normal wear and tear the apartment should be left the way it was when you moved in if you want to get the full deposit back.

#12 How do you handle emergency repairs?

No one wants to deal with a burst pipe at midnight on a Tuesday, but it’s a repair that has to be handled ASAP. Before choosing an apartment it’s important to know how all kinds of repairs are handled, particularly the emergencies.

- More on important questions to ask during the leasing process. 

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