It's time to fly and land yourself in your first apartment. It can be wildly overwhelming when you're looking at apartment after apartment, and you don't know what you should be asking. What's important to have and what's just a nice amenity?
We've been there! And now, we're here to help you learn the ropes and the right questions to ask when you're renting an apartment. From touring to signing the lease, consider this your guide.
Key Questions to Ask When Considering an Apartment
These questions cover the basics (and then some) to make sure you have all the details you need before you sign the lease.
1. How Much Is the Rent?
This is the most important place to start; after all, you'll want to make sure you can afford your rent along with any other bills, such as renter's insurance, car payments, student loans, groceries, all those little big things.
2. How Do I Pay Rent?
Paying rent is the most important part of renting. Courtesy, being a good tenant, is also important - but paying rent and paying on time is a critical component.
Know whether you'll be paying via Venmo or Zelle, with an online portal, or even mailing a check. It's important to know when rent is due, as some places don't care if you pay within the first few days, while some want you to pay on the first, no exceptions.
3. Is the Lease Year-to-Year or Month-to-Month?
The length of a lease can vary drastically, from locking into a year to taking it month by month. Know which you're signing, as well as any penalties for terminating your lease early. You'll also want to ask the timeframe for when you need to let the landlord know if or when you'll be moving.
4. How Much Is the Security Deposit?
Some apartments require a security deposit to cover any damages that occur over the course of your rental period, aside from the standard fresh coat of paint and minor wear and tear. The security deposit could be anywhere from nothing to a month's rent. (Rarely is it more.)
When it comes to decorating, know whether you can hang things up with nails or if you should use sticky strips to hang decorations instead. It's better to ask ahead of time how much you're allowed to change the apartment so you know what it needs to look like before you move out so you aren't hit with a cleaning fee.
This is also a good time to ask what would result in you not receiving your security deposit in full when you move out.
5. How Much Do I Owe Upon Signing the Lease?
This amount varies wildly from landlord to landlord and city to city. In major cities, it can be a regular practice to owe the first and last month's rent, a security deposit, and any necessary realtor fees. It adds up quickly, so make sure you have a buffer after handing over all that money. A $1,200 lease with all that, for example, could run around $4,000 due at signing.
6. Will I Require A Co-Signer?
Some landlords want someone else to co-sign, particularly if you're young or can't prove that you have a consistent income. Co-signing is a major responsibility, as that person is on the hook for any unpaid rent and other fees you incur.
7. Who Is Responsible for the Utilities?
Utilities, such as water, electric, internet, cable, and everything that isn't the roof over your head, needs to be paid by someone! Some buildings pay for the water and electricity but you're responsible for internet. Find out what you'll need to pay and whether that'll be included in your rent or if you'll need to set up that service yourself.
Don't wait to move to set up an appointment for internet or to create an account with local utility companies. Once you know your address and move-in date, schedule any services so you can hit the ground running!
8. How Do I Dispose of Garbage?
Check to see if there's a dumpster or garbage room for you to toss your garbage and recyclables. Some buildings have theirs indoors, while others may require you to shlep it down a hill.
9. What Is the Snow Removal Policy?
If you live anywhere with regular snow, you'll want to know the snow removal policy, especially if you have a car. Know when you'll need to move your car and where you can park when there is a snowstorm.
10. What's the Policy for Subletting?
Some apartments are cool with renters subletting, especially if you're a tenant in excellent standing, while others forbid it completely. If there's a chance you'll want to sublet, you'll need to know what the policies are and if subletting is a breach of your lease that would result in immediate termination.
11. What Is the Pet Policy?
Do you have a dog, bird, goldfish, hamster? Know exactly which pets are allowed in your building. Some don't mind fish and feathers but draw the line at fur. Others include a pet fee. Be upfront if you do have a pet.
12. What Is the Parking Policy and Is There Visitor Parking?
If you're signing an apartment lease in the suburbs or you're not living in a major city or downtown, the odds are good that you won't have a hassle when it comes to parking. If it's a general parking lot, you can usually park anywhere.
If you have an assigned spot, park only in that spot. The Parking Lot Gods are not ones to mess with. Some apartments will require you to rent a space, in which case, this may be added to your rent payment each month.
Be sure to park only where you can and ask where visitors can park, if at all. Should guest parking not be an option, you can inquire about the best place to direct visitors to park during their stay.
For some apartments, the only option is street parking, so make sure you have any necessary parking permits from the town or the city.
Your lease may specify that you can only have guests for X amount of consecutive days at a time. It's important to keep a copy of your lease on hand so you can reference this when you have visitors.
13. Will My Rent Increase? If So, What Is the Average Increase?
It's important to know how much your rent will increase every year. It might be a total bargain now, but you'll want to make sure it won't suddenly increase by $200 or $300 a month when you resign. Inquire about the average rent increase so you know what to expect.
14. What Amenities Are Included?
Amenities are those bonuses that make apartment living easier - and sometimes they make apartment living awesome. Find out whether your building has laundry - and if so, whether it's free, requires quarters, or a laundry card. You may also have access and use of the outside space, any grills, or picnic areas. There might be an additional fee for things such as a pool.
15. Is There Additional Storage Space?
Some apartments are a gold mine with storage space! Others, well, not so much. You can see if your building has any storage spaces, often small closets or cupboards, where you can store those things you don't use often. Be sure to bring along a lock to keep your belongings safe!
16. How Is Mail, Package, and Food Delivery Handled?
Knowing you'll get all your mail, packages, and late-night food is important. Know where mail and packages are left, and if there's a mail room for the packages rather than just the sidewalk or front door. Is there an easy location for any food delivery or other delivery services?
17. What Maintenance Is Covered Under a Lease?
Not only is it important to know what's covered, but it's good to know who is responsible for the fixes and who you need to contact.
Know whether a clogged drain is up to you to fix or if the apartment considers it normal wear and tear that they can come in and fix. Do you have a leaky faucet? It's important to be able to have some skills ready or know if your building manager or landlord will handle it for you.
What to Do When Touring an Apartment
If you're looking at apartment after apartment, here are a few tips to keep in mind so you can make the best choice.
Take Pictures and Videos
You can never take too many pictures or videos of a new space, especially if you're checking out lots of apartments. They might start to run together, and the images or videos can help you decide.
Thank About What Your Commute Is Going to Be Like
Sure, the apartment is great, but is it worth the one-hour commute each way? Don't forget to account for traffic and parking when you get home!
Make Have-to-Have, Want, and Would-Be-Nice Lists
Know what you're not willing to budge on with your apartment (you won't budge on a place without parking), something you'd like but wouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker (you'd sure love a place with air conditioning), and anything that would make it your perfect apartment as a bonus (hello, dishwasher!).
Rent an Apartment With Confidence
Send that email, pick up the phone, and schedule a tour; it's time to fly the coop and find your first apartment! Armed with the answer to these questions, you'll find the perfect apartment - and avoid any hiccups and unknowns along the way. Your next purchase is soon to be packing tape and boxes!