Fifteen Questions You need to Ask a Prospective Landlord Before Signing an Apartment Lease
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Fifteen Questions You need to Ask a Prospective Landlord Before Signing an Apartment Lease

It's nearly impossible to back out of a lease, so Make sure you know what you're getting into before you sign on the dotted line

June 1, 2021

Owning a home is part of the American dream, but it's not always within reach. If home ownership isn't on the radar just yet, you'll likely be renting until that big day comes. But entering into a rental agreement is just as important as signing for a home mortgage. It's important to know what to keep in mind, so here are fifteen questions to ask before signing for the lease on your next apartment.

  1. How soon will your new apartment be ready for move-in?
  2. The apartment you want might be vacant now. On the other hand, there might be someone living there already. One of the first things you should do is make sure that the apartment you want will be available when you need it. There's no sense in entering negotiations if the apartment you want won't be ready when you need to move in.

  3. What are the fees?
  4. Your fees are laid out in your lease agreement, but you'll want to know about them before you're ready to sign on the dotted line. Everyone knows to ask what the rent will be, but leasing offices sneak in other fees, such as an application or credit report fee. Most, if not all, have late fees for payments and some charge additional fees to process your rent through credit cards.

  5. Are utilities included?
  6. The rent might be very attractive at one location, but it may not include everything that another location might include, such as certain utilities. Make sure you know which utilities you will be responsible for paying, as well as any connection fees you must pay. An apartment might be $100 more per month than another, but might include the water, cable and Internet costs.

  7. What kind of changes can I make inside?

    What works for one person may not work for another, so most residential lease agreements have clauses allowing you to make minor cosmetic changes, such as hanging pictures or painting. These agreements should also say which changes are not permitted. When in doubt, as for permission but make sure to get a response in writing. Be warned, though, that you may be responsible for putting it back to its original state when you move out or be forced to pay extra.

  8. What kinds of outdoor decorations can I have?
  9. Lease agreements should tell you what you can and can't do when it comes to exterior decor. Most agreements in larger communities prohibit exterior decorations. Older communities or free-standing rentals may be different. Make sure you follow your agreement or ask if you are unsure. Make sure you're also abiding by any local ordinances.

  10. What about pets?
  11. Some landlords don't allow pets. Some do. Some charge non-refundable pet fees. Some don't. In any case, make sure you understand if you're allowed to bring your pet before you agree to rent a particular home. And since all pets have to relieve themselves, make sure you're aware of any designated pet areas or any areas that are off limits e.g. the pool.

  12. Do I have to have renter's insurance?
  13. Renter's insurance is optional for many rentals, but some leases require that you have it. This is not only for your protection, but for the protection of the landlord and for your neighbors. Most insurance is dirt cheap, so you'd be foolish not to have it.

  14. How do I break the lease?
  15. It's always a good idea to know how to get our of a lease, even if you have no intention of doing so. Life is full of surprises, so you may find yourself needing to leave sooner than expected. Most leases offer a provision to break the lease for a certain fee, provided you give proper notice. Some may even allow you to sublet your lease to another person, who takes over for the remainder of the lease terms.

  16. Who takes care of emergency repairs?
  17. The landlord is usually responsible for repairs and maintenance. But make sure to understand the procedures for emergency maintenance, such as a water leak or heating failure. You need to know which procedures to follow, as well as any provisions for reimbursement if you contract for the repair yourself. If you contract for the repair directly, you may not be eligible for reimbursement.

  18. What's the parking situation like?
  19. Most rental parking is first come first served. But some parking, such as designated or garage parking, comes with added fees. You'll want to make sure there's enough parking, so visit after hours and on the weekend. Don't forget to factor in parking for guests!

  20. What about laundry services?
  21. Most rentals come with washer and dryer connections. Some come with a washer and dryer for an added fee. On the other hand, you may not have an option but to take your laundry to a local laundromat.

  22. Is the security deposit refundable?
  23. In North Carolina, a landlord should return your security deposit within thirty (30) days. If not, you may be eligible for damages. A landlord may withhold your security deposit, but you should receive an accounting of any deductions made to your deposit and any demands for additional funds within that same time frame. Make sure to document at move-in any preexisting damage and at move-out whether any damage exists.

  24. Who can enter your apartment without you being there?
  25. The landlord, leasing agent, maintenance worker, etc. has a legal right to enter the property with due notice, which should be noted in your rental agreement. Exceptions may exist, such as for utility-related emergencies. Make sure to ask about how much advance notice you will receive and whether you are allowed to delay or refuse entry.

  26. Have the locks been changed?
  27. You really have no idea who made keys to the apartment before you moved in. Ask if the locks have been re-keyed since the last tenant moved out. If not, ask for it to be included in your lease.

  28. Will the landlord be around for a while?
  29. Most larger communities are pretty secure, but if you're renting a house you may find that the owner is planning to sell soon. You don't want to move in only to find out that you'll have to move out.