Finding the right apartment can be challenging. Fortunately, there are many tools available to make apartment searches easier. While these tools are useful in locating an apartment, many first-time renters may not do research on the apartment.
When you look at an apartment online, you are getting a select view of the property. These apartment listings are advertisements, so the owner may only be displaying the best aspects of the rental.
If you rely on the information found in online listings, you may be missing critical information regarding the apartment. Even if you do not think there is anything wrong with the unit, there may be rental issues not covered in the listing. Before you commit to renting, there are several questions you must ask of both yourself and your potential landlord.
What does your rent cover?
For many prospective tenants, the first item to check for in an apartment listing is how much the apartment costs. Knowing how much an apartment costs is important, but there are other rent factors to consider. The first question you need to ask regarding rent is the preferred method of payment. Checks are almost universally accepted as a way to pay for rent. However, some landlords allow tenants to pay by cash or with credit card. If you are able to pay by credit card, it is worth asking if you have to use your credit card in person at the office for the apartment complex or if you can pay online or by phone. If you constantly travel or frequently work late, it helps to have a more flexible system so you do not have to worry about missing payments. If there are electronic options, ask if there are any processing fees.
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If you miss payments, it is important you know what late fees are imposed and when they are imposed. Typically, landlords offer a few days for tenants to make payments, especially for tenants who have a good record of making payments on time. However, some landlords start to charge late fees the moment you miss a payment, adding a penalty for each day you miss the payment.
Additionally, you want to ask your landlord what is covered in rent. Most apartment complexes include at least some utilities as part of the rental cost, such as heating or water, while others make you responsible for paying the utilities yourself. If your town has additional housing related fees, such as having to pay for garbage removal, ask if these costs are covered by your rent. If the apartment complex has any extra features, such as a pool or a gym, ask if your rent covers use of these facilities or if you have to pay extra.
Since your landlord owns your apartment, she or he is generally allowed to enter the unit whenever he or she wishes. Your landlord can allow others to enter your apartment as well. Normally, a landlord only enters a rented apartment when he or she needs to perform maintenance or show the apartment to prospective tenants. A good landlord gives you advanced notice about when he or she needs to enter.
If you are concerned about safety, ask your landlord if he or she screens any employees who need to access the apartment, such as plumbers or electricians. You want a landlord who keeps you in the loop and allows you to be present if you are uncomfortable with someone going into your apartment.
Guests and Pets
Not all apartment complexes allow pets. Even apartment complexes that allow pets often have strict rules on what is or is not allowed. For example, some apartment complexes allow dogs but discriminate against particular breed. If pets are allowed, ask if there are additional fees. Most apartment complexes have a pet deposit, and some may even increase your monthly rent. The pet deposit is typically non-refundable and covers the cost of cleaning up after your pet or repairing pet-related damage.
Another question to ask your landlord is the guest policy. There are a couple of guest-related questions to ask, including:
- How long are guests allowed to stay?
- Where are guests allowed to park?
- Are there any hours where you are not allowed to have guests over?
- Is there a limit to how many guests you can have over at a time?
- Are there any amenities in the apartment complex guests are not allowed to access?
- Is there any procedure to follow if guests are going to sleep over?
What storage options are available?
One aspect of an apartment that is easy to overlook at first is storage. If you are moving out of a house and into an apartment, you are most likely moving into a smaller space. If you own many possessions, you may not have enough space in your new apartment. Most apartment complexes have storage space available, but it is not always included in your base rent. If there is storage, ask if every tenant has an individual storage unit or if there is one single storage space for your complex. You can ask if everyone has access to storage or if it is only accessible when the landlord is present. If storage is still an issue, you should consider downsizing your belongings when possible.
Are there background checks?
It is common for landlords to screen potential tenants before offering them a lease. Not every landlord uses the same screening process. Understanding the screening process is important for tenants, since it lets you know how everyone else in the complex was screened. If safety is a concern, you want to avoid any apartment complexes where the landlord has a lax screening process or no process at all.
Before you sign a lease, ask your landlord if there are any clauses to cover breaking the lease early. Traditionally, landlords include an option to end your lease early as long as you pay for an additional two or three months of rent. This stipulation gives the landlord a chance to still make a profit off of his or her property while looking for a new tenant. If your landlord does not have a policy in place and you are unsure whether you want to commit to living in the apartment for the entire duration of your lease, consider looking for a new apartment or asking about month-to-month leases.
In addition to ending the lease early, ask your landlord what his or her policy is for renewing your lease. Most leases are designed to last for an entire year, but some landlords use shorter leases.
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