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Last updated: April 1, 2021 • Personal Finance

12 Questions to Ask a Potential Landlord

If you’re looking to move to a new rental apartment, there are so many options for you. To get the best deal available, you should first prioritize what you need in terms of size, rent budget and location to make sure you find the perfect apartment. This is better than trying to search by neighborhood or without any delimitations whatsoever because the abundance of options might be overwhelming. So, decide on what you need and what you can live without, and find the apartments you’re willing to call home. Then, when you’re ready to check them out, you can arrange for a virtual tour, or a self-guided tour to make sure you’re keeping safe during the pandemic. After this final round, you’ll probably be ready to make a decision and that’s when it’s time to meet with potential landlords and discuss any issues you need to clarify before moving forward. To make sure you don’t forget anything in the excitement of the moment, take the time to really think about your questions and write them down. Below are the main questions you need to ask a potential landlord:

1. What is the duration of the lease?

rental agreement concept

Before signing the lease agreement, make sure you know for how long you are renting the apartment. Usually, people sign on for one year with the possibility of renewing the lease. This is great when you aren’t sure whether you’ll be in the same place one year from now or if you simply want the flexibility of a short term lease. However, if you’re certain that you’ll stay for longer, you might be able to negotiate and get a better deal for a longer lease. Just make sure you don’t break the lease, though.

2. How soon can I move in and what is the process?

If you made your decision on an apartment, ask the landlord about their projected timeline. How soon can you move in, and also how much interest have they had in the unit? This is the point when you can ask about the application and screening process as well, to make sure you’re prepared for it. Discuss what they expect from you as well, and how they see the process playing out.

3. What happens if I break my lease early?

Have a clear understanding of what will happen if you have to move out earlier than expected. For example, this could lead to the loss of your security deposit and additional penalties. So, have this discussion upfront and write the clauses in the contract to make sure you both agree on the same penalties, should the situation occur.

4. What additional costs do I need to cover (move-in fee, application fee, etc.)?

residential lease concept

When you’re getting ready to move into an apartment, you usually have to fork over a lot of money for upfront costs. Therefore, make sure you know what these are and how much you’re going to have to pay. These costs typically include the first and last month’s rent, the security deposit, the application fee and — if you’re working with a broker — the broker’s fee, as well. Also inquire about any additional upfront or recurring costs to find out exactly how much the apartment will cost you and create your overall rent budget.

5. Is the security deposit refundable?

Usually, a landlord and a tenant agree on a refund for the security deposit on move-out day, provided the apartment is in good condition aside from normal wear and tear. To that end, confirm whether you’ll get that deposit back at the end of your lease.

6. What leads to the loss of my security deposit?

Likewise, ask the landlord exactly what could lead to the loss of your security deposit. Specifically, what does your landlord consider normal wear and tear, and what kind of damage results in the loss of the deposit? When you’re moving in, take pictures of the state of the rental and show them to your landlord. Discuss any visible issues and agree on the initial state of the apartment. This way, both you and your landlord have the same starting point and a clear reference when the time comes for you to move out and receive your deposit back. 

7. Is the apartment furnished?

This should be clear from the description of the rental, but make sure you ask this additional question about which appliances and furniture are provided, so that you know what exactly you need to bring and what already exists in the unit. Also, discuss the state of the appliances and the furniture — whether they are brand new, or there is existent wear and tear on them — for reasons mentioned above, related to your security deposit.

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8. Is renter’s insurance required?

Some properties require you to carry renter’s insurance, whereas it’s not necessary elsewhere. Whether you want to get a policy or not, ask your landlord if it’s expected when entering the lease. Renter’s insurance will usually cover costs related to unexpected damage or accidents, although exactly what is covered depends on the package you select.

9. When is rent due?

miniature wooden house

Find out when the rent is due each month. Then, while you’re on the subject, ask about any existent penalties for being late on rent, whether that’s a late fee or any other consequences. Rent is among the top expenses you need to worry about for the month, so make sure you’re paying it on time, because otherwise it might just result in further costs on your part. 

10. Are utilities included?

Ask whether utilities are included and, if so, which ones. There is a lot of variety on this subject, so make sure you know what you’re expected to cover each month, and what the cost of your rent includes — as well as whether it will vary or not. Also, ask for an estimate on the average cost of utilities so you know approximately how much you need to budget for each month. 

11. How are payments made?

Discuss the preferred method of payment. For instance, if you’re renting in a community, you’ll probably have access to a resident’s portal where you can complete your rent payment online and even set up automatic payments on the day your rent is due. However, if your landlord doesn’t offer something like that, find out if you could still pay your rent by card and set up the payment to be transferred automatically from your bank so you’re never late.

12. How do I submit maintenance requests?

desperate couple calling to insurance

Maintenance is another important issue. Most of the time, maintenance issues are the landlord’s responsibility, so make sure you know the best way to reach them in the event of a malfunction or any other sort of issues, especially in an emergency. Ask for the appropriate phone number and offer yours, as well, in case they need to reach you for routine maintenance work.

If you’re renting in a community that offers access to a resident’s portal, then know that you can use that platform to submit maintenance requests in detail, even with the possibility of attaching a photo of the problem. In cases of emergencies, this can be very handy, because such a service usually works on a 24-hour basis. 

These are just a few of the questions that you should keep in mind and discuss before signing the lease. After you’ve moved in, remember that as a renter, every change you want to make to your apartment should be run by your landlord first. Also, get their answer in writing so you have proof of their approval regarding any changes. Things like drilling holes in the walls and making changes to appliances and finishes are serious issues which — if left undiscussed — might result in you losing your security deposit.We really hope you have found this article helpful. Remember to create a list of your questions and add those which pertain to your specific situation, which we might have not covered here. Try to also discuss any expectation regarding pandemic policies, especially if you’re renting in a community, or if you’re coming in from a different state. The legislation might be different, guest policies might be affected, so it’s best that you start your collaboration with the landlord on the same page. Be prepared to also answer all the questions your landlord might throw your way, and be honest and transparent. Also, many people are unaware that real estate agents can help renters, so if this just seems to be too much to handle, we suggest that you hire a realtor to help guide you through the process. Good luck!

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