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6 Red Flags to Look for When Apartment Shopping

Trust your gut — and this advice — if an apartment doesn't seem up to snuff.

We’ve all had an apartment that turned out to be a dud — and in hindsight, we realize there were early signs things might go south. In the excitement of renting a new place, it can be easy to focus on the qualities you love and turn a blind eye to the concerns.

Save yourself from regret by looking for these six red flags when touring rental properties.

1. Poorly Maintained

6 Red Flags Apartment Shopping

Every legitimate landlord should be happy to give you a copy of the lease to review before you make any decisions.

Keep an eye out for signs of neglect, including rattling old windows, peeling paint and broken appliances. If a landlord is willing to show an apartment in a state of shabbiness or disrepair, it’s a good sign he’ll be slow to address any maintenance requests, as well.

2. In-progress Projects

The landlord may promise his partially done projects will be completed by the time you move in, but you have no way of knowing that’s a certainty. Since you don’t know the landlord well enough to trust his or her word, make sure you get something in writing that guarantees the date all work will be finished. If the landlord is on the up-and-up, then they shouldn’t mind signing an extra paper.

3. Overeager Landlord

It may seem kind of nice that a landlord doesn’t care about running any screening procedures like a credit check, or that they’re more than willing to knock the rent down to get you in the door. But beware of landlords who seem way too eager to dispense with formalities, as this could be a sign they’re trying to offload the unit as quickly as possible.

Pay attention to your gut. If you’re getting a pushy car-salesman vibe and you aren’t comfortable, take note.

4. Ridiculously Cheap Price

If the rent seems too good to be true, it just might be. Ask the landlord point-blank why they are charging so little, and gauge the answer carefully. That super-cheap loft won’t look so awesome when you move in and realize that the nearby train rattles the walls at all hours of the day.

5. No Time to Review the Lease (or no Lease at All)

Every legitimate landlord should be happy to give you a copy of the lease to review before you make any decisions. If they try to tell you it’s just “boilerplate” or “standard language” and dissuades you from reading it, it’s a warning sign.

And if they don’t have a lease or rental agreement? Don’t rent from them.

6. Unsafe Conditions

All units should have adequate exits in case of emergencies, including a window or door in every bedroom that’s large enough to serve as a fire escape. Basement and attic units can be especially spotty when it comes to these things, so take a good look around or ask where exits are located.

Look for other safety hazards. Exterior doors should have proper working locks. The apartment should have a smoke detector in the kitchen and preferably one in each bedroom, as well. If the unit has gas-powered appliances, look for a carbon monoxide detector.

What to do if you Spot any Red Flags?

If you notice things aren’t quite up to snuff, ask specific questions.

  • What’s the real reason this place is so cheap?
  • How fast do you answer repair requests from tenants?
  • When will this work be completed?
  • Why is this broken?
  • Can I have a lawyer review the lease?

If the answers seem evasive or you’re getting a bad vibe, listen to your instincts. You’re better off forgoing a good apartment than getting stuck with a dud.