Renter Guides

Questions to ask when renting an apartment

These are key questions to ask when renting an apartment.

You love the apartment. You love everything you read in the listing. But what about what wasn’t in the listing? There are plenty of smart questions to ask when renting an apartment, and a good landlord or management company should be happy to answer every one.

Questions to ask before signing a lease:

  • What’s included in my rent?

    You can’t budget if you don’t have all the numbers. Here are things that may or may not be included:

    • Utilities: Ask which ones, too—electric, water, Wi-Fi?
    • Lawn care, snow removal, and other property maintenance
    • Access to amenities like a gym or pool
    • Parking
  • How do I pay rent?

    Going old school with a mailed paper check might be the least expensive option, but some places allow you to pay rent online. If that sounds like a great option to you, but your landlord doesn’t offer it, you could help change that policy. Trulia allows you to invite your landlord to offer online payments through Trulia’s online rent payments hub

  • What are your late payment policies?

    Of all the questions to ask when renting an apartment among the most important is how your landlord handles late payments. Find out if there are late fees and when they come into play. Rent is often due on the first of the month, but there may be a clause in the contract offering a grace period of a few days before a late fees kick in.

  • Is renter’s insurance required?

    Some places will require that you have renter’s insurance. And it’s not a bad idea. The policy will cover your belongings in case of fire, theft, natural disaster, and if, for example, your friend trips over your rug and twists an ankle. You can find policies as low as $150 a year for $30,000 of property coverage and $100,000 of liability coverage.

  • What’s your pet policy?

    Pets may be allowed, but sometimes certain pets are not; for example, there might be a breed restriction on dogs. There also might be a weight or size restriction. And, don’t forget to ask about any fees connected with your pet, for use of an indoor pet play area, for instance, or an additional amount on your security deposit or rent.

  • What’s the guest policy?

    Guests are typically allowed, but landlords like to define guests. Otherwise, the line between a long-term guest and a roommate can get blurry. Your lease may state that guests can stay no longer than two weeks. Find out first before you agree to let your old college roommate crash for the summer.

  • What are the sublet rules?

    If you’re the one headed out for the summer and think you’d like some help with the rent, find out if you’re allowed to participate with a vacation-rental company or sublet your space. If it’s not allowed and you violate your lease agreement, you might be asked to pack up and leave.

  • What are the lease terms?

    When does your lease begin and end? And how does it end? Read the lease carefully. Some leases renew automatically unless you give your landlord notice that you’re leaving.

  • How often is the rent raised?

    This information may not be in the lease itself. If you’re thinking of staying in this apartment for a long time, you’ll want to know if you should expect a rate hike each year. It could affect how much rent you can afford over time. Ask the landlord when you will be notified of a rent increase—usually, it’s 30 to 60 days—so you’ll have to time prepare.

    It’s also possible to negotiate rent hikes in advance. You can ask to sign a longer lease, for example, to avoid a rise in rent.

  • How far in advance do I have to give notice before moving?

    If you sign a one-year lease and you want to move out when it’s over, 30-day’s notice is generally an acceptable amount of time. Often if, after a year, you want to stay, your landlord might be amenable to a month-to-month lease agreement, but the amount of notice needed before leaving might change.

  • What’s the penalty for breaking my lease?

    Things happen that could make you need to move out early. But there can be serious consequences if you break a lease—like a ding on your credit score, which can hurt you when you go to buy a house. Find out if there are ways to avoid this, like if you’re able to help find a renter to replace you quickly.

  • Can I make changes to the apartment?

    Lots of places are fine with you painting, for example, but it’s not likely they’ll let you take down walls. Some landlords might ask you to put the apartment back to the way you found it before you move out. And, sometimes you can get a break on rent if you offer to do upgrades or repairs.

  • Any building updates heading our way soon?

    You want to know in advance if you’re going to be facing a lot of construction noise, debris, or trucks in and out. But there’s an upside too: upgrades might add new amenities.

  • How do maintenance requests work?

    You want to know who to call at 3 am if you’re standing ankle-deep in water coming from your upstairs neighbor’s bathtub. You want to have access to help 24/7. But also find out the process for more mundane issues, like requesting service for a loud air conditioner.

  • What’s the smoking policy?

    Smoking isn’t among your inherent renter’s rights, so if you’re a smoker, understand that your landlord can ban smoking cigarettes in your apartment building. Same goes for marijuana even in states where recreational smoking is legal. Find out if there is an option for smoking apartments or at least areas where it’s permitted.

Questions to ask when renting an apartment—for the neighbors:

  • What’s the noise situation? Odors?

    Your landlord is required to disclose the bad stuff like whether there are bed bugs, but they may not be forthcoming about the neighbor in 3A who’s in a rock band or the chef in 5G who burns his experiments. A neighbor can give you the real scoop.

  • How is it dealing with management?

    Are they responsive? Do they show up to the apartment unannounced? It’s actually against landlord tenant law for your landlord to fail to give notice before they come over, even if it’s for an emergency repair. But this rule is one that tends to be bent from time to time, so it’s helpful to ask.

  • Are tenants generally friendly?

    When you were doing your apartment search you probably noticed if people said hello in the elevator or if there were notices up for community gatherings, but find out if those impressions last. It’s nice to know your neighbors for social reasons and also for practical ones—anything from borrowing sugar to watering plants.

    Now that you know all the questions to ask when renting an apartment, it’s time to start thinking hard about that rent. Too high? Here’s how to negotiate your rent.