Finding an ideal apartment can be a daunting task. Just a few of the things renters look for are the cost of moving in and monthly rent, building noise, whether there’s sufficient parking spaces, whether the bedroom and other rooms are large enough, and what amenities are provided (pool, recreation room, etc.).
Before looking at apartments, peruse listings online and in newspapers to get a sense of the market in the neighborhoods that interest you. Be careful in choosing a neighborhood. Visit it during the day and night. Also visit during the weekend and a weekday. Some cities or areas of a city are more expensive than others. Check crime reports for the area.
It’s a good idea to make a list of apartment features and amenities you (and your co-habitants) need and desire. Figure out how much you can spend each month for rent. Also, plan how you’ll tell prospective landlords about your rental and credit history. You may need to sell yourself as a reliable tenant.
When you start inspecting specific apartments, check for signs of poor maintenance, rowdy residents, and safety issues. Spend time in the building to get a feel for it. Without the landlord present, ask other tenants their opinion of the building such as their experiences with maintenance, noise, rent increases, and parking. Make sure rooms are large enough and take a look at the size of closets and cabinet space. Make sure electrical outlets are in the areas you need them.
If the rental unit doesn’t include a washer and dryer, learn the cost if the apartment has a laundry room.
If you’re looking at an apartment with a tenant above you, try to learn if they’ll disturb you. The same applies to neighbors on each side of your unit. These things are always difficult to learn beforehand but can create serious problems after you’ve moved in.
If you have a pet or intend to get one, find out your landlord’s rules on pets. Many landlords don’t allow them, and others require hefty pet fees and deposits or limit the type, size, or number you can have. Find out before you move in.
Your landlord probably has insurance on the apartment building itself, but this does not cover your possessions, nor does it cover the damages when you accidentally break a window. Renter’s insurance is relatively inexpensive, so get it early. Some landlords even require that you have insurance, so ask.
Don’t feel obligated to sign a lease on the spot. Be sure to read it, understand it and know all the fees and policies associated with your agreement. Find out how long the lease runs. Is there a penalty for early termination? Check to see what you are responsible for paying for and what the landlord will repair. If you can, bring someone along who will understand the lingo better than you do.
The standard rule is that rent should not be more than 30% of your monthly income. In recent years, most people have had no choice but to spend a higher proportion.
Signs that an apartment building is not suitable include:
- When touring the property, an angry tenant chases down the landlord with a problem.
- There is no phone number for the maintenance person or the apartment managers aren’t available 24/7.
- The landlord stalls showing you the actual apartment for rent or only shows you a unit with the same or similar floor plan.
- There are indications of persistent pest control problem. Not only are pest problems a sign of dirty residents, it could be due to shoddy building construction. Open the cabinet under sinks and see if there are any mouse droppings or bugs.
- The apartment does not have working smoke alarms. These are a legal requirement and well cared for apartments will also have carbon monoxide detectors.
- Few outlets and/or two-pronged outlets (no round hole centered below the others) often indicate older wiring, which can be a safety concern.
- The doors and windows don’t open and close easily. This is important in case of fire. Also check and see if there are window screens.
- The apartment complex is noisy such as constant dog barking or police sirens.
Lastly, you will likely be responsible for paying some or all of the utilities. Learn which ones and ask what the average monthly costs other tenants are paying.