An apartment walkthrough is like a job interview. You get the chance to view the space, while the super or landlord gets to see if you seem like a good tenant. And just like at a job interview, asking questions during your walkthrough is vital. There are definitely a few things the landlord or property manager probably isn’t telling you, so make sure to ask about them before jumping into a new apartment (and signing a new lease). Here are six things to consider asking while touring your next potential new home.
What fees do they charge and how will they be handled?
Before embarking on your search, it is important to know the legal implications of the landlord’s policies. For example, in California, landlords cannot legally ask for a security deposit equaling more than two months’ worth of rent, and deposits are always refundable by law. Fees, including any pet deposits, are considered part of your security deposit, so make sure you know your rights as a renter and be ready to ask for specifics on their fees and policies.
Knowing the laws is also important when it comes to making sure the apartment is legal. Some landlords will create or advertise apartments that violate the law. For example, in New York City, if an apartment does not have a secondary exit it cannot be legally rented as a living space. Make sure to ask about exits, windows, and other safety concerns.
How do they handle repairs and pest control?
Your landlord is responsible for maintaining the livability of your apartment. Livability includes maintaining the electric functions, plumbing, heat, and hot water, and more. Lesser repairs due to wear and tear (like a loose floorboard or a ripped window screen) do not technically make the apartment unlivable but are necessary for you to enjoy the space. Landlords generally have 30 days to fix cosmetic issues and three to seven days to take care of major repairs (depending on your state and county). Ask the landlord or superintendent about their procedures for cosmetic and more serious fixes.
The same goes for pest control: It is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the space free of vermin. If the space becomes infested due to your own negligence, that’s another issue, and the landlord could fine you. Ask about all aspects of their policies on exterminations.
How does management handle advance notice for maintenance?
Ask about their policy for providing advance notice when it comes to inspections that would require them to enter your unit, as well as informing you of utility shutoffs. Landlords will often need to make routine repairs or changes that could result in short water or gas outages. Ask the landlord how much advance notice they provide for apartment fixes. The last thing you want is an unexpected water outage or your landlord showing up unannounced to poke around in your apartment.
Have there been any recent ownership changes?
If your building is handled by a management company, ask how long have they been managing it, and whether the building has been recently sold or is up for sale, especially if you are looking at a multi-family house. My husband and I once rented the upstairs of a house, only for the owner to decide to sell the following year to retire in Florida. We loved the apartment would have stayed another year; instead, we were left scrambling to move. Stay abreast of your state’s laws and know your rights if the owners decide to sell the building or house you are renting.
What are their pet policies?
Some buildings or rental homes allow pets but have specific rules governing those tenants with pets. Some require pets to be registered with the building, while others simply want to check the pet’s immunizations and health information for their records. The Humane Society notes, “Even if a landlord advertises ‘no pets’ or has size or breed restrictions, some will make exceptions ... It is worth a friendly ask over the phone or in person.” Even if you don’t own pets but are curious if your neighbors might have them, it’s a good idea to ask about their pet policies. And remember, even if a rental policy says “no pets” the landlord legally cannot refuse to allow service animals in the residence.
What can they tell you about the previous tenants?
You want to make sure you are not inheriting damages or issues from the previous renters. Ask how long the previous tenants were in the space and what (if any) issues they had. Some landlords will be forthcoming with their details, as they care about the space as much as you. (Unlike when you purchase a house, landlords are not required to disclose whether someone died in the apartment or not.) Be sure to point out anything in the apartment that may have been left behind by previous renters, as well as any maintenance issues you spot—you don’t want to be blamed for damages by previous tenants.