What to Consider Before Renting an Apartment or Townhome

What to Consider Before Renting an Apartment or Townhome

My blog is generally dedicated to matters of home improvement (as one can see from its name), but consistent posts for homeowners leave tons of people – more than 100 million U.S. residents currently renting – out of the loop.  Luckily, I rented an apartment before buying my home and have some advice for anyone interested in joining 35% of American households as renters.

Now, one of the many benefits of renting – along with flexibility and less commitment – is that there are fewer responsibilities. You pay the rent, and live in the space. It can prove an ideal setup, if everything works out smoothly. If things don’t work out so well, or if you’re blindsided by one of your landlord’s policies/rules, it can prove far from appealing. In order to have the best renting experience possible, consider the following before signing your lease:

Questions to Ask Your Landlord

What’s the deal with heating and air conditioning?

Gas heat and central air are ideal, but a lot of places (particularly older ones) are not equipped with these systems. Many have air conditioning units in the windows, which are functional but somewhat of an eyesore; these also allow cold air into spaces during the wintertime. Beware electric baseboard heating, as electric bills during the winter months can reach $1,000+ for even average-sized spaces. If the information is available, ask your landlord to provide payments of previous tenants so you know what you’re getting into.

What are your pet policies?

If you already have animals, you’ll need to know if your pet will even be allowed to live in the unit. Many places, particularly rental communities like these in the Harrisburg area, have breed or weight restrictions (good luck renting with a Pitbull or Rottweiler). Understand that these restrictions are often set in place due to insurance reasons, not personal vendettas against your pet. Almost all landlords require a separate pet security deposit – so you’ll want to know how much it is and if it’s refundable.

What will happen when my lease is up?

Say you sign a year lease. If you think you may be there longer than a year, know what lies ahead. Many places increase rent after the first contract expires, or require your lease change to a shorter term (like month to month). It’s good to know this ahead of time.

What’s the parking situation?

You could be facing any of these: driveway, street parking, assigned parking, free-for-all parking lot, etc. Street parking can be stressful, as can a free-for-all parking lot. If possible, request assigned or reserved parking in a parking lot situation.

Am I responsible for lawn maintenance?

This is a good thing to ask if you have no lawn mower, snow shovel, bush trimmer, etc. – or if you’re physically unable to take care of a yard.

What am I responsible for repair-wise?

If the 10 year-old refrigerator dies during your lease term, you shouldn’t be responsible for replacing it. The same goes for any other major appliances, and you should have that spelled out in your lease. Sure, you should probably replace burnt-out light bulbs, but a washing machine? Or an oven? That could get pretty expensive.

What utilities (if any) am I responsible for?

Some landlords pay water, trash and sewer, leaving the tenant to pay for rent and electricity. Other landlords expect you to pay for everything, while others only expect rent and cover even electricity. Don’t sign a lease without knowing exactly what your landlord will cover. Surprise utility costs can shoot your expenses way up past your budget.

What am I allowed to do decorating-wise?

While some landlords give you free reign to paint and hang things on the wall (using hammer and nail), others are much stricter. Ask before painting, putting holes in the wall, putting in a garden, etc. Failure to ask could result in loss of security deposit.

Are there rules regarding guests – long-term or otherwise?

Some landlords/leasing offices implement rules that require tenants to notify them should a long-term guest stay in the dwelling. In other cases, the landlord expects you to pay your rent, and who you choose to invite over (and how long you allow them to stay) is your business only.

What do I need to do in order to get all of my security deposit back?

Different places have different rules. Often the tenant must have the carpets professionally cleaned before moving out, and must provide proof of said cleaning in order to get the security deposit back. Make sure you know what your landlord’s expectations are, because security deposits can be hefty chunks of change.

Are there any additional fees or payments?

Many rental properties require the renter to get a certain amount of renter’s insurance. Be sure to learn how much you would need to get cover and calculate it within your monthly budget to make sure you can afford everything it takes to the rent the place before signing the contract.

Additional Information to Explore

There’s other information that you should explore – information the landlord may not have or may not be straightforward about. Here are some other things you should check out:

What are the neighbors like? Is the neighborhood safe?

Do a drive by and possibly start up a conversation with the neighbors – they can make or break your experience. And living in an unsafe/loud/otherwise uncomfortable neighborhood can prove incredibly frustrating.

Are there reviews of the property available?

When renting from a management group or within a rental community, you can sometimes find reviews online. If the place has problems with bugs, rain/weather leaks, noise, etc. it will be the reviews that tell you. They’ll be subjective – check them out.

How close will you be to stuff?

Not only do I mean grocery stores, shopping malls, etc. (although it’s nice to be close to these essential stops), but I also mean emergency assistance departments. Are you close to the police station and fire hall? This can provide peace of mind during your stay.

Cover all of these bases before signing the lease – you’ll be glad you did.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for the information! I’m looking for a new apartment that’s closer to my family, so it helps to know about a few good questions to ask landlords. I agree, asking about any pet policies seems like a very good question to ask. It would be really nice to own a cat, so I hope that I can find an apartment or townhome that will allow me to own one.

  2. My daughter is about to move out to attend college downtown and we want to make sure we find her the best apartment to live in. I like the tip you give of making sure you look into heating and air conditioning and what is included in the price of rent. We live in a state with all four seasons so it will be important that she has access to those things so we will be sure to look into that, thanks for sharing this!

    • James and Alicia

      Hope your apartment search goes well!! If heating and air conditioning isn’t included, try to get an estimate from the office or another renter for what they typically pay per month.

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