When you start looking at places you will have a chance to ask questions to the landlord directly or a leasing agent. The following is a list of recommended questions for the prepared tenant.
Lease and Money
Pets, Utilities, and Amenities
Additional questions you may want to ask
Before you actually take possession of your apartment you are going to want to do a walk through with your landlord or real estate agent. When performing your walk through, it is important to make sure that your unit has been well maintained. We also recommend using the Move in inspection checklist that is provided in the tenant information section of the site. You should make sure that before you take possession that both you and your landlord sign it so that when you move out there won’t be any discrepancies with regard to your security deposit.
The quality of rental units varies from unit to unit. Make sure that you look at everything when considering if the place is what you are looking for, and whether the rent is reasonable. Make sure that you look at the common areas, such as the hallways, laundry area, and yard. Is it clean? How does the exterior of the building look? If there is a yard, make sure that you find out who is responsible for taking care of it. If it will be you, make sure to ask if the landlord will supply the necessary equipment, such as a lawn mower, and a hose.
During this initial walk through, you will have the best opportunity to see how your potential landlord will react to your concerns. It is also important because it will show the landlord how you react to potential problems that may arise. How you get along on this walk through will be very important to help both of you decide whether or not you will become a tenant.
If you do find problems like the ones listed above, discuss them with the landlord. You can check which problems are required by law to be fixed by going to the tenant section and looking over the landlord tenant handbook for the state that you are looking to live. Make sure that you find out when the landlord intends to make the repairs that you discuss. If you do decide to rent the unit it is a good idea to get these promises in writing, including a date that these repairs will be fixed. It is also a good idea to take photographs or a video of the problems to accompany the signed move in inspection report. Your signed, written description as well as the photos or video will document that the problems were there when you moved in, and can help avoid disagreement later about your responsibility for the problems.
Finally, you should either walk or drive around the neighborhood during the day and again in the evening. If you can, ask neighbors how they like living in the area, and whether or not they are concerned about safety. If the apartment is in a multi-family home, you can also ask some of the other tenants how they get along with the landlord and how they like living there. Just make sure that you cover all of your bases because if you sign a one year lease you will be living there for one whole year!
Before renting to you, most landlords will ask you to fill out a written rental application. This is not a lease and is similar to a job or credit application. The landlord will use this application to help them decide whether or not to rent to you or not. The landlord may also charge you a fee to cover the costs of them obtaining information about you such as checking your references as well as obtaining a credit report. Make sure that you ask the landlord whether or not the fee is refundable, and if not whether or not that fee will be applied to your rent if you are accepted for the apartment.
If you don’t like the landlord’s application screening fee or the process you may want to look for another unit. If you do decide to pay the fee, make sure that any agreement regarding a refund be in writing.
The application will usually also contain an authorization for the landlord to obtain a copy of your credit report which will show them how you have handled your financial obligations in the past. Credit reporting agencies keep records of people’s credit histories, called “credit reports.” Credit reports state whether or not you have been reported being late in paying bills.
The landlord may ask you what kind of job you have, your monthly income, and other information that shows your ability to pay the rent. They may also ask how many people that you plan on living in the unit. It is practical for a landlord to find out how many people will occupy their unit. The landlord cannot use overcrowding for refusing to rent to children if they would rent the unit to the same number of adults. It is illegal for them to ask questions about your race, color, national origin ancestry, religion, or sexual orientation. It is also illegal for them to ask whether or not you are married, or if you have a disability.
Landlords prefer to rent to people who have a history of paying their rent and other bills on time. They may also use tenant screening services to see whether or not you have been someone that pays their bills on time. These services collect and sell information on tenants, such as whether they pay their rent on time and whether they have been the subject of an eviction lawsuit. A landlord usually doesn’t have to give you a reason for refusing to rent to you. However, if the decision is based partially or entirely on negative information on your credit report, you should request to see that report. If there is erroneous information on your report you should contact those agencies and see if you can get it removed as it may also cause other landlords to refuse to rent to you. Also, if you know what your credit report says, you may be able to explain any problems when you fill out the rental application. For example, if you know that you paid a bill and the credit report says that you didn’t you can provide a copy of the canceled check to show that you did pay it.
Sometimes the tenant and the landlord will agree that the tenant will rent the unit, but the tenant cannot move in immediately. In this situation, the landlord may ask the tenant for a deposit to hold the place. This is a deposit to hold the rental unit for a stated period of time until the tenant pays the first month’s rent and any security deposit. During this period, the landlord agrees not to rent the unit to anyone else. If the tenant changes his or her mind about moving in, the landlord may keep all, or at least some of the deposit.
Make sure that when you give a landlord or an agency a holding deposit that you are sure that you are 100% sure that you want the place that you are putting the deposit on. You may lose your deposit even if the reason you can’t rent it is not your fault. For example, if you lose your job and become unable to afford the rental unit, you would still lose your deposit. On the flip side if you give the landlord a holding deposit when you submit the rental application, and are denied the apartment, the landlord must return your entire deposit. Just make sure that if you and the landlord agree that all or part of the deposit will be refunded to you in the event that you change your mind or can’t move in, that it is clearly stated on your written receipt. Make sure that you read the fine print on the receipt, and again before you give the deposit just make sure that you are 100% sure that you want the place and are prepared to move.
What a holding deposit does is guarantee that the landlord will not rent the unit to another person for a stated period of time. The deposit doesn’t give the tenant the right to move in to the unit. The tenant must first sign their lease and pay the agreed upon rent, and all other required deposits within the holding period. If the tenant doesn’t come up with the money within the agreed upon time, it gives the landlord the right to rent the unit to another person and keep all or part of the deposit.
Conversely, if the landlord rents to someone else during the period for which you’ve paid a deposit, you have rights. If you are still willing and able to move in the landlord should, at a minimum, return the entire holding deposit to you. You may also want to talk with an attorney, legal aid organization, or housing authority about whether or not the landlord may also be responsible for other costs that you may incur because of the loss of the rental unit.
Before you move in most landlords will require you to sign a lease. The lease is a document that states the terms of your tenancy as well as the length of time that you will occupy the unit. The most important part of signing the lease is to read it thoroughly.
The bottom line with regards to the lease is to make sure that you read every part of the document before you sign it. The lease is a contract between you and the landlord and not only protects their rights but yours as well. You need to understand that when you sign the contract that both you and the landlord agree to abide by what is on the lease, so you need to make sure that what you have agreed upon is in writing on that document.
Also understand that if you are signing the lease with roommates that you are not signing a fractional piece of the lease. Every name that is on the document is fully responsible for all of the terms of the lease. If one of your roommates moves, your rent will not go down unless the landlord agrees to lower the rent, at which time you should have a new lease drawn up. If one of your roommate’s moves and you get another roommate, make sure that you get that roommate to sign a new lease with the landlord to alleviate confusion if there is a problem.
Make sure that you get a copy of the lease when signed, and that when you get that lease that it has been signed by either the landlord or a licensed agent of the landlord. The lease must be signed by both the tenants as well as the landlord before it is fully executed. Keep that lease in a safe place with your important documents in case you ever need to reference it.