If you’re looking for an apartment, there are certain questions to ask a landlord before renting the place. After all, this is where you’ll be living—you’ll want to be crystal clear on the rules, right? So before you impulsively sign that lease, make sure to stop, take a breath, and make a few simple inquiries to make sure this rental is right for you.
1. What is included in the rent, and what fees will I have to pay?
Rent is just part of your living for the month—the biggest part—so you need to be sure you can comfortably cover all other costs of living in that space. Most apartments will include water and sewage as part of the rent, but heat, water, gas, electricity, trash, internet, and even pest control can be separate costs.
“Some buildings even charge an administration billing fee,” says Natalie Young of A+ Apartment Locating in Austin, TX.
You should also ask which of those services you will need to set up yourself. If the gas or electricity is in your name, you’ll need to have money available for the deposit most utility companies require.
2. How many people can live here, and what is your visitor policy?
If you’re planning to live with roommates or have a large family, make sure you comply with the occupancy standards of the apartment.
According to Young, most buildings don’t allow more than two people per bedroom, including children. Also, if you plan to have frequent or long-term guests, find out what the landlord’s policies on that are.
“Most landlords will want to know if you have a guest staying more than a certain number of days,” says Young.
3. Is my deposit refundable?
Make sure you have clarity about what part of the money you give your landlord upfront is an administration fee, and what is a deposit. Some deposits are fully refundable if the apartment is returned in good condition, and some are not. If the deposit is significant, spell out in the lease what the conditions of its return are.
4. Do you accept pets, and if so, are there restricted pets?
If you have animals in your life, your search might be a little more difficult, especially if your companions are exotic.
“It goes beyond just restricted dog breeds,” says Young. “You can’t have snakes in most apartments, rodents like ferrets are often banned, and many buildings don’t accept birds.”
Many landlords and management companies charge a pet deposit, a nonrefundable pet fee, or even a monthly pet rent. Find out in advance what your furry pals are going to cost you.
5. What’s the parking situation?
Depending on your location, parking could be no big deal or an extra fee of hundreds of dollars a month. If you have a car—or two or three—find out where you can park it, whether you get a dedicated spot, and how much that spot is going to cost per month. Find out what street parking is like. In some neighborhoods, it might not be possible, or you could spend the night before street cleaning circling the block for an hour.
6. What happens if I need to break the lease?
A lot can happen in a year: a surprise new job, a sick parent, an injury, a cross-country love connection. If for some reason you absolutely have to move midlease, what will your options be? Some landlords will require you to buy your way out, while others will just want you to find a qualified tenant to take over your lease. Policies and laws vary widely, so make sure you know before you commit.
7. What can I change, and what do I have to change back?
Even though you’re renting, you’ll want to make the space your own. But before you start pinning accent wall colors, make sure your landlord is OK with your making changes.
“Most places will let you do anything as long as you return it to the original condition,” says Young. Otherwise the cost of fixing nail holes, repainting walls, and replacing light fixtures will probably come out of your deposit.
If you’re a DIY expert, though, talk through any ideas with your landlord once you’ve moved in. He or she might be interested in keeping some upgrades, or even help pay for the cost of materials or give you a break on rent for your labor. Just ask first.