Questions to Ask Before Renting

Renting your first apartment can be an exciting experience.  It also has the potential to be one of the most stressful.  Even if you’re a veteran renter, there’s a long list of important questions you’ll want to ask long before you sign the lease, and in certain cases, even before you’ve applied.

Suppose you’ve spent an afternoon browsing the real estate section of the newspaper and you have a list of apartments that interest you.  Here are some questions that you should have at the ready when you meet with your possible future landlords.

The Application Process

Unless the landlord has been having a particularly hard time renting their property, you’ll likely have to go through the application process.  It will involve some paperwork and, in some cases, a fee.

You’ll have to gauge your interest in an apartment if there’s an application fee involved.  It’s mostly likely not going to be refunded, so make sure you apply only for apartments that you’re definitely interested in.

You may also be required to submit to a credit check.  Don’t get blindsided by this question if it comes up; it’s becoming common practice for landlords.

Philadelphia Home Rent List

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ag at home III by Shreyans Bhansali, on Flickr.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Terms of the Lease

Before you sign anything, make sure you’ve asked the landlord for a copy of the lease.  Read it thoroughly so you can be sure there are no overly harsh clauses in it.  You don’t want to sign a lease only to find out a month later that your out-of-state friend from college isn’t allowed to spend the night.

Landlords aren’t usually looking to trap you with deceptive wording in their leases, but that’s no reason to sign it without knowing what you’re in for.

You’ll also want to make sure the lease spells out, explicitly, that the rent won’t be raised unexpectedly.  Just as importantly: make sure you have a thorough understanding of the terms of the lease.  Is it six months?  A whole year?  When the lease expires, will you have to re-sign for another year, or will you transition to a month-to-month arrangement.  If you’re required to sign for another year after the lease expires, you might want to reconsider.

The Cost of Utilities

It’s a good idea to embark on your apartment hunting quest with a list of must-haves and deal-breakers.  When you look at the apartments for rent in your area, you might want to rule out any that don’t, for example, have laundry facilities on-site.  You’ll have to factor in trips to the laundromat if the apartment doesn’t have a washer and dryer.

The language of the lease should also spell out exactly which utilities you, as the tenant, are responsible for.  Many landlords may pay for sewer and trash, but you’ll likely be on your own for electric and Internet service.  Does the apartment have oil heating?  Natural gas?  Make sure you know what the cost of rent is actually getting you.

questions before renting

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What Else Should You Know?

There are plenty of other things you want to know about an apartment before signing a lease.  If you get the chance, speak to the current residents or even the neighbors.  What’s the traffic like?  Is the neighborhood noisy?  Have there ever been break-ins in the area?

In other words, knowing what questions to ask can help you avoid much bigger problems down the road.

Frank L. DeFazio is a native and current resident of Philadelphia.  Frank’s skill, reputation and work ethic are widely hailed in Philadelphia and the CenterCityTeam has been recognized by Prudential Fox & Roach, Realtors and Philadelphia Magazine for their local expertise and commitment to world class customer service.

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Arnel Ariate is the webmaster of Money Soldiers.