Finding a cheap place to rent with a view might be at the top of your list when you start hunting for your next apartment — but there are other, more critical items you should consider. Here are 20 things to watch out for when apartment hunting.
1. A Boring Location
Dreaming of a move? You'll want to scope out the area before ever setting foot in a potential new apartment.
Location is key. If you're moving from out of town, often you take the first apartment you see. But do your research, and make sure it is a good personal fit.
Not sure where to start? Look up city guides to determine whether the area you're moving is near food and entertainment.
2. The Length of Your Lease
As simple as it sounds, some landlords will not clearly state that a lease is six or 12 months, unless you ask. In addition to asking about the length of the lease, ask what happens when it ends, and how and if you can renew it.
If you love your place and your lease ends, you'd hate to have to move because they put it back on the market without asking you first.
3. Regular Rent Increases
As much as your landlord might want you to stick around, your rent price isn't guaranteed if you renew your lease.
Make sure you ask about annual rent increases, which are typically based on property tax increases in your city. You want to be sure that your rent won't be going up by $500 after just one year.
How much your rent can increase and how much advanced notice your landlord is required to give you varies by state, so check your local tenant’s rights before you sign the dotted line.
4. Who Manages General Maintenance
Try to talk to some current residents about maintenance service, timeliness in response to maintenance requests, as well as the overall ease of living in the building. A simple question like, “Does it take five weeks to get your sink unclogged?” can tell you a lot about what it’s like to live there.
5. What Happens If You Break the Lease
It’s critical to know if and how you can break the lease, should the need arise. In many cases, job offers come or personal issues occur that result in a need to move immediately.
6. Unsavory Pet Regulations
Many apartments have rules about pets — if you can have them, what kind, how many, size and even breed. If the apartment allows pets, ask if you need to make an additional deposit, and how cleaning and repairs related to the pet are handled when you move out.
7. A Bad Interview With Your Landlord
Meeting the landlord? Come prepared. Of course, the landlord is interviewing you; but keep in mind that you’re also interviewing the landlord. The interview is a good time to bring questions.
For instance, you can learn about any issues with the property. Keep an eye on how the landlord responds to your queries, too. If they're quick to anger or seem aloof, you'll want to do extra digging to make sure you and the landlord will get along.
8. Damage From Previous Tenants
Protect your security deposit with a thoroughly documented walk-through of the property. Taking photos of the apartment before you move in and the day before you move out can protect you from illegitimate damage charges.
9. Noisy Neighbors
You might find the perfect apartment in an ideal location, but noisy neighbors can ruin the vibe of the place.
Be sure to go by the place you are looking to rent both on the nights and weekends. Some apartments are very quiet during the work week and become party central on nights and weekends.
10. High Crime Rates
Some neighborhoods seem safe, but what happens behind the scenes tells a very different story. Luckily, local crime rates are easy to access.
11. Unfinished Renovations
Sometimes, landlords will start showing an apartment in the middle or near the end of renovations. This can be a huge red flag.
Never sign a lease on a unit until it is move in ready. Once you sign that lease, landlords can sometimes become a little squishy on doing final repairs.” If you’re interested in an apartment with unfinished work, get any promises in writing from the landlord.
12. Dirty Floors and Dingy Paint
A messy apartment could be a warning sign to future tenants. When doing a walk-through, you should make sure the apartment looks like it's been cleaned and painted somewhat recently.
13. Mismatched Knobs
The doorknobs and light switches and little things like that should generally match throughout the apartment. A sign of mismatched light fixtures could be a sign of poor attention to detail and willingness to cut corners.
14. Past Lawsuits With the Landlord
Google the landlord. Many states have court records online so you can see how many times they've been sued to have repairs made or by tenants trying to recover a security deposit.
15. How the Property Looks at Night
After you find an apartment you like, drive by to see what it’s like at different times of the day and night.
Most people tour apartments on the landlord’s schedule, which usually means during the business day. But the place is very different on a Tuesday at 10 a.m. than it is on Tuesday night at 6.
16. An Absent Landlord
Whether it’s the landlord or a property manager, you want to actually meet the person who will be managing the property on a month-to-month basis. You can get a sense for what kind of person they are [and] how committed they are to managing the property well.
If the building owner only hires people to show the unit, that could mean they aren’t invested enough to either manage the property themselves or hire a dedicated property manager.
17. An Unresponsive Landlord
An unresponsive landlord could be a sign of trouble.
If the landlord isn’t great about returning your calls when they’re trying to fill a vacant unit, how responsive will they be when there’s a problem that costs money?
18. Community Events
Some apartment complexes have community events, where management organizes social events for the residents.
This could be a good sign that management is invested in trying to create a positive experience for the residents. You could always ask if the landlord/management does this, or knows of residents who organize events like this, since that usually indicates more camaraderie and goodwill between many of the residents.