Moving is often more about preparation and organizing than it is about lifting boxes. When searching for a new apartment to rent, some of the details to watch out for are as crucial as they are easy to overlook. To make sure you stay clear of renter’s remorse, we made a list of 5 essential questions to ask before renting an apartment.
1. Can rent increase during my lease?
In a fixed-term lease, your monthly rent stays constant throughout the length of the contract. Any change to the lease (such as a rent increase) can only take place if both renter and landlord agree upon it in writing. If you are looking for a place to rent over a one-year period, but think you might want to extend the lease at the end of the contract, ask if any increases are in plan. Rents are growing at a quick pace even in small cities, so make sure you factor in potential rent increases if you plan on living there longer. For example, in both Odessa and Midland average rent has increased more than 35% over the past year.
A month-by-month lease, however, allows for rent increases at any time throughout your tenancy. Landlords are usually required to give at least 30 days’ notice before changing any rental terms, but the length of this interval varies from state to state. Make sure agreements on major issues such as rent increases or deposit returns are not only discussed, but also written down in the lease for future reference.
2. What are my other housing expenses, apart from rent?
Most rental leases require a substantial refundable security deposit. Some states limit how much can be charged for this purpose, but the amount typically asked for is equivalent to one month’s worth of rent. What you’ll spend on the deposit therefore really depends on where you are renting: either a small fortune in cities like Boston, MA, San Francisco, CA, or San Mateo, CA, where monthly average rent is more than $3,000, or less than $800 in Wichita, KS, or ToIedo, OH, which registered some of the lowest average rents in our latest Rent Report.
Besides rent, utilities will also make up a large part of your monthly housing expenses. Your landlord should be able to give you detailed information about the estimated cost of utilities in your apartment. Find out if prices vary substantially throughout the seasons: if you have to use up energy to keep your apartment warm during winter and cool in the summer, it will painfully show up on your bills. In some cases, certain utilities such as the trash or the water bill may be included in the monthly rent.
3. What happens if I must leave before my lease ends?
Planning well is also about thinking out strategies for dealing with unpredictable situations, which makes this one of the most important questions to ask before renting. What happens if you get a job transfer and have to move all the way across the state on short notice?
Typically, it is very difficult to break a lease without financial penalties and a big stain on your credit report. Discuss your options and include an early termination clause in the lease. Your landlord might ask you to give at least 30 days’ notice before leaving, and require you to find a replacement renter. Alternately, they might keep your security deposit as an early termination fee. In some cases, you will have to cover rent for the remaining period of the lease, or at least until the landlord finds a new tenant. The key is to clearly phrase the options in the lease. Remember that, like all matters legal, this depends on the landlord-tenant law available in your state.
4. What changes can I make to the apartment (without losing my deposit)?
If small rentals like studios or one-bedroom apartments get you thinking of wall-mounted shelves in a split second, take time to have this conversation with your landlord beforehand. It is recommended to carefully read your lease to find out what changes you are allowed to make. To avoid losing your security deposit over a few nails driven through a wall without notice, be as specific as possible about the changes you want to make to the apartment from the very beginning.
Write down any changes that the landlord is definitely against. This way you’re sure to stay in the clear, and at the same time do some smart planning about how your future apartment might be organized. While repainting the kitchen walls might not be met with enthusiasm, changing a rug in the living-room could pass as an improvement even from the landlords’ point of view.
5. Is renter’s insurance required?
In more and more apartment buildings it is necessary to provide proof of renter’s insurance. This requirement is stipulated in the leasing contract, and it will add a few dollars to your renting budget. Before you take it as bad news –yet another cost added to your living expenses– take time to weigh in the benefits. Standard renter’s insurance usually provides liability coverage: this means financial compensation (for medical and legal expenses) if someone is injured while they are in your home. Some insurance policies cover part of your living expenses in case you have to relocate on short notice –if, for example, your rented apartment becomes untenable because of substantial damage brought to it.
While there is no exhaustive list of questions to ask before renting an apartment, the general rule is to ask away. As a final piece of advice while apartment hunting, remember that thinking out the details is just as important as knowing when to settle for a compromise.