When you’re apartment shopping, the process can be overwhelming and frustrating. From trying to stay within budget to finding a home that allows you to bring your pets, it can be an exhausting process. Depending on where you live, apartment complexes may seem like a great solution: They offer multiple apartments with similar floor plans and amenities, and their rents are often fixed and knowable.
If you’ve found an apartment complex that suits your needs and is in your budget, you may be tempted to put down your deposit right then and there. But stop and take a breath: Settling on an apartment too soon can cost you lots of money and hassle down the road. And apartment complexes, while less hassle to rent, often have more rules and regulations than an individual landlord. And in a large complex, there may not be as much need to sign a lease right away: After all, they may have another identical unit two floors up.
So as you gaze upon those shiny hardwood floors and new fixtures, make sure you ask the following questions:
Do you require renter’s insurance?
Some private landlords do not require renters insurance, but most landlords and apartment companies do. Renters insurance provides coverage in case of severe damage, such as fire, flood, or theft. It can also provide some insurance in the case of an accident within your apartment. Renters insurance is always a good idea, but many complexes have minimum requirements for liability and property coverage, so it’s important to ask what is needed and consider the added cost before making a decision.
How are emergency repairs handled and what is considered an emergency?
Your idea of an emergency may be different than the management company. For instance, even in the summer with 90+ degree heat, many companies don’t consider a malfunctioning air conditioner an emergency, and it can take days or even weeks to get repaired. Make sure you understand what constitutes an emergency and the timeline you can expect for necessary repairs. In some cases, apartment complexes have staff on-site who can help you 24/7; others have employees on-call who will come out only for the most necessary repairs.
How much does the rent typically increase each year?
Rent usually increases every year at lease renewal. The national average for rent increases is approximately 4 percent, but some complexes will raise their rates by as much as 10-20 percent at renewal. An apartment that’s within your budget right now might be way outside of what you can afford next year. Ask about what their typical increases are, and check to see if there is a maximum increase listed in the lease.
When can staff enter my apartment?
While it is occasionally necessary for apartment staff to enter your apartment, such as for repairs, you probably do not want it to be a regular occurrence or without notice. Most complexes will try to give you as much notice as possible and will make clear any needs they may have, such as asking you to confine your pets to one area so employees can do their work.
How are utilities calculated?
In some complexes, utilities are billed on a per-unit basis. In others, the cost is based on the usage of the entire building and the bill divided equally. If you are rarely home or don’t run the heater or air conditioner often, that means you can end up paying a lot more on energy bills, adding to your monthly expenses.
How much notice do I have to give before moving out?
With some apartments, if you do not give at least 60 days notice, your lease automatically renews. In others, if you do not give appropriate notice, you’re billed on a monthly basis at a significant premium. Understand what the timeline is so you can notify them in plenty of time and avoid any extra fees.
What happens if I need to break the lease?
While you may plan to be there at least a year, life happens and sometimes you’ll need to break the lease to move for a new job, care for a loved one or move in with a partner. While some complexes will hold you to the lease—meaning that if you have six months to go on it, you are liable for the whole six months—others will allow you to break the lease for two months’ rent upfront, or until a new tenant moves in.
Depending on what option your landlord uses, you could potentially be on the hook for thousands of dollars if you need to move due to unforeseen circumstances, so understand all of your options before putting your signature on anything.
What is the water pressure like?
Before signing a lease, make sure you try flushing the toilet and running the faucet in the actual unit you’ll be renting, if possible. If your unit is still occupied, ask to see another unit in the same building. It can be inconvenient to move in only to find that the shower is more like a trickle, and it takes ten tries to get the toilet to flush.
Has there been any crime in the complex?
Safety is important for any tenant, but particularly if you will be living alone. Ask if there has been any crime in the complex, but don’t just take the leasing office’s word for it. If possible, visit the apartment late on a Saturday night to see if it’s relatively quiet, or if there is a lot of activity.
You can also use online tools to check out crime in your area, such as NeighborhoodScout.com or MyLocalCrime.com These sites will list the offense and date, so you can see if it was a recent violent crime or a petty theft a decade ago. If you cannot find information online, you can also contact the local police department and ask if they are often called to that area.
Has the building ever had bedbugs?
Bedbugs can happen in even the best apartment complexes. All it takes is one tenant returning from vacation with an infested suitcase, and they can spread rapidly. Most apartments take them seriously and will hire professionals to clear the apartment building quickly, but some will refuse responsibility or try to charge tenants for the expenses.
Most leases will include information on how bedbugs are handled, so review the fine print thoroughly and check your state’s tenant rights; in some states, the landlord’s duty to handle an infestation is highly regulated and strictly enforced.
If the complex has had bedbugs, be certain that they’ve killed them using heat, instead of using chemicals. Chemical treatment isn’t nearly as effective as heat (but also isn’t as expensive, meaning landlords may prefer it), making it more likely that those bloodsucking critters will return to make your life miserable.
Finding a new place to live can be a long and arduous process. But before you fall in love with the walk-in closets or dog-friendly walking paths, ask these important questions to ensure you know what you’re getting into when you sign a lease. By taking some precautions, you can protect yourself from significant fees later on.