6 questions to ask your landlord before moving in
While major apartment rental questions, like when your rent is considered late or whether you’re permitted to sublet your place, might have been worked out before or during your lease signing, make sure you have clear answers before moving in. Here are some key questions to ask your landlord before renting.
1. Will you be doing any cleaning or improvements before I move in?
You may want to have a clear understanding of what condition you can expect your place to be in before you move in. If possible, try to get it in writing. Not all landlords are required to repaint or clean a unit between tenants, so these questions to ask when renting an apartment could help you avoid an unpleasant surprise.
For example, if you move in immediately after the previous tenant moves out, you may be stuck with a messy place, or find scuffs and holes left behind on walls. This is an especially important question to ask your landlord before renting if your home was in the process of renovations or was part of an unfinished building when you first viewed it.
Some less responsible landlords may allow tenants to move into a renovated place that’s missing key finishes, like lighting fixtures, or that hasn’t been hooked up to necessary utilities yet. Of course, once you are moved into your new place, it’s always best to take photos so that you have a record of the condition in which you received it.
2. Did the landlord change the locks between tenants?
If you’re moving into an apartment or house that has had previous tenants, it’s worth your peace of mind to confirm whether the locks have been changed since the last tenant vacated the property.
Whether landlords have to change the locks between tenants doesn’t have a clear answer, and while most landlords will try to gather all keys from their tenants upon move-out, that can depend on how reliable the last tenant was. If the answer is that the locks have not been changed, you can decide what would make you most comfortable—you may prefer to get new locks, or take additional precautions like adding a chain to the door—and check that your landlord is in compliance with the requirements for your city or state.
3. For what maintenance is the landlord and/or superintendent responsible?
This will vary from unit to unit, depending in large part on what kind of space you are renting. Most landlords will be happy to service and maintain major appliances, like your plumbing and any heating or cooling units that came with the rental.
Depending on your building, there may be a superintendent or maintenance staff that manages other elements of the building, such as lawn and garden care, cleaning gutters, and removing trash and recycling from the building’s communal collection areas.
Make sure to ask your landlord this question before renting so you’re clear on what maintenance you’re responsible for, and whether you’ll incur any charges if there are issues with any of the appliances upon move out.
Some landlords may even prefer you ask a maintenance professional to do simpler tasks, such as unclogging drains, to make sure they’re done in a way that doesn’t damage the building or house.
4. How much notice will you give me before entering my house or apartment?
Most leases should include information about what needs to happen before your landlord enters your house or apartment. If yours doesn’t, make sure you have a clear understanding of the process your landlord uses by including this in the questions to ask when renting an apartment.
Generally speaking, landlords are required to give you some kind of advance warning before entering your house or apartment, often at least 24 hours. During this conversation, it may also be helpful to clarify what kind of warning you can expect should other professionals need to enter your home.
For example, if your superintendent needs to fix something while you’re not home or an exterminator needs to come over, what are the procedures around those visits? If you decide to move out of your place, make sure you know when the space will be being shown, either by your landlord or a representative like a rental broker. On this last point, it benefits both you and the landlord if you’re able to prepare yourself and your space for prospective tenants.
5. On what information do you base rent increases?
Hopefully you’re happy with your place and decide to stay for the long term. Generally, your landlord is hoping for the same! But an uncomfortable part of renewing your lease is the tricky dance around rent increases.
If you think this is a place you’ll want to keep, it’s better to know up front how your landlord calculates monthly rent increases for their tenants. This sidesteps some of the awkwardness of asking this important apartment rental question later, when the increase comes, and allows you to gauge whether the increase is reasonable when you do eventually see it.
Send this question to your landlord before renting to understand if the increase is based on the market rate of other rental homes in your neighborhood, improvements to your apartment building or house, improvements to your specific unit, or some other combination of factors. This is also a great opportunity to ask when you can expect to receive information about any rent increase, as well as lease renewal paperwork.
6. What is the policy for breaking a lease?
It’s best to have this knowledge already, should you end up in a situation where you do need to seriously consider breaking your lease before its full term.
If you’re breaking the lease due to a personal emergency, or an unexpected job change, for example, navigating these details with your landlord is one thing you’ll want to avoid stressing out about. Most landlords will include information about this in the lease paperwork, but it’s important to have a full understanding of their terms.
At the very least, it’s a good idea to have this on your list of questions to ask your landlord before renting. Landlords will generally allow you to break a lease, especially due to a major life event or emergency, but they may charge you a fine for vacating early, or keep your security deposit so that they have a buffer while they try to find a new tenant. Make sure you read over your lease carefully before and after signing, and make a note of any major house or apartment rental questions that aren’t addressed by the paperwork.
Moving into a new place can be hectic, but asking these questions early when renting an apartment or house can save you a lot of trouble and confusion in the long run. And, by having a clear understanding of your landlord’s expectations of you as a tenant, you can make sure to build a positive relationship with them that will benefit you whether you rent from them for one year or five.