So you're looking for a new apartment. And goodness knows, you want to avoid losing your security deposit or experiencing a housing nightmare. How do you make sure that you find the right fit for you? Check out these questions to ask when renting an apartment, and you'll be on your way to finding the right place.
1. I found a place I want to rent. Now what?
You will probably be asked to fill out an application and give authorization for the landlord to run a credit check (check yours for free at Credit Sesame) and maybe even a criminal background check.
The landlord will often ask this of every adult planning to reside on the property, and there may be a separate application fee per adult or per family. Landlords generally set criteria for what they are willing to accept, and you can ask for this in advance. They will likely also make a call to confirm your employment.
Some landlords will gather multiple applications and application fees and run all of them, whereas others may accept multiple applications but only ask for the fee from the one they are running first.
Depending on the property you’re looking at, the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts may impact what the landlord can and cannot do.
Realtors must also abide by a code of ethics. The National Association of Realtors opposes housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin, and authorizes sanctions in response to finding that a member has violated any fair housing law, including local and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
2. How much should I pay for rent? Will landlords want to know my income?
Definitely don’t pay more than what you feel comfortable with. However, landlords will usually look for your monthly income to be at least three times the monthly rent, or for your annual income to be 40 times rent. So if you’re looking for a $1,200-per-month rental, they’ll be looking for you to make at least $3,600 per month or up to $48,000 per year. If you have other debts like car payments, private school tuition, or loans, they might look for more income. In short, the landlord needs to be convinced of your ability to pay the rent.
3. Can I change the paint colors or put up a fence?
It is important to read your lease. That’s where you’ll find the terms of your agreement — for example, the monthly rent, the start and end date of the lease (the lease term), and important rights and obligations.
Most leases will provide that tenants cannot change the paint color, put up fences, or make other changes without written authorization from the landlord or the owner.
Or a lease may say that you have to put the property back in its original condition prior to moving out.
A lease of a condominium unit will also be subject to the rules and regulations of the association, so make sure you are in compliance with those, as well. You’d do well to get permission before installing satellite dishes, too.
4. Can I break my lease?
The lease will usually spell out the consequences for moving out early. If it’s silent, you may be liable for the balance of the rent, in addition to damages for other violations that may be contained in the lease, like not keeping utilities on through the end of the term. There is generally some language as to how early termination will work. For example, the lease might specify that tenant may vacate upon 60-day notice, along with the payment of a three-month penalty, plus the payment of the final two months’ rent.
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5. How do I make sure I get my security deposit back?
Read your lease and check for special requirements. Take care of the property like it is your own. Put sliders on the bottom of the furniture if you have wood floors, and take care not to scratch the floor.
Always make sure to fill in the holes you made in the walls, deep clean the appliances, and wash the carpets.
Check for non-refundable deposits, administrative fees, etc. Most leases require you to return all door keys, mailbox keys, pool keys, etc., in addition to leaving the property in the same condition as you found it, with the exception of normal wear and tear.
Some states require that the landlord fill in a move-in and a move-out form, cataloging damage, in order to withhold some funds of the security deposit. (If you’re not sure of your state’s security deposit laws, you can find them in NOLO’s guide on the subject.) Make sure to remove all your items and take out the trash.