Apartment hunting season brings a lot of chaos, especially for a newbie renter. This time isn't just about finding a cheap place to live that's close enough to campus. No, there will be many things you have to consider on top of that! Here's a list of questions you should be asking your potential landlord when you're browsing for new homes.
1. When is payment due?
Obviously, if you don't pay on time, you may get into big trouble. You should know exactly when and where payment is due, how often and above all, how much you have to pay.
2. Are there late fees?
What if you miss a payment? What if your parents' allowance comes in late or you get your paycheck the day after rent is due? You should make sure you know if you'll end up paying extra if you don't turn in your rent on time. Also, don't be afraid to ask permission to pay your rent a few days late! Just like a professor needing to reschedule a test for you, the earlier you warn your landlord about potential problems, the more likely you'll be successful.
3. How is payment accepted?
Apartments are expensive, so you won't be paying in cash! You need to know if your landlord is tech-savvy enough to accept direct deposits to the bank online... and you have to make sure you have a bank account to pay them with! If your potential landlord only accepts checks, then you need to find yourself a checkbook within the month. Unlike turning in checks, direct deposits are often automated, which is great if you think you might forget to pay on time. However, direct deposits often cost an additional fee, or you may lose track of how much money is in your bank before and after payment!
4. Are pets allowed and do they cost extra?
Let's face it: the only real reason to live off-campus is to own a pet. Those dreams may be soon dashed if your landlord doesn't allow pets. Why don't some landlords allow pets? Because pets create messes, they may bark or screech to wake the neighbors and there may be other renters there with allergies! Many landlords will let you keep pets if you pay them a "pet deposit," where you just pay a little extra, usually one-time fee of $100 or less. This is basically your insurance: if your pet causes problems, then the landlord has some money to clean up after them.
5. How do I request repairs?
Stuff breaks. I'm the daughter of a landlord myself, and it seems like every week someone's air-conditioning gets overworked, the pool won't drain or the plumbing randomly shuts off. You should know if your landlord is going to be the one to come to the rescue, if repair fees are included in your rent, if you have to be the one to call in the plumber, etc.
6. Is the lease just for the school year or for the full year?
This apartment is for college, which, strangely enough, only happens during the school year. Remember that some leases are set up so that once you sign the contract, you have to pay for the full year. That means that even if you're home for the summer, you'll still be paying the rent for an apartment you're not using. If you won't be in college during the summer, make sure you find an apartment where this won't happen to you. Or...
7. Can I sub-lease?
One alternative for during the summer is sub-leasing. This means that you basically rent out your apartment (the one you yourself are renting) to someone else for a set period of time, namely summer vacation. Your lease will still be there for you when you get back, and you'll be paying your own rent with someone else's money in the meantime. Think of it like loaning your house to someone while you're away. However, many landlords don't allow this, so you have to ask!
8. If you have a roommate, do each of you pay half or in one big check?
This may sound inconsequential, but do you really trust a college freshman to pay half of the rent? Or to pay you back if you're the one turning in the rent? And what happens if you and your roommate get into a fight? One friend told me a horror story of one woman she stayed with who refused to pay her share of the rent or clean up after herself, meaning my friend had to do it all. Your landlord might not be completely sympathetic to the situation if half the money is missing and you've already signed a contract. Beforehand, you need to discuss how things are going to work out with your roommate, and to do that, you need to know who's paying what.
9. Are there extra utility fees?
Essentially: what is included in the rent? Some rents may seem ridiculously high, but that might just be because the utility fees are included, whereas the other rates you've been seeing are trying to hide those elsewhere to make the rent seem cheaper. Think of it like an app with in-app purchases: the app itself is low-priced, but suddenly to advance you have to pay for plumbing, and then for cable, and then for light...
10. Are there parking fees?
If you've found a place in the city with free parking, that might just be too good to pass up. Is parking included in the rent? Do you have to pay extra? Does it cost less than a parking garage two blocks down the street?
11. Which cable/internet companies are compatible with the area?
If you already have a TV, you may already know this. If you're like me and don't currently have a TV, then you probably have no idea what companies cover your area. Don't think that you can just buy a TV and automatically get the same channels you had back home, because your old company might not even be there! The same goes for Internet: once you're off your school's wifi, you need to find your own provider. It's best to find a place where there are several different companies to choose from.
12. What about security and surveillance?
Do you own a $2000 racing bike? Yeah, you might want some extra security for that one. It's good to know what security measures have been taken to keep your stuff safe, both from outside thieves and inside residents. Alternatively, you might not be too happy about having security cameras watching you every time you do your laundry.
13. What do I do in case of infestation/pest control?
This happens. It may not be a giant rat stealing food from your dog, but any pest is a bad pest. If pest issues occur on campus, the school will likely pay for it. You might end up getting a different dorm, but it's all basically sorted out for you. Does your landlord pay for the pest control? Do you pay for the damage inflicted by the pests? What if it's so bad that you need a new place to stay? Do you still pay rent? If you don't report the problem, will you be penalized if the pests spread to other nearby apartments?
Of course, all of that can be avoided if you just clean up after yourself. But it never hurts to ask!
14. What's the laundry situation?
Once again: what is included in your rent? Will other renters have access to the same machines you're using, with your laundry in it? Perhaps the landlord doesn't provide free laundry, but maybe free detergent? If you live in a really big city, you may even be better off going to a nearby laundromat, and it would be nice to know how far you'll need to walk.
Big questions like these may end up telling you which apartment to choose, or which location. Contracts are binding, and apartment leases are no exception. So in the end, it's best to at least know what you're signing up for, even down to the tiniest details.
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