Q. Should I get renter's insurance?
A. Yes! Everyone should get renter's insurance, and in fact, on occasion, it is a requirement of the lease for your apartment. Your belongings are not covered by the building's insurance policy.
Q. What's the parking situation?
A. It's surprising how many people neglect to ask this basic question. Many apartments come with one parking space – which could pose a problem if you and your partner or roommate both has a car. Ask about on street parking…what is it like.
Q. Which utilities are included?
A. Oftentimes advertisements boast that "utilities are included". But not every landlord considers the same thing to be utilities. Water, heat, gas and electric are standard utilities, but some landlords charge for things such as "refuse collection." Ask very specifically which utilities are meant to be included, and make certain they are enumerated on the lease. If they are not, append the lease to include these specifics.
Q. Is there an early-out clause?
A. There is always a chance you'll have to break your lease, whether that is because of a job change, a death in the family, or just whim. Even if you don't anticipate having to leave your apartment before the end of the contract, ask to have a clause put in outlining a procedure in which you could break the lease should you have to, and the exact penalties imposed upon you (be reasonable, and make as many concessions to the landlord as possible).
Q. Can I re-paint or make other improvements?
A. This is one of the trickiest aspects of renting an apartment. Nothing is worse than finding a perfect space only to have the walls painted some hideous color. Some landlords are happy to let you change the color scheme; others aren't. Any policies regarding the tenants' abilities to make changes to the physical structure of the house – including painting – should be written into the lease. Many landlords will not allow tenants to make any physical changes to the property whatsoever, others require written consent, and still others care very little. Sometimes, if the work you do is an improvement, you can negotiate it off your rent – for example, if you install a security bolt on your front door, you may be able to get the landlord to agree to let you take the cost of the bolt off your rent.
Q. Where is the laundry?
A. Sounds like an obvious question but is often overlooked when apartment hunting. Some apartment complexes don't have laundry on premises. This could be important to you if you want your laundry in your unit or building.
Q. Is there a working fire/security system?
A. Another often overlooked aspect of apartment hunting is determining the relative safety of the building itself. Has the building been inspected? What is the fire system like—do the fire alarms all have batteries? Is there a fire alarm that connects all of the units and any common areas? Does the building have a security system? If you're concerned about safety then you should look for buildings that have security doors which req2uire a tenant to buzz in a visitor, and apartment doors that have, at the minimum, a security deadbolt. Some smaller, privately-owned units have security systems installed on windows and doors, which can help you sleep better at night.
Q. Can I take an inventory?
A. Yes! We strongly urge you to make a written inventory of the condition of the apartment and furnishings either prior to or as soon as possible after occupancy. A detailed inventory of the premises will reduce the possibility of future misunderstanding or problems when you vacate. Such a list should be signed by at least one tenant and the landlord, and a copy given to each. It's also a good idea to take photographs of the apartment – with a date-stamp camera – before you move in to record any pre-existing damages.