Rental occupancy rates have once again risen, which means competition for apartments and other rentals can be fierce. But if you're a renter looking for a new place, you still need to be sure your home will meet your needs, and that means looking for more than just adequate square footage, a couple of closets and a dishwasher.
Often, renters can forget to ask important questions when they're out apartment hunting. They also might be meek because of the current market being tight and at times difficult to navigate. But most of the time, renters don't ask questions because they're afraid they're going to be turned down when applying and so they don't want to cause trouble. They figure that if they don't ask for anything, the landlord is much more likely to approve the application.
Sure, pet owners are always on the hunt for apartments that allow their furry friends, but renters who don't own pets may not think to ask whether others in the building do. If you have allergies or just don't want to deal with barking dogs at 2 a.m., it might not be a bad idea to find out if any animals are residing with your neighbors.
2. Cellphone and Internet
If you, like most people, don't have a "land line," your cellphone is how you stay in touch, but checking for a signal may not be top of mind when you're looking for a place. Be sure to test your signal in all the rooms of the unit you're considering; you don't want to be forced to have all your conversations in the bathroom or a corner of the kitchen.
Likewise, find out who handles Internet and cable service for the building. Ask neighbors whether the signal is generally reliable, and see if you can find out whether the signal gets weaker if more tenants are using it.
Be aware that a lot of older apartments don't have adequate overhead lighting. If you're looking at a unit while it is still furnished by the current tenant, observe whether there are a lot of lamps -- and think about what your lighting needs will be in various rooms. Make sure there are enough outlets to accommodate any lighting you will need. Also see what kind of natural light you'll get through the windows.
4. Heating and cooling
If you're looking for a new place during the summer, you may not think to ask how the unit is heated, but it can matter a great deal, both for your comfort and your wallet. Find out what kind of heat is used and whether it will be metered separately or if you'll pay a portion of the building's overall heating costs based on square footage, for instance. If possible, talk to the current tenant about whether it was easy to maintain a comfortable temperature, and ask for an estimate of the average monthly bill during the winter.
The opposite is true if you are apartment hunting in the summer -- or any of the not-so-chilly months. Jessica Shein had a rental experience where she learned after moving in that the air-conditioning unit was as old as the apartment -- more than 20 years.
5. Air flow
Do the windows open, and if they do, can you get that fresh breeze you were hoping for? In addition to seeing what scents a breeze might bring inside, check what kind of views you'll have from your windows. Often, there's a premium for rental units that have views, but occasionally, there are those that offer great views at even better rates.
A little noise from the neighbors is normal in an apartment, but some buildings are better insulated than others. If possible, ask current residents what the noise levels are like: Can you hear every footstep from the upstairs neighbors, for instance? Visit the unit during the day and at night, if you can, to see what kind of noise there may be in the surrounding neighborhood at various times. Also, ask the landlord or do some research yourself to see if any construction projects are planned in the vicinity -- or on the building itself.
7. Delivery of packages
Find out what happens with package deliveries. If no one in the building is home during the day, is there a front-desk person or concierge to receive packages for residents? If it's a small building, you may have to make other arrangements for parcels that arrive while you're at work.
Check the water pressure in the shower and see how long it takes the water to heat up once you turn it on. Ask whether the unit shares a water heater; you don't want to wake up late one morning to discover that all the hot water has been used by other residents.
Ask the landlord if the building has ever had an issue with roaches, rats, bedbugs or other pests. Ask current residents the same question. If you're concerned, check the lease to see if the issue is addressed. Ask about mold, too.
10. Hours for on-site facilities
If you're looking at a larger building, it may have a workout room, pool, laundry room or other amenities for use by residents, but be sure to find out when those facilities are available. Even in some smaller buildings with laundry facilities, there may be a laundry schedule to avoid conflicts. Make sure the great amenities that sold you on the building will be available when you want to use them. And make sure you inspect those common areas to see if they seem clean and safe.
11. Your responsibilities
Is any issue that arises with your rental the responsibility of the landlord, or will you have to deal with anything yourself? This is especially relevant if you're renting a single-family home. In many cases, yard work or other minor maintenance may be up to the tenant. Though even in an apartment, you are likely responsible for reporting any issues in a timely manner. And that's the kind of tenant that any landlord wants.
And even now, when all you hear is about how rents are rising and there's a shortage of units, there is often a shortage of great tenants. And when landlords find one, who manages on his or her own, who doesn't wreck the apartment and who is proactive in calling to fix things that will only grow to be bigger and more expensive issues, the landlord will want to keep you around and will be open to your forthcoming requests.