8 Things You’ll Regret Not Asking Your Landlord Before Moving In

published Aug 9, 2019
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I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again until the end of time: MOVING IS UNNECESSARILY STRESSFUL. Beyond the mind-boggling logistics of moving all of your stuff (how is it that you really don’t notice you’re accumulating that much stuff until you have to box it up?!), there’s the added part of having to deal directly with the law as well as navigating a whole other myriad of systems built to not benefit you, the tenant. To put it lightly, it’s quite easy for even the most prepared of renters to slip up somewhere along the move-in process. One of the most common “oh shoot” moments? Forgetting to ask your landlord an important question before signing the lease.

I believe that one of the most powerful learning tools we have is each other, so, in this light I have asked my noble colleagues to come forward and speak to these “If only I had thought to ask!” moments. From small maintenance-related troubleshooting to money-saving tactics, here are the eight questions that would have saved us down the line:

1. Can we negotiate a maximum rent increase for resigning the lease?

Gen X had Ross and Rachel as their great “will-or-won’t they” relationship. For Millennials, it seems like it might be, “Is my landlord going to raise my rent when my lease is up?” But here’s a fun tip: You can get yourself out of this renter’s Schrödinger’s Cat paradox simply by asking your landlord as soon as possible—as in before signing the lease. Caroline Ammarell, AT’s senior manager of content strategy and analytics, says she regrets not asking her landlord to include a maximum rent increase for the following year’s renewal in her previous apartments’ leases. For her current apartment, she not only asked her landlord before signing, but was even able to negotiate the figure. Not only has it allowed her to better plan ahead, but she figures it’ll probably save her some money in the future.

2. Can we add a rent-responsible clause?

One thing Nicoletta Richardson, our associate senior news editor, regrets not asking for an old apartment? The process, penalties, and accepted situations for breaking a lease. Knowing your potential exit strategy up front can save a lot of time and frustration if you end up having—or wanting—to move.

Besides going over the lease-termination specifics, Jose Castro, AT’s director of operations, also recommends asking your landlord if you can include a rent-responsible clause in your contract. While you’ll normally have to pay your landlord a penalty to break a lease, this addendum states that you’re responsible for finding a replacement tenant, and if you succeed, you suffer no penalty. Even if you’re not planning on having to break your lease mid-year, it’s a good thing to include—your future self might thank you.

3. What the “actual rent” is on the lease?

Unfortunately, some landlords can be trying to pull tricks—at least that’s what happened to Laina Zissu, AT’s programmatic sales and strategy manager. On her last lease, she discovered that though she signed the lease at market value—the “actual rent” on her lease was almost double. Though her building was rent-controlled, this caveat meant that her landlords technically could raise her monthly rate up to that figure on the lease. The best way to avoid this happening? Simply ask to confirm that the actual rent is the same as what you’re paying each month.

4. Are there any improvements to the unit that the current tenants are planning to take?

You’d be surprised what safety measures your landlord has to install for you—and what you’re responsible for. Case in point? Though Nicole Lund, our associate commerce editor, saw a deadbolt in her apartment in her viewing, she didn’t learn until after she moved in that the previous tenants had installed it and subsequently took it with them. If Lund wanted the extra security measure, too, she was told it was her responsibility to purchase and install. Prevent ending up like Lund and confirm that what you see in your viewing is what will be in the apartment on move-in day.

5. What’s your cell number?

When Richardson first looked at her current apartment, she noticed the unit had some unfinished upgrades. She brought them up to her landlord who assured her they would be taken care of by the time they moved in. Come move-in day, though, some projects weren’t completed, like turning the gas on. She e-mailed the landlord and he said he’d get someone to come the next day. So Richardson worked from home to let the person in; however, when he got there, it turned out that the gas switch was not easily accessible. The two of them went to call the landlord for information—but they realized they only had his work number and he wasn’t in the office. It eventually was all worked out, but it was a headache that could have been solved had Richardson asked for his direct line before moving in.

6. Are you planning on making upgrades to other units anytime soon?

Here’s a story: Two weeks after Jean Simon, web engineer, moved into her current apartment, she found out that the three other empty units in her building were getting their carpet and replaced with hardwood floors—but not hers! She regrets not asking her landlord if there were any plans to upgrade units in the building, because she would have delayed her move-in date or made arrangements to accommodate floor installation. Now, she’s stuck with carpet until she moves out.

7. What’s the unit’s maintenance history?

When Drew Wilchak, AT’s desktop support technician, moved into his current apartment, he noticed that his stove wouldn’t catch a flame. As it turned out, the gas had been shut off in his apartment while the unit was unoccupied due to a leak. Long story short, the issue took six whole months to fix(!).

Had Wilchak taken a note from many homeowners and asked about the unit’s maintenance history before he signed the lease, he might have avoided cooking on a hot plate for half a year and the headaches of coordinating with his management company. Knowing if the unit has had any problems in the past or if it’s been awhile since it’s seen maintenance can help you prevent future inconveniences (or pass on the unit if it seems problematic!)

8. What are the average cost of utilities for summer and winter?

And here’s my own regret! Who would have known that while having central air and heat is a life-saver, it’s also super expensive in the summer and winter, and suprisingly so? I surely did not, and therefore did not budget well enough for those months (eek!) I would have, though, had I taken senior product manager Jane Hunt’s advice and asked my landlord what the average cost of utilities were for the summer and winter months.

How about you? What do you wish you would have asked your landlord before you signed the lease?

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