Don’t Move Into a New Apartment Until You’ve Asked These 9 Questions

published Mar 12, 2020
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When you’re filling out a rental application, you’re answering a whole lot of questions about yourself. But, to flip the script, there’s a good chance you have several burning questions about the apartments you’re interested in renting. Here are nine things that are great to ask when you’re doing a pre-move-in rental inspection to help determine whether the apartment is right for you.

“Can I see a move-in, move-out checklist?”

Ask if you can sign off on a move-in checklist, using it to record any wear and tear from previous tenants, suggests Rachel Olsen, a landlord and realtor with HomeSmart Realty West in San Diego. Then, inquire if the move-out checklist will be used to evaluate how much of your security deposit is returned. If not, how is your refund determined? “Since a security deposit is usually one to two months rent, and you want to get as much of it back as possible, you should know how this is handled up front,” Olsen says. 

Katie Jones, a Denver-based real estate investor with Agape Investing, also suggests figuring out just how much cleaning you’ll be responsible for at move-out. Will you need to have the carpets shampooed? Will you be charged for new paint or a deep clean of the unit, regardless of how squeaky clean you leave the rental?

“Are pets allowed?” 

If you’re moving in with a cat or dog, you might need to make your pet a resume. If you don’t have a pet—and are thinking about getting one or are considering pet sitting as a side hustle—you’ll want to know up front if your new place allows animals in the first place. Then, get specific: Are there any weight restrictions? Breed restrictions? Extra deposits and monthly fees? “You don’t want to be looking for a new place to live because you broke a ‘no pets’ lease,” Olsen says. Here are 7 questions pet owners should ask before signing a release.

“How are work orders handled?”

A renter should understand how to put in a work order, as well as how maintenance is handled, Jones says. Is there a dedicated maintenance staff? How quickly are non-emergency maintenance issues, like a broken dishwasher, addressed? “That way, when something isn’t working properly, you know exactly who to contact and how the maintenance process works after a work order is placed,” she says. 

“Who is responsible for maintenance tasks?”

One of the benefits of renting is not having to fill up your weekends with home maintenance chores. But there are minor things that come up here and there, and it’s good to know who is responsible for them. Ask your potential landlord about who’s responsible for tasks like changing the air filters, shoveling snow on the sidewalks, or mowing the lawn if you have one, suggests Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder at You might be surprised that you don’t even need to buy and replace your own light bulbs.

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“What kind of decorating can I do?”

“If you really want to make this place your own, you may want to paint and hang up pictures,” says Shannon McNulty, a realtor in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. “Find out first if that will be OK.” You may need to restore the place to the way it was when you move out, and some landlords want to approve changes, including nails in the walls for pictures, McNulty says. Even some seemingly renter-friendly DIYs could potentially ding your deposit.

“Are any utilities included in the rent?” 

“Utilities included” is a buzzy phrase in rental advertisements, but what that actually means can vary between properties. In some places it may mean water and electricity. In others, it may include internet, too. If not all utilities are included, get specific and ask what the average monthly utility bills are for gas, electric, and water for the floor plan you’re looking at, suggests Davis. Follow up with how much gas and electric bills vary between seasons.

Since some apartment buildings will offer internet, Beth Argaman, the general manager of 727 West Madison, an apartment building in Chicago, suggests asking about the internet speed offered. “More and more renters have the flexibility to work from home, and many are streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime,” she says. As an apartment hunter, make sure the service offered meets your needs. 

Hooking up utilities in a new place? Here’s when you should call to set them up.

“When is rent considered late?”

Rent is probably due on the first of the month. But, Caleb Liu, a real estate investor in Southern California, suggests getting specific about your potential landlord’s specific rules. If you pay by paper check, does that mean the check must be received by the first, or merely postmarked? Is there a grace period? How much are late fees? Do they accumulate daily? “Clear communication on payments is a must, and you never want to assume anything,” Liu says. Otherwise, you could wind up with some hefty late fees.

“How many noise complaints do you receive?”

“This is especially important to ask for large apartment complexes with many shared walls,” Liu says. “ Sometimes the walls simply don’t have any soundproofing.” You want to know if there are neighbors who throw parties, who watch TV too loud, or are generally just disruptive. You can compare the landlord’s answer to online reviews of the apartment complex.

Here’s how to block out some of that noise.

“Can I sublet?”

What are the rules around subletting should you need to break your lease early? Renting in New York City can be even more nuanced, though, since co-ops sometimes have stricter rules. For example, some buildings might not allow you to have a guest stay at your apartment if you, the leaseholder, isn’t present, points out Jamie Safier, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman in New York City. 

About to launch an apartment search? Avoid these 7 common apartment-hunting mistakes.