3 Things You Really Need to Scope Out Before Signing the Lease on a Studio Apartment

published May 14, 2021
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While you’re apartment hunting, there will always be a few things you’ll want to check out before signing a lease. Is there laundry in the building? Does the landlord live on-site? What’s the trash situation? 

But there are certain questions you might not think of when it comes to studios specifically — special things you’ll want to double check (or bear in mind) before committing to a 500-square-foot space or smaller. Here to help are San Francisco-based rental agent Jackie Tom, of Rentals in SF, and New York resident Clare Spooner, who has lived in a studio for the past seven years and just moved into a new one.

Consider this a short checklist of things you need to pay special attention to before signing the lease on a studio apartment.

Temperature and Ventilation

In some apartment buildings, super small studios don’t have a separate thermostat, or at least a thermostat tenants can control, so you’ll want to double-check that you can customize your temp before moving in, Tom says.

Proper cross ventilation in general is also important in a small space, Tom says: “You don’t want a place that builds moisture from lack of sun or airflow.”

One space where venting is especially important is the kitchen, especially if the kitchen connects to your living and sleeping areas. “If you burn something [while cooking], it will fill the room,” Tom says.

Your Bed’s Proximity to the Kitchen

Because your kitchen will likely be visible from your bed, consider what might be distracting to you throughout the day or while you sleep. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll want to think of workarounds for loud ice makers, coffee machines, bright lights on appliances, and the like. White noise apps or sleeping masks might do the trick, but you can also try to create separate zones with furniture.

Spooner’s studio is a box shape, so her bed is opposite her kitchen. “I was lying in bed looking at my kitchen and my blinking microwave light, and it was not cutting it,” she says. “So I got a few BILLY bookshelves from IKEA and got my handyman to essentially ‘build them in.’”

Spooner says it only took a few nails, and there was no nailing into the floor. It’s something that can very easily be taken out if she moves again. “Now the kitchen is kind of like its own room,” she says. Spooner says not to be deterred if the layout doesn’t initially look how you expected: shelves, screens, and furniture can help you create separate zones. “There’s a lot of furniture that can be purchased that converts,” Tom adds. Think: sofa to bed, desk to dining table, and folding tables in general.

Storage Capacity

Spooner has the same line of thinking when it comes to storage in a studio apartment: Closets are great, but you can also come up with creative solutions on your own. “I did look at a couple places that didn’t have any closets, but I just ultimately nixed that,” she says. Before you sign your lease, you should ask your landlord about the possibility of adding extra shelves in any existing closets, she says.  

Spooner’s current apartment has two closets, but she doesn’t let the number of closets limit storage opportunities. “I loft my bed to get more storage under it. I have a trunk that holds a lot of stuff,” she says.

Spooner also says you should take a second look at bathroom storage before signing a lease: “Is there a vanity cabinet with your sink? Is there a good opening and closing medicine cabinet?” 

Again, you don’t have to completely opt out of an apartment if storage isn’t there during your initial tour. Tom suggests negotiating for extra basement storage for bikes and suitcases, for example, before signing.

“Some buildings have lots of space in the basement,” Tom says. “Some have garages that do not come with the units. So if there is a basement, etc., the owners may be able to give them a small section — just use painters tape and give them a small area. In this market, there is a likelihood they would get it!”