4 Telltale Signs You Shouldn’t Rent That Apartment, According to Agents

published Nov 22, 2022
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Apartment hunting is exciting. You’re embarking on a new journey, discovering different neighborhoods, and creating a checklist of your dream amenities (like a great view, pool, walking distance to the best food trucks). But you need to be educated about the potential red flags that scream, “Do not rent this apartment!” In many cases, a place that comes with a lot of red flags isn’t worth the potential positives, either. 

I talked to three real estate agents who have helped their clients navigate the leasing market, and they shared some of the major warning signs. Their advice is valuable to newbie renters, and a helpful refresher to veteran renters who might be ready for a change of location. Read on for the four “ifs” that should make you second-guess an apartment for rent. 

If you already have a disappearing landlord.

When you sign a lease for a new apartment, you’ve entered into a business relationship with a landlord, and you want that relationship to be a functional one. Avoid renting the apartment if you are already experiencing uncooperative landlords, agents, or staff members at the leasing office. 

“If property management companies and landlords aren’t easy to communicate with or they don’t reply to your emails and calls, then that apartment isn’t the place for you,” says Jon Shefsky, an agent specializing in long-term leases. Chasing down landlords during your apartment hunt is a sure sign they won’t be attentive to your needs should you become their renter. “I worked with a couple who were ready to go, they even put down a deposit, but the landlord was repeatedly unreceptive to questions, so they decided not to move in. To them, it wasn’t worth paying rent to someone so unhelpful,” says agent Ashley Temm.

If you can’t visit the apartment.

You must tour the rental unit before signing a lease, and if you can’t, it’s a big red flag. This sounds like a no-brainer, but there are clever ways property managers get around showing potential tenants an available unit. They instead offer you a tour of their model apartment. A model apartment is a unit in the building that is only used for showings, and typically has the identical layout to the upcoming vacancy. 

Landlords also dress up the model unit with fresh coats of paint, slick staging, and up-to-date kitchen appliances. Leasing agents might insist you sign and place your deposit, based only on your tour of the model. They may push back on showing you the open unit, citing reasons like they don’t want to disturb the current renters, or the vacancy is undergoing construction.

Unfortunately renters can’t get a sense of what their new unit is really like. How is the water pressure? Is the paint peeling? Will there be a funny smell? Maybe the open unit in a part of the building close to a busy street or next to noisy tenants. These are impossible to determine by touring a model apartment. Insist on seeing the real vacancy, and if you can’t, move on.

If there are major maintenance issues.

Apartment buildings house tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people, so it’s normal to see a small amount of wear and tear. But the apartment’s staff should keep up with the major maintenance, like plumbing, security, and pest control, at a fairly quick pace. 

“What can you truly not live without? Adequate maintenance,” Temm stresses. Look out for trash strewn around the common areas, bugs, busted light fixtures, leaking and rusty pipes, moldy bathroom walls, “out of order” signs on the laundry room doors, and other general signs of neglect and disrepair. 

“The management company isn’t doing a good job if the dumpsters are overflowing with debris like mattresses and furniture. And check the exterior areas of the building. Look at the condition of the roads within the complex for potholes,” advises Connecticut-based realtor Neile Parisi. Landlords may promise it’ll all be taken care of by move-in day, but if they aren’t in the habit of building upkeep, they won’t be motivated or prepared to change anything once you’ve signed the lease.

If you just have a bad gut feeling.

Maybe the landlord is acting like a high-pressure salesperson, or the neighborhood doesn’t feel safe to you. Those are perfectly fine reasons not to move forward, too.

“Trust your intuition. When you’re on the hunt for an apartment and something just doesn’t feel right, keep looking,” says Shefsky. “Put in that extra research to find a place you can stay in for a long time. You want to feel good about where you live. You want to be excited to wake up in your apartment every morning.”