10 Things to Find Out Before Signing a Lease

You’ve heard the horror stories of signing a lease and not realizing you have to provide your own appliances, none of which you currently own. Or filling up a bag of trash at your new rental and having no idea what to do with it because you aren’t sure if trash pickup is included in your rent.


Last year I signed a lease on an apartment after visiting it on a sunny afternoon. On the day I moved in, it was not so sunny and I quickly realized there were no overhead lights. For the first few days after moving, I made do with exactly 2 lamps and a tiny flashlight from my car. Thankfully this oversight was made better by thrift store lamps and a lot of jokes from friends but some fixes are not so easy.


Here’s what to look for next time you’re shopping for a place to rent:


1. The parking situation.


Ask where parking is for the unit you’re looking at. Some places have street parking, others may have a private lot, and a few may even have a garage. Before deciding on a place to live, you should know how many parking spaces you’ll be allotted or if you’ll need a permit to park on the street. If street parking is the only option, speak with a current tenant about their experience with it. If you rely on public transportation instead of a car, find the closest hub and make sure you’re comfortable with the walk to get there since that’ll add time to your commute every morning.



2. What your rent includes.


Some homes and apartments include water or other utilities in the rent cost, which will make it seem slightly higher than other comparable places in the neighborhood. Factor in whether or not this will save you money. For a family, the built-in cost of any given utility will likely save money over the course of your lease. But single person households may not benefit from the additional fee since it’s only one person using it as opposed to 2 or more. Some other things to ask about in regards to your rent cost: trash pickup, HOA fees, and included amenities.



3. If pets are allowed and how much they’ll cost.


Most realty companies charge a non-refundable fee to bring a pet into a rental unit while others add a monthly fee to your rent. And some do both! Knowing how much it’ll cost you to have your furry friend is a big factor in choosing a place within your budget. Also ask about any weight limits and breed restriction for pets in the space. There’s nothing worse than signing a lease and then realizing your pet can’t come with you.




4. How much natural light you’ll get.


Tour the home in the afternoon to get a feel for just how much natural light comes in. You can read about how much natural light a home gets from the realtor’s website or you can view it for yourself and see if it satisfies the amount you’re looking for. Keep in mind natural light has a tendency to make spaces look bigger, especially smaller ones that could otherwise seem closed off without it.


Natural Light


5. The reputation of who you’re renting from.


A good landlord will make a world of difference in your renting experience. Knowing you’ve got a landlord who will answer the phone when you have a question or respond quickly to an emergency is priceless, especially during the first few months of renting when you’re trying to figure the new digs out. Check out Yelp, Trulia, and Houzz to get the scoop on who you’re renting from.



6. If you’re able to renew at the lease’s end and the process of doing so.


Ask the realtor how long this space is available and how they determine if a tenant is able to renew a lease when it’s up. If a place, particularly an apartment complex, has upcoming construction and remodeling that needs to be done, you’ll be out of luck when the lease is over. That works if you’re only looking for a short-term place to live but if you’re looking for a spot you can stay for a few years, save yourself the trouble and find somewhere else to live.


Lease Renewal


7. Expectations for getting your security deposit back.


Get clear guidelines from the landlord on how to get your security deposit back upon moving out. Ask if they expect you to fill in any nail holes from hanging items, paint the walls, or replace anything when you leave. This will help as you plan how to decorate your rental to avoid making any mistakes that will cost you a security deposit.




8. If you can paint the walls.


If you walk into the perfect rental space but hate the wall color, ask if you can change it. Many places will let you paint the walls a different color (but still neutral) so long as you paint it back before moving out. Paint is a cheap way to make a drab rental look livelier. If the landlord won’t let you paint and you can’t cope with those dreadful beige walls, it’s not the rental for you.



9. Who your neighbors are.


This is especially important when checking out apartments and townhomes since you’ll have to share a wall or two with your neighbors. Families with small kids will not find the wild parties of college student neighbors charming at 2 AM on a Thursday night, just like college students won’t find a screaming toddler endearing at 6 AM on a Sunday morning. Find out whom you’re moving in next to and if they’re compatible with your lifestyle.




10. What appliances are included.


Does your rental come with a refrigerator? A dishwasher? A washer and dryer? A stove? A microwave? Find out before moving in to avoid any bad surprises. Buying appliances is a pricey endeavor that’ll be a kick to your wallet when you’re already putting down a security deposit and paying for the big move.