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Questions You Should Ask a Landlord Before Signing a Lease

Some people consider apartment renting a no brainer. You look – you find – you rent. But, there’s a lot more to it than that. Once you’ve signed a rental lease agreement – you’re committed to a legally binding contract. And, if you didn’t ask the right questions before initialing here and signing there, you’re new apartment experience could turn into a huge headache.

A year is an excruciatingly long time when dealing with obnoxious, noisy neighbors, an unresponsive manager or no emergency maintenance staff on-site, if the guy above you forgets to shut off the water filling his tub and floods your apartment in the middle of the night.

That’s why you need to ask questions before you sign your rental lease agreement. After all, the landlord or property management is going to ask you a bunch of questions – from employer information to running your credit. So, don’t be afraid to do the same by starting with the following:

  1. How long is the lease?

A lease term is typically a year, 6 months or month-to-month. Once you’re locked in – you’re locked in. Find out what the penalties are should you have to break your lease in an extreme situation, such as a job transfer mid-way through your 12-month lease. Make sure you can negotiate an early-release without having to forfeit your security deposit and be stuck with having to pay the rest of the rent.

  1. Are all utilities included?

Knowing what utilities you’re responsible for will allow you to budget them into your monthly apartment-related expenses, which should include affordable renters insurance. While water is often covered by the building management, you’re on your own for electricity, gas, internet, and cable.

  1. Where, when, and how is rent to be paid?

Typically due on the 1st of every month, find out where to make the rent payment, when payments are considered late, and what the late fees are. Note: avoid being late with your rent at the beginning of your lease.

  1. Do you allow pets?

If you have a pet or have plans to get one, ask about the landlord’s pet policy. Whether it’s for a cat or a dog, you can expect to be charged a separate pet deposit on top of your own deposit or ‘pet rent”, which is a monthly fee added to your rent payment.

  1. Is there a 24/7 maintenance staff for emergencies?

It’s good to know if a property manager or maintenance staff is on-site or on call in the event of an emergency involving a ruptured pipe, overflowing dishwasher or other need. If the answer is no – you don’t want to have rely on your renters insurance to pick up the pieces for frequent incidents. You may want to look elsewhere before signing the lease.

  1. Is your security deposit refundable?

By law, all security deposits are refundable in whole or in part. Your landlord or property management can withhold a portion of your deposit for damage to walls, carpeting, and fixtures, or if you break your lease but, generally, any security deposit implied in a lease to be “non-refundable” is illegal.

  1. Can you personalize your apartment?

In most cases, your landlord will expect you to leave your apartment just the way it is and in good shape. Discuss any changes you intend to do to paint or curtain rods or installing a satellite dish beforehand. If all the walls are white, you’ll have to live with it, unless the landlord gives you permission. Still, get it in writing before proceeding or you could forfeit a huge part of your deposit.

While these are only a few of the many questions you should ask before signing a lease, if it has to do with your safety, parking or guest policy, ask away. The more you know ahead of time, the more enjoyable your time in your new apartment will be.

Don’t forget to get renters insurance to protect your belongings. USAgencies provides affordable renters insurance for residents in Alabama and Louisiana. Call (800) 420-3712 to speak with a live representative to get a free renters insurance quote. If you prefer, you can also get a free renters insurance quote online.