Published March 14, 2014
In the stress of hunting for that perfect apartment, it can be easy to slip up and get saddled with an onerous lease. Don’t let a landlord pull a fast one on you. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out some common mistakes that renters make when looking for an apartment.
Who Pays the Bills?
Know what you’re paying for before you sign the lease. In some buildings, tenants are responsible for their own bills; in others, the building owners might take care of certain bills like water and trash pickup. And then there are apartments that split the bills evenly across all tenants, which means you might end up paying for a neighbor who likes to take hour-long showers. Before you make the decision to move in, make sure you know which bills you are responsible for and ask what a typical monthly bill costs.
Not Knowing the Neighborhood
The apartment may be perfect, but you don’t want to find out after you’ve moved in that there isn’t a laundromat within 10 blocks or that the local grocery store is best known for its rotten produce. Before committing to an apartment, get to know the neighborhood you might live in. Check reviews of local businesses online, look around to make sure the neighborhood has the amenities you want and have a drink at a nearby bar or coffee shop to get to know the locals.
Not Asking the Right Questions
All too often apartment hunters do a quick walkthrough and only get a superficial understanding of a place before they sign a lease. Spare yourself from potential annoyances down the road and make sure you ask the right questions. For instance, how are deliveries handled when no one is home? How are disputes between neighbors settled? Are there quiet hours or is it more of a party place? Are pets allowed and if so, is there an added damage deposit required? Apartment hunting can be rather overwhelming and it can be easy to forget to ask about the day-to-day stuff. While some of these might not be deal breakers, it’s still good to know how things will work before you move in.
Signing an Overly Restrictive Lease
Before you commit yourself to a place, make sure it’s going to fit your lifestyle. All too often, renters sign leases that are extremely restrictive, giving the landlord veto power over their lives. Maybe you’ve thought about getting a roommate for the spare bedroom down the road, or you want to rent out the place on AirBnB when you are out of town. A lease might look pretty straightforward, but it can be easy to overlook prohibitions on these sorts of things buried deep in its many clauses. Before you sign, make sure you read it thoroughly and bring up any sticking points you have with the building’s management.
Not Documenting Damages
Even before you haul the first load of furniture in through the front door, you need to start thinking about protecting your damage deposit. Grab a camera and snap photos of every carpet stain, chipped tile and faulty faucet you see. You don’t want to get dinged for someone else’s damage, so put it down in writing and send it to your landlord, making it clear which damages pre-dated your move-in.
Renovating Without Checking First
Landlords are sticklers when it comes to the lease and many renters make the mistake of putting up shelves or repainting the walls without asking first. Unfortunately, leases often forbid these sorts of things, and when it comes time to move out, landlords will subtract the cost of undoing your renovations from your damage deposit. Before you pick up a paintbrush or drill, check your lease to make sure your renovations aren’t against the rules. And even if something is forbidden in the lease, there’s no harm in asking. Many landlords will allow you to make changes or even do the work for you if you ask nicely.