Renting an apartment might seem fairly straightforward: Find a place you like, meet the landlord and move in. But rest assured, plenty can go wrong along the way. In case you don't believe us, check out these common mistakes that renters often make when apartment-hunting.
Such oversights can end up costing an inordinate amount of time, money and grief. Whether you’re hunting for a short- or long-term rental, try to avoid these snafus, so you can move in (and out later on) without a hitch.
1. Not reading the lease
We get it: Leases can be intimidating, especially when they run to 30 pages of fine print. But failing to read the lease is one of the worst mistakes that renters can make, says Lucas Hall, founder of Landlordology.
First, double-check that the figure for the rent is what you have agreed on.
“If you sign the lease with an incorrect rent amount, you could get stuck with the higher rate,” he cautions.
In addition, he recommends also scanning the document to check names, deposits, late fees, dates for notice, renewal terms, property rules, and utility agreements (as in: who pays them).
2. Relying on an oral contract
If your landlord says she’s going to do something (say, repair the air conditioner after you move in), get it in writing, rather than just taking her word for it.
The same is true for anything else your landlord mentions, such as terms for renewing the lease at the end of the year or a promise not to raise the rent. You’ll have a hard time proving an oral contract in court if a resulting problem ever gets that far.
3. Assuming the landlord will fix everything
Fridge on the fritz? No problem—just call the landlord, right? Not so fast, says Hall.
“Unless the maintenance issue is affecting habitability or is mentioned specifically in your lease, then the landlord doesn't really have to fix it,” he says.
So while that would include addressing issues like plumbing or the HVAC system, it definitely doesn’t include changing a lightbulb.
“A renter is on the hook for things like basic cleaning, smoke detector batteries, lawn mowing and other minor, ongoing upkeep,” he says.
As for bigger issues, like those appliances, check the lease agreement to make sure there isn’t a clause stating that the landlord doesn’t have to fix “nonessential appliances,” like the microwave or washing machine, if they break. If that’s the case, be wary of renting a place with old appliances.
4. Renting the property sight unseen
You can find out a lot online and on Google Maps, but nothing substitutes for seeing the place with your own eyes. If you’re moving somewhere new, it can be tempting to just rent sight unseen, since it's probably temporary. However, it can lead to some unpleasant surprises.
In addition to touring the property, spend some time actually walking around the neighborhood. And unless you know your city or town as well as a local police officer, you should tour the neighborhood during the day and at night to see if things get loud or sketchy. Don’t hesitate to talk to some locals you meet on the street and see what they have to say.
5. Not documenting damage when you move in
Was that stain on the carpet or hole in the wall already there, before you moved in? You’re likely to have to prove it, but many renters don’t take the extra step of documenting the existing state of the property.
“Before you move in, look for cosmetic damage, and also test all the appliances, lights and HVAC system,” Hall recommends.
You want to verify anything that might have been broken by the previous tenant for which you could be held responsible. Document any existing property damage with time-stamped photos and have your landlord sign off on all of it.
6. Skipping renters insurance
Renters insurance can be a total bargain, at a cost of less than $200 per year, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Nevertheless, almost 60 percent of renters don’t have it.
Some landlords require it because of the liability coverage—check your lease—but if not, consider adding a renters insurance policy, as it will cover all your personal belongings, including electronics and clothing, should they be stolen or damaged.
Craig Donofrio contributed to this report.