Apartment Checklist

12 Things You Should Think About Before Signing Apartment Lease

Signing an apartment lease, especially if it is your first apartment, can feel a bit overwhelming. When you are presented with a lengthy document, it can be tempting to skim through without really understanding everything that is included. It is important to know all the nuances and understand each detail before signing your apartment rental agreement on that dotted line.

Whether you are signing a month-to-month lease or a one-year agreement, make sure you understand these aspects of the lease before moving forward:

  1. What is included in monthly rent?

Certainly the apartment itself is included in your monthly rental costs, but there are lots of other aspects that may or may not be included. A major one to consider is utilities. If utilities are included in your monthly rent, that means you can budget for the same fixed cost each month. If utilities are not included, you will have to keep in mind that utility bills can fluctuate dramatically between seasons depending on the climate you live in.

  1. Are there any additional fees?

Some fees that you may be hit with while applying for the apartment include:

  • Application fee
  • Credit check fee
  • Screening/background check fee
  • Security deposit fee – This fee may be returned back to you when you move out of your apartment if there is no damage the landlord needs to fix.
  • Key deposit – This might be required because your keys could need to be replaced at some point. It might also be required in order to access amenities.
  • Remote Control deposit – This fee may be returned back to you when you move out and return the remote control.

And here are some more fees that may be included as part of your monthly costs:

  • Pet fee
  • Late fee – If you do not pay your rent on time.
  • Early termination fee – If you need to move out of your apartment before your lease is expired.

In most cases, deposits will be returned to you upon move out as long as there are no additional costs the landlord will need to pay. If a landlord needs to fix damage or replace a missing item, you may not receive back all of your deposit money. The amount a deposit can be is often a flat fee or tied to the rental amount. Some landlords will request one month’s rent as a deposit or a specific fee like $250, $500, or $1,000. In some states, there is a limit on the amount a landlord can charge for a deposit, so be sure to read up on your specific state to avoid overpaying.

  1. Will the landlord be pulling your credit score?

In most cases, a landlord will need your credit score to make sure you meet the minimum requirements for signing rental agreement. Ask if it will be a hard or soft credit inquiry. Typically, this should just be a soft credit inquiry and will not hurt your credit score. If your credit score is not as high as you would like, talk to your landlord to see if there is other documentation you can provide that will help your case.

  1. What is the pet policy?

If you have a dog or a cat or another type of pet, be sure to carefully read your apartment rental agreement to ensure your furry friend can come along. Some apartment complexes have restrictions on certain types of breeds or types of animals altogether. Ask if a pet fee or deposit is required. A pet fee will be charged monthly while the deposit is a one time cost. Sometimes the deposit is refundable if there is no damage to the apartment from your pet, while sometimes it is not.

  1. What amenities are included?

Certain apartment complexes, especially those that cost a bit more, will include amenities for you to take advantage of. Whether it is a coffee bar in the main office, front desk services, added security, or a pool or playground, figure out what amenities each apartment can offer you before you start comparing one to another.

You should also consider the hours that amenities are available to you and whether they will work with your schedule. Laundry facilities, pools, and gym access could be restricted to certain times of day or certain days entirely. Some amenities will need to be reserved in advance and there may be certain policies for their use – such as the proper procedures to use the BBQ grill. 

  1. Is parking included?

If you are renting an apartment in a rural area, this question may surprise you. In urban areas such as major cities, parking is hard to come by and comes at an additional price. Whether you are parking in a parking garage or surface parking near the apartment building, each parking space can go for a pretty penny. Be sure to fully understand this cost, if there is one, and if there are any stipulations for holidays or special occasions. Parking will most likely be assigned and you will need to park in your designated spot.

  1. Are all of the appliances included?

This might sound like a silly question, but in some localities, it is a legitimate concern. In larger metropolitan areas, think Los Angeles or other West Coast cities, appliances are not always guaranteed to be included with your apartment rental. Landlords sometimes cut down on supplying appliances in an effort to save money and avoid having to replace or service them. Be sure to check that your refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, and washer/dryer are included with the rental. If they are not included and you still want to move forward with that specific unit, make sure you have a good plan to buy and install the appliance yourself. You can often find great deals on used appliances through online marketplaces. Smaller appliances, like microwaves and coffee makers, you will have to get for yourself unless they are a permanent fixture or built-in to the cabinetry. 

  1. How do you handle maintenance and repairs?

As a renter, you have the privilege of calling your landlord to complete repairs. It is important to consider, however, how often repairs will be needed and if it will be an added nuisance to your life. If the apartment complex is an older building, it might require repairs more frequently. Make sure you are clear on how to submit maintenance requests and how long you should expect to wait for repairs. For major repairs that involve heat or water, maintenance staff should be available 24/7.

  1. Do you like the area surrounding the apartment?

Before signing apartment lease, make sure you have a good feel for the area around the apartment complex. Check that the area is safe or that it is close to conveniences like grocery stores and parks if that is important to you. Make sure that the area is easy to navigate and not too overtaken by rush hour traffic. It could be a good idea to check the apartment at different times of the day to make sure you would feel comfortable living there.

  1. What changes can you make to the apartment?

In most short term rentals, you have to consider the changes you are allowed to make to the apartment itself. Some landlords will allow you to paint the walls, while others may have an issue with it. The details of what you are and are not allowed to modify should be included in your apartment rental agreement. If you are someone that enjoys decorating and making a space truly yours, this could be a big factor in deciding whether or not a specific apartment will work for you.

  1. When does the lease expire?

Make sure you fully understand the date that your lease expires on. In most cases, you will have until the end of the day that your lease expires to move out of your place, but this will be further detailed in your lease agreement. Before signing rental agreement, also think about lease renewal stipulations. If you are considering living in the apartment for longer than your initial lease term, it is important to know if the rental rate will increase and, if so, by how much.

  1. Are you allowed to rent out a spare bedroom or use your apartment as a short-term rental?

If you are interested in making some extra money, renting out a spare room in your apartment could be a good idea for you. Think about posting your spare bedroom or your entire apartment on a short-term rental hosting service like Airbnb or VRBO. If you rent out just a spare bedroom, you are able to continue living in your apartment and will have to manage having an occasional guest around to share your bathroom, kitchen, and other common spaces. If you list your entire apartment as a short-term rental, be prepared to stay with a friend or family when your space is rented.

Before considering this option, be sure you understand the local laws and laws of your apartment complex regarding short-term rentals. Doing so might not be allowed in your specific apartment building so be sure to carefully read your lease or talk to your property manager. Additionally, some local jurisdictions have laws banning short-term rentals so do some research on local laws before listing your property for rent.