Lindsay Smith

Like entering a new relationship, finding the right apartment requires being a little level-headed. You wouldn’t just run off and elope with the first attractive person you see, right? No– you’d want to spend some time making sure your values, interests, and goals are a good fit.

The same is true for apartment hunting: There are a few important things you should find out, before signing any lease agreement, no matter what else is pushing you towards renting the apartment. It doesn’t matter if you love the place if there’s a mismatch between what you need and what they’re offering.

The great news is that we’ve put together a list of 11 questions to ask while visiting apartments to make sure you find the right place for you. Ask these questions while apartment hunting to avoid finding yourself in a bad situation:

1. What are the lease terms?

Ideally you should already be aware of when the lease begins and ends before you even look at a place. But if you aren’t, make sure you know when you’ll be able to move in and how many months the lease is for.

You should also know exactly how much the unit costs per month, both in rent and utilities (they might even include utilities in the cost of rent) and what the manager’s late rent policy is– is there a grace period? Ask if there are any other common lease terms you need to know about, like quiet hours or restrictions on painting. Finally, look at what how the lease could end. You never plan to break a lease, but knowing ahead of time what you’d have to do helps you prepare for anything.


2. What does it cost to move in?

Each property handles moves completely differently, so make sure to ask what moving in will look like for you financially while visiting apartments.

For instance, do they require first and last months’ rent up front? Do they need a security deposit? How about any moving or elevator fees? If the move-in expenses are too costly, you may have to find a different apartment or put off moving to save up money – if that’s even an option for you.

3. What's your pet policy?

Whether you own a pet or just think you might want to adopt one, you should absolutely ask about the pet policy. Most importantly, are pets allowed?

If not, it might be best to move on–trying to hide a pet could be very costly down the road. If they do allow pets, what are the deposits and fees? Pet policies vary widely, but most properties will charge at least a non-refundable pet deposit (this covers deep cleaning after you move out and any damage your pet may cause), if not monthly pet rent. There may also be restrictions on pets, such as allowing cats but not dogs, or certain dog breeds that aren’t allowed.

4. How about your guest policy?

Most leases will mention a guest policy, but some are stricter than others.

For instance, in some places, having a visitor for longer than two weeks is not technically allowed (which means allowing your friend to stay with you for a month this summer may not be an option). In addition to affecting your friends, this can be an issue if you want to try and rent out a room of your apartment, such as through Airbnb. This might be a part of the guest policy or closer to a sublet, depending on your lease. Just make sure to know for sure what is allowed before you try anything.

5. Do you require renters insurance?

Renters insurance is another thing to think about while apartment hunting. Renters insurance provides coverage for your property in the event of things like a fire, flood, and often even theft.

It may also cover injuries that happen within your apartment. This type of coverage tends to cost very little per month, so it’s a good idea to get it anyway. However, some apartments require renters insurance, so it’s important to ask while making visits. You don’t want to be scrambling to get insurance the day before you move in, otherwise they won’t give you the keys (this may have come from experience).

6. How do I pay the rent?

The cost of rent isn’t the only thing you need to consider. At some point, you have to get the money from you to the landlord.

Most management companies will have a number of options, including online payments, but if you’re dealing with an individual landlord, this isn’t guaranteed. Make sure that they have good options for how to pay, most importantly that it’s something you’ll easily be able to do, however works best for you.

7. How are repairs taken care of, especially in an emergency?

Even if everything appears to be in good working order, make sure you check how emergency repairs are handled. You definitely don’t want to be stuck in an apartment with a broken heater in January for any longer than you have to.

Is maintenance available 24/7? How quickly do they typically respond? Also, ask about non-emergency repairs. Sometimes landlords and property managers will ask tenants to take care of those themselves and subtract the cost from the month’s rent. Whatever the process, you want to know ahead of time.

8. How secure is the property?

Ask the property manager to cover what security features the apartment has, including a doorman, a buzzer system, and anything else.

You may also want to ask about the neighborhood– is it a relatively safe area? Check crime statistics to get an idea of how safe the area is. Most importantly, walk around and scope out the area – even if the numbers are good, you don’t want to live somewhere that you don’t feel safe.

9. How often does rent go up? By how much?

Many apartments go up in rent upon a renewal of the lease . These types of charges aren’t always spelled out in the lease, so make sure you know going in how much you can expect to pay if you decide you want to live in the same apartment after your lease term is over.

If you’re looking for a long-term apartment, but the rent goes up by quite a bit each year, this may not be the apartment for you.

10. What is the parking situation?

If you own a car, parking should be high on your priority list. In many neighborhoods– especially in larger cities– street parking can be hard to find and expensive, so finding an apartment with a parking garage or lot may be necessary.

However, a personal parking spot or pass is often an added charge, so ask about the cost as well. You may not have a choice if you live somewhere that isn’t particularly walkable, but you want to know the cost upfront rather than finding out later.

11. Are there plans to update the building?

This question covers a lot of things you’ll want to know. Construction or other work on the building can be a sign of a lot of things, both positive and negative.

Construction in the building can mean you’ll be dealing with a lot of noise, as anyone living underneath a floor polisher gathering can tell you (again, maybe from experience). Renovated apartments are likely nicer than the unit you live in already, so you might get the chance to move once they’re completed. It can also be a sign that rent is going up to make up for the construction costs. Whatever it means, you’ll want to know before you move in.

There are always more questions you can ask, but these are some of the most telling and most important for apartment hunting. Take these with you next time you meet with a property manager to avoid being caught off-guard later.


Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash



About The Author

Lindsay Smith is a Chicago-based freelance writer who uses her deadline-oriented writing skills for clients like Apartment Guide,, Womensforum Media Group and Brafton.