Ten Questions To Ask Before Signing Your Rental Contract

Becoming a first time renter can be stressful. Between the packing and searching for a new place to live, the thought of renting can be overwhelming. Whether you’re a college student with roommates or a party of four, there are a few simple questions everyone should ask their landlord or property manager. Addressing questions up front means less confusion down the road, and can potentially save you hundreds in hidden fines and fees.

1. How does the application process work?

Whether you’re a first time renter or a seasoned leasing pro, it’s important to ask about each apartment or home’s particular application process. Especially if you decide to make an offer on a popular space, you’ll want to have everything ready to go so that you application can make it in first. Many management companies or landlords require things like proof of insurance, proof of income, a letter of intent from an employer, and proof of citizenship.

2. Am I allowed to make any changes to the apartment?

If you’ve got DIY fever, it may be hard to resist putting that personal touch on your new digs. Check with the landlord beforehand to find out what is and isn’t okay to change in the apartment. Some homes and apartments let you make any changes you want, while others fine you for any small change. Some apartment owners will be fine with it if you want to change things around, but only if those things are returned to their original form by the time you move out.

3. What is your rental payment policy? Is there a late fee?

Knowing how to pay is important, and knowing whether there is a fee for paying late can be even more important. Make sure you’ve got the payment process down before you ever pay your rent, so you can avoid fines and potential late fees. Find out when rent is due, ask about a potential grace period, and set an alarm on your phone to remember to pay on time each month.

4. Who pays utilities?

Some rentals come with one lumped price tag while others don’t. Ask your landlord who pays for what utilities, and make sure you know how to access and pay for your part. If utilities are covered in the rent, make sure that you have the contact information of your utilities provider, not just your manager.

5. What happens if I break the lease?

Breaking a lease becomes necessary at times, but it’s important to know what could happen if you do. Your landlord should be able to tell you ahead of time what, if any, fines are attached to breaking the lease. Often these fines are quite hefty, so it pays to plan ahead.

girl looking at water damage

6. How do I submit a maintenance or service help request?

Chances are you’ll need to submit a service request or two while renting. Ask for a phone number, email address, or website where you can submit service requests. Also be sure to have an after hours emergency number available for those Sunday night emergencies. While collecting the maintenance request information, get clear guidelines on what the maintenance team will take care of, and what responsibility falls on you as the tenant.

7. What are the terms of lease? Can I renew?

Terms of lease give you a general overview of the rental rules. Your landlord or property manager should walk you through these terms one by one. Your lease will be signed for a set amount of time, generally a year. Make sure to ask if your lease can be renewed at the end of a year and if there's a raised rental price at that time.

8. Are appliances included? Furnishings?

Some apartments will provide basic furnishings, but most do not. Most rentals do provide basic kitchen appliances, though, like stoves and refrigerators. Washer and dryer sets are sometimes included, so make sure to ask about that before you sign your lease. Remember to ask about smaller appliances like microwaves—some rentals require that you provide your own.

couple getting keys from a man

9. When did you last change the locks?

Safety is important, so you’ll want to make sure the locks were changed after the last tenant moved out. Though unlikely, an old tenant could have made a copy of the key, which means they would have access to your rental.

10. Would you live here?

This personal question gives your landlord or property manager the chance to tell you a little bit more about the property, the neighbors, and the general atmosphere of the rental. If your landlord doesn’t give a great reason for not wanting to live in the property in question, that may be a red flag.

As you set out on your new adventure, don’t forget to pack up your favorite DIY home decor creations, and to leave room for a few more fun projects.