1. What will my total out-of-pocket cost be?
There are a lot of out of pocket costs other than paying rent. Do you have to pay for your own electricity, gas, water, sewer and/or trash? Ask the property manager for a cost estimate for each. You’ll most likely learn the average cost of utilities, but an average may not give you a clear picture of your total out-of-pocket costs over the calendar year.
Consider asking for the highest bill of the summer, winter and/or year. What about your initial signing costs? Will you have to pay first months rent, last months rent or both? Ask if your landlord requires an extra deposit for pets, even if you don’t have a pet – You never know when an animal may walk in to your life and it’s better to have too much information than too little. Typical deposit amounts vary from location to location, so consider asking locals what they usually pay.
2. What maintenance do I expect the owner to perform?
What maintenance does the owner expect me to perform? Will you be responsible for lawn care or will your landlord? If you have a problem with an insect infestation, who will pay for an exterminator?
What about a rodent problem or a fallen tree on the property? Will the landlord perform annual cosmetic maintenance, like power washing the exterior of the building?
Many renters don’t think about these circumstances until they have a squirrel living in their attic and their landlord won’t pay for professional help. Setting expectations with your landlord ahead of time will help prevent any sticky situations later on. Consider adding a maintenance addendum to your lease to set your expectations in stone.
3. What appliances will be repaired or replaced if they fail?
Landlords don’t always intend to replace or repair the appliances they provide. For example, it’s common for apartments in California to come without a refrigerator – if a landlord provides one initially, he may only plan on providing it for the life of the refrigerator.
4. Am I being treated fairly?
5. Am I allowed to paint or landscape the property?
Can you paint the walls of your home? Can you plant a garden, cut back bushes, pull up plants, reseed or otherwise landscape? Or should you leave the lawn as-is?
Review the answers to the questions you asked. Are you satisfied with your landlords responsibilities? With yours? If so, then you’re ready to sign your lease with peace of mind. Do you have concerns? Ask your landlord to compromise on the issues that are important to you. If he won’t budge, decide if your concerns are deal breakers and look elsewhere.