Looking for a new apartment can be a frustrating experience — and can even feel hopeless, sometimes. From going to look at a place that’s nothing like the advertisement to finding the perfect home and having someone snap it up before you, the process can be grueling.
To help you weed out apartments quickly — and hopefully make the whole process easier — here are 20 things experts say to watch out for during your search. Review these tips and learn how to get the apartment that you want.
1. A Boring Location
Location is key, according to Sam Radbill, writer for ABODO, an apartment search site. “If you're moving from out of town, often you take the first apartment you see. But do your research and make sure it is a good personal fit,” said Radbill.
2. The Length of Your Lease
“As simple as it sounds, some landlords will not clearly state that a lease is six or 12 months, unless you ask,” said Radbill. In addition to asking about the length of the lease, ask what happens when it ends — and how and if you can renew it. “If you love your place and your lease ends, you'd hate to have to move because they put it back on the market without asking you first,” added Radbill.
3. Regular Rent Increases
One of the most important things to look for when renting an apartment is how much you’ll be paying in rent increases. "Make sure you ask about annual rent increases, which are typically based on property tax increases in your city,” said Radbill.
“You want to be sure that your rent won't be going up by $500 after just one year,” Radbill said. How much your rent can increase and how much advanced notice your landlord is required to give you varies by state, so explore your local tenants’ rights — and other tenancy advice — before you sign the dotted line.
4. Who Manages General Maintenance
“Try to talk to some current residents about maintenance service, timeliness in response to maintenance requests, as well as the overall ease of living in the building,” Radbill said. A simple question like, “Does it take five weeks to get your sink unclogged?” can tell you a lot about what it’s like to live there. “If basic maintenance is that slow, you might not want to sign a lease in that building,” said Radbill.
5. What Happens If You Break the Lease
Among tips for renting an apartment, knowing if and when you can get out of your lease — should the need arise — is key. “In many cases, job offers come or personal issues occur that result in a need to move immediately,” said Radbill. “Find out if you can break your lease. Usually, you cannot. But if you can, that might make the apartment a bit more appealing.”
6. Unsavory Pet Regulations
Many apartments have rules about pets — if you can have them, what kind, how many, size and even breed. If the apartment allows pets, ask if you need to make an additional deposit and how cleaning and repairs related to the pet are handled when you move out.
7. A Bad Interview With Your Landlord
“Of course, the landlord is interviewing you, but keep in mind that you’re also interviewing the landlord,” said Radbill. For instance, you can learn about any issues with the property — and what costs your landlord is covering. Keep an eye on how the landlord responds to your questions, too. If he seems annoyed, do some extra digging to make sure you and he will get along.
8. Damage From Previous Tenants
Protect your security deposit with a documented walk-through of the property. Taking photos of the apartment before you move in and the day before you move out can protect you from illegitimate damage charges. Save the pictures until you've moved out and received your deposit.
9. Noisy Neighbors
You might find the perfect apartment in an ideal location, but noisy neighbors can ruin the vibe of the place. “Be sure to go by the place you are looking to rent both on the nights and weekends,” said Steve Shwetz, a managing broker at Mesa Properties Inc. “Some apartments are very quiet during the work week and become party central on nights and weekends.”
10. High Crime Rates
Some neighborhoods seem safe, but what happens behind the scenes tells a very different story. “Use a crime reporting website to determine what crimes have been reported in the surrounding neighborhood," said Shwetz. “You may think it’s safe, but a crime map will give you an unbiased picture.”
11. Unfinished Renovations
Sometimes, landlords will start showing an apartment in the middle or near the end of renovations. “Never sign a lease on a unit until it is move-in ready,” said Shwetz.
“Once you sign that lease, landlords can sometimes become a little squishy on doing final repairs,” said Shwetz. If you’re interested in an apartment with unfinished work, get any promises in writing from the landlord.
12. Dirty Floors and Dingy Paint
“When doing a walk-through, you should make sure the apartment looks like it's been cleaned and painted somewhat recently,” said personal finance expert Amy, who goes by “Yetisaurus" on YETInvesting, a blog about making better financial choices.
“There will likely be a spot or two where the paint isn't perfect or the cleaners missed a spot, and that's okay. But if it looks like the unit hasn't been cleaned or painted in quite some time, that's a landlord who's going to cut corners," she added.
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13. Mismatched Knobs
“Call me OCD, but I'm a big fan of uniformity,” said Amy. “The doorknobs and light switches and little things like that should generally match throughout the apartment.” A sign of mismatched light fixtures could be a sign of poor attention to detail.
“If there's one switch in a closet that doesn't match, I'll let it slide because it's nearly always out of sight. But if the doorknobs inside the apartment are a mishmash of different styles, that's a big red flag to me,” she said.
14. Messy Neighbors
“Pay attention to what the neighbors are like, and try to figure out if you're compatible,” said Amy. “Trash on the ground or old furniture next to the dumpster? That shows tenants don’t care about their surroundings and probably the landlord doesn’t, either."
If you end up next to a messy neighbor, any rodent problems or infestations they have could spill into your apartment. "Don't assume you will be able to change the other tenants' behavior by complaining to the landlord," she added. “If the tenants are getting away with their poor behavior now, the landlord likely already knows about it and doesn't care.”
15. Past Lawsuits With the Landlord
“Google the landlord,” said Michael Vraa, managing attorney at HOME Line, a Minnesota-based tenant hotline. “Many states have court records online so you can see how many times they've been sued to have repairs made or by tenants trying to recover a security deposit.”
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16. How the Property Looks at Night
“Most people tour apartments on the landlord’s schedule, which usually means during the business day. But the place is very different on a Tuesday at 10 a.m. than it is on Tuesday at 6 p.m.,” said Vraa. “Finding parking might be a bigger challenge then." He added that noise levels might be different at night, too.
17. An Absent Landlord
“Whether it’s the landlord himself or a property manager, you want to actually meet the person who will be managing the property on a month-to-month basis,” said Davis. “You can get a sense for what kind of person they are [and] how committed they are to managing the property well.” If the building owner hires apartment help to show the unit, that could mean he isn’t invested enough to manage the property or hire a dedicated property manager, according to Davis.
18. An Unresponsive Landlord
If you need landlord help and your landlord-to-be is unresponsive, it could be a sign of trouble, according to Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-owner of Spark Rental, a website designed to help automate the rental process. “If the landlord isn’t great about returning your calls when they’re trying to fill a vacant unit, how responsive will they be when there’s a problem that costs money?” said Davis. “If the landlord doesn’t return your call within 24 hours, keep looking,” said Davis.
19. The Credit Check Policy
“No credit checks are not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you happen to have bad credit. But it generally does mean less savory residents may live in the complex,” said Shaolaine Loving, a landlord-tenant attorney. “Even pricier complexes can have problem residents, however, so the cost of the apartment or amount of screenings isn't always a guarantee of quality of residents.”
20. Community Events
Some apartment complexes have community events the management organizes for the residents. “This could be a good sign that management is invested in trying to create a positive experience for the residents,” said Loving. “You could always ask if the landlord [or] management does this, or knows of residents who organize events like this since that usually indicates more camaraderie and goodwill between many of the residents.”
Barri Segal contributed to the reporting for this article.