Apartment hunting is rough. For one, you have to judge the worthiness of a potential home from a brief listing and walk-through. You also need to find a location, budget, and layout that all fit your needs and tastes. Sure, there’s no perfect strategy to find the apartment of your dreams. But there are a few big, fat red flags you should definitely watch out for.
Encountering one or more of these warning flags doesn’t necessarily doom the rental, but it should trigger your spidey senses and make you pay closer attention to all of the other details so you can make a well-informed decision.
1. Property manager is hard to contact.
You called, emailed, and texted your property manager days ago. What do you get in return? Crickets. A property manager should show you the respect of a timely response. If it’s this difficult to get them to show you the apartment, think of how difficult it would be to get necessary maintenance completed or your questions answered.
2. Maintenance is overlooked.
Look: No place is perfect. There’s bound to be the occasional broken item at any apartment complex. But there’s a difference between having a broken washing machine and an endless amount of “out of order” signs littered throughout the property. If you see any “out of order” signs — on the back door, the washing machine, the elevator — ask about the timeline until it gets fixed. Asking how the maintenance request process works, and how long it takes, is always good advice, regardless of the property’s condition. But if things are already broken and going unrepaired, that’s a major red flag.
3. There are no screenings or credit checks.
Good news! They won’t need to waste your time and ding your credit with a credit check. Yay, right? Not so fast. A property manager who isn’t careful about who they’re entrusting with their valuable property is not one who cares about the condition of their properties or the well-being of its tenants. A low bar is something to avoid.
4. It’s generally unclean.
Are the carpets stained? Is the hallway dingy? Is the lawn overgrown or a window broken? If your property manager doesn’t care about making a good first impression — and expects you to clean up after the previous tenants — they’re probably not really concerned with renter satisfaction. If they promise to have the unit cleaned between the showing and your move-in date, don’t take their word for it.
5. The lease has blanks.
Any blank areas of the lease are opportunities for you to be living in conditions you didn’t agree to. Are they going to write in the discounted rent they promised? If they promise to add included utilities or special terms, have them add it before you sign. Don’t be in a rush.
6. The tour is rushed.
An apartment tour is the best chance you have to decide whether the unit is livable and comfortable. If they’re rushing you through, they’re either not respecting the big decision you have to make or they’re trying to hide something. Take your time and check everything: Look under the sink, flush all of the toilets, turn on all of the faucets, examine every closet and cabinet, flip every switch, and look out the windows.
7. There’s a last-minute showing change.
You’re all set to take a look at your future home and then, suddenly, something throws a wrench in the plans and you have to instead tour a model or “similar” unit. If this happens, just ask to reschedule for a time you’ll be able to see the actual unit you’d be living in. That way, you’ll be privy to any funny smells, stains, neighbors, views, or other “quirks” that come with the package.
8. It smells bad or smoky.
Does your non-smoking potential home seem to smell a lot like smoke? Or just like a dirty basement? The smell will tell you a lot about the condition of a property.
9. The rent is very low.
Hear me out. If you’re on a budget, you probably think it’s insane to see low rent as a negative. But if the rent is significantly lower that what you’re seeing elsewhere in your city, it could be a bad sign. The listing could be a scam, an illegal apartment, or extremely unmaintained. You don’t need to cross it off your list right away, but don’t be blinded by the dollar signs.
10. A PO Box is required.
Not being able to have mail delivered is another potential sign that you’re looking at an illegal apartment. A certificate of occupancy should be enough to allay your fears, but if you’re still concerned, you can connect with your city’s building inspector.
11. There’s almost no parking.
If you have a car, parking is an especially pertinent issue. If you’re at the mercy of street parking, pay a visit to the apartment after 5 pm, when people will be home from work, and on a weekend. No one wants to pay $500 extra for parking a month.
12. It’s near a highway.
This isn’t always the case, but often, living near a highway can be unpleasant. Large highways attract a lot of traffic, meaning noise, light, and air pollution, which lower property values. Where the property values sink, so do community investments. This can create a pocket that’s more prone to crime, or you can just be left to deal with the pollution and traffic.
13. They’re quick to ask for cash.
Your property manager should not ask you to put down a deposit during a showing — or while you’re trying to schedule one. Don’t hand over a check so easily. Application fees, around $20 to cover the credit check, are typical. Handing over $750 as a security deposit before you’ve signed a lease is not.
Watching out for these 13 red flags isn’t a guarantee that you’ll love your next apartment, but they can shield you from a world of hurt: being duped out of cash, living in sub-par conditions, and not being able to do anything about it until the lease is up.
Have more red flags or apartment tour horror stories? Tweet them to @rentableapts.