Six Questions To Ask Before Signing A Lease

Your meetings with a possible future landlord are decisive for two major reasons: firstly, this is the perfect opportunity to see how responsive and friendly or, on the contrary, how disengaged and unhelpful they seem in your presence. Their behavior during your first interactions might speak volumes about their personality and might therefore give you a hint about how they might act in the future.

The second reason why these first meetings are essential is because they offer you the possibility to ask more questions about the property, the landlord’s screening process, and hidden costs. Therefore, try to ask open-ended questions to find out as much as possible about the homes you are interested in. Instead of going for a limiting, ‘yes or no’ question like ‘Do you have a late fee policy?’, it might be better to ask ‘What can you tell me about your late fee policy?’. The more information you manage to acquire in the early stages, the easier it will be to choose a rental that suits you.

When would you like to fill the unit?

Although this might not seem the most obvious question, it is great to start your conversation with it. If you want to move in at the end of the month but the landlord is trying to find someone as soon as possible, you will most probably be excluded from the process from the very beginning.

This question becomes even more relevant if the market you are interested in has a tight inventory and demand exceeds supply. Looking for apartments for rent in Los Angeles or San Francisco for example, which are notoriously hot markets, will definitely be a race against time.

What should I know about your application process and screening criteria?

Apart from the rule of thumb that rent should not represent more than 30% of your income, there are also other requirements that landlords and managers need to take into account: prospective tenants should have a minimum credit score of 600 and also stable, verifiable employment, no prior evictions, and a history of paying rent on time.

At this point, you can also try to clarify what application and screening fees are in place. All these factors help landlords to avoid making subjective decisions, but they will also help you realize whether you qualify or not from the onset.

Can you tell me more about, rent, deposits, and cost of utilities?

Rent is the most important aspect when looking for your next home, but it isn’t by far the only variable in the equation. Deposits, additional fees, and utilities can place a rather hefty burden on your budget as well. Therefore, if you don’t want to be blindsided later on, it’s imperative that you ask your landlord about these less obvious expenses – only after adding it all up will you be able to correctly assess your possibilities.

What is your policy on early terminations?

At some point, you might be in a situation where you will need to break your lease. You are offered an amazing new job in another city, your partner wants to move, or you decide it’s time for a change. No matter the reason, an early termination is never out of the question. Each landlord can think of and devise their own terms, but you could be required to pay up to three months’ rent and give 60 days’ notice, even if we’re talking about early termination. It is better to find out about these terms from the beginning, so that you can start looking for something else if these conditions sound extreme. And above all, avoid situations where you might be required to continue paying the rent until the landlord manages to find another tenant to replace you.

Who is in charge of making repairs?

When it comes to home maintenance, the tenant is certainly responsible for disposing of the trash and trying to keep the home clean, and for using the fixtures and amenities properly. However, beyond this threshold, it would be better to clarify both yours and the landlord’s expectations when it comes to negligent damages and other, maybe more serious problems. Broken windows and mirrors, stained rugs and furniture, and holes in the wall can always be repaired using tenant funds, but leaky roofs or pest infestations are the responsibility of the landlord or manager. There are many other scenarios and possibilities, so make sure to cover as many as possible before signing the lease.

If you have a building survey carried out on the property, this will help clarify the current state it is in before you sign. The survey will be proof of the condition should there be any disagreements over who is liable for what maintenance work.

How would you describe your ideal tenant?

This question is an opportunity for your landlord to talk about his expectations and maybe even to tell you about some of his less fortunate experiences with other tenants. This might be considered inappropriate by some people, but both tenants and landlords have bad experiences and it’s better if everyone learns from them. If your future landlord complains about a tenant who was not taking out the trash or was constantly organizing loud parties in his home, you’ll know what to avoid.

Also, his answer will help you realize if you are the type of tenant the landlord is looking for. Even if you have a higher than average credit score and great history, the more tenants there are trying to secure that unit, the more difficult it will be for the landlord to make a decision based solely on your credit score and employment.

Whether it’s the first time you are looking for an apartment for rent or you’re a veteran in the field, these questions will help you be prepared ahead of time, so that you make the right housing decision. As a prospective tenant, discovering the not-so-obvious attributes of a property, a landlord or a contract is both a responsibility and a benefit, so make the best of your first meetings.