What Should I Look for and What Questions Should I Ask When Renting an Apartment?

There's a bit of a balancing act that needs to been done when you're looking at rental apartments. You can't spend hours poring over every square inch of the space, because you've got ten other apartments to see before it gets dark and besides, the landlord's hurrying you along, something about another couple coming in to see the place soon and they LOVED it last time, so... you know the deal. In a hyper-competitive market such as many cities are experiencing these days, you have literally about ten minutes or less to decide in your mind whether you would want to sign a lease on a place. And yet, you can't leave the decision entirely up to your gut feelings (though those are important: basically, did it feel like home when you first walked in?); there are some serious nuts-and-bolts things you should look for in every rental apartment you're considering, both because there might be some real deal-breakers lurking in hidden corners, and because you want a clear photographic record of certain things, to make sure you're not blamed a year from now for something that was already in place when you moved in. Here, then, are a few key things to look for before renting an apartment, all of which can be done during the span of average tour.

Checklist when Viewing Potential Apartments:

1.) Check the Kitchen Cabinets, and Behind the Appliances Open up all of the kitchen cabinets and look inside. Not just to make sure there's enough space for your basic necessities--though that's important and, if there's not, start measuring for one of those portable storage islands--but also to see to what ELSE might like to hang out in there besides dishes and pots and pans. You're not likely to see any actual mice or roaches, but there are plenty of tell-tale signs, most obviously tiny poops in the corners. Bring a flashlight. Oh and make sure you look under the sink, too, checking not only for pests but also mold, leakage, or rot. Behind and under the stove (if it's an older gas model, lift up the top as well... and make sure all the burners light, while you're at it), and in back of the fridge are also prime potential trouble spots. 2.) Open the Windows Do all of the windows open easily and fully? This is less of issue in newer buildings (although in new buildings windows frequently can only open a little bit, allowing little fresh air), but you don't want to find out after you move in that that the only windows in your pretty pre-war bedroom are stuck or impossible to lift higher than a few inches without lots of banging and struggling. If nothing else, it's a fire hazard. And make sure none of the panes are cracked; that's the sort of thing that tends to get more difficult to have the super fix once you're settled in. 3.) Electricity and Plumbing Another thing that becomes increasingly hard to get repaired after you've moved in? Non-working electrical outlets and broken overhead lighting fixtures. Flip the light switches in each room, and if you think you really like the place, quick plug your phone charger (or similar) into all of the outlets, just to test. As for plumbing, is the shower's water pressure within any sort of reasonably acceptable range, and is it clear (or dirty/rusty)? It's easy to find out! Ditto for the water pressure in the kitchen and bathroom sinks. Reminder--don't forget to check BOTH the hot and cold water separately! You also might want to lift the back of that toilet tank, too, and give it a test flush as well. Lastly, do you see any waterspots on the walls or ceilings? Have all past and present leaks been fixed (if they have, how come you can see the waterspots?)? Was mold remediated? 4.) Walls, Ceilings, Doors & Floors Finally, do an inventory of any cracks in the walls and ceilings. Does anything look alarmingly deep, or new? Has the apartment been freshly painted (if not, will it be painted before you move in?). You also want to make sure all of the doors within the apartment work easily and properly, that they close all the way, open without struggle, and that the knobs turn with the correct amount of resistance. And pay attention to the floors as well, checking especially for sagging or creaking boards, and stains, even subtle ones, in the carpeting, if applicable. If hardwood floors, have they been refinished, and if not, will they be before you move in? In the bathroom (and possibly the kitchen) is the tile all in good shape (not necessarily new), or do you see cracks and broken tiles? That can lead to mold issues as water seeps through the cracks and gets into the walls or floor. 5.) HVAC System Assuming you're not in an older apartment with radiator heater, and A/C window units, check to see if the HVAC unit is working. Can the unit blow both cold and hot air (note that in some systems, it can only blow one or the other, depending on the time of year). Are there filters that you need to replace, or does the landlord maintain them? 6.) Fire Safety Are smoke detectors installed? Is there just one, or is there one in the kitchen, one in or near each bedroom, etc.? Are they lit and in working order? Even better, does the apartment have a carbon monoxide detector? Does the landlord provide a fire extinguisher, and if so, is it just standard, or rated for grease fires? Is your apartment entrance a fire door (typically made of steel), and how close is the nearest stairwell/fire exist, or fire escape? And if you have a fire escape, is it maintained, or is is rusty and barely hanging on the building?
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