The Ultimate Apartment Rental Checklist
Due to the patchwork of rental sites and markets, it can be tough to know whether you’ve found the ideal apartment. Not to mention, renting an apartment isn’t as easy as signing a lease and moving your stuff in. You need to perform crucial inspections prior to starting your new life in your new home.
So how do you know you’ve found the perfect apartment? One of the most critical steps to finding your new home is conducting an apartment inspection. To help you manage the process, here’s your comprehensive apartment criteria checklist.
The Importance of Apartment Inspections
As the world continues to go digital, the apartment rental marketplace is following suit. There are countless apps and websites dedicated to renting apartments from the comfort of your home — but is this the right move? Should you sign any kind of contract without seeing the apartment first?
Chances are you’ve heard the sarcastic saying: “If it’s on the internet, it must be true.” This joke is especially relevant for online apartment listings. Online images are designed to flatter because they’re supposed to sell the listing and get you in the door for an in-person visit (and in some cases, sign a lease without ever seeing it in real life). In the age of Photoshop and furniture staging, attending in-person showings is crucial.
Other reasons include:
- Run through an apartment building inspection checklist.
- Inspect the surrounding neighborhood.
- Confirm the condition of any furnishings or appliances.
- If you’re considering a larger apartment complex, maintenance checklists can determine whether this type of living is right for you.
- Make sure your apartment complies with safety regulations.
The majority of landlords want their tenants to have the best possible experience from renting one of their apartments. However, there will always be bad apples — especially with online marketplaces — and you need to protect yourself.
Apartment Rental Checklist: What to Look For
While an apartment inspection is essential, figuring out what to look for isn’t always easy — especially if this is your first time renting. While it’s easy to spot broken appliances or walls that need repainting, there are a few additional details that aren’t quite as obvious.
Whether you’re touring a potential home or you recently signed a new lease, here’s what to look for when renting an apartment. Checklist included below:
Prepare for Your Inspection
Before beginning your apartment move-in inspection checklist, make sure you are fully prepared. This means making a list of questions you have about the apartment, keeping your phone fully charged so you can take photos of anything that stands out, and so on.
This also means coming prepared financially. Upfront security deposits amount to one and one-half to two months’ worth of rent, and in super-expensive markets like New York City and San Francisco, your deposit could quickly add up to a sizeable chunk of change.
With your fully charged phone, take photos if you see any minor damage, such as chipped paint or poorly maintained fixtures. These images will serve as evidence if you run into any disputes over your deposit when you move out.
It’s also worth opening and closing windows, closet doors and cupboards to ensure they’re in tip-top condition. Make sure to have the landlord fix any broken cabinets, doors or windows.
Start with the Safety Features
Safety is paramount to peace of mind, especially when it comes to our homes. The last thing you want is to live in a place that could impact your quality of life or pose a risk to your health.
Begin your checklist for renting an apartment by asking the landlord about the safety features and checking them yourself.
- Look for fire extinguisher locations and ensure the smoke detectors work.
- Identify carbon monoxide detectors and ensure they work.
- Walk through the hallways of the building and note down safety features for your apartment fire inspection checklist, such as sprinkler systems and alarms.
- Familiarize yourself with the building’s fire evacuation plan.
- If the windows have bars, make sure they can be opened without a key and comply with any local building codes.
- Look for fire escape ladders in high-rise apartment buildings.
Data from the Federal government shows most private apartment buildings fail local government inspections because of urgent health and safety violations, so take your time with this step.
Examine All Doors and Windows
With a burglary approximately every 22.6 seconds in the US, you can’t be too careful. You want to sleep peacefully at night, so make sure to test all the windows and doors. Some points to focus on as part of your apartment tour checklist include:
- Make sure the locks work and are durable enough to withstand exerted force.
- Confirm with the landlord that the locks will be changed so the old tenant cannot access the apartment.
- Open and close all the windows. Do they stick? Do they squeak? Do they get stuck halfway?
- Check the windows for drafts (air coming through can indicate they’re not fully-sealed).
- Are the window coverings/screens in good condition?
Inspecting the access points to your apartment is essential to keep unauthorized people out and to provide an escape point if there’s a fire or other emergency.
Check the Plumbing
Plumbing issues are inconvenient for renters and expensive for landlords. Not only can it disrupt your life (if the damage is severe, you’ll likely have to temporarily move out), it can also lead to mildew and mold spreading through the apartment.
While it is your landlord’s responsibility to ensure the plumbing is up to the right standards, it’s your responsibility to flag any existing issues before and after signing a lease. Here’s what to look for:
- Inspect toilets and underneath sinks for any damp areas or dripping.
- Look for any signs of water damage (brown spots or bubbles on the ceiling, etc.)
- Make sure the faucets shut off fully.
- Check to see if the sink stops are working.
- Give faucet fixtures a wobble to make sure they’re tight.
- Examine any missing tiles or grout.
Test the shower to make sure there’s enough water pressure and that you have sufficient hot water. This step is extra important if you’re using a shared water heater.
Audit the Appliances
Even an unfurnished apartment typically comes with an oven, stove, and refrigerator. Some may even include washing machines and dryers. Major appliances are expensive and inconvenient to replace, so make sure to ask whether these have been evaluated during your landlord’s annual apartment inspection checklist.
Here’s how to perform a comprehensive inspection of the appliances:
- Test each burner on the stove, along with the broiler and oven.
- Look for cleanliness. Dirt and grime can impact the efficiency of appliances and reduce their lifespan.
- Ensure the refrigerator and freezer are cold and all the drawers open.
- Turn on the HVAC system and test the heating and cooling to ensure they work. If you smell anything unpleasant, there’s likely an existing problem that must be resolved.
- If using a communal laundry facility, make sure the facilities work and are only accessible to residents.
- Inspect electrical outlets. Bringing along a cell phone charger is a great way to test quickly.
- Flick the wall switches on and off. Does the light come on immediately?
- Note down the locations of any Internet, cable, and landline phone jacks.
The appliances supplied by your landlord aren’t your responsibility to fix before you sign a lease. If an apartment possesses these existing problems, it’s a red flag that your landlord may not pay enough attention to the property’s condition.
Review the Overall Condition
The condition of an apartment currently on the market is an indicator of the type of landlord you’re renting from or the property management company they work with. Poor apartment conditions indicate a lack of care and attention from your landlord.
For example, most landlords will repaint walls, replace batteries in smoke detectors and lightbulbs, and perform a thorough cleaning of the entire apartment. If you walk into an apartment and it’s dirty or poorly cared for, this is a red flag.
Here are some of the general items to look for in each room of an apartment:
- Don’t forget to look up at the ceilings for any signs of water damage.
- Note down any peeling paint, torn wallpaper, and any stains or cracks in the drywall.
- If the apartment has carpets, take a picture of any stains or other damage.
- Pull back closet doors and other pieces of furniture for signs of insects and rodents. Chew marks, scratches, and droppings are common indicators of infestation.
- Open and close any blinds or curtains.
The results of your inspection should tell you whether it’s a worthwhile apartment to rent. Minor problems after tenants have moved out may not be the landlord’s fault, so don’t knock a place if it has a few small issues. Chances are the landlord simply hasn’t had time to repaint or re-carpet. If you’re looking at the perfect apartment but it needs a little TLC, discuss your options with the landlord. If you come to an agreement, get their promise to deliver services in writing.
Inspect the Apartment from the Outside
One of the areas most people miss is the exterior condition of their apartment. Confining your apartment rental checklist to the inside means you could be missing out on the telltale signs of structural or foundational problems.
Take a walk and check the outdoor conditions. Talk to your landlord about the building itself. Important questions to ask include:
- How old is the roof?
- How often are the gutters cleaned?
- Are garages and covered parking stalls well-maintained?
- What are the security arrangements for this apartment building?
- Is the lawn adequately maintained? How often do lawn care services come by?
- Have there ever been bed bugs in this building? If so, when?
- How often are communal amenities, such as pools and patios, maintained?
Ultimately, listen to your gut. If the landlord is being cagey in their responses or you notice mold in the downstairs lobby, it may be worth moving on to the next place.
Red Flags to Look For When Renting an Apartment
So how can you tell the difference between acceptable wear and tear and a poor-quality apartment listing? First-time renters in particular often struggle to draw this line.
Here are the red flags that should make you tear up your apartment rental checklist and go back to the drawing board:
- Cracks in the Interior/Exterior Walls – They could be minor and require some patching, or they could indicate significant structural damage. Don’t wait around to find out.
- Soggy Spots/Bubbling Paint – Widespread mold is extremely hazardous to human health. Water damage and poorly maintained plumbing systems are the most common causes of mold. If you see any brown spots in the ceiling or spots that look like water is pooling into a bubble, you’re likely dealing with water damage.
- Noise Levels – Apartments in downtown areas should have sufficient soundproofing. This can come in the form of double-paned windows, well-insulated walls, and more. Ask your landlord what soundproofing measures have been put into place. Just remember, no place can keep all noise out — especially in big cities.
- Poor Security – Your security should be our #1 priority. If you enter a building and don’t feel safe, you get an unsettling vibe from your landlord or neighbors in the hall, or feel nervous in the neighborhood, don’t sign a lease. Even if you feel relatively safe in the neighborhood and building, ask your landlord what security measures are in place (i.e. security cameras, deadbolt locks, etc.)
- Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Detectors – Even in the safest neighborhoods, a building without carbon monoxide and smoke detectors is incredibly dangerous. Make sure these detectors are present and functioning. You should also make sure your landlord provides you with fresh batteries.
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