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By Abbey Orzech
Updated on Aug 1, 2022
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff, Staff Editor.
Before you enter into a lease agreement, ask your landlord these essential questions to understand your landlord’s responsibilities, the amenities of the property, and other pertinent policies, like pet or noise statutes.
You can have major problems if you sign a new lease without understanding each aspect of it. The last thing you want to do is get trapped in a predatory lease agreement with an untrustworthy and neglecting landlord or be stuck in a rental unit that doesn’t actually meet your needs.
Asking the right questions will help you get a feel for the condition of the property and the trustworthiness of the landlord—so Jerry, the super app for car and renters insurance, has compiled a list of the 15 essential questions to ask your landlord before renting.
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Questions for renters to ask their landlords
Many landlords want to rent out their properties as quickly as they can, and in that spirit, they may not give you all the details of the available unit if you don’t ask for them. But it’s important that you ask—you’ll get a better idea of whether the property and the landlord will meet your needs as a tenant.
Before you sign on the dotted line, it’s smart to research the place instead of signing a contract partially blind, which could cause issues and tension plaguing your rental term. Here are some common questions to ask before you enter into a rental agreement.
1. When do you expect to fill the unit?
This should be the first question you ask. If your anticipated move-in date does not align with their desired occupancy date, you don’t want to waste your time.
2. What is the rent price and who is responsible for utilities?
You may think it’s obvious to ask about your monthly rent, but asking about utility payments may not be as top-of-mind.
Some landlords oversee the utility contracts and simply add the monthly charge to your rent while others require you to work with and pay the utility company directly. Ask the landlord how the building handles utilities so you can get a sense of your additional monthly charges.
3. What fees am I responsible for and are they refundable?
Many landlords ask for a security deposit before you can move in. Some states require that the security deposit be refundable while some do not, so make sure you head into this agreement knowing which category your state falls in.
Other fees that your landlord may charge include late-rent fees, fees for early termination of your lease, and pet fees or “pet rent”.
4. What are the acceptable methods of payment?
These days, many landlords take online payments because they are convenient, can be set up on an automated schedule, are easier to track, and go through secure portals. Otherwise, your landlord may ask you to pay with a check.
As a general rule of thumb, if the landlord tells you they only accept cash payments, they may not be the most reputable. It is harder to track cash payments and easier for scams to occur.
5. How long is the lease and can the term be negotiated?
Many leases stipulate a 12-month minimum stay, but some can be as long as two years or as short as one month.
If your landlord isn’t flexible with lease terms, you could be on the hook for at fees equaling two to three months' rent. If you need to stay longer and your landlord does not wish to renew your lease, you could be left frantically searching for a new place.
6. Can the lease be renewed?
On the same token as question five, you’ll want to make sure your lease can be renewed if you need it.
Landlords sometimes will only rent out a property for one lease term—they may be anticipating another tenant or planning to move in themselves. So if you’re planning to live there for a while, ask the landlord about their lease renewing policy or plan.
7. What is the pet policy for this property?
Those with pets understandably want to be able to take their furry family members with them when they move. However, some landlords have an absolutely no-pets policy that wouldn’t allow your animals.
Some landlords will allow pets but have restrictions on size or breed while others welcome pets with open paws. That said, all landlords are required to allow service animals based on Fair Housing requirements—but this is only applicable in certain circumstances.
If your pet is allowed, you may need to pay additional pet rent, make a pet deposit, or add pet insurance to your payments.
8. What is the process of getting something fixed, especially in an emergency?
You definitely don’t want to find yourself in a situation in which your apartment’s water stopped running or your electricity went out and you don’t know how to contact your landlord for maintenance assistance. It’s equally, perhaps more, terrible if you do make contact with your landlord and they don’t do anything about it.
Ask about the correct procedure for maintenance requests and if there is a separate process for emergency maintenance. If your landlord is evasive about this question or seems to have an unclear answer, you may be dealing with a landlord that doesn’t do a lot of upkeep and ignores maintenance requests.
9. How much notice do you give before showing up at a property?
As a renter, you have a right to privacy, which would bar your landlord from showing up unannounced. Most states require your landlord to give you at least a 24-hour notice before arriving at your property. If there is no specified time included in your lease, negotiate for one to be added before you sign.
10. How often do you change the locks?
In a perfect world, landlords would change the locks in between each tenant. However, this isn’t always the case—if the landlord doesn’t change the locks after each tenant, the previous tenant may have access to your home.
If you ask this question and they don’t change the locks after each tenant, negotiate a change of locks before signing the lease.
11. What is the subletting policy?
Subletting is when a tenant rents out a room or their entire place to someone who is not included in the original tenant-landlord lease. There is no standard policy on subletting so it varies between landlords.
Some landlords do not allow it at all, some allow it as long as the new tenant passes their standard criteria, and some put limits on the amount of time that a renter can sublet their place. Ask about your landlord’s subletting policy if you plan on renting your room or apartment to another person.
12. Are there any limits on decorating and styling the property?
When you move into a new home, you want to make it feel like your home. You may wish to hang pictures of your loved ones, add a funky color to the walls, or explore your hidden landscaping talent. Before undertaking your decorating plans, ask your landlord to spell out what you are and are not allowed to do when it comes to styling the place.
You may be forbidden to even put a tack into the wall or you may be granted total creative control—make sure your level of nesting matches the landlord’s decorating tolerance.
13. Do you require renters insurance?
This is another important question to ask when trying to figure out exactly how much this property will cost you each month. Renters insurance is not always required—depending on your landlord’s policies, it may be demanded of you or rendered unnecessary.
However, it may be a good idea to look into a renters insurance policy to protect yourself and your belongings even if the landlord does not require it.
14. Who is your ideal tenant?
This can sometimes seem like an odd question but its answer is important to hear. Pay attention to the wording choices the landlord uses and take note of any discriminatory language or insinuations. It is illegal in the U.S. for landlords to deny on a discriminatory basis. If they include discrimination in their answer to this question, it’s likely that they possess other shady qualities.
And even if you don’t suspect discrimination, you’ll get a good idea of the landlord’s expectations for you and whether or not you can fill the role.
15. Would you live at this property?
Don’t skip this question! Take it as a cause for concern if they don’t answer this question enthusiastically or if you sense dishonesty. If the landlord of that property would not live at that property, it may be a red flag about the upkeep or the location of the building.
How to find affordable renters insurance
Okay, so you’ve vetted your potential new landlord with these 15 essential questions and feel good enough about their answers to sign the lease. Your next step? Securing a solid renters insurance policy using the top-rated insurance app in the country, Jerry!
Not sure what type of renters insurance you need? Let Jerry make your decision easy!
After answering a few questions in the easy-to-use app, Jerry will send you custom quotes from top insurance providers based on your demographics, home value, and location, finding you the coverage you need to protect your home and your loved ones.
Once you make your choice, Jerry will take care of all of the details—including pesky paperwork. And, if you want to make any changes to the policy—Jerry can do that too.
“Jerry was wonderful! I used it for my auto and renters policies. I trusted it so much that I signed up my homeowners insurance under Jerry as well. All of the agents are amazingly nice and knowledgeable.” —Mary Y.
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What should I ask my landlord before signing my lease agreement?
You should ask all the above questions before signing your lease to make sure you’re satisfied with the property. Some key questions have to do with your monthly rent and utility payments, the length and terms of your lease, the procedure for maintenance requests, and the responsibilities of both you and the landlord.
How can I tell if my landlord is trying to scam me?
Unfortunately, there are landlords out there that rent their properties out in predatory ways designed to get money out of you without giving you much in return. Ask your landlord direct questions about the state of the property, their role as the landlord, and any added fees and deposits. It is a cause for concern if they evade your questions, answer in vague ways, or generally seem to be dishonest in their answers.