The most important questions to ask when looking for a rental home

How many times have you heard people go on about the qualms of renting an apartment? There's just too many things to think about! Even when you think you've asked every single question- poof- another dozen pop into your head.

We want to make the rental process as easy as possible for you. 😊 That's why we've curated a list of questions you should keep in mind when looking for a home.

#1. Should you view the actual rental unit?

All we have to say is- YES. 👍 Viewing the actual unit you're planning on renting is extremely important! Some buildings will want to show you a sample unit or a similar apartment. Yet, you can't properly check the appliances and amenities of the apartment like that. Sample apartments may also slightly differ in size or room layouts.

#2. When is the landlord looking for someone to move into the apartment? 

We don't want to waste our time while searching for an apartment. So, start with this important question: when is the landlord looking to fill their unit? A landlord's move-in dates might not align with yours. So, be sure to establish this before doing anything else. 

PRO TIP: Now, many landlords will try to 'sell' you a rental apartment. A common phrase they might say is "you better hop on this apartment fast, or else it'll be gone by the end of the day." Of course, you should gauge the situation. If you're searching in the NYC market, they're probably right. But in many instances, landlords want their apartments rented out. Don't feel pressured to apply to apartments you're not sold on just because of their sales tactics. 

#3. Who should you ask your rental questions to?

So, we all know that the majority of your questions are asked to the landlord. But don't stop there. If you get the chance, try talking to tenants that live in the building too. They'll be the ones that can give you the real inside scoop. 😏

#4. What's the area like during the day, afternoon, and night? 

If at all possible, drive through the neighborhood during various times of the day. We're talking morning, afternoon, and night. Many places look great in the daylight, but it's true colors set in at night. You can also look at the area's crime rates to ensure your safety. We also can't fail to mention the light and noise pollution. For our city dwellers, if you live on a major road, expect a lot of noise 24/7. 

PRO TIP: This is a harder ask, but viewing the apartment during a rainy or snowy day can be very beneficial. You can see if the building has faulty construction or draining after a rainstorm. Some landlords go as far as to cover up water damage with random wood boards or tarps. 😰

#5. Why did the last tenant leave?

This one is a little more complicated. You can only hope the landlord will be honest, but that may not always be the case. Still, the answer might reveal itself in their reaction. If the landlord badmouths the previous tenant, that's not exactly a good sign. Professionalism reigns supreme. If they seem upset over the question, that could also be a red flag. Look for a calm reaction and polite answer.

#6. Have there been any reports of bugs or pests? 

No landlord will likely hop on the opportunity to let you know they've had a pest problem, but you may as well ask. Their reaction may be a good telltale sign of the true answer to this question. Look in the nooks, cracks, and crannies for any pest or bug traps. It also doesn't hurt to inspect the stairwell or basement (if they have one). We've seen apartment buildings that had cockroaches crawling up the hallway walls. And, guess what? Lo and behold there were cockroach traps under the fridge and in the cabinets throughout the unit. 😱

#7. Do you see any significant maintenance problems? 

One of our worst nightmares is having to deal with maintenance issues in our rental unit. It's a clogged drain here, mold on the walls there. Look around to see if you see cracks in the walls, defective appliances, or clogged pipes. Also, check very carefully for water damage and mold. Serious problems like mold can have negative health impacts, so you'll want to watch out for that! 

#8. How are maintenance issues handled? 

Who are you supposed to call when you get a clogged pipe? Is there maintenance on-site? Gather all the relevant contact information. Also, inquire on how long it takes for maintenance issues to get resolved. Some landlords do the repairs themselves. Other buildings call external professionals, so repairs take longer. A bonus would also be to know what maintenance issues are your responsibility (ex. burnt light bulbs). 

#9. What is the average cost of utilities? 

This is especially important if you're moving into a new state or city. The cost of electricity and water varies per region. You'll want to know how much the average tenant pays in utilities (cause utilities DO rack up on top of rent). 

PRO TIP: Check to see if the appliances throughout the apartment are energy efficient. 

#10. Is the building old or renovated?

All rental buildings come with their pros and cons. Yet, older rentals seem to have a hefty amount of cons. Heating and electricity can be more expensive. Appliances are usually older models (less energy efficient). If you live in a cold city, the windows might be single-pane and drafty. Meaning- more heating. Older plumbing may also create some issues. 

#11. Is the building under construction? 

There's nothing like some peace and quiet. Yet, one of the only things a building under construction has is noise. Construction usually happens at various hours of the day. So, if you work remotely or like your afternoon naps, this might disrupt your routine. 😅

#12. What's the situation with the water pressure? 

Pretty straightforward- test the faucets, flush the toilets and turn on the showers. For those that like scalding hot showers, you'll want to test the water temperature too. 😏

#13. What's the garbage disposal process? 

Many apartment buildings will have garbage shoots. But you may come across a few that only have garbage disposal outside. If the apartment is on an upper floor or you get snow in the winter, that may be inconvenient for you. 

#14. Should I expect any staff to enter my apartment unwarranted? 

Landlords will usually give notice if someone is going to enter a tenant's apartment. Ask how much notice you'll get. Also, it's good to know if the landlord will enter your apartment without warning or permission.

#15. Can you sublet or have guests over? 

This usually doesn't apply to larger rental buildings. However, smaller or private complexes may not allow subletting. It's crucial to know this detail if you plan on subletting (hello, college students 😅). Some rental units may also prevent you from having guests stay the night. We know- it sounds wacky, but it happens! 

#16. Under what circumstances would you be let out of your lease? 

Things happen in life, and sometimes, that means you need to get out of your lease early. Ask the landlord whether your lease has some leeway. It's also helpful to know if there are penalties associated with breaking the lease.

PRO TIP: On this same train of thought, ask how much notice you need to give if you want to move out or sublet. 

#17. Do you actually need to read your lease? 

Yes, yes, and yes. They're long and a little boring, but it has to be done. 👀 ANYTHING you discuss with your landlord should be included in your lease. Remember- leases are legally binding, verbal communication is not. Also, be sure to read over rules, charges, and guidelines. In many instances, landlords don't discuss these details in conversation. Then, tenants find themselves in unfortunate scenarios because they didn't know the rules. 

#18. Should you document the current state of the apartment or anything that's broken when you move in?

Make this step a top priority when you move in! Documenting the state of the rental unit with photos and videos (and timestamps!) is crucial. The same thing goes for any visible damage to the unit. It's not enough to just tell your landlord. Have written proof and photo evidence. This will guarantee that you're not stuck fighting for your security deposit back. 💪

#19. What's the payment procedure? 

Ask how you'll be paying rent and what day of the month is it due. While you're at it, make sure to clarify exactly what costs you'll be paying (utilities, internet, etc). Don't forget to ask about security deposits and application fees. Unknown expenses are never happy surprises!

#20. How do I pay late rent fees?

It would suck to get slapped with a massive late fee for missing a rent payment. Ask what the rules are involving late rent. Is there a late fee? How much is it, and what's the payment process? 

BONUS: Are there any items being sold by the tenant that is moving out? 

It may be hard to see this one through, but it's worth a try! The tenant moving out may very well be trying to get rid of their items. If you're looking for furniture, you might be able to get it for a steal. The best part- no pick-up involved!


There you have it! These are some great questions to keep in mind when searching for your rental home. 

Never forget- don't ever shy away from a question (even if you've already asked a hundred of them). You don't want to let anything slip by when it involves finding your home! 😩

If you have any more questions about the rental process or want help finding a home, reach out to us! Lighthouse is making it a goal to get you cash back on rent while making the rental process easier for you! 😊