Whether you’re renting your first home or your tenth, there are things you should know before you sign a lease. There are some definite benefits to renting over buying, but because it is a legally binding contract, make sure you know everything about the place and the terms of the lease before you sign anything.

The most important thing before you sign is to go over the lease with a fine-tooth comb and clarify any details that are unclear. If you want to know what to ask your potential landlord, start with this list of questions to ask before renting.

1. Can I Sublet?

While you may sign a lease and move in with no intention of needing to sublet, things happen. Circumstances change and if for some reason you may need to sublet, you should know if it is allowed. If it is allowed, make sure you know the proper procedures to do so.

Subletting without permission or not following the proper procedures could result in the termination of your lease and cost you a lot of money.

2. How Often Are the Locks Changed?

Ideally, the landlord should install new locks after every tenant moves out. Even if the previous tenants return their keys, you never know how many keys they made or if there are any that were not returned.

Give yourself peace of mind by asking this question. If the locks haven’t regularly been changed, you might consider requesting new locks before you move in.

3. How Do You Handle Emergency Repairs?

It seems like things tend to go wrong at the worst times. If your heat goes out on a Saturday night during a polar vortex in January, how long will it take for someone to come out to take a look? Will your landlord pay to have someone come out on a weekend or will it have to wait until Monday?

These are important things to know before you sign a lease.

4. Under What Circumstances Will I Not Get My Full Security Deposit Back?

Your lease should detail exactly what you need to do upon move out. Check with your landlord about cleaning and whether you need to pay for professional cleaning or carpet cleaning. If you paint (with permission), will you need to re-paint upon moving out or will you be charged?

5. Will I Be Able to Renew the Lease?

Generally, leases are for one year, but if it’s a good experience and you aren’t ready to move, you may want to renew your lease. Since some landlords may be planning to sell, this is an important question to ask. They may also be planning to move into the property once the lease is up.

Of course, things may change during the lease term, but it’s worth asking this upfront so you can be prepared if there is no possibility of renewing the lease.

6. What Are the Average Utility Costs Each Month?

If you are responsible for paying utilities, you won’t want to be caught off-guard with a huge gas bill in the winter or electric bill in the summer. Ask your landlord for an average monthly utility cost for each one that you are responsible for paying.

If they aren’t sure, they may be able to ask the current tenant or put you in touch with him or her to see what the typical bill is.

7. Will You Ever Enter My Apartment Without My Permission?

Most states specify that a landlord must give a tenant 24-hours notice if they are going to enter the property for any reason. The exception to this, of course, is an emergency. A burst pipe, fire, or another emergency may require a landlord or their representative to enter the property without giving this notice.

It is worthwhile to ask about who would be entering your property, if the landlord will be with them, and if any background checks are done on employees entering your apartment. This is especially important for multi-unit homes or apartment complexes that may have an on-site maintenance person.

8. What Appliances or Furniture (If Any) Is Included?

When you visit the apartment, you might see a washer and dryer or other appliances that you assume are included, but then when you move in, the washer and dryer are nowhere to be found.

Ask your landlord about what appliances are included and whether you are responsible for any maintenance. The list of appliances should also be specified on your lease.

9. Has This Property Experienced Any Break-Ins? What’s the Crime Like?

If you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood, definitely do your own research to learn more about crime rates in the area.

It’s also a good question for your landlord, especially if there have been any break-ins at the specific property. If they don’t know about the crime rate, make sure you are looking into it on your own.

10. Would You Live Here?

Sure, the apartment you are looking at might not be big enough for your landlord and their family, but asking if they would ever live there is a telling question. If they are quick to say yes and explain why (or, if they lived there previously), that tells you a lot that you need to know.

If they seem evasive or reluctant, that’s telling as well. There might be problem neighbors, high crime, or other issues with the apartment you don’t want to deal with.

Cover Your Bases: Questions to Ask Before Renting

Before you sign a lease, cover your bases. Ask these questions before renting to make sure you have all of the necessary details before entering into a legal contract. Surprises after you’ve already signed a year-long lease aren’t pleasant for anyone.

When you’re ready to start looking at a new home, check out our rental listings online. We can help you find your new home in Spokane!