Trying to find an apartment is stressful. Each passing moment puts you closer to being homeless unless you secure a new place quickly — but that doesn’t mean you have to sign up for the first place you find, even if it turns out to be a dirty cave.
There are a few red flags that let you know early-on that an apartment (and/or landlord) might not be the best choice. If you come across one of these, slow down, and pay close attention to the rest of the details. Here’s what to look for:
Do the streets look dirty? Are the neighboring lawns well cared for? Is the apartment near a highway? Highways don’t always mean a neighborhood is bad, but they usually come with an increase in traffic, which means an increase in noise and litter. When checking out your new potential neighborhood, think about what you want to go home to every day, and whether you’d feel safe on that street at night.
Don’t try too hard to contact property managers during your search. If it’s like pulling teeth to get the landlord to respond to you while you’re trying to sign their lease and give them money on a monthly basis, imagine how difficult it could be when you need something from them — like maintenance, or the answer to a time-sensitive question.
The condition of the property at the time of the apartment tour is one of your biggest insights into what your life there would be like, so look really carefully and take your time in every room. Check in every cabinet and under every sink. Look in the back of each closet and turn on every faucet. If these items are already in poor condition, or if you find evidence of pests, you have no reason to believe it would be any different come move-in day, even if the landlord assures you they’ll be fixing the place up before you move in. If they couldn’t get it fixed for the ever-important tour, why would they after they already know the rent is secured?
Also look outside of the unit itself. Are the hallways well-lit? Are the parking lot and lawn in good shape? Every piece of this property will influence your daily life, so consider it carefully.
Blanks in the Lease
Whether it’s the lease amount, duration, or included utilities, ensure that every line is filled in accurately and completely before signing. Any line left blank is an opportunity to be living in conditions you didn’t intend to sign up for. When it comes to legal contracts, it’s okay to be a stickler for the finer details.
Illegal Lease Terms
Familiarize yourself with your local tenant-landlord laws, and then look out for infringements in your non-standard lease provisions. For example, renters of Milwaukee apartments can’t have their security deposit docked for standard carpet cleaning or painting, and in Minneapolis, fees for late rent payment can’t exceed 8% of the amount due. Property managers should be well-versed in these laws, so finding an inconsistency likely means one of two things: They’re not doing their research, or they’re trying to sneak one past you. Neither is a good sign. Fortunately, illegal lease terms, even if you signed up for them, aren’t enforceable.
Deposit for a Showing
You shouldn’t have to put down any money to simply set up an apartment showing. If they ask during the tour itself, that’s still not a great sign, depending on what the money is for. An application fee is standard, but it should only be in the realm of $20 — just enough to cover a background check. If they’re asking for hundreds, or insisting they need a security deposit, don’t break out the checkbook.
No Applicant Screening
What’s that? No application fee because there is no background check? It might hasten up the process and save you $20, but do you want to live in the property or someone who will let literally anyone also live in that property? If they’re willing to trust their valuable property to anyone, they likely aren’t that concerned with ensuring it stays in good condition.
During your apartment search, keep your eyes and ears open. It’s a lengthy process, but it doesn’t have to be a scary one. Watch for these red flags, and check into anything else that raises an eyebrow. If you choose carefully, you’ll wind up in a wonderful, safe home.