If you’re looking to rent an apartment, especially for the first time, you may not know what to ask about. A few weeks ago I wrote about 5 things most people forget to check when apartment hunting, so between those tips and these questions there shouldn’t be any surprises after you move in!
1. Are utilities included? What additional charges are not included in rent?
The three main utilities are heat, hydro (electricity), and water. Most of the time in apartments, water is included. Heat may be included depending on the type; if it is a newer building with central heat, that’s often included, but electric baseboard heating is usually tied to the electricity costs.
The term “all inclusive” varies in definition, so clarify exactly what that means. If any utilities aren’t included, ask the landlord or previous resident for copies of recent bills or average utility costs so you know how much you have to budget for.
Parking is not a utility, and generally costs extra. Some apartments, especially in student buildings, may include things like internet and television in utilities, but this is not common. Storage spaces may also be available for an additional charge.
2. Is the building secure?
You need to feel safe in your own home. Ask how the building is secured:
a. Does it have video surveillance, and if so, where?
b. Does the building have controlled access using an intercom?
c. Are there staff on-site to handle any issues?
d. Is the parking lot secure or set away from the main road?
You can also search by neighbourhood or major intersections for local crime statistics. Generally, residential areas set away from main roads and highways are safer than busy intersections.
3. What are the lease terms?
Generally, apartment leases are for one year. Student communities may offer 8-month leases from September to April. The lease length is sometimes negotiable; you can always ask.
What the lease covers varies by landlord, but should always include the obligations of the tenant (paying rent, not causing damage, following safety procedures, providing proper notice to move out) and the landlord (maintenance, reasonable enjoyment, legal procedures). Always read the lease in full before signing – you must be given time to do this, legally – and ask questions if there are any parts you don’t understand.
4. Do you require renters’ insurance?
Renters’ insurance is always a good idea, so many landlords (including Skyline Living) require that you purchase it as a term of your lease. If it is required, the landlord may be able to refer you to a preferred provider to get a discount.
5. What Is the demographics of the building?
While landlords cannot discriminate based on age or family status, apartment communities often tend more towards certain demographics, depending on the location, price, and amenities. For example, buildings near colleges that are fairly inexpensive will probably have more students. Expensive apartments near a golf course tend to attract seniors.
These will be your neighbours, and it helps to avoid conflict if everyone has the same expectations. In student buildings, weekend noise may be acceptable, but not during exam weeks. Seniors may expect quiet after 10 p.m. If you live somewhere that doesn’t match your lifestyle, this can lead to conflict with your neighbours later on.
6. How are maintenance requests and emergencies handled?
Smaller landlords may have one person covering many properties, so maintenance requests might take longer. Huge landlords may have a centralized system with a 1-800 number to call, or online maintenance request forms. Some landlords provide on-site staff and 24hr emergency service, which often means faster repairs. Ask the landlord about real scenarios, such as a flooding bathroom at 2 a.m., and see how they would handle it.
7. Are there any upcoming renovations/construction projects that will affect residents?
Legally, a landlord must inform any potential resident of upcoming renovations that will disrupt residents, but it is always good to ask. Something like a 6-week elevator replacement may change whether or not you want that 16th floor unit. That said, major renovations improve the value and rent of a property, and by renting before they happen you can take advantage of lower rents.
If the landlord says anything you don’t understand or aren’t sure about, always ask. The staff are there to serve you and answer your questions, and you need to feel comfortable with them if you are going to live there.