Questions to ask your next Landlord about Applications and Fees

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When I used to show apartments I would have a loose script and staging that I would fall back to. At the end of every showing (and frequently after showing each room) I would pause and ask if the clients had any questions. Most of the time they would say nothing, so I'd move on.

In many cases when I was representing the landlord I would have had any number of questions in the back of my head that they really should have asked. I would gloss over things and fail to point out glaring weaknesses. They would not say anything. (I'm ashamed to admit one particular showing where I spent the entire time rooted in one place in the kitchen to "let the client explore and get a feel for the place." My foot was hiding a dead mouse that I had spotted on the way in and there was no way I was moving from that spot.)

I know it's easy in a showing to draw a blank when it comes time to ask questions. To make things a little easier, this is the first article in a sporadic series that will focus on questions you should ask in an apartment showing. A general warning: these questions are meant as suggestions. Under no circumstances should you ask every single question that I provide. The landlord will think that you're very hostile and likely to sue them if you use these lists as a script.

Today we'll be focusing on questions to ask the landlord about applications and fees.

  1. What up front costs are required to move in here? Admin fees, key fees, pet deposits, parking fees, condo fees, security deposits, background check fees, etc. and at what point in the process is each fee due?
  2. How long do you keep copies of applications and credit reports? What do you do with them after? Are they kept in a secure location?
  3. Who will receive a copy of my credit report? How do you ensure that my private data is kept safe?
  4. How much of the up front cash required to apply is refundable? Under what conditions is it refunded?
  5. Will you accept a copy of a credit report that I provide myself? Does it need to be in a specific format?
  6. What are your criteria for income, credit and criminal history?
  7. How many people are allowed to live in this apartment?
  8. Has every occupant in this building been screened for criminal history? When you screen criminal history do you check multiple states? Do you pull RAP sheets or just courthouse data? Do you verify each applicant against the sex offender registry?
  9. Do you accept online rent payments? Is there a fee to pay rent online?
  10. Do you accept cosigners or third party guarantors like Insurent?
  11. What are some examples of reasons for which you've deducted from a security deposit in the past?
  12. Do you provide lockout service for renters who lose their keys? If so, what is the cost?
  13. How often do you normally raise rent, and by how much?
  14. Do I have to pay for any common area utilities such as laundry room dryers or hallway lighting?

Can you think of any other "gotchas," bizarre policies or hidden costs that might catch a renter off guard? Let us know the questions you'd recommend in the comments, and make sure to share this article with your friends who are hunting for apartments!

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Published by

Kay Cleaves