Rules for Renting: What You Should Know Before Becoming a Tenant

Getting your first apartment, or any apartment should be fun! Here is what I wish somebody would have told me earlier that I know now.

1. Take your parents on a tour with you.

Or even your grandparents, aunt, uncle, mailman, etc. If I had known my boyfriend then, I would have taken him too, since he knows pretty much everything about homes, home improvement, and renters’ laws. Your best bet is an adult who is a homeowner and has your best interests at heart. I didn’t think I needed my parents to join me, because I was an adult and I would be living in the place, not them. The point is, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

2. Take a tour during the day. In fact, take multiple tours.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but not everybody does this. Seeing the house in the day gives you the chance to see things better, and at night, people might be in more of a rush to get home.

3. Talk to other/previous tenants.

Crucial, if possible. They’ll tell you how things really go.

4. Ask LOTS of questions.

As many as you can think of. Don’t worry about being annoying. A good landlord will want to answer everything to let you know they have nothing to hide, and give you peace of mind when making such a big decision. They should also know all the answers, or be able to find them quickly. Ask questions like:

- “How many properties do you own?” (If you don’t get an answer, this means they either don’t know how many-and who doesn’t know that answer???- or they have something to hide. If they have a lot of properties, chances are, yours may not be a priority.)

- “What is the quickest way to reach you?” (You may encounter problems that can’t wait until your landlord gets home from work, or until they have a second to check their email- maybe your toilet is overflowing, or the lock to your front door is broken.)

- “What should we do if we can’t reach you?” (Sometimes even the best landlords may be temporarily unavailable- no cell service, etc. That doesn’t mean your problems just go away. Ask if they have a list of preferred people you can call with a problem, like a plumber, electrician, locksmith, etc. They should be able to send the bill to your landlord- who would pay it anyway.)

- “When was the furnace last serviced?” (THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. I’ve learned that the furnace should be serviced every 1-2 years.)

- “What does the price of rent include?” Your rent may seem a little expensive, but may include trash and sewer as well as other utilities, making it a better deal than you would think.

5. Ask to see every part of the property.

The attic. The basement. The oil tank, if you have one. Every bedroom and bathroom. Test the locks. Test the smoke detectors. Turn on the oven. If the place has them, test the washer and dryer. Run water. Open and close the windows. Check the electrical breakers- they may not be labeled properly, and the parts may not be modern pieces you can still buy.

6. Learn your rights as a renter.

Did you know that in the state of Pennsylvania, you have the right to not pay rent if your landlord knows of a problem and does not fix it? Certainly there are other rights and laws that could be applicable, but that one is very important! DO NOT let landlords take advantage of you!

7. Find out how the landlords would like to be paid.

These days, many landlords are getting with the times and accepting payment online. Physical checks can take time, or even get lost in the mail. You also do not have proof that the money was received, and they do not have proof it was sent. Forms of online payment are better, but some charge a fee. See if your landlord will accept services such as Venmo or SquareCash. (I have used these before, and have not had problems with them.)

8. Test your phone throughout different parts of the house.

Maybe you have great signal in the living room, but not your bedroom. This sounds silly, I know, but chances are, you’ll need to make phone calls while in your house, and may not always be willing or able to move to another part of the house. Even worse if you have no signal at all.

9. Find out about the pet policy.

Many landlords will not allow pets (other than fish) but some will, often for a small fee. Consider if the place is even one to which you would want to bring a pet.

10. Consider purchasing renters’ insurance.

This will protect against issues such as fire, theft, or vandalism. It may be more important to some tenants than others, like if you will be living in an area prone to fire or crime.

While some of these “rules” may seem obvious, not all future tenants consider them all. It happens. Regardless, I believe that the best way to make a decision is to be informed, and I wish you happy house (or apartment) hunting!