Things To Know Before You Sign

Korok Chatterjee

Korok Chatterjee

12 August, 2020

Things To Know Before You Sign

This is a story we’ve heard over and over: “This place seemed awesome, but when I moved in I found out there were all these problems!” This is a (constantly growing) list of things to check when moving into a new apartment or house as a renter, as well as tips on how to avoid them.

Why is it important?

  • You can protect yourself from future disputes over your security deposit if you document the condition of your unit at move-in.
  • The move-in condition is a good signal as to whether or not a landlord maintains their property well.
  • Renting a unit is a major life and financial decision. The landlord should be completely understanding of your desire to thoroughly vet your future home.

The List

  • Fire safety: Are the smoke detectors operational? Is there one in every room? In common spaces? In stairwells? Where is the fire extinguisher?
  • Carbon monoxide detectors: Many states require residences to have one.
  • Fuse box and water shut-off valve: Locate them and see if you have access.
  • Doors and locks: Do they function appropriately? What barriers are there in place to prevent unwanted intruders? Do you have a dead bolt?
  • Air conditioning/heating: Critical if you live in a region with extreme temperatures.
  • Water damage: Do the ceilings and/or walls have wrinkles or discolored / dark regions? Molds are common. They should be discovered and annotated upon move in.
  • Wall damage: In particular, check behind the doors to see if the knob has damaged the wall.
  • Pests: Keep an eye out for cockroaches, mice, etc. Ask if there have been any infestations or if exterminators are employed regularly. Many states have regulations requiring the reporting of bedbug infestations.
  • Window functionality: What are the possible routes of emergency egress? Are there screens?
  • Blinds/curtains: Are they properly fastened? Are they easy to operate?
  • Floor damage: Take note of scuffs, scratches, warping, etc.
  • Appliances: If possible, check the operation of the refrigerator, washer/dryer, range, oven, microwave, garbage disposal, and dishwasher.
  • Cabinets and countertops: Check for damage and operability of cabinet doors.
  • Bathroom facilities: Does the hot water work? Does the toilet have a strong flush? Do the sinks drain and plug appropriately? Do the tanks fill appropriately?
  • Lights and fans: Do they function appropriately?
  • Electrical outlets: Consider bringing a small lamp to test them.
  • Towel fixtures, paper towel/toilet paper holders: Are they usable and properly affixed?
  • Closet space: Is there enough space? Are the shelves and rods stable? Sliding closet doors often have bent rails and are difficult to operate.
  • Mailbox: Is there a package receiving service? If the building has locker-style boxes, do the boxes open readily? Can you send mail? Is there a nearby collection box?

What you can do about it

  • Ask your landlord for referrals from previous tenants. Similarly, if you can, rent from someone with a well-established public reputation (e.g. a highly reviewed property management company) or a landlord who comes with a recommendation from someone you trust.
  • Ask the landlord if they can fix the issues before you move in. Alternatively, use the issues as leverage in negotiating a lower rent.
  • If you’ve already moved in and/or signed a lease, your landlord may be obligated by law to fix certain issues.
  • If your landlord refuses to fix an issue they are legally obligated to, you may be able to get free legal assistance from your local tenant’s union or rent board. Often, a strongly worded letter from an attorney is enough to force them to act.
  • Even if there is a court order mandating your landlord to fix the issue, they may simply refuse to act, relying on lax or delayed enforcement to evade the expense. In this case, you may be able to petition your rent board for a rent reduction for decrease in services or withhold payment of rent.

Above all, be informed before you rent. Always vet the property you’ll be living in, always make sure there’s a legitimate lease, and learn as much as you can about your local, state, and federal renter’s protection laws.

Thank you to Eileen Pan and Unsplash for the cover photo.