Tips you may considerer on your rental process

Read the lease or rental agreement carefully before you sign or put money down. Ask about anything you do not understand. Look for hidden charges or penalties. If you sign the lease, you may be stuck paying those charges.

If something is important to you, get it in writing. Don't count on an oral promise.

Make a list of major problems in the apartment. Include the condition of walls, floors, windows, and other areas. Try to get the landlord to sign your list. This will help protect you when it comes time to move out.

Find out who pays for hot water, heat, electricity, parking, and trash disposal.

Find the utility controls. Ask questions. Where is the thermostat? Who controls it? Where is the electric box? Where is the hot water heater?

You have the right to know the energy costs for the living unit before you rent. If you will be paying an energy bill (such as electric or heating oil), ask the energy supplier for billings on your unit for the past 12 months. The company must tell you. Or ask to see the landlord's "Energy Efficiency Disclosure Statement."

Be sure that all utilities and appliances are working right. Make sure the landlord agrees to fix appliances, furnace and all other building systems.

Your landlord must show you a written "smoking policy." This tells you where smoking is prohibited and identifies any smoker-friendly areas. Your landlord can include this in the lease or give you a separate notice to read and sign. You have the right to know this information before you pay a deposit or commit to a rental contract.

If you share rent, remember that the landlord can charge you for all of the rent if your roommates don't pay their share.

Try to talk with another tenant about the building and the landlord.

Check about off-street parking, public transportation, and stores. Try to check the neighborhood at night.

Check to see that all the windows and doors can be locked and are not broken. Are there window screens?

Your landlord's insurance probably does not protect you from damage or loss of your furniture or other property. Consider buying tenant's insurance if you want this protection.

Be careful about putting money down to "hold the apartment." If you decide later not to rent it, the landlord may refuse to return your money. You can sue him in Small Claims Court, but this will take time. Also, depending on how the judge interprets your agreement, you may not get all of your money back. For example, the court may decide that you put the money down as a security deposit. More on security deposits.

If a landlord suggests that you buy a surety bond, instead of paying a security deposit, be careful. A few basic rules about surety bonds:
1. You cannot be forced to buy one. It is your choice.
2. You will not get back the money you pay for the bond, even if you owe the landlord nothing when you move out.
3. Although a surety bond can save you money in the short-run, it may cost you more in the long-run if you leave owing rent or damages.
4. Buying a bond may not save you from getting a bad mark on your credit report, if you leave owing the landlord money.

Get something to keep your records in. Keep in your file:
A. Your lease or rental agreement
B. Security deposit receipt
C. List of things wrong with the apartment
D. Rent receipts (or cancelled checks)
E. Landlord's address and phone number
F. All other papers about your tenancy

Before renting...

Check Your Credit Report
Take a look at your credit report to determine whether or not your credit history will present a problem when you try to rent a house. The website Credit Report suggests submitting a letter with your rental application, if your credit report reflects late payments, foreclosures, bankruptcies or other debt problems.

Rental Payments and Due Dates
Before renting a home, determine whether the monthly rental payment fits your budget. Ask if there's a security deposit and how much it is. Discuss with the landlord when your rent will be due each month, where you should go to make payment and what types of payment methods are accepted by the rental office or landlord.

Renting a home also means taking into account utilities such as water, gas and electric. Find out from your landlord whether you will pay a separate utility bill, whether utilities will be added into your monthly rent payment or if the landlord will cover all or a portion of your rental unit's utility expenses. Call your local utility companies, give them your address and get an estimate on your monthly utility expenses.

Maintenance Requests
Talk to your landlord about the maintenance services he provides before you rent a house. Maintenance concerns such as plumbing, broken appliances and pest control can cause renters stress, so it's important to find out who you need to get in contact with in case an issue arises. Also find out how long it typically takes for maintenance requests to get handled.

Find out whether you have to pay for a parking permit, or if parking is included in the cost of your rent. Determine whether there's a parking lot near the rental home and find out whether the lot has an attendant. Ask the landlord where your house guests should park during visits.

Pet Policy
If you have a pet or plan to get a pet, discuss this with your potential landlord in advance. Rental properties often have pet policies that either prohibit pets in the rental home, or limit the number and types of pets a resident can have.

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