Nicholas expected thin walls and ceilings, but soon after moving into his ground-floor rental apartment, he found that the woman living above him cranked her stereo at the oddest hours. After weeks of politely asking her to turn it down, or off, he gave up and asked the manager for help. The manager didn't help, and the noise continued, forcing Nicholas to move out a few months later.
While Nicholas didn't do his homework on researching his landlord, or upstairs neighbor, due diligence is important when apartment rental hunting. After all, finding an apartment to rent is easy, there are plenty of rental apartments to choose from. But don't let the the ease of finding a vacant apartment to rent fool you -- it could be the apartment from hell full of problems that you won't find without doing some homework first.
Find a good apartment manager, and you've likely found a good rental apartment. From making repairs to keeping the noise down, an attentive apartment manager is worth his or her weight in gold, or at least a lunch out. To find such a manager, interview them as they would interview you as a potential tenant, asking how they deal with problems in the complex and how fast they'll respond to your queries. Then ask a few residents in the complex, either by catching them in the parking lot, hallway or by the pool (but don't knock on doors) to find out how well the manager does the job. It could save you the expense of having to move before your lease is up, not to mention the headache.
To help ensure that you've found the best apartment in town, here are some other things to consider before signing a lease:
Is the apartment rental lease month-to-month or annual renewal? Whatever the term, per month, every six months or whatever, get it in writing and know that you could have difficulty getting out of it early. Is the apartment rent-controlled? Will you have to pay a broker's fee (common in cities such as New York and Boston)? How much is the security deposit? Are there move-in fees or any others, such as utilities? Also check on move-in requirements: Some apartments limit the days and hours that a new resident can move in so that other residents aren't disturbed.
What amenities are offered with the apartment rental? One of the most important is parking. Is there a fee to park? If it's on-street parking and not a designated parking space at the apartment complex, check for time limits and if parking meters are used. Make sure your car registration is up to date, and buy a resident parking sticker if needed.
Check your cell phone's reception, both inside and outside the apartment you're looking at, to ensure that it's clear in every location you'll want to call from. The construction of some older buildings can interfere with cell phone reception.
If you need extra storage, check with the manager to see if the apartment rental complex offers it for an additional fee. If not, see how close the nearest storage facility is.
Check if a laundry facility is on site, in the apartment rental unit, or if you'll have to trek to a laundromat. If the machines look old, ask around to see how often they break down and how quickly they're fixed. Some use a card system to pay for loads, which might be easier than collecting quarters.
If you have a pet, or even if you don't and are wary of hearing a barking dog at 3 a.m., ask if the complex has a policy on pets. Is an extra deposit required to have a pet in your apartment?
Other amenities to check for include air conditioning, an on-site gym, outdoor deck, garbage disposal, dishwasher, and new refrigerator and stove. And remember to bring a tape measure so you can measure doorways and rooms to see if your big bed and dresser can fit in the bedroom.
You want local amenities as well in your neighborhood, hopefully within walking distance. Check how close the local grocery store, restaurants, gyms, drugstores, nightlife, place of worship, library, park and public transportation is to the apartment rental on a site like walkscore.com. And take a walk around the neighborhood to see how close things are, especially to a bus line or whatever public transportation line you'll use.
Along with interviewing the landlord and other tenants about the apartment rental manager's responsiveness, ask how work requests are submitted to the manager. Do you make a call or leave a note? Is there a form to fill out? Visit the complex at night and different hours of the day to see how noisy your neighbors are, and if they're cooking fish all day. If the building is full of college students, and not retirees, then expect more noise.
Check out the condition of the entire apartment rental complex. Take a walk around to see what state of disrepair it's in. Are the problems you find going to be fixed? When? Is everything safe? If you see a stairway that looks unsafe to walk on, don't use it. Does the elevator work? Do things look like they haven't been updated since the Kennedy administration? If so, it may be wise to look elsewhere. Are walkways and the parking lot well lit at night? Do you feel safe walking in the neighborhood, or from your car, at night?
Finding an apartment is a fun and exciting step in life. Be sure to check out every aspect about your new apartment rental before moving in, and it shouldn't end up being a horror story to scare your friends with.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.