Lesson #1: Complete This Apartment Check-List

Terrible apartment luck — we’ll start there.  My stories will follow, as this is a longer “lesson learned” entry than I plan the others to be.

I created this checklist for all renters.  It may seem a little time-intensive, but a little time at the beginning can save A LOT of time, money and stress at the end.  Enjoy, copy, use, and feel free to add to the list with comments!

“The New Apartment Checklist”

___  Research the apartment online before signing the lease.  The problems / perks you see will become your problems and perks.  Visit ALL of these websites:  (Yelp, ApartmentRatings.com, ApartmentReviews.net).

___  See at least 5 places before deciding.  Do not give into pressure by the building management to sign a lease or put down a deposit before truly ready.

___  Use an apartment finding service or local realtor (for condo rentals), if available in the area.  These are typically free, as the lessor pays a fee for them, and can yield results you wouldn’t have otherwise found.

___  Are electric and gas on in the unit?  If not, call providers and ask about establishing service in the unit BEFORE signing the lease.  If previous tenants were delinquent on account, reestablishing service can take weeks.

___  How old is the building?  If built before 1978, ask about reports of lead in the paint / bathtub / water, etc.  Purchase an over-the-counter lead-test kit, and test bathtub and any areas of chipping paint.

___  DO NOT sign off on anything without reading every line, and confirming that the information about condition of the apartment is true.  DO NOT take anyone’s word; see it for yourself.

___  Ask about sublet options, and make sure these are clearly defined.  Life happens, and you never know if you may need to be excused from the lease.

___  If you have a car and will need to park at or near the unit, ask about paying for parking, if there is parking for visitors, etc.  Is the unit surrounded by street parking?  Check city ordinances for overnight parking, weather, and other parking restrictions: city stickers, license plate stickers, etc.

___  Visit the apartment at least twice before signing, at different times of the day (morning and evening).  And, if in an urban area, walk the neighborhood each time at least a three-block radius around your new home.

___  Ask about the other tenants.  Have any crimes taken place in the building or on the premises, are complaints often received about noise, have there been any issues with fire, police presence or bedbugs, etc.

___  Where in the building is the apartment located?

  • Immediately next to or in front of trash chute or elevator?  Anticipate noise.
  • Garden unit?  Ask about flooding / moisture issues.
  • Is someone on the floor above / below you?  Ask about noise.  How is the building constructed?

___  Double check the date on the lease.  How many months is it, and is this what you agreed on?

___  Take pictures of EVERYTHING before you move in.  (This goes for after you move everything out, also).

___  Ask about the average rate at which the rent is raised in the building, annually.

___  What costs will you be responsible for in addition to rent?  Is cable, internet, trash, parking, electric, gas, etc. provided?  If not, ask average costs for building.

___  Run the water in all sinks and shower.  How is water pressure?  Color?  How quickly does it get hot (if at all…)

___  Is there laundry on-site?  How much does this cost?

___  Are you living with a roommate?  How is their credit?  Are they experiencing any life changes that may lead them to have to move?

___  Are hallways / elevators/ stairs / doorways wide enough to move in and out your things with ease?

___  Is the building collecting a security deposit?  What are the conditions for having this returned?

___  Are pets acceptable?  If  dogs are on the premises, these can be a noise issue.  If you have allergies, pets in other units can effect you in yours, depending on ventilation.  And if you have a pet, an extra deposit may be required, there may be pet rent, or pets may not be allowed at all.

___ Are there move-in / move-out fees.  Many buildings in Chicago are charging hundreds to reserve the freight elevator on moving day.

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