Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself:

If you’re a student, you most likely aren’t a real estate expert. It’s really important to ask standard questions about the flat you’re considering renting, so you aren’t caught off guard by the lack of amenities or utility expenses that you assumed were covered. We learned the hard way, and now we can make it easy for you. Below you’ll find a general list of questions you should always ask your landlord/real estate agency​ before​ signing any contract. Your apartment can make or break your university experience – check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Money

  1. Does the rent include any taxes, utilities, building fees, or other expenses that might arise during the stay?  In other words, is the rent amount all-inclusive?
  2. If not, where, how, and when are bills paid?
    1. Note: it’s important to ask about the utility bill deadline, as it’s not always on the first of every month.  If you don’t pay on time, your utilities might get cut off until your payment is processed, which can take upwards of a day depending on the country.
  3. When is the rent due and how does the landlord want you to pay it?
    1. Note: again, this may not be on the first of the month so always ask.  Some landlords prefer platforms such as PayPal, others prefer traditional wire transfers, and others prefer cash.  If you pay cash make sure you obtain proof of payment so the landlord doesn’t try to milk you for rent money you’ve already paid.  Using the method of payment that your landlord prefers also gives you more leverage if something in the flat needs to be repaired.
  4. Is the landlord covering wear and tear expenses?  Where is the line drawn?
    1. Note: let’s say you have an old coffee maker in your apartment and it breaks during finals week (nightmare).  Are you buying a new one or is your landlord?  Ask about the fine print or your rent can be more expensive than you’ve ever imagined because you’re stuck replacing old items that aren’t your problem or responsibility.  
  5. When do you get your security deposit back?
    1. Note: it’s very important to remember the exact amount you put down as your security deposit (it’s usually two months rent).  It’s easy to forget you have someone else’s money, so make sure to set a date with your landlord (preferably in the contract) when you get your deposit back.  Also make sure it’s not lower than you deposited (unless you broke something and they’re keeping a portion of the deposit as compensation; this should never happen unprompted and should always be discussed beforehand).
  6. What happens if you want to end the lease early?  How much of an advanced notice does the landlord need?  Are there any fees or penalties?
  7. Are there lease terms such as renovation restrictions, quiet hours, etc.?
  8. Is subletting allowed?
    1. Note: this is when you rent an apartment and then put it on Airbnb (for example) in an attempt to turn a profit.  This is strictly against most long-term leases and you could face legal action if you do this without explicit permission.
  9. Is the rent amount locked in the lease?
    1. Note: sometimes, by luck and chance and a confluence of events, property values can sky-rocket.  The last thing you want is your landlord trying to raise the rent amount on you, so make sure you will be paying the same amount every month and nothing can change that (have it written in the contract).
  10. How does the landlord handle & fund emergency repairs in the apartment?
    1. Note: your heater might break in the dead of winter.  This needs to be fixed ASAP! 
  11. Are there any non-refundable deposits affiliated with the lease agreement?

Amenities

  1. Is an internet router / wifi source already included in the rent and already installed in the flat?
    1. Note: as a non-European it can be a surprise that wifi isn’t considered a basic amenity.  Make sure to double check the wifi speed, where your router is, and who to contact if it stops working.
  2. Is there a washing machine?  If not, where is the nearest laundromat?
    1. Note: calling all Americans!  Dryers are not a thing outside of North America, bummer we know, make sure you have access to a clothing drying rack and allow the proper amount of time for drying (if it’s thick jeans, sweaters, it can take a few days.)  Be mindful of this while timing your laundry cycles.  
  3. Is there a dishwasher?
  4. Is there a safe?
    1. Note: it can be comforting to have a safe space to store your valuables.  Take advantage of it if you can.
  5. Is there an oven and stove?  Are they gas or electric?
    1. Note: no, ovens aren’t in every flat, yes you need to double check.
  6. What is the parking situation?
  7. Does the apartment complex have a gym, a pool, a lounge area, or other amenities that are of interest?
  8. Does the apartment have an office space and affiliated amenities, such as a printer, scanner, fax machine, etc.?

Location

  1. How far is your university from campus?  What’s the cheapest, fastest, and most efficient way to get there?
    1. Note: this depends on how important it is for you personally to be close to school.  Make sure to check the flat’s location in relation to the school, if you’re anything like Maria the American you want to be within walking distance, but if you’re like Leon the German being in the hip part of town is more important.  Think about this beforehand!  
  2. Where is the nearest public transportation spot, where does it go, how much does it cost, and is it worth getting a yearly student pass for said-transportation?
  3. What floor is the apartment on?
    1. Note: this is important because if the flat is on ground level, you could be subjected to nightlife noise and higher break-in risks than if you lived on a higher floor. 

Safety

  1. Who else has access to the apartment and the apartment keys?  You, the landlord, anyone else?
    1. Note: this may seem like a silly question, but the last thing you want is the landlord’s weird sister barging in on you during an intimate moment.
  2. Where is the fire escape?  What do you do and where do you go in case of an emergency?
    1. Note: make sure you’re aware of the stairwells location in case you need to leave your apartment quickly.
  3. Where is the nearest police station?
    1. Note: hopefully you never need this information, but if you have to run somewhere, that’s not a bad place to scare off a perpetrator.
  4. Under what circumstance will the landlord (if they do) enter the apartment without invitation?
    1. Note: they might keep something there in case of emergency, it’s always good to ask.
  5. How is crime in the surrounding neighborhood?
    1. Note: make sure you have the emergency contact numbers for your new home’s jurisdiction in your phone.

Policy Check

  1. Is there a pet policy?
  2. Is there a guest policy?
  3. Are there going to be “apartment check-ups”?
    1. Note: some anxious or newer landlords might ask to swing by from time to time to check on the condition of the apartment.  You should keep the space nice regardless of this, but it’s good to know if they’re planning on dropping by.
  4. Are there any plans to update / renovate the building for the duration of the lease?
    1. Note: this may seem like a silly question, but having construction workers tying up the only elevator for months on end is painful at the end of a long day.  It never hurts to ask.

Other

  1. Ask the landlord: would you live here?  Their reaction will tell you a lot about the property in a matter of seconds.
  2. Ask the landlord to describe their ideal tenant.

By Maria Pangalos.

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