6 Questions to Ask a Landlord Before You Sign

Why should you think about questions to ask a landlord before you sign a lease?

Let’s say you’ve found the most amazing apartment in NYC, and you’re getting it for an unbelievable price! The only downside? The place has hideous purple walls. No worries; that’s what paint is for. So you sign the lease, and as soon as you get the keys, you’re going to slap on a few coats of Farrow & Ball Wimborne White to show off your apartment’s stunning details. That was your plan, anyway. But when your new landlord spots you with your paint cans, he makes it clear in no uncertain terms that those purple walls are here to stay — your lease clearly states that the apartment must not be painted. Your heart sinks. You’re stuck with the place now.

As this cautionary tale should illustrate, signing a lease is one of those times when you need to look very carefully before you leap. Here are a few key questions to ask a landlord before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Can I Paint the Place? Can I Make Any Changes?Some landlords are pretty laid-back when it comes to allowing tenants to make changes to their apartments. It’s common to require that renters simply repaint the apartments back to the original colors when their leases are up. There are some landlords, however, who have very strict rules about what changes can and cannot be made to their apartments. If you’re a tenant who likes to make a space a home, check with the landlord before you sign the lease to find out if your desired changes are acceptable.

2. Can I Sublet?If your job at the American Museum of Natural History suddenly sends you to an archaeological dig site in Teotihuacán for three months, you may need to have someone cover the rent on your apartment while you’re gone. If there’s even a possibility that you may need to be away from the apartment for an extended period of time, find out if you’re allowed to bring in a subletter or another roommate midway through your lease.

3. How Much Is the Deposit?In addition to first and last month’s rent and the broker’s fee, you will most likely have to pay a security deposit. This deposit is the landlord’s insurance to cover things like damage the apartment may sustain during your tenancy. The amount of security required is determined by the landlord. Landlords may require as little as a month’s rent or as many as six months’ rent as security.

4. What’s Included in the Rent?Find out if utilities are included in the rent or if they’ll need to be paid separately. That awesome rental deal that you’ve found may come with the caveat that you must pay for every single utility, including water.

5. Are Pets Allowed?One of the most frustrating situations for pet owners is finding out that the ideal apartment forbids animals. So make sure to find out whether Fido will be welcome in your new digs.

6. How Are Repairs Handled?If your apartment is flooded due to a major leak in an upstairs unit, make like a Ghostbuster and figure out “who you gonna call.” Ask whether there’s a super who deals with the repairs or if the landlord functions as Mr. Fixit. You’ll want to find out how quickly things like repairs are dealt with before you sign.