Questions to ask before renting a house?
September 12, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I go look at a house for rent, I draw a blank on what questions to ask the landlord. I've started a list from this site. What's missing? What do you wish you'd asked or looked at more closely before signing a lease? (Specifically for a house, if you can...) Particulars: Three girls and a dog looking to rent a house with yard somewhere in the 562 or 714 area of So Cal. I expect to be there at the very least a year. We have no appliances of our own, but furniture galore.
posted by Joannalaine to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure that all showers function as they are supposed to. One of our showers works great, but the other one only has hot water flowing from it, which makes it basically unusable. The owner is reluctant to fix it because he claims they would have to tear open a wall in the living room to reach the plumbing.

Find out before you sign the lease if the owner will be maintaining any trees on the property. We have an issue with a dead tree in the front yard that keeps dropping large branches into the driveway and the street. The owner of the house refuses to pay to have the tree removed. This is turning out to be a bigger problem than we expected.

We have great property managers, but they are only allowed to fix the problems that the owner will ok, and the owner is a bit of a tightwad, imo. Understand that you might be in the same position unless you are dealing directly with the owner.

You also might want to talk to the neighbors to see who used to live in the rental before you. We found out a few months after signing the lease that our suburban rental house used to be owned by a woman who was in jail for running a prostitution ring out of the house. We haven't had anything negative happen as a result, but it was still a little jarring to find that out after the fact.
posted by Brody's chum at 1:11 PM on September 12, 2008

"Where's the nearest bus-stop/train station/emergency room/police helipad/other noisy thing?"

The objective here, is to hear a different answer than, "Right outside the bedroom window."

You never seem to view an apartment while a freight-train is blaring it's horn and shifting cargo one block over, but that always seems to be what happens the first night after you've signed the papers.
posted by Crosius at 1:38 PM on September 12, 2008

Along with maintaining the trees, who is maintaining the yard? If there are flowers and ornamental shrubbery, who needs to feed/water/trim them? (And if the renter is expected to mow, etc., then ask if the landlord provides equipment.)

What permits are required, if any, for street parking? Don't know about the 714 area, but this is definitely an issue in at least some neighborhoods in 562.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:51 PM on September 12, 2008

Bring a hair dryer and make sure all the outlets work. I've rented two apartments now where several outlets are just dead - it's good to know -before- you move in. Also try all the faucets and the shower to make sure the pressure is adequate. Take digital photos of the property (time-stamped), keep a copy for your own records and send a copy to the landlord after you move in.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:05 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Do you have any plans to sell the property within the time frame of the lease?" My boyfriend's last rental apartment was a nightmare because the landlord was trying to sell the place for the last four months he was renting. Apart from having to always keep the apartment in a ready to show condition, his landlord wanted him not to be in the house at the times when the apartment was being showed which was very inconvenient to say the least. Also try to get them to agree to only show the apartment to renters towards the end of your lease, say during the last fortnight.
posted by peacheater at 3:26 PM on September 12, 2008

"Is there any reason I'd be unhappy with this property?"

I doubt you'll get a particularly straight answer from many landlords, but their reaction may well be instructive. It can't hurt to ask.


"Are there any problem neighbors?"

"What do I do in emergencies? Who do I contact, and what can I do if they aren't available?"
posted by gjc at 3:29 PM on September 12, 2008

Not a question to ask, but any time I have considered moving to a new house/apartment, I have gone back in the evening and parked or walked around the neighborhood for at least 30 minutes. Neighborhoods can be drastically different, for good and bad, after things settle in for night. One example: I bought a home on a busy main street because the price was very low due to "the traffic." A visit on the weekend and on a couple different weeknights showed that after the traffic cleared from people going home from work, that "busy street" was practically empty, making it a very quiet neighborhood.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2008

To add to Fuzzy Skinner's advice, train stations can be quiet. I live near a busy train station and hardly every hear a train whistle. The tracks are elevated so the trains never interfere with car traffic. Because the traffic's never impeded, the trains don't whistle when they cross the roads.
posted by malp at 4:33 PM on September 12, 2008

Along with water pressure, ask if you can turn on a faucet to see how long the hot water takes, and look at the water heater to see how big it is. The hot water where I live can take up to 5 minutes on a cold morning, which is awful when you're naked and waiting for a shower. And I once lived in a place which for space reasons had a half-size water heater, so a shower over ten minutes got cold fast (with long hair, that's tough to negotiate).

They'll probably lie about rodents. If you can talk to a neighbor, you might get some answers; usually if someone in the neighborhood has rats, everyone does. If you see any evidence of termites, run the other way, or at least ask politely who covers your hotel if the landlord decides to tent.

Try all the exterior doors to make sure the locks work. Don't forget the door into the garage; we had the knob break on our garage door and, ha ha, no cars until someone came to fix it. We couldn't get into the garage from the front without the door openers, which were in our cars. There wasn't a spare. I guess a spare garage door opener would also be useful in this situation - ask if there is one, and also find out who has spare keys.

Find out about the laundry situation if the unit doesn't come with a washer/dryer. I wish we'd looked at the machines in our current complex; they cost a lot and they were made in about 1980, so drying clothes takes forever.

Small things, but they make a difference. If your place has rats, it really affects your quality of life. However, it also sucks to have to get up 5 minutes earlier to make sure you can get in the shower. That's half an hour of sleep over the course of 6 days.
posted by crinklebat at 7:13 PM on September 12, 2008

"Do you have any plans to sell the property within the time frame of the lease?"



If your prospective neighborhood has a homeowners' association, find out how annoying they are, and especially find out whether the owner has informed the HOA that they intend to lease the property. A lot of neighborhoods put a restriction on the percentage of houses that can be rented out. The owners don't always clear it with the HOAs. We're currently on the shit end of that stick.

Also find out how much inane bullshit you'll be expected to put up with on the HOA's behalf. For example, we live in a middle-of-row townhouse and we aren't allowed to leave our trash can in the front yard. It doesn't fit in the garage with my car. They want it in the back yard. They expect us to walk the can several houses down, around the last unit, and then back up the street to our front yard-- or else drag the ant-infested thing through the kitchen, living room and out the front door. IMO walking a quarter mile to take out the trash was supposed to end when we left the apartments.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 9:06 PM on September 12, 2008

Make sure every door has those little spring things that keep the doorknob from punching a hole through the drywall.

Also, if your shower is in the tub, make sure it drains well. You don't want to stand in water when you shower.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 10:13 AM on September 13, 2008

Pay attention to the condition report: specifically, note down any and all stains and marks on doors, walls etc.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:20 PM on September 13, 2008

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