What did you wish you'd known before renting a particular apartment?
October 13, 2012 9:38 AM   Subscribe

When checking out potential new apartments, what problems do you wish you hadn't overlooked?

Obviously, some things can be fixed or improved, but what immutable issues would you ask about or look for before renting? I have obvious ones covered: water damage, pests, electrical outlets, water pressure, condition of appliances and fixtures, condition of floors, etc. Example: a friend once lived in an apartment next to the laundry room and was conscious of the noise/heat/smell/foot traffic. Now he checks the location of the laundry facilities before signing a lease.

In other words, what non-obvious information about your apartment do you wish you'd had before moving in?
posted by corey flood to Home & Garden (72 answers total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
Size of the water heater and whether it's properly insulated, and whether the hot water and cold water are hooked up correctly in the shower.
posted by mchorn at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2012

I will never again rent an apartment without waiting first to hear if the upstairs neighbors are crazy asshole "let's do construction at 2am on a tuesday!" people or not. Listening to the noise they make during the day is utterly worthless as a measure of their true evil nature.
posted by elizardbits at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

Noisy neighbors, smoking neighbors whose smoke blows your way.
Location of the pool and pool parties.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thinness of walls and how late the neighbors stay up at night. I little hard to check, though you could ask the neighbor to turn on their TV or something to see how the sound travels.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:48 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Age of the windows/skylights. Older windows and skylights make a huge difference in how insulated a place is.

Bumps in the paint on the ceiling or discoloration, which tend to be a sign of water leakage. If it's a rental, it isn't the worst thing in the world, but it can be super-annoying/unsightly and bad if you're sensitive to mold.

Also, in the city I live in, there are apartments advertised as having "central air". However, they don't have actually have an internal thermostat that tenants can control, and what they actually mean is that there is a building HVAC unit that pumps cool or hot air through a shared vent system. I lived in one, and it was miserable because when it was 100 degrees outside, they could only cool the building 10 degrees, and when it was wintertime, my apartment was frequently in the mid-80's. Also, I was inhaling the dander of all the pets that lived in other apartments on the floor.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How many windows open / airflow availability. I lived in an apartment that had two windows, both on the same wall, which gave us zero airflow in a third-floor apartment, making for some truly miserable summers.

Whether or not grilling on your patio/balcony is allowed. I lived in an apartment where my downstairs neighbors fired up their grill almost every night, sending grill smoke directly into my apartment.

Proximity to laundry room / trash chute / elevators / stairwells with slamming doors.

Whether or not the previous tenants had cats. Seriously, every apartment I've lived in where the previous tenant had cats wound up stinking like cat piss about a month after I moved in, after the "just-deep-cleaned-the-carpet-and-repainted" smell wore off. I have no cats. Cat piss just soaks into carpet pads and wood and is difficult to remove.
posted by erst at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't like to be next to the elevator. I like a good bathtub. If I can find any neighbors, I ask the neighbors about hot water availability and crime. I check the online crime stats. I also won't live next to a stop light or stop sign, because cars accelerating and decelerating is surprisingly noisy. Any kids living overhead? Are the floors hardwood, and if so, are area rug required?

These days I'd also look to see if the gas shut off was publicly available. It turns out it wasn't in my last place. If there'd been an earthquake/ fire we'd've been in big trouble.

I wish I'd known that my downstairs neighbor smoked so much pot that my room was perpetually hotboxed. (He was a lawyer working to legalize medical marijuana and looked like a walking advertisement for NOT legalizing it.)

And I wish I'd known that the soot and dirt from off the street was so pervasive that everything I owned would be dingy and I'd have perpetual ear infections.

I fled for the hills within 2 years.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Once I rented an apartment next door to a (literal) crack addict. Her dealer would come by on a motorcycle, and just drive it right into her apartment, which was one thin wall away from my dining area. Would not do again.
posted by Houstonian at 9:50 AM on October 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Whether garbage is stored under my window (either my building's or another).
The condition of the staircases and/or elevators.
Security of the mailbox area.
If the vent hood is actually vented to the outside or if it just moves greasy air around (even if you don't cook, your neighbors might).
posted by catlet at 9:51 AM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

As others allude to, visit the place at night. After you end work for the day (on a night you'll have to go to work the next day), go to the potential apartment using the methods and routes you would have to use every day. Hang out for half an hour or so to see what the post-work traffic and noise are like. Talk to your potential neighbors. Explore the neighborhood for a few hours. Come back around your usual bedtime and see how loud things are.
posted by Etrigan at 9:59 AM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: If the vent hood is actually vented to the outside or if it just moves greasy air around (even if you don't cook, your neighbors might).

All of these are important, but this one is almost as important as making sure your neighbors aren't horrible people who turn all their electronics up to max volume every night at 2 AM.

How tightly fitted the pipes are under the sinks. I lived in a terrible hole once where they'd just cut a huge hole under the sink that the pipes ran through instead of a tighter hole around the physical pipe itself. It was not a bug highway. It was the bug Autobahn. That laxidasical construction brings me to another point - find out how their maintenance is contracted. Do they have a handyman who fakes it, or do they actually hire real plumbers, etc.
posted by winna at 9:59 AM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How well (or not well) your cell phone works in the particular apartment, especially if it is your only phone. I've rented a few places where I got miserable phone reception and it is super annoying.
posted by mjcon at 10:01 AM on October 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

Oh, and not a dealbreaker, but my last apartment had no way to leave packages or get deliveries. NO. WAY. AT. ALL. If something came I would have to go to the neighborhood horrible post office or the UPS office the next town over.

I begged people to never mail me anything to my home, but it kept happening, and between my work hours and the post office hours, it could be 2 weeks before I could pick up my package, which was very sad if it contained, for instance, cupcakes.

There was also no way to buzz to let people inside. If your guest didn't have a cell phone, they could just wait outside on the (busy, dangerous) street, thank you!

Out of probably 10 apartments I'd lived in, I'd never run into that, so I didn't think to ask.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:14 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recommend you ask potential neighbours about what the OTHER buildings in the neighbourhood are like. I once lived in a quiet apartment building next to a lowrise where the most popular activity seemed to be cranking their music at 2 am so that the entire neighbourhood could hear it. This frequently happened on weekdays when I had to get up at 6 am to go to work. Not fun.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:20 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Flush the toilet and turn on the shower. Not at the same time. Just to check out the water pressure and drain capacity.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:32 AM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: When checking things out you might try to do it discretely. When I show a place to potential renters and they start with the white glove tests I cross them off my list, as probable complainers and litigators.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:40 AM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Make sure there are enough electrical outlets. The place where we live now doesn't have near enough (we are keeping the Squid folks in business). Also, make sure the outlets are installed properly--ours were installed upside down. A real pain.

2nd visit the place after work to see how noisy the place is. We once were all set to move into a townhouse--until we visited around 7 pm. Could hear the woman next door talking on the phone --sounded like she was standing right next to us. Could hear the other neighbors TV also. Needless to say, we backed out of the move and stayed put.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 10:40 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Street traffic--especially if you have two or three windows facing a street and the apartment is garden level. Second thing: is the neighborhood currently being gentrified? Is there a vacant lot or unoccupied building nearby? There's a good chance you might have construction nearby. That's fine if you aren't at home most of the day, but sucks if you work at home.
posted by katherant at 10:42 AM on October 13, 2012

Response by poster: These are such helpful ideas, thank you everyone!
posted by corey flood at 10:52 AM on October 13, 2012

I have lived in a lot of shitty apartments, so here is my list of things I didn't notice until I moved in:

-hot water and cold water were separate taps in the bathroom sink, which was charming but also really uncomfortable for face-washing

-kitchen had no drawers so silverware storage was a problem

-I had a porch but actually someone else shared access to the porch

-parking lot was right outside my window which wasn't the bad part until I realized it meant I was at the back of the building and had to walk really far to actually GET to my car. Convenient the time someone smashed in my window!

-Landlord controlled the heat & air--there was no thermostat and I didn't even think to check

-One window a/c unit in the living room, no windows for a unit to fit in in the entire rest of the apartment so I was always hot

-no laundry or access to laundry

-neighbors have annoying dogs/guests

-children upstairs

-no grounded outlets

-walls that posters can't attach to

-neighbors with pianos

-oddly shaped shower situation, which meant the previous tenant had cut and stapled the shower curtain in its current configuration

I'm sure there are more but the good news is, I managed to make all of those things work and you will too if the price is right and so is the location! Happy home hunting!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 10:52 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: After living in a bunch of flats that looked alright to start off with, I now check:
-That all the doors have doorknobs.

-That the bathroom has a lock, which works, and a decent fan.

-Whether half the electrical outlets are so close to the floor that most plugs actually can't plug in because the stiff "tail" end is too long (that was incredibly annoying)

-that the oven works, and more importantly is temperature consistent

-What the boiler and availability of hot water is like

-What the inside of all the cupboards are like (otherwise - surprise! this kitchen cupboard has no shelves and is entirely unlined so you can see the crumbling brick walls!)

- That all the doors close properly and all the windows open (we can only close two doors in our current flat. The rest have so many paint layers they are impossible to close. And every single window was painted shut.
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:59 AM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: Vist on a few different times of day. Eg if you only see it on a schoolday, you may not be aware of the hordes of screaming kids whose favourite weekend activity is kicking a football against your wall.
posted by KateViolet at 11:09 AM on October 13, 2012

Depending on what time of day you go to see the apartment, e.g. evenings or very cloudy days, natural light, especially in the living room and bedrooms. Also, overhead lights if that's a big deal.
posted by andrewesque at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: Neighbors, neighbors, neighbors.

The kitchen "isn't that bad/outdated," so "we can make it work." Most of us use the kitchen every day. It's going to drive you nuts.

"Oh, no laundry? Well....I guess I can hack going to the laundromat once every week and never being able to throw something in the wash so I can wear it tomorrow/get that stain out before it sets."

Lame water pressure in the shower.
posted by Miko at 11:22 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I, for one, will be very leery of ever renting a basement apartment again. I thought the one I rented would be OK because it was on a slope and had lots of windows. But it was also damp year-round and was by far the buggiest place I've ever lived in. (@#$%ing camel crickets. Yech.)

Other experiences I'll try to avoid repeating:
  • Lack of thermostat, lack of control over heat and a/c
  • Unfavorable garbage situation (there's no disposal and I can only put trash out once a week? ==> storing food waste in the freezer)
  • Landlord who makes sketchy claims while showing the place ("I just steam-cleaned the carpet and the steam-cleaning solution can smell kind of like mildew"—SHOULD NEVER HAVE FALLEN FOR THIS)

posted by Orinda at 11:33 AM on October 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Trash: where do you haul it --- a trash chute on your floor? how close/how far from your door? or do you take it out to a dumpster somewhere in the parking lot?

Laundry: IS there a laundry room, and if so where? How many washers & dryers for how many units? cost per washer or dryer load?

Pool access: does the building give out pool passes? are they STRICT about using & checking pool passes, or are you going to be subsidising the entire neighborhood's pool habits? (how many passes permitted per unit per day, and do they require ADULTS to sign for them and pick up, or are the building's kids permanently welcoming all their friends?)

Parking: how many spaces per unit? is there a maximum number of cars permitted per unit, and how about guest passes? Are parking spaces assigned or free-for-all, which makes a difference if you regularly come home after most residents? what's the lighting ssituation in the parking lot --- lots of lights, and by the way do they shine in your windows?

For highrises: emergency lights --- how many and where? any emergency power to the elevator?
posted by easily confused at 11:35 AM on October 13, 2012

Oh god I thought of more!

-I rented a basement apartment, and there were stairs inside. The landlord's dogs would stand at the top of the stairs and so my dog would run up there and they'd bark at each other. Also the lock was on his side so theoretically he could come down whenever. Neat!

-Also the crawlspace panel was behind my bed, so often he would need to be in my apartment

-WHY DID I NOT NOTICE that there were only two eyes on the stove which were attached to a sink and fridge? No freezer! And no cabinets! And no oven! (I am clearly terrible at picking out apartments)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 11:40 AM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: - As others have said, water pressure & how quickly the hot water comes on. (In my mom's house, you can wait as long as ten minutes for the hot water, which is a huge waste of water and time.) Low water pressure means you will never be clean again.

- WINDOW SCREENS. In my experience this is one of the best indicators of how good the landlord is. A lazy landlord will never, ever fix these, because they're not a big enough problem to be a dealbreaker (for most people) and they're actually pretty expensive to replace. An apartment with pristine window screens=good landlord, especially in an older building. Relatedly, storm windows, if you live somewhere cold or cold-ish.

- Do not ever rent a place with problems that the landlord promises to fix. The landlord will not fix them. Everything should work before you move in, unless it's something you can live with for the duration of your tenancy.

- Personally, I appreciate landlords who leave some time between the previous person's move-out and your move-in. If the other person has to leave at midnight on October 31st and you can move in first thing November 1st, the place is probably going to be a sty. Our landlord takes at least two weeks between tenants, which costs him a few hundred bucks, but it means that these places are totally spotless for new tenants. There is nothing worse than moving all your stuff in only to realize that every surface is caked in a thick layer of dirt and dust. Unpleasant, time-consuming to deal with.

- How much visible mildew/mold is there in the bathroom? What color is the grout?

- Seconding cell phone reception. If you don't have a landline, it'll suck if you have to walk outside to make a call.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 11:48 AM on October 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Nthing the parking situation. Does the apartment building reserve tons of spaces for people who pay more? Are most of those spaces empty because people are cheap (like me!)? This happened at my old complex and it made it terrible to find spaces if you come home any time past 5:30 pm.
posted by itsamermaid at 11:48 AM on October 13, 2012

My checklist from my apartment-dwelling days:

-top floor, rear of building
-window in the bathroom
-gas kitchen
-adequate closets

There are still going to be surprises, regardless. I once had the couple below me break up and move out, and when a new couple moved in, I realized that there was no sound barrier between their bedroom and mine. I could hear everything, everything, everything, and suddenly I understood the previous couple must not have had sex, ever, or I would have heard it. Go figure they broke up.
posted by ambrosia at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2012

Oh! Also, what is the landlord like? not part of the apartment, but can seriously, seriously have an impact on your experience. Is it a nice old lady who will be flexible with things, but also take a million years to get maintenance done? Or is it a huge management company that sticks to the rules ALL THE TIME, but has the infrastructure to get stuff done? Or something in the middle? Think about what's most important to you before you sign the lease.
posted by itsamermaid at 11:52 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, never again will I rent a basement apartment. It was renovated and looked nice but it was humid all year round and got almost no natural light, which turns out to be a big deal for me.
posted by ghharr at 11:54 AM on October 13, 2012

Check under the sinks. Are the pipes leaking? Are there big holes in the wall where giant bugs can crawl out of?

How do you contact your super in case you need something? Does the super live in the building?
posted by inertia at 12:14 PM on October 13, 2012

Think about what the temperature of the place will be like at other times of year. This is something you'll have to ask about and trust the landlord on, but you can also look around to get a sense of it.

For example, if you're apartment hunting at a warm time of year, what's the heating setup? Are there radiators or vents or what have you in the important rooms? Be sure to ask when the heat gets turned on in the winter -- I once lived in a place where the landlord turned off the heat during the day, which was pretty miserable the winter I worked from home. The same landlord also had a history of refusing to turn the heat on until tenants were on the verge of filing a complaint with the housing authority. This isn't something they're going to tell you up front, but at least ask the question and see how they react.

On the other extreme, The place I'm currently in shares two walls with the building's pipes. They radiate heat year round. This can be nice in winter, but is HELL in summer.

If you're looking at a cold time of year, is there central AC? Look at the windows. Can they be opened easily? Could you open multiple windows and get a cross-breeze, or is it more of a one window per room/one side of the building kind of deal? Are there windows that could work for a window unit AC? Ceiling fans?

Other good things to think about:

Natural light

Water pressure in the shower

Security - not so much "is there an alarm system" or "is the neighborhood safe" but stuff like, do your windows face out onto the street? Can people walk by and scope out your TV, your laptop sitting on the coffee table, etc? If so, are there bars on the windows? Is the area well lit? Will you feel safe coming in late at night? Are common areas secure and well-lit?
posted by Sara C. at 12:32 PM on October 13, 2012

Since I don't think anyone mentioned it yet: availability and options for internet service.
posted by box at 12:56 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My wife checks the electrical outlets in each room to see how many there are and how spaced out they are and how accessible they are after we had an apartment with outlets that were a pain in the ass and never in the right place (we have a ton of electronics that need plugged in). She's passionate about her outlets. Like if I'm getting a place without her being there, the question isn't about the neighborhood or the building or the closets or the bedrooms, it's "How many outlets are there and where are they?"

I see whether there's anything obstructing the doorway. We lived in a place with a floor-to-ceiling wall on one side of the kitchen and the doorway opened on it, which effectively meant any longer furniture (couch, bed, etc.) or purchases had to go over the balcony and through the porch door. Our neighbors across the hall literally had a block and tackle system rigged up on their porch so it wasn't just us.

After living in an apartment with just a shower stall I always get in and check the size of the shower stall because this one was so tiny if you had to lean over for any reason, your ass would bump the door open and get water everywhere and let cold air in. Nope. Not doing that again.

If it's gated, ask them how often the gates break and then say "No, seriously." All the gated complexes I've lived in always have gate issues and it runs from "Why am I paying for this crap anyway?" (never working, gates always open) to "Great, the gates broke so we all have to wait until someone comes out then charge the entrance" (never working, gates always closed).

If it's assigned parking and the unit is empty, go look at the space to make sure your car will fit (we managed to get two spaces once and BOTH of them had pillars in the way), then come back and check on the weekends/after 5 and make sure people aren't actually parking there because sure, you can have them towed, but when you've come back from the grocery store and some clownshoe is in your spot, you don't want to wait an hour for the tow truck to show up.

If possible, go there in the middle of the hottest part of the day. We looked at an apartment once with a cat lady in the building and the only way you'd know it was all the cats running around. But when that Austin sun beat down in the hottest part of the day, my lord, you'd choke on the cat pee fumes.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:15 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. Upstairs Neighbors
2. Whether the brownstone next door will undergo a 5 month gutting renovation (Involving various types of jack-hammers and destructive equipment. I think at one point they even used a small bulldozer.) that will take place when I decide to start my own at-home business.
posted by uhom at 1:16 PM on October 13, 2012

-One window a/c unit in the living room, no windows for a unit to fit in in the entire rest of the apartment so I was always hot

Along these lines -- will a window unit fit into the window? My bedroom has a large window that opens sliding sideways -- big window/small opening--so we had to buy an expensive portable ac with a tube that exhausts out the window-- and we had to create something that would fill the window around the tube.

(it's not a rental -- we own the darn thing.)
posted by vitabellosi at 1:23 PM on October 13, 2012

I once rented an apartment that appeared ready to go. But once I moved in, I learned that it was recently converted from a business to an apartment. As in, I was the first residential tenant. I had to go through the struggle of having an address set up with the post office, getting a mailbox installed, figuring out which propane tank was mine and setting it up with the company, etc. The landlord was little help with this whole process. I'm not sure what should be done to check that an apartment is actually an apartment but what a pain that whole thing was.
posted by veerat at 1:54 PM on October 13, 2012

In the future, I'll run the bathtub tap for 10-15 seconds to make sure that the drain isn't clogged. It's the kind of thing that is easier to get the landlord to fix before you move in.
posted by yaymukund at 2:17 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, reading comprehension fail. The shower drain is not immutable, so it doesn't count.
posted by yaymukund at 2:18 PM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: I have had particularly bad experiences renting places. I think my most major mistake has been to make assumptions because I'm an easygoing guy and it would never occur to me to rent out an apartment that had these issues. I always heard landlords talk about untrustworthy tenants but these days I don't trust landlords at all, either.

I used to hate big corporate apartments back in college but honestly I prefer them these days, because you know exactly how they're going to screw you in advance, and if you have a real problem it will eventually get fixed.

In summary never assume that there is air conditioning / heating, parking, that appliances are functional, that windows open, that the landlord doesn't intend to move more people into the place, that "furnished" means the furniture will arrive in the future. Never assume that your landlord has a functional understanding of local laws with regards to housing or tenants, or even gives a shit.

Look in spots that landlords don't expect you to look at, like underneath the kitchen/bathroom sink. That will tell you the most about how much they care about the place and if there are any plumbing problems like water damage/flooding it will most likely show up there. I mean, you never get the security deposit back anyway, but it would be nice. Also, when you do move in, take pictures of everything and document them with the dates.

Nowadays I try to find the former tenant or neighbors and see what sort of person they are, and find out why they're leaving. At that point they usually don't have anything to lose by telling you the truth.

Other than that, be sure to plot out your commute and figure out if there are any major problems with living in that neighborhood. Google maps is really awesome with the real-time traffic feature, definitely map that out during your rush hour traffic.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 2:21 PM on October 13, 2012

Flush the toilet and turn on the shower. Not at the same time. Just to check out the water pressure and drain capacity.

Flush the toilet, then turn on the sink before the toilet stops refilling and check that you have cold water pressure. Perhaps flush the toilet and try and get water of a reasonable temperature in the bathtub/shower. Also time how long the toilet takes to refill. My landlord's maintenance man has just won his multi-year war with my bathroom, courtesy of some major plumbing work in the whole building. When I first lived here, the toilet took ages to refill and would knock out the cold water to the shower (a problem if you get out of bed, pee and then shower immediately). Eventually, he ran a pipe from the sink to the toilet, which slightly improved the refill time, solved the shower's cold water problem, but the sink got no cold water while the toilet refilled. When there's only one person in the apartment, it doesn't really matter how long the toilet takes to refill (and mine took like 25 minutes at its worst), but it become super annoying when someone comes to stay. But given that it turned out the solution was running a lot of new pipe and cutting holes in walls of three apartments, I lucked out in that I have a landlord who's actually really responsive--you phone in the morning and the maintenance man shows up in the afternoon (despite this being a multi-year saga--I think it took a long time to realise what needed doing).

I'm not sure what should be done to check that an apartment is actually an apartment but what a pain that whole thing was.

At least in the US, you can go on the Post Office's website and look for the 'official' address, using the ZIP code finder. That should at least tell you if the Post Office doesn't know Apt X exists at that address.
posted by hoyland at 2:27 PM on October 13, 2012

1. Cell phone reception

2. Number and placement of electrical outlets

3. Age/maintenance/health of heating and cooling system (it was a loooooong winter)

4. Neighborhood parking norms (e.g., number of spaces and where, guest parking)

5. Water pressure and temperature
posted by Neneh at 2:46 PM on October 13, 2012

Ask how often the rent is raised. And by how much?
posted by cairnoflore at 2:48 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Go back and visit the block at night and make sure you feel comfortable there. Sometimes sketchballs who a realtor has shooed away for the viewing come back and you realize they spend 10+ hours a day on your stoop selling drugs.
posted by rmless at 4:58 PM on October 13, 2012

Beware of smaller apartments with Resident Managers. They're of limited value but are always around, becoming nosy sometimes, annoying and creepy.
posted by Rash at 5:13 PM on October 13, 2012

In summary never assume that there is air conditioning / heating, parking, that appliances are functional, that windows open, that the landlord doesn't intend to move more people into the place, that "furnished" means the furniture will arrive in the future.

Keep in mind that some of this stuff is a violation of housing codes or tenant rights if it's not provided. Housing standards and tenant laws vary by location, but if your apartment doesn't provide heat, hot water, or gas, doesn't have functional appliances, is infested with certain kinds of vermin, exceeds occupancy limits, etc. it may be officially "uninhabitable". You should at the very least report your landlord to the city for anything like this, and it could potentially end in a legal settlement with you being reimbursed rent for periods where a bare minimum standard wasn't provided.

It's worth knowing your local housing laws if you plan to be a renter.
posted by Sara C. at 5:25 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

- No doors if you have pets. I thought this wouldn't be a big deal, but it was a hassle to keep the dogs in/out of places with baby gates.

- Location of air vents. The one I lived in didn't have one in the bedroom which led to miserable winters.

- Agreeing to rent it on the condition that the landlord would fix some things, install a rail, etc. He never did.

- This may be difficult to do, but seeing the condition of the yard when the place isn't for sale. The landlord never cut the grass and it ended up being knee-high, and he never salted the yard either. The neighbors left trash out there. He went through bottom tenants frequently and the only time I'd see a clean/cut yard was when he was showing the place.
posted by Autumn at 5:50 PM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: "It will be cleaned before you move in." ...no, it won't.

Open the doors of ALL the kitchen cupboards--we didn't realize one of the cupboards doesn't open at all until after we moved in. Not only is it annoying, it's also indicative of the general attitude towards repairs and maintenance. And we should've looked under the sink--it was disgusting to clean out, for one, and for two, it would have been another tip-off to the general state of things.

We have a heating system with a timer, which sounds great... but surprise surprise, it only controls baseboards in two of the rooms and is therefore mostly useless.

Check EVERY window for storm windows and screens--we have them on some windows, but not all.

If there are air fresheners, that means it smells without air fresheners.
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:41 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If there's an upstairs neighbor, I would come back when they are in to listen for squeaky floors. You'll hear that squeak again and again and again and again. Also listen to the floor you're walking on. Look for soft spots too, especially by the bathtub where the previous tenant may have let the water run out of the tub a lot. Above it, if the bathroom ceiling shows repairs, there's probably a leak there, perhaps on going now. Does the bath have a shower nozzle? Test it, might be a cheap one.
Check the windows all open and close correctly and aren't frozen shut or only open part way.
Check the screens are all intact. Check the window latches actually work.
If you have a gas furnace in there, is there a carbon monoxide detector too?
Look for signs of mold around baseboards. If it's been painted over, you may still see mottled areas in closets and around windows. Former tenant kept it tight and fogged up all the time, or there's an ongoing problem. If you're mold sensitive, watch out.
Look for signs of completeness. Ever door has a door stop. Every fixture has the proper cover. The refrigerator has all its trays. The oven has two racks. Everything is caulked and the caulk looks clean and neat. The stove has all its burners and burner trays. If it's incomplete, it's a sign of poor management or low maintenance budgeting.
Have the locks been changed since the former tenant moved? Get it in writing.
What about door seals and weatherization. Drafts and wind moving in the unit make a real big difference in livability. What seems nice on a warm day with the windows open can be a freezing hassle when the winter hits.
Don't accept promises that stuff will get fixed later. Your only real advantage is before you hand over your money. Get it all done in advance of signing the contract.
posted by diode at 9:38 PM on October 13, 2012

An apartment manager who dots the i's and crosses the t's. When we moved in to our place it was nice having a laid back landlord, who let us move our furniture in a few days before the official lease start, was super fast in approving paperwork, didn't make us fill out a bunch of extra forms, etc. Then we got a different apartment manager and found out about the asbestos in the ceiling, the leak in the gas main that was finally getting fixed now, etc.
posted by Lady Li at 11:22 PM on October 13, 2012

Carpet in the bathroom. I don't know why anyone would put that in and it's seriously unpleasant!
posted by daisyk at 12:01 AM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Take fifteen minutes to read the entire contract and change your own locks out when you move in.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 1:27 AM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

1) Living on a street that is wide enough for double parking, even if you don't have a car. If it's wide enough for double parking, getting your groceries or large deliveries or getting picked up by friends is a lot easier. And you'll hear fewer horns and shouting, because cars will be able to pass each other if someone is stopped.

2) Reiterating the outlet situation. You'll want an outlet in the bathroom, for hair dryers and small heaters in the winter. You'll need at least two in the kitchen - microwave, toaster, coffee maker etc. Probably more than one in the living room as well as the bedroom.

3) Test all your appliances. Turn the stove on and leave it on for a bit if you can, as well as checking if the exhaust leaves your apartment or recirculates into your kitchen. Run the dishwasher. Check the ice in the freezer.
posted by kidsleepy at 7:55 AM on October 14, 2012

Perhaps obvious, but, ask to see the actual apt the will be renting you and not the model apt they show everyone.
posted by jpdoane at 8:02 AM on October 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Six weeks after moving into what we thought was a SUPER sweet garden apartment and a great deal, we realized it was... extra-legal (no second door, and the bedroom window was GLASS BLOCK) after we ended up with no hot water when the upstairs neighbor didn't pay her gas bill for 6 months.

Outlets. The (otherwise wonderful) apartment we have now actually has NO outlets in the dining room. None. We had checked everywhere else, but didn't even think to check the dining room.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:57 AM on October 14, 2012

Best answer: I once rented an apartment where I had been told there was parking. It turned out each parking spot had two apartments assigned to it and we had to park one behind the other, blocking one car in. The landlord expected us to give each other keys to our cars and to come out, move the blocking car to the street, move our car out the street, and move the blocking car back into the spot.

So if I were ever to rent an apartment again, I would be very clear about just what was meant by "parking spot."
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:28 AM on October 14, 2012

Response by poster: All of these answers have been great information to have. Thanks, everyone!
posted by corey flood at 10:56 AM on October 14, 2012

There's things I couldn't have known, namely the neighbors and whether they smoke, are noisy, etc.

But. Things I wish I'd checked (and might not apply to you, but just to be safe):

Freezer. There's no freezer in my apartment. i saw there was a fridge and I assumed there would be a freezer as well.

There's no ventilation in the bathroom, just a window, and I had to add the blinds.

Bathroom door doesn't lock. Not a dealbreaker, but still. Make sure all the doors work.
posted by Busoni at 4:28 PM on October 14, 2012

Stuff I've seen elsewhere:

Sit on the toilet. Comfortable enough?

Turn on all the water stuff, as in the shower, kitchen sink, toilet, see how they are.
posted by Busoni at 4:29 PM on October 14, 2012

Definitely wish I had thought about how drafty/insulated one of my apartments was before moving in. I moved in in the summer and it was fine then, but it was so drafty that in the winter the place was almost unlivably cold. It was poorly insulated, so keeping it warm was just prohibitively expensive for me, and I ended up more or less camping out in there with space heaters and sleeping bags all winter.

For that same apartment, I also learned not to sign a lease if the landlord says that they will definitely fix this or that before I move in. None of the things I had asked to be fixed were ever fixed, and the landlord also turned out to be similarly lax about repairs.

Drippy faucets are another one. Landlords can end up being unmotivated to fix leaky faucets if they're not the one footing the water bill.

In older buildings, also, I have learned to make sure that the wiring is up to code. I'm not sure how you could check that, but in one place I lived I discovered that the building had had multiple fires due to ancient wiring, and that the landlord was bribing inspectors or something to look the other way. Yes it was a sort of sketchy building, but it wasn't in a bad part of town, so I was surprised to discover that this was a thing that happens.
posted by ZeroDivides at 5:59 PM on October 14, 2012

Water pressure in the shower is my non-negotiable check.
posted by corvine at 9:06 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Before moving into my current place, I wish I'd been more cognizant of the windows -- the fact that they open into the house like shutters means it's impossible to install window A/C units. (Moving from San Francisco meant we didn't really think about temperature issues the way we should have.) Given the fact that I'm now 9 months pregnant and LA has seen some of the hottest temperatures on record this summer, I have been one extremely unhappy camper. Finally bit a big bullet and installed 2 portable air conditioners the expensive way (through exterior walls) and with my very sweet landlords' permission. But that was an extra 2K I wasn't planning on spending.
posted by ohyouknow at 10:14 AM on October 15, 2012

I learned the hard way decades ago to open EVERYTHING and check the inside thoroughly to ensure that there are no little creepy crawlies hiding away in your prospective apartment. Open every kitchen cabinet door, drawer, etc. Open the frig, and then open the butter compartment, the veggie crisper, the meat and cheese drawer. Open the oven door, and then the drawer at the bottom of the stove. In the bathroom, open the medicine cabinet, etc, etc, etc. Open every closet, especially any utility closets. etc, etc, etc.

I didn't know this when I was very young and thought it was rude to do so. Oh boy, did I ever live to regret not thoroughly inspecting that cruddy little place.
posted by marsha56 at 8:11 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Shared ventilation system
posted by amitai at 8:19 PM on October 15, 2012

* If there's ANY QUESTION AT ALL about the neighborhood, drive by at midnight (or when the bars close if they're nearby). I didn't do this and paid with five months of fitful sleep after unwittingly moving in to what's probably the biggest party spot within 500 miles. You might think I'm stupid (and I might too) but there's partying and then there's 30-50 people screaming, fighting, shooting, brawls, etc. five nights per week, and NOTHING going on in the same neighborhood at noon. I checked at noon and not at midnight.

* Test the appliances before you move in and assess the landlord's willingness to fix things.

Warning: I'm venting here:
In one place I moved to, the paint was new and all seemed well, cosmetically. Over the next few days, the heater sounded like an electric chair, two burners on the stove didn't work, the kitchen sink turned the water off randomly, the dryer vented back into the room, the hot and cold were switched on the washer, the (new) toilet leaked, the (new) shower handle popped off when you used it, the refrigerator sounded (literally) like a Model T Ford, there was a four inch gap on top of the AC unit and the door handles pulled off when you opened some of the doors. Also, the downstairs neighbors played gangsta rap and Playstation at 3:00 am on weeknights and had knock-down screaming fights during the day. That lasted less than a week.
posted by cnc at 5:26 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Window in the bathroom. Bathroom carpet isn#t my preference, but having no window in there is a recipe for mouldy tiles. The apartment I shared with my ex had a damp problem - probably due to the lack of a kitchen and a bathroom window - and we had black mould in the bath and rotting windowframes.
posted by mippy at 9:40 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meet the building manager. If they are unpleasant on your first encounter you can be assured it will only go downhill from there. All building managers are jerks. It's in the job description but you will have to deal with them for things like booking freight elevators and such so it is good to know in advance just how unpleasant this will be.

Get a look at the buildings rules and regulations before moving in. Some places are absurd to the level of HMAs. There are buildings around where I live that do not allow you to move in during non-business hours which means to move in or out you have to lose a day of work. It's usually a sign your building has lots of seniors with clout who structure the rules to punish people who still have to work.

Check for children. Living below an apartment with small children is probably only a good idea if you have your own children. They run, they stomp, they bounce balls and they wail. Know if there are bros above, beside or below because your Sunday, Monday night and Thursdays will probably involve some yelling during football season. Then there are the young ladies and their early morning heels on hardwood....

Pay attention to sunlight and the building and windows orientation - use a real compass not a GPS or a realtor's vague assurances- south gets sunshine. East windows get morning sun and are cool at night. West gets evening sunshine and are warming at night. Do you have the ability to create a cross breeze with windows on two different sides? Do surrounding buildings block the light?

Street noise - bus route? open the windows and just listen for a bit. That is what you will have to sleep through. Are you near a fire station or police station? Expect sirens all the time.
posted by srboisvert at 11:10 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check if the kitchen has drawers. Yep.

We never thought a kitchen wouldn't have drawers--I mean, we have a TON of cabinets, above and below. But zero drawers. We didn't bother checking for drawers before we signed the lease. It's a MUCH bigger pain than I thought it would be. Forks, spoons, knives, spatulas, and tongs all just kind of...lay around now.
posted by dede at 3:49 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

A bit late but:

I will never live in a basement apartment again. So dark, so so loud and so much mold that a bunch of my belongings were ruined. And so many basement bugs. It looked nice when I moved in because it was brightly painted. Ugh. Lies! Also, don't live in a place with low ceilings. You feel constantly smothered, and the stompy upstairs assholes feel like they're stomping directly on your head. It is impossible to relax.

Make sure that your so-called "seperate entrance" is an entrance that the upstairs assholes do not use. My "seperate entrance" is the house's side door. Turns out they don't use the front door, so basically they're walking through my space all the time but I never have access to their space. Real cute when thwy have people over almost every day in the summer and leave the main door open, and come in and out often enough that the screen door slams every ten minutes when I'm trying to sleep.

Do the upstairs people have guests often? What hours do they keep? Will they be stomping and shouting when you're trying to sleep?

How's the landlord's attitude? Are they assumptive, imposing, overly friendly? Or are they more business like? It''s my experience that the overly-friendly landlords have shitty boundaries and seem to think it's ok to, for example, come paint the livingroom at 9 pm without notice while they are drinking, ask prying questions about your life, and assume they have the right to be introduced to your romantic friend, etc. Don't live somewhere that the landlord wants to be your friend/ parent. It's fucking creepy.
posted by windykites at 9:09 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Apartment accomplished! Because of all the great information here, I was able to avoid a lot of pitfalls in moving to a new home. The only thing I would add is to find out whether or not you are paying for your own trash pickup...mine adds about $30 to my monthly bills. (If the rent is a bit on the low side, there is a reason.)

Thanks again!
posted by corey flood at 8:49 AM on December 31, 2012

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