First time Apartment Renter. What don't I know that I should?
March 11, 2016 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I have to sell the home I inherited and find myself apartment hunting for the first time in my 32 years of life. I've been using apartment search websites to find places that have my requirements (accepts cats, washer/dryer a plus, under $800). I have an appointment this afternoon to tour one of the complexes. What should I ask or keep in mind?

If it's needed, I'm looking in SE Michigan, around Ann Arbor.

I'm aware of the pet deposits, added monthly rent for each cat, and limited number of pets.

I have entomophobia, which is a fear of insects. I can handle small spiders and ants.. but any flyer that bigger then a mosquito causes me undue panic. I imagine if I asked the leasing office about any bug concerns, they'd tell me they have no problems. Anything I should keep an eye out for?

How do I ask how trash is handled? Is this the kind of question that you ask when you're just touring? What about recyclables?

How do I keep myself safe? How do I know, when I visit on my tour, if it's a safe place to live? I'm a quiet person who keeps to herself. Introverted bookish type. I'm not too worried about conflict with neighbors, mostly concerned about burglary of my new home or car. I've used to exclude some of the results from the search websites.

I've e-mailed a few places asking for availability information, and they haven't gotten back to me in the past 48 hours. Should this be a warning sign? Are you allowed to just stop by the leasing office uninvited to ask questions and maybe tour?

I know to purchase renter's insurance.

For places who have waiting lists, I can fill out an application - are they expecting the application fee at that time? I'm on a tight time table, so I'll have to go with the place that is acceptable to me and has apartments available. I don't want to drop down money on an application of a place that I don't end up living in.

I'm sorry that seems a bit disjointed. I feel very apprehensive about this whole thing. None of the people I'd normally go to for advice on this kind of thing have rented apartments in the last 30 years.
posted by INFJ to Home & Garden (43 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Check the water pressure.
posted by maryr at 7:59 AM on March 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

Check the parking situation: is there off street parking? Who handles snow removal? Do you have your own spot, or is it a free-for-all in a group lot?

What kind of heat? Is it included in the rent? Electric heat is generally more expensive than other heat, so find out how much per month is typical.

Air conditioning: central air? Window units? Do the windows open enough to put in window units?

Complexes are fine, but keep in mind that apartments also are available in homes. Might be easier to live with only a few other people in the building than potentially hundreds.
posted by clone boulevard at 8:04 AM on March 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

Do you have a car? Make sure you ask about parking availability. Can you park overnight on the street? Is there shared driveway space? Who is responsible for snow shoveling?

ETA: Jinx.
posted by maryr at 8:04 AM on March 11, 2016

Are the grounds surrounding the building well lit? Are the grounds clear of trash?

As you tour the unit, look at windows/doors/drawers- do they open easily and close securely?

For ground floor units--do any windows open up to where cars are parked? to where people smoke?

Is there enough sunlight for you--and in the right rooms at the right times?

Is parking secure, easy to use?
posted by calgirl at 8:08 AM on March 11, 2016

I imagine if I asked the leasing office about any bug concerns, they'd tell me they have no problems. Anything I should keep an eye out for?

Rather than asking them if they have any bug concerns, try asking them what their protocols are for handling bed bugs or other infestations. Every apartment building of any size has problems with bugs occasionally, and what you want to know is that they handle them appropriately to ensure they don't spread.

How do I ask how trash is handled? Is this the kind of question that you ask when you're just touring? What about recyclables?

Is this something that makes a difference in whether or not you rent? If so, then you can ask about it but if you are just nervous because you don't know, then it's most likely something you would learn on move-in. Usually you'll get an information sheet or book with info on the facilities, rules, etc if you sign a lease. Some buildings will have trash chutes on every floor, and you walk down the hall and throw your stuff in in small amounts and it falls into a dumpster at ground level. Others have dumpsters located in one central place, and you take your trash to the dumpster yourself. Recycling may be part of the chute system or may be take it to the dumpster yourself, depending on how old the building is.

How do I keep myself safe? How do I know, when I visit on my tour, if it's a safe place to live?

Look at the exterior doors, make sure they close and lock properly as people go in and out. If you can, watch people go in and out for a bit to see if people generally allow tailgaters or if people are relatively good about letting themselves in and out with their own keys/key fobs. Does the building have on-site security?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:10 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

In Massachusetts, we have a really tight rental market. I've gone to look at places with all my ID, my checkbook, and my checklist of questions, and taken the apartment on the spot (put down a deposit, filled out the application, etc.). We generally have to pay first, last, and security when we take the apartment.

I think you get a feel for a place when you tour it. Take a look at the hallways: are they clean? Freshly painted? How's the mailbox area? Does it look tidy and clearly labeled by apartment, or do the locks look jimmied and there's no light bulb so it's dark? Are there people outside? Are there kids playing?
posted by clone boulevard at 8:11 AM on March 11, 2016

So first off, there are a bunch of apartment rental checklists on the internets. I would recommend finding one that you are comfortable with and using it. It's very easy, in the heat of the moment, to forget about some item you needed to check (water pressure, parking for visitors, laundry, whatever). Checklists help!

I've inspected lots of apartment complexes across the US and checked their review sites. Based on my experience, I'd suggest checking the review sites, but taking what they say with a grain of salt unless there's more than one review with the same complaints. Generally the review sites are pretty accurate on repeated complaints. Also, if you see reviews that are more recent and talk up the new management and how every problem is solved and gosh, aren't the front office ladies terrific -- those are almost always fake reviews left by the complex, so ignore those.

If you're comfortable talking to strangers, you could introduce yourself to a couple prospective neighbors and ask their opinions.

If you're allergic to cigarette smoke, look for a non-smoking complex -- even if they SAY they only let smokers smoke outside, it's rarely enforced in practice, and air flow patterns can be a harsh mistress in a shared living situation.

Whenever possible, look in the actual unit you would be renting. Finish materials are often updated on an ad-hoc basis. Also, a problem like a closet that smells like cat pee will not be obvious from the model unit.

Make sure the main building door locks, and make sure your unit has a deadbolt and chain on every door.

I have always found better apartments through Craigslist and/or signs in people's front yards, which tend to be cheaper. However, you also have the social dynamics of dealing with a landlord who only has a few tenants, which can be a challenge.
posted by pie ninja at 8:11 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I imagine if I asked the leasing office about any bug concerns, they'd tell me they have no problems. Anything I should keep an eye out for?

I'd look for whether there are screens for all the windows and whether they're in good condition.

You mention the trash sitch, and I'd ask about straight-up, both because of your fear of bugs, and also because you'll be taking litter there on the reg. I've been bunred in situations where I didn't think to ask, and then was stuck with stinky trash and weak air conditioning in the middle of July, because there was no place to take my trash, and city ordinances forbade setting it out before 7PM the night before trash day.

So yeah, I'd take particular note of how the trash gets handled -- if they say take your bags to a separate place, I'd ask to visit that place, so you can see whether it's clean and well kept. I'd also ask if they have a contract with a professional exterminator to do at least that area on a schedule, or whether they wait for someone to complain, then bring in the exterminator.

Something you may not have considered: if you're a person who needs quiet, I'd ask to tour the unit I'd actually be renting and spend a little time seeing if I can hear my neighbors or a lot of ambient noise.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:12 AM on March 11, 2016

If you’re near Ann Arbor, I’d be concerned about the possibility of ending up somewhere with a lot of students who may want to party all weekend every weekend. I’d ask about the ratio of professionals to student renters, and I’d ask about policies on noise and smoking. Asking about trash and recycling is a totally normal question. If you’re shown a sample unit rather than the actual apartment, ask if the finishes and appliances are the same in the unit you’ll be renting, what floor it will be on, whether it faces the parking lot or dumpsters, etc. Ask about average utility bills.

It’s no big deal to ask about insects, but I’ve been an apartment dweller for almost 20 years and have never had to deal with anything larger than ants (I imagine you’re thinking cockroaches, and I doubt that’s going to be a problem in your area).

I’d guess that the ones who haven’t gotten back to you are places that don’t have available units. It’s not really a red flag, but you should probably write them off. It’s fine to drop by a leasing office and ask for a tour. You should not have to pay a fee unless you are applying for a specific apartment. is a somewhat helpful site, although bear in mind that any review site is slanted toward people with complaints. Mentally add a star to most of the ratings. Also, ignore complaints from people who didn’t get their deposits back unless in looks like a universal theme for the reviews.
posted by Kriesa at 8:17 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Earlier answer suggested not asking about details if those questions don't directly affect whether you'd live there (eg "well, the apartment is beautiful and cheap, but you don't recycle so I'll keep looking") but I disagree. Even if it's not a make or break criterion, their general response to questions like this may inform your opinion of the landlords and the complex. If they don't have flexibility in their policies, they'll be a pain to deal with; if they don't have any policies at all, that can be even worse. Also, you will be touring the apartment and they'll be showing it off, and if you have questions like that in your head, you are more likely to notice if their spiel includes the information. And getting them talking is better than awkward silences, so any questions you have will be something to chat about.
posted by aimedwander at 8:19 AM on March 11, 2016

If you're a quiet person, look for places that are off the main drag, and keep an ear out for noise pollution when you go visit. See how good the insulation and sound barriers are. The worst thing for a quiet person is having traffic noises keep you up all night. Might be worthwhile to ask if there are loud partying types in the building, since loud music can be very disturbing to someone who needs a quiet space. Make sure to ask if heating and electricity are included in the monthly cost and if not, how much they usually amount to. Listen to your gut feeling about the place too
posted by winterportage at 8:19 AM on March 11, 2016

> Check the water pressure.

If you can, make sure that the hot water lasts long enough by running the shower while you check other things in the unit. You can also see if the tub drains okay as well.
posted by Gev at 8:21 AM on March 11, 2016

Ann Arbor has grad student neighborhoods that are separate from undergrad areas. Make sure you've got a sense of what part of the university community the apartment complex generally overlaps with. Medical and grad school areas tend to be pretty quiet.
(FYI, I lived in Island Drive and Traver Knoll as a grad student, and they were both perfectly fine 15 years ago, whatever that means for what they're like now)
posted by aimedwander at 8:22 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you can, make sure that the hot water lasts long enough by running the shower while you check other things in the unit.
Ask if the unit has its own water heater and if you have access to it. Management is likely to turn the water heater to the lowest setting in an unoccupied apartment, so you can't really assess by running it during a walk through. If the building has a shared water heater, it's likewise hard to assess whether it's adequate for peak showering hours (like 6-8am).

Note: the building I lived in with a shared water heater had the best, hottest water ever, so a shared water heater is not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by Kriesa at 8:30 AM on March 11, 2016

Thirding the advice to check water pressure and hot water. I had an apartment where I had to run the water for a solid 10 minutes before it got hot. Didn't bother me too much, but it was sub-optimal.

Top-floor units are nice because you don't have footsteps overhead, and non-ground-floor units are nice because there is less worry about someone breaking in through a window.

It's definitely worth asking whether they have an exterminator who comes by either regularly or on demand.

Here in Chicago there are enough apartments with heat included that I wouldn't consider an apartment where I had to pay my own heat. If you do need to pay your own heat I'd ask for utility bills from previous winters. No matter what they tell you about how "modern and efficient" the heating system is, the fact is that landlords who don't pay the heating bill have an incentive to select their heating system solely on installation cost, which is often at odds with the operating cost. It sucks being financially responsible for the costs of an expensive-running heating system that you can't upgrade.
posted by enn at 8:33 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just sent you a memail :)
posted by Mouse Army at 8:38 AM on March 11, 2016

Oh, man, enn makes a really good point re: utility bills. If the complex can't give you this, you can probably call the utility directly and ask what the bills run.
posted by pie ninja at 8:39 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Look at the number and location of outlets. Seriously.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:39 AM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

See if the apartment has proper circuit breakers or if it uses the old screw-in fuses. Make sure that the power outlets are 3 prong and not just 2 prong. Check for water damage by the radiators and windows. Check to see if there are cracks to the side of the windows.
posted by I-baLL at 8:43 AM on March 11, 2016

The University of Michigan's Housing Office has info specifically on off-campus housing, if you're looking in Ann Arbor proper. But even if you aren't, their resource page has a lot of helpful links about renting in general, Michigan tenant laws, etc.
posted by msbubbaclees at 8:55 AM on March 11, 2016

Find out about the laundry situation. Washer and dryer in the apartment, or on site, or do you have to go to a laundromat?
posted by JDHarper at 8:57 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Check for most droppings in cabinets in corners. If laundry is on site and coin operated ask the cost. Assume drier needs about 50 cents extra.

Location of dumpster, alley can be a very unwelcome surprise come summer.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:00 AM on March 11, 2016

Outlets. Where are they, and are there sufficient of them for your needs? (In particular, is there one handy to anywhere you think you might want to put your desk/electronics, by where you might put a bed, and sufficient in the kitchen?)

Kitchen: I'm short, and I want to know if I can reach shelves in the kitchen. It's not a make or break on the apartment, but if the shelves are higher, I need to make sure there's space for a bookcase or something to help with storage.

Looking for water damage: windows, by radiators, look for recent signs of repainting. Ask about that.

For your cats: Space where they can look out a window or whatever else it is that works for them? Space where a cat tree can fit? Is there room in the bathroom for a litter box, or where else would you put it?

Does anything in the apartment strike you as sort of weirdly designed? That will continue to be so once you move in. (Door opening directions, odd closets, etc.)

Do you have lots of books? Bookshelves do not go well on walls with baseboard heaters. They do not fit with gabled roofs or oddly shapped walls. Sometimes the only wall you can put a decent size bookshelf on also blocks the only useful outlet for that room. I consider this a problem.

Where do you go? How far is it to your work/school/established hobbies/friends/grocery store/etc? How annoying are those trips at the time of day you would do them? (I don't care that getting to the friends who live north of me would be a pain during commuting hours, because I only go there on weekends. Moving one town to the east from me, however, would make my commute about 15 minutes longer and a lot more annoying.)

I'd ask about trash and the mix of people in the building, because I agree, you probably don't want students if you want quiet. See if you can walk around the building if traffic noise might be a concern. (Both inside and outside). You might also want to see if you're in a direct route from the fire station or near hospitals. They'll tell you about heat, but check to see how AC works.

Moving to Massachusetts last year (I moved in May 1, and was apartment hunting in early April, new job, so short time frame), I used HotPads and Padmapper to find places, made a spreadsheet (cost, what was included, how far it was from work, any other notes). Very tight rental market: I think I had 30 apartments on the list, emailed a bunch to set up appointments, made appointments for about 8, had a couple of them cancel on me, and signed papers immediately for where I am living (the 4th place I saw, but the one that was the most reasonable commute for me.) It has quirks, but I am reasonably happy.
posted by modernhypatia at 9:02 AM on March 11, 2016

In large complexes security regarding packages needs to be looked at. Does a secretary take the packages, are they just placed in a hallway?

And carring litter upstairs can be a huge challenge for the uninitiated.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:02 AM on March 11, 2016

A couple of little tells to look for: can people have nice things? Door mats, wreaths or hangy-plaque-things on the front door? In that part of the country I don't know how common it is to have outside-facing doors, but if so does anyone have plant stands or chairs or portable decorative items outside their doors?

Do people have a bunch of shit stacked on their balconies (if applicable) or does it look like most people have nothing on them? Bad sign. There will always be a few junky ones, but if many of the balconies have plants or furniture or play areas outside, it suggests people like to spend time out there.

Note the ambient noise, and not just if there's audible gunfire or fighting/screaming, but things like super-echoey hallways or courtyards, TV noise bleeding through multiple doors, tire shop next door running air ratchets all day, planes landing directly overhead, a gate that constantly clangs, dumpster right outside the window etc.

How do I ask how trash is handled? Is this the kind of question that you ask when you're just touring? What about recyclables?

Ask everything you want to know. This is a terrible time to be timid. Ask. How does trash and recycling work here? How often are there landscapers/gardeners working on the property and how early do they start? Is there a common room we can reserve for parties/events? Is there a school nearby (this answer tells you a lot of things about the area and also the noise and traffic levels)? How are maintenance requests handled? What about emergencies?

If someone had a problem with you asking questions (assuming you're not asking for personal info about themselves or the residents), that's a great thing for you to know. Do not live there.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:03 AM on March 11, 2016

If it helps you to be less nervous make a check list of what to check out. Test your cell phone (data and call) to make sure it works. There's a lot of buildings in my area where signals don't get through for whatever reason. Measure doorways/turns if you have any very large furniture like a couch that may not fit in a small doorway.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:10 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Negotiate the day rent is due upfront if there is going to be any problems. Usually rent is due on the first, but if you always get paid on the 3rd let them know so you don't start out on the wrong foot, and have it documented in the lease.

I cannot believe that no one has said this but

Read your lease.

Sometimes landlords throw in statutes that 1)may be horribly illegal for your area or 2) a major pain if you cannot make the lease term. 3) just wierd rules that you may not want to abide by.

For example providing rabies shots vaccinations proof every year for 100% indoor cats would be an absolute no go for me.
Because 1) rabies shots last longer than one year and 2) completely indoor cats are at very very low risk of exposure.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:12 AM on March 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you can, drive into the complex at night, preferably on a Friday or Saturday night. Wait and listen. I've lived in places that were fine during the day and turned into party central at night.
posted by The otter lady at 9:17 AM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Remember that if you don't like it, you can always move. Leases don't last forever. I'm not saying it's always easy or cheap to move, but you are not marrying your apartment. Just saying in case you feel pressure to find the perfect place. It doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to work for you.
posted by Pearl928 at 9:17 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two Ann Arbor specific things:

1) Who is responsible for snow clearing? If it's a big complex, this should be shared. Can you get covered parking? Are you supposed to move your car when they clear the lot? etc.

2) Even grad-student friendly (as opposed to undergrad) areas of Ann Arbor can have very strong yearly timing-- e.g. signing a lease now for August is not uncommon. Find out when your complex will want you to renew, and don't be surprised if they're expecting you to want to rent much later than now. (And if you are ready to move right away, you might be able to get some reduction, because without you the place might sit until the fall). Obviously the less studenty an area, the less this will be true.

More general things:
Check shower pressure, accessibility of utilities (can you get to the wireless router to reset it?).
If certain kinds of noise (students partying late at night, daycare outside playing during the day, traffic) bother you, at least stop by the complex at the time you're worried about to see how it is.
Oh, another ann-arbor thing-- if you're looking at places along the traffic routes for football games, consider how that will affect your life. (Most complexes aren't, IIRC, but still).
posted by nat at 9:19 AM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

One thing I would add - ask if they have on-site maintenance. I've lived in places where maintenance is contracted to a local company and where they lived down the hall. It was the difference between waiting 5 hours for a call back when my apartment was flooding and having someone there in 5 minutes.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:22 AM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I moved from a house to an apartment:

1. Bugs. Ask how frequently treatment is, and if you have a problem can you get extra treatment. My complex in GA does an annual -clear out the cabinets and put the pets away- thing, which turns out to be a syringe in the back cabinet in the kitchen. They have the exterminator on site on Thursdays and if I want, I can put myself on the list to have her drop by and spray.

2. Pet rent. Negotiable. I had them take it off after our first year. See if you can agree to half rate up front.

3. Check out space. If the model is exceptionally beautiful, you may not notice that the living room is kind of small and there's no dining area (just modern barstools at a breakfast bar.)

4. How far is it from where you park to your unit? OH, how I wish I had checked this out. When you're moving and when you have groceries, you'd be surprised at how big a deal it is.

5. Before you sign the lease, tour the actual unit you'll be moving into.

6. Get a place with a washer and dryer inside the apartment.

7. Plan on replacing your own furnace-A/C filters.

8. nth Water pressure and drains.

9. Safety. Call the local police non-emergency number and ask. They're usually pretty good.

10. Types of cars. What you want to see are late models of whatever is popular in your area (I'm assuming American built.) What you don't want to see is Valley of the Beaters. If you see a lot of shitty looking cars....keep going.

11. If there's a huge Iguana leashed to a tree outside an apartment....keep going.

12. What's the pet policy for dogs? Our complex is hugely dog friendly, we just got our own dog-park. That attracts pet owners. I like it. I like dogs. I'm not so much a fan of dog-shit, but we have a ton of those poop-bag and disposal thingies on the property.

13. Noise. Top units tend to be quieter.

14. How does the joint look? Check the paint, the fixtures, etc. Things should look nice, even in the wintertime. If looks run down...keep going.

15. Storage. It's very easy to see a big bedroom and not think about the closet. Modern people live differently from olden times. We have more shit and we need more places to put it.

That's what's off the top of my head right now. Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:08 AM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Have you considered working with a renter's agent? Basically, someone who you can describe your needs to, who understands the current local renting market, and maybe has connections with the management companies so can get you a line on available spaces/help you navigate waiting lists.

Usually, they get paid a kickback by the management company when they help land a rental so it shouldn't cost you anything out of pocket (there is, of course,the risk that the rent that you pay will be increased to cover it).

I bet if you talked to the agent who is helping you sell your house, they'd either be able to help you with this, or point you to someone who does.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:00 AM on March 11, 2016

This is my experience, definitely:

Top-floor units are nice because you don't have footsteps overhead, and non-ground-floor units are nice because there is less worry about someone breaking in through a window.

Also agree on the water pressure and location of outlets. Also see if they're 3 prong or 2 prong. Most modern electronics are 3; if the 2 prong outlets are still around in the place that's a sign of bad maintenance IMO.

If heat is included see if there's a law in the area for the minimum heat setting for night/day and the time of the year. In Chicago it's 69 days / 65 nights from October (I think) through June. I've rented some apartments here where those limits were honored and many where they weren't (having to prove that your place is too freaking cold is no fun). Frankly I'd rent a place that had central heat/air and pay for it-- if it were a known efficient system.
posted by travertina at 12:10 PM on March 11, 2016

Trulia has a neat, color-coded feature that pulls stats from Here's a sample (scroll down to "See businesses, schools, and crimes near this home").

You might have to plug the rental address into Google, then pull up the Trulia link from there.
posted by invisible ink at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2016

Since sparklemotion mentioned it: working with an apartment locator was hands-down the best thing I did looking for an apartment. She knew all the property managers and which places were good and bad, and even knew about openings I couldn't find on my own. A good locator will help you with all these questions.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

All great suggestions above.

Definitely feel free to take your own pictures if the ones online aren't great. And if they don't provide a floor plan, it can help to bring a tape measure and measure at least the LR and BR so you can make sure they're big enough for your furniture, etc.

Even if you're living alone, it's totally okay to take a friend with you to showings. They might notice things that you don't or think of questions that you don't, and they can help you do a sanity check and pros/cons after.

Even though it's awkward, the advice to talk to residents is solid. I'm always happy to do this when people are touring my building.

Good advice above about smokers. There is no smoking in my building but they can smoke outside. My kitchen window faces the front of the building and when it's warm and I have my windows open the smoke wafts in sometimes, even if the smokers are across the street! Also when the weather gets shitty smokers are often reluctant to go outside and try to sneak smoking inside.
posted by radioamy at 1:42 PM on March 11, 2016

A lot of great information in this thread.

I always ask a lot of questions when I go to look at apartments, and I've never had a problem with landlords answering (I've rented for the last ~7 years). So, just ask and trust your gut! I would skip the apartments that haven't gotten back to you quickly, unless there is some amenity they have that is a priority for you. It's perfectly fine to go to the leasing office and get a tour right then. I wouldn't put in an application or pay an application fee if there isn't an available apartment.

Do a drive by or walk about the neighborhood at different times (late night, evening, etc.).

Here's generally what I do:
- Check for mold by looking under the bathroom and kitchen sink, at the bathroom tiles, and at the bathroom ceiling
- Ask generally if there's been any problems with the roof and look for any warped spots on the ceiling or any bubbling paint
- For the recycling and trash, you can ask to see the lease. The lease should cover this information and if it doesn't, ask
- Ask who is responsible for snow and ice removal -- you or the company/landlord?
- Ask about the other tenants in the building. Are they students, professionals, elderly, a mix? Gives you an idea of the culture in the building
- After signing the lease, I try to get detailed and dated pictures of the space for after the lease ends, if there is a dispute over the deposit

The best landlord I've ever had was very proud of his building. He made a point to show me the light fixtures that were original to the building and the dovetail joints in the kitchen cabinets. I'm not saying that every landlord has to be super proud of their space, but it helps if they show they care.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 2:13 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here in Chicago there are enough apartments with heat included that I wouldn't consider an apartment where I had to pay my own heat. If you do need to pay your own heat I'd ask for utility bills from previous winters.

In the Boston area, I've had some where it's included and some where it isn't. This is much more likely to be a thing in a larger apartment building (as opposed to a 2 or 3 family home). However, one thing to check on is whether you can control the thermostat. The first heat included apartment I lived in, we had no control of the thermostat. You could change the radiator setting (although technically you weren't supposed to), but that was only good if it got so hot that you wanted to turn it off. For me, this isn't a deal breaker, although I would factor it into rent considerations. Heating a two bedroom apartment with oil can be roughly $200 to $300 a month (very rough average), so if you have a heat included apartment for $900 versus a heat not included apartment for $800, the heat included apartment is probably a better deal in the long run.

I'll also nth that top floor is best, especially if you're sensitive to noise.

And snow and ice removal is huge. Definitely ask about that.

I would generally just make sure you have a good sense of your priorities beforehand. For example, I've lived without a dishwasher, but would not particularly want to do that again. I'm fine with not having laundry in the unit or even on my floor, but I know that I would never do my laundry if I had to go to a laundromat.

Oh, and I wouldn't automatically rule out apartments that say no pets. I've definitely found places that were willing to allow cats despite a stated no pets policy. (You may have better luck with smaller, local landlords. I think large property management companies are less likely to bend the rules like this.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:12 PM on March 11, 2016

The Ann Arbor Observer publishes a one-page crime map every month, showing different types of crimes and where in the city they were committed. There are definitely areas where burglaries and vehicle break-ins tend to cluster. You should be able to get the Observer in any bookstore and probably most grocery stores. You can look at back issues in any Ann Arbor library branch. If you are in a time crunch, you could probably get a cheap sublet during the summer while you spend time looking for a more permanent place. As others have said, Ann Arbor rentals tend to follow the school year. People renting out their condos place ads on craigslist. A condo complex might be better suited to a non-student renter.
posted by FencingGal at 3:34 PM on March 11, 2016

My check list...

Address: ____
Rent: ____
Lease term: ____
Square footage: ___

Parking spot included: ___ (Fee?)
Washer/dryer: ___ (In-unit? Coin-op? )
Air conditioning: ___
Dish washer/disposal: ____
Any utilities included: ____

Security deposit: ____
Application fee: ____
Other fees: ____
Lease-break penalty: ____

Distance to work: ____
Distance to grocery store: ____

That's basically it. If you care about having an outdoor space like a balcony or patio, or if you prefer hardwood floors to carpeting, or if you want high ceilings, add it to the list. The main tip is simple: Know what you want and know what you can afford.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:18 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you can visit the building on the weekend as mentioned above it might be worth it to talk to residents if you see people coming and going. It's how I found out about a nearby fire station at a place I was looking at.
posted by oneear at 3:08 PM on March 12, 2016

I got a bunch of great answers to the same question a few years ago.
posted by randomnity at 3:32 PM on March 14, 2016

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