Questions Every Renter Should Ask When Leasing an Apartment

By Michelle Lambright Black
Published on: 11/20/2023

Hunting for an apartment can often be a stressful experience. Yet no matter how much pressure you may be under to find your next place to live, it’s important to protect yourself during this process.

Every prospective renter needs to do thorough research before signing a new lease. The following guide will help you understand the top questions you should ask before you rent a new apartment and the reasons why it’s important to ask those questions in the first place.

Why should you ask questions before renting an apartment?

An apartment lease is a contract, a written legal agreement, between you and a landlord. Your lease gives you the right to live in a property for a set period of time. Yet the same document also binds you to follow certain terms and obligations until the end of the lease term.[1]

Because an apartment lease is a legally binding agreement, it’s important to make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into before you sign your name on the dotted line. To accomplish this goal, you’ll want to ask questions—and be thorough in your research—before you agree in writing to rent a new apartment.

Below are 14 critical questions you should ask a landlord or leasing company before you rent a new apartment.

1. How much is the rent?

When considering a potential apartment, one of the first steps you should take is to clarify the cost of the monthly rent. Even if the rental price is listed online, ask the landlord to confirm the cost to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

It’s also important to find out if the agreement includes language that allows for increases in rent prices before the end of your lease term. Furthermore, you may want to find out if there are any discounts or incentives available for new renters that could help you save money on a new apartment.

Once you understand all of the costs involved, you can see if the rent is affordable for your budget. Many financial experts recommend committing no more than 30% of your monthly income to rental expenses.[2]

2. How does the application process work?

Before you can rent a new apartment, you’ll need a landlord to approve your application. In many cases, you’ll need to complete a basic background check as well, and potentially provide references.

However, different apartment complexes typically have different application processes. And if you want to improve your odds of qualifying to lease an apartment, it’s wise to learn as much as you can about how the application process works ahead of time. You may also want to find out how long it takes a landlord or property management company to review applications and if there are any application fees so you can avoid unnecessary surprises.

3. Will you check my credit?

Another question you should ask before renting a new apartment is whether the landlord will review your credit as part of the application process. If a credit check is required, find out whether a soft or hard credit inquiry is involved. This will let you know whether the application could impact your credit score. (Tip: Soft credit inquiries have no effect on your credit score while hard inquiries may have a minor negative credit score impact.)[3]

Pre-rental credit checks are common. So, it’s important to understand if there’s a minimum credit score you need to rent the apartment you’re interested in or any other credit-related requirements you need to satisfy.

Every landlord sets its own criteria when it comes to credit scores. But a good credit score could work in your favor when you’re renting a new apartment. If your FICO® Score is 650 or below, however, property managers may take a closer look at your credit information and you might have a more difficult time qualifying for certain apartment leases.[4]

4. How much is the security deposit?

When you move into a new apartment, the landlord is almost certain to charge you a security deposit. The cost of the security deposit can be significant—often equivalent to between one and three months worth of rent payments. You’ll want to get a clear idea of this cost in advance to prepare.

Keep in mind that security deposits are one-time fees that are separate from your rent. Most states set limits on how much a landlord can charge where security deposits are concerned.[5]

Depending on your location, it might be possible to find apartment complexes that offer discounted or waived security deposits. If your finances are tight and you’re trying to save money, searching for these types of move-in specials could be a good place to start. However, if you live in a more competitive area, such options may not be as readily available.

5. What does the security deposit cover?

In addition to asking about the cost of a security deposit, you should also learn what your fee will cover. Move-in deposits, for example, are often refundable if you complete your lease and leave the apartment in good condition at the end of the rental term. But if you leave before your lease expires or damage the apartment, the landlord might be entitled to keep some or all of your security deposit to help cover its costs.

Again, different states have different rules when it comes to landlords keeping the security deposits of tenants. In some states, even if you break your lease early you might be entitled to a partial refund of your security deposit if the landlord finds someone else to move into the apartment after you leave.[5]

6. What are the terms of the lease?

You shouldn’t sign an apartment lease without a clear understanding of the terms you’re agreeing to accept. And while you’ll definitely want to ask for the full details in advance, here are some common terms you might expect a landlord to include in a rental agreement.[6]

  • Start and end date of your lease
  • Amount of rent
  • When rent is due
  • Maximum number of occupants
  • Names of tenants
  • Repairs and maintenance (with definitions of whether the landlord or tenant is responsible for different issues that may arise)

7. How do I pay rent?

Not only is it important to find out how much your rent will cost, but you also need to learn how your landlord prefers to receive their payment each month. Some landlords may be willing to accept electronic payments like Zelle, Venmo, or other secure online payment methods. Other landlords may prefer to collect rent payments via old-fashioned checks.

Whatever the preferred method of payment, be sure to make your rent payments on time. Late payments might trigger a late fee depending on the terms of your lease. Plus, if you’re trying to build credit with your rent payments using a third-party service, like Self, late payments that are more than 30-days past due might impact your credit score.

8. Am I allowed to have a pet and what is the pet policy?

Many apartment listings outright prohibit tenants from having pets of any kind. Yet it is sometimes possible to find landlords who are more lenient when it comes to allowing certain types of pets to live in their apartment complexes.

If finding a pet-friendly home for your furry family member is important to you, be sure to ask plenty of questions before signing a new lease. Not only will you want to find out if pets are allowed, you should also ask if there are restrictions regarding pet sizes, types of pets, or the number of pets permitted. Also, it’s wise to ask if the landlord requires a pet deposit, an additional cleaning fee, or any other fees if you decide to keep pets in the apartment.

9. Are there any amenities in the building?

The amenities (or lack thereof) that an apartment features can have a meaningful impact on your life and your budget. So, it’s important to ask a landlord or property manager to detail not only the types of amenities that are available in the apartment community you’re considering, but when they’re open and how often you can access them.

An apartment that comes with a high-quality gym, for example, could save you money if you decide to cancel your monthly gym membership. (Plus, you could save gas money by not having to drive across town to work out.) But if an apartment doesn’t have a washer and dryer hookup and there’s no on-site laundry facility, that lack of access to a common need might make you want to look for alternative rental options elsewhere.

10. Are any utilities or services included?

When you rent an apartment, certain utilities and services such as water, trash, and pest control might be included with the price of your rent. In general, you should expect to pay for other utilities, like electricity and gas, on your own. Extra services like internet and cable may be your responsibility as well.

Yet every lease is different. So, it’s critical to ask questions. If one apartment complex includes several utilities in the cost of your rent and another one doesn’t, the potential savings might impact your decision.

11. What is the penalty for breaking my lease?

Before you rent a new apartment, it’s wise to find out the consequences you could face if you need to end your lease early. Some landlords may allow you to terminate a lease if you pay a fee that’s equivalent to two to three months rent. Others might require you to continue paying rent until a replacement tenant is available.

It’s understandable for landlords to impose fees to protect themselves until they can find a new tenant to fill an empty apartment. But you’ll typically want to avoid renting an apartment where early lease termination isn’t an option at all.

Keep in mind that if you do end a lease early, you’ll want to pay any fees you owe your landlord in a timely manner. Otherwise, your landlord could turn you over to a third-party debt collector and you might wind up with collection accounts on your credit report.

12. Can I make changes to the apartment?

Nothing makes you feel at home like customizing your surroundings. Yet before you start changing paint colors or making other cosmetic changes to your apartment, it’s important to ask the landlord how those decisions could impact your security deposit.

In some cases, minor changes may be fine since landlords often repaint and clean or change flooring in between tenants. Some landlords, however, may expect you to return the apartment to its original condition (and color scheme) before you move out. If that’s the case, you should calculate the cost of changing your apartment twice to determine if the cost and effort are worthwhile.

13. Is parking available?

Parking can be a challenge for apartment dwellers, especially in crowded urban areas. You’ll want to be sure to ask about the parking situation when you consider a new apartment, and make sure you’re comfortable with the accommodations.

Parking-related questions to ask include:

  • What is the parking policy?
  • Are there additional fees for parking?
  • Do tenants have dedicated parking spaces?
  • Is there available parking for guests?

Apartment communities with assigned parking are typically most convenient. Secured or gated parking can also be a plus in terms of security. Yet there’s a good chance you may face higher rent prices at facilities that offer these types of conveniences.

14. Can I sublet the apartment?

Finding an apartment that lets you sublet or perhaps even rent out the space as an Airbnb can be a big plus. If you need to travel on an extended basis or move out sooner than anticipated, subletting an apartment could help you avoid breaking a lease or letting go of an apartment that you want to keep.

If you think you might be interested in subletting or renting an apartment as an Airbnb, it’s important to find out if either of these scenarios is an option. Some landlords may not allow subletting or Airbnb rentals at all. Others may allow them, but impose strict rules you’ll need to follow.

Bottom Line

The questions above can be a good place to start when you’re hunting for a new apartment. And you may want to add others to your list as well. If you’re comparing multiple apartments, it can also be helpful to take notes during each apartment tour so you’ll have helpful details to compare when making your final decision.


  1. “The Difference Between a Lease and a Rental Agreement.”
  2. BuySide from The Wall Street Journal. “How Much Rent Can I Afford?”
  3. “Credit Checks. What are credit inquiries and how do they affect your FICO® Score?”
  4. “What Do Landlords Look for in a Credit Check?”
  5. “Renting an Apartment or House.”
  6. “Common Terms to Include In a Rental Agreement.”

About the author

Michelle Lambright Black is a nationally recognized credit expert with two decades of experience. She is the founder of, an online credit education resource and community that helps busy moms learn how to build good credit and a strong financial plan that they can leverage to their advantage. Michelle's work has been published thousands of times by FICO, Experian, Forbes, Bankrate, MarketWatch, Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and many other outlets. You can connect with Michelle on Twitter (@MichelleLBlack) and Instagram (@CreditWriter).

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Our goal at Self is to provide readers with current and unbiased information on credit, financial health, and related topics. This content is based on research and other related articles from trusted sources. All content at Self is written by experienced contributors in the finance industry and reviewed by an accredited person(s).

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Written on November 20, 2023
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