10 Things to Do Before You Rent a Home

By Diane Tait

Whether you’re a seasoned renter who’s moved many times, or you’ve just sold your home and are looking for a place to rent while your new home is being built, you need to know how to size up a rental property before you sign the lease. 

      1.      Here comes the neighborhood - Before you sign on the dotted line, you need to scope out the neighborhood.  While the internet makes it a breeze to determine  metrics such as average income, average age and crime statistics, what the web won’t do is tell you if your neighbors like to play their music full blast until the wee hours, or whether your property is likely to flood after a heavy rain.  To get a bead on a neighborhood, you need to take a trip to scope it out for yourself. 

      2.      The lease you can do. – Once you’ve determined you can live with the neighbors, the next question is whether you can live with your landlord.  That means you need to read the lease and you need to speak to your landlord, not just a rental agent.  There’s nothing worse than finding out that your landlord is slow to respond to your concerns or perform necessary maintenance.  While the lease should tell you how long you’re rental commitment lasts and what responsibilities you and your landlord have when it comes to maintaining the property, there’s nothing like a little face time to make sure you’re going to be able to work with your landlord. If not, it won't be long before you start seeing red whenever you try to communicate with him or her.

      3.      Does your unit or neighborhood have a homeowner’s association? – If it does, you may quickly come to find that you are restricted in what you can do to or park on the property.  That means if you own an RV or a boat on a trailer, you need to find out up front if you’ll be able to park it in the driveway, or if you’re going to be required to rent space to park it at a storage facility.

      4.      The anvil chorus. – Another thing you should ask your landlord is whether there is any construction scheduled for the property or in the vicinity.  There’s nothing worse than moving in on Saturday only to find out on Monday that there’s a major construction project scheduled to begin nearby.  Unless you want to spend your first week or so wearing earplugs, you need to find out if any construction, destruction or road work is planned for your neighborhood before you move in.

      5.      Got Pets? – While you may only have goldfish, it’s still a good idea to find out in advance  the policy on pets before you sign the lease.  Depending on the number, size and breed of animals that you own, it may only require you to put up a pet deposit to move Fluffy into your new home.  Or, you may find that the pets you currently own are forbidden on the premises.  

      6.      Got guests? – Just as with pets, landlords have the right to dictate the guest policy in any unit they lease. While you may not think twice about having your mom stay with you for a couple of weeks, unless the lease allows for extended stays you may find out the hard way that the landlord is going to charge you an impact fee for any guest that stays more than a few days.

      7.      What’s the policy on vacating the premises? – What’s the process and the penalty for vacating the premises before the lease is up?  Will it simply be a matter of forfeiting your security deposit, or will the landlord require you to pay several months rent or even hold you legally responsible for the remainder of the lease whether you live in the unit or not?  Even if you intend to stay for the full term of the lease, you may be required to give your landlord a month or more notice before moving out. 

      8.      How much access does the landlord have to the property? – Unless you ask your landlord to repair something on the property, you need to find out what the policy is for access to your rented home.  Even when you respond with a maintenance request, you want to know whether the landlord is going to require you to be in residence when a maintenance crew shows up, or if her or she intends to let them in with or without your permission.
9.      Is renter’s insurance a good idea? -  While your landlord is required to have the property insured, the only thing that’s covered is the property itself.  If a pipe bursts and ruins your sectional sofa, don’t think the landlord is going to reimburse you for damages.  The same holds true if your belongings get destroyed or smoke damaged in a fire.  If you want to make sure that everything you own is going to be covered from fire, flood, theft or acts of God, it’s a good idea to acquire renter’s insurance as soon as you move into a rental unit.  U

10.  Penalties may apply – If you pay your rent late, will there be a late fee?  If your pet does no damage to the grounds or property, is your pet deposit going to be refunded? How long will it be before you get your security deposit back from the landlord after you move out?  Are you going to be required to pay the HOA fees for the property, or is the landlord going to cover that?  The last thing you want to find out a month after moving in is that there are fees of which you were unaware that are going to be your responsibility for the length of the lease.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.


  1. A year is a long time to have to wait to change landlords.

  2. The average cost of Renters insurance is only about $12 per month. It's a wise investment to protect your stuff.

  3. I'm glad I don't rent anymore, but when I did, I had renters insurance. It was a cheap safety net for me.


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