It is crucial that you read a lease very carefully before you sign it. It is a legally binding contract, and you can be held to any and all of the conditions of tenancy once you sign the document, as long as they do not conflict with any state or local laws.
As you start searching for housing, make a list of any questions you have. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to other tenants or to ask about the neighborhood, the nearest shopping centers, bus lines, or any visible damages to the unit. You can also speak to other residents in the building to find out what they like and don’t like about living there. You can gather information about other tenants’ experiences in the apartment building by researching it at Apartment Ratings. See below for a detailed list of questions to ask a potential landlord.
Below are a series of questions you can ask the landlord before you sign a rental agreement:
1) General Questions
- Is it a fixed-term or month-to-month tenancy?
- Does the contract extend month-to-month after the fixed term, or does the tenancy end at the end of the lease term?
- When specifically does the tenancy begin and end? Is the landlord going to prorate the costs if it is in the middle of the month?
- Will the landlord provide you with receipts for your rent? The Landlord Tenant Act requires that they provide you with a receipt for anything paid in cash, and a receipt for all other payments if requested by the tenant.
- Where and how do you pay your rent?
- Who does the landlord designate as their agent, if any? Have you been provided with their name and contact information?
- What is the landlord’s notice address for repair requests and other correspondence?
- If the unit is within the city limits of Seattle, did your landlord provide you with a copy of the Department of Construction and Inspection summary Information for Tenants as required in the Seattle Municipal Code on Rental Agreement Regulation (SMC 7.24.080)?
- Who do you contact in an emergency?
- Can you speak with other tenants to see how they like living in the building? You can research apartment buildings at Apartment Ratings or the Better Business Bureau website.
- Is there off-street parking?
- Is there an onsite manager? When are they available?
- Does the landlord live in the building or nearby?
- How often does the landlord intend on coming into the unit for inspections?
- What is the neighborhood like? Are there schools and grocery stores nearby?
- Is the unit close to public transportation options?
- Are there any parts of your lease that sound odd to you, or that make you unsure that the landlord is following the law?
2) Rules of Tenancy
- When are the quiet hours?
- When is your rent payment considered late?
- Are all the rules and requirements of tenancy reasonable?
- Does the lease include any rules that violate your rights under state or local laws?
- Will the landlord allow you to paint the unit or install a satellite dish if you want to? Is landlord consent required to do so?
- What is the guest policy?
- Will the landlord allow you to move another person into the unit mid-contract? What is the screening process?
- Does the landlord allow pets? Is there a pet deposit or fee?
- How much is the deposit?
- Is it a security or damage deposit?
- Does the landlord provide information on which financial institution your deposit is being held in?
- Is a portion of the deposit designated as nonrefundable?
- Did the landlord give you a receipt for your deposit?
- Does the contract detail the terms and conditions under which your deposit is refundable?
- Did the landlord provide you with a detailed checklist of the conditions of the unit upon move in that you both signed off on?
4) Other Fees
- What fees are being charged? Are they reasonable?
- How much are late fees and when are they charged?
- Is the landlord asking you to pay any notice or attorney’s fees?
- Are there fees to replace keys or NSF check processing fees?
- Are there fees for parking or storage?
- Is the landlord asking for last month’s rent? What is the process for applying it to your rent?
- What utilities are you responsible for? What utilities are being paid by the landlord?
- Is it your responsibility to put the utilities in your name?
- Are there outstanding utility charges on the accounts?
- How is the landlord calculating your portion of the utilities? Is there a Third-Party Billing company?
- What kind of heating is in the unit? Where is the thermostat located? Who is in control of the temperature setting? When is the heat turned on? Do other tenants have access to the thermostat?
- Where are the fuse box and the hot water heater located?
- Does the landlord charge you a fee for late utilities? Is this fee in addition to the utility company’s late fee?
6) Condition of Unit
- Is the landlord making any commitments to you to improve the conditions of the unit? If yes, get it in writing.
- Do all the outlets, plumbing, heaters, light fixtures and phone jacks function well?
- Is there adequate ventilation in the bathroom and unit in general?
- Are there adequate locks on all the doors?
- Do all the windows open and shut properly?
- Is there excessive noise from heaters, neighbors, the street or construction nearby?
Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.