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21 Important Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

Janine DeVault

Oct 31, 2022 10 min read

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Questions to ask about rental

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Looking to rent a home? Apartment hunting can be an overwhelming process, and if you’re new to it, you may find yourself getting distracted by aesthetics rather than focusing on the aspects of a rental that will most impact your daily life. Here are some essential questions to ask about rentals as you go through the process of narrowing your selections. Keeping these in mind will help you find a place that fits your budget and lifestyle and a landlord you can trust. 

1. What is the Application Process?

Before you commit to applying for a new rental, ask your prospective landlord what the application process entails. 

Typically you will be asked to authorize a credit check and provide a couple of references from previous landlords. However, some applications may be more in-depth. A prospective landlord may require proof of employment and several months' worth of paystubs or bank statements. If you are applying with a guarantor, additional paperwork may be required.

Knowing what to expect will help you ensure you can gather the necessary documentation within a reasonable time frame.  

2. Is There An Application Fee?

Always ask if there’s an application fee for an apartment you’re considering applying for. In some provinces, including British Columbia and Ontario, rental application fees are illegal, but this doesn’t stop some errant landlords from requesting them anyway.

Check the landlord-tenant laws in your province to determine whether application fees are legitimate. If a landlord is charging an illegal fee, there’s a good chance you don’t want to rent from them. On the other hand, if the fee is legitimate, make sure you’re truly happy with the prospective rental before applying. The last thing you want is to pay an application fee for a rental you have lukewarm feelings toward. 

Rent Payment

3. What is The Monthly Rent?

The cost of rent may vary based on the unit you choose, the number of people who will be living there, and other factors, including whether you have pets or require a parking space. In some cases, you may even be able to negotiate a lower rate, say, if you’re a single occupant renting a 2-bedroom apartment or if you opt to take on some maintenance duties such as mowing the lawn.   

4. What is The Security Deposit Amount?

There are laws around how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit (though they vary across provinces and territories). Always inquire about the amount of the security deposit before agreeing to pay. If the amount requested is higher than the legal amount, it could be a sign of a negligent landlord.  

5. What is The Late Fee Policy?

While you should always pay your rent on time, it’s still important to know the late payment fee so you can plan accordingly. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re falling behind on bills, you’ll need to budget to cover this fee. Sometimes, your landlord may be more flexible on late fees if you ask for an extension in advance. It never hurts to try! 

6. What is The Subletting Policy?

If you’re hoping to move home for the summer, are planning to take a temporary job posting in another city, or want to travel for a few months, verify that your rental permits subletting before signing the lease. If subletting isn’t allowed, you’ll be on the hook for rent until the end of your lease. 

7. Is a Cosigner Required?

Depending on your credit score, you may need a cosigner to qualify for a rental. It’s good to know in advance if this is the case, so you have time to line one up before the rental application is due. 

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8. What is The Pet Policy?

Renting with pets can be tricky. Even if an apartment is pet-friendly, there may be specific rules you must follow. Some apartments have stipulations around the number of pets permitted in a unit or the size of said pets, and others have restrictions around which breeds are allowed to reside on the property. 

9. Is There a Pet Deposit?

Pet deposits are fairly common in rentals that permit pets, but it’s essential to know how much your furry friend will cost you. Depending on where you live, the pet deposit may cost anywhere from $100 to a full month’s rent, in which case you’ll definitely need to plan for the expense. 

Pet deposits are illegal in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador. There are no laws related to pet deposits in Yukon or Nunavut. 

Landlords cannot charge pet deposits for service animals in any province or territory. 

Lease contract

10. What is The Parking Situation?

If you have a vehicle, don’t forget to inquire about parking. Some rentals may have designated parking spaces for tenants, while others may offer parking for a monthly fee. Parking is sometimes unavailable, forcing you to park on the street. If this is the case, investigate the street parking to see what is permitted in the area surrounding your building and ask yourself if the parking situation is convenient for you. If you’re forced to park several blocks from your front door, this may not be the right unit for you! 

Don’t forget to ask about guest parking too. If you like to have friends over, it’s good to know what their options are in terms of parking. 

11. What is The Guest Policy?

Whether you have a partner or hope to host friends and family from out of town, it’s essential to be aware of a rental’s guest policy. Typically there’s a cap on how many nights per month a guest is permitted to stay. Exceeding this may result in additional charges or put you in violation of your lease. Clarifying these terms before signing will ensure that you don’t run into any issues with your landlord throughout your tenancy.

12. What is The Maintenance Fee?

Maintenance fees are usually built into the cost of your rent, but it’s always wise to double-check, so you don’t face any surprises after signing a lease. If unexpected maintenance issues arise within your unit, such as a plumbing problem or a broken appliance, these are usually the landlord's responsibility. However, in some cases, your landlord may ask that you pay for the maintenance and submit your receipts to be reimbursed, or they may deduct the expenses from the rent you owe. 

Whatever the case, ask your landlord about maintenance fees and their procedure for handling maintenance requests so you’re prepared if an issue arises. 

Parking Garage

13. What is The Utilities Fee?

Depending on your landlord, the utilities may be included in the rent, or you may be responsible for your own utility bills. In some cases, some utilities (such as water and gas) may be included while you are responsible for others, like internet and electricity. If your rental is a suite within a house, your landlord may charge you a percentage of the overall utility bills (say, 30%), so the rate may fluctuate month-to-month.

Naturally, if you’re expected to pay your utility bills, you need to know how much they will cost so you can decide whether the rental in question will fit within your budget. Your landlord should be able to give you an idea of average utility costs based on what previous tenants paid, so don’t hesitate to ask. 

14. Which Appliances or Furniture Are Included?

You will always need to purchase a few new items when moving into a new apartment. Even small things like trash cans and toilet brushes can add up quickly. Not to mention you’ll probably need furniture items, dishes, and more. With this in mind, knowing what furniture and appliances are included in your prospective rental is key; the fewer things you need to purchase, the better.

Even if a listing states that the unit comes furnished, make sure you establish exactly what that means. In some cases, the landlord’s definition of furnished could mean that just the bare minimum is included, such as a dining table and a bed. This may be better than nothing, but you’ll likely want to add quite a few more items, such as a nightstand, sofa, and dresser, to the unit before it feels adequately furnished. 

The same is true of appliances. Often appliances are included with a rental, but not always. To avoid any surprises, clarify that essentials like a fridge and a stove will be in the unit when you take possession. 

Once you’re clear on what is or isn’t included in terms of furniture and appliances, you can create a budget to figure out how much it will cost to outfit the rental to your standards. Depending on prices, it may make sense to keep looking for a more fully equipped unit. 

Tenant's responsibility

15. Will Rent Ever Increase?

Before renting an apartment, ensure you understand the rent increases laws in your province or territory. In most areas, landlords can only raise the rent once in 12 months, and usually, they are only legally allowed to increase it by a certain percentage. 

Unfortunately, landlords don’t always follow the rules. It’s wise to do your due diligence and ask upfront about the potential for rent increases, so you aren’t caught by surprise after signing a lease. Unless your area has rent control, landlords typically raise rents at the end of a lease term to keep up with current market rates. So, even if you renew your lease on the same apartment, you’ll inevitably pay a higher rate on the new contract. 

16. What Renovations or Changes Can I Make to The Apartment?

If you’re the type who enjoys making a space your own, this is an essential question to ask before signing a lease on an apartment. Generally, significant modifications aren’t permitted, but changing paint colours, adding window coverings, and installing basic fixtures like lights or shelving is often fine. That said, it’s best to ensure you and your landlord are on the same page about renovations and changes before you sign your lease, so you don’t risk sacrificing your damage deposit. 

Rental agreement

17. What Amenities Are Included?

Knowing which amenities are included in your rental can be crucial to working out your monthly budget. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of multiple different rentals, amenities like in-suite laundry, an on-site gym or a pool could be a deciding factor in which apartment you ultimately choose. 

18. Do I Need Renters Insurance?

Renter’s insurance isn’t legally required in Canada, but some landlords demand it. While insurance offers great benefits, it also represents an additional monthly expense, so it’s good to know whether your landlord expects it before committing to a rental. 

19. What is The Laundry Situation?

Having laundry included in your rental is a major perk. If it’s not included, it’s essential to know your options and how they’ll affect your budget and lifestyle. If the laundry is available for an additional fee, factor it into your monthly expenses. If there’s no laundry available, you’ll have to factor in the cost of a laundromat or laundry service and budget time in your weekly schedule to get your washing done. 

Additional Fees

20. What Forms of Payment Do You Accept?

Knowing how your landlord prefers to receive rent payments is critical for avoiding miscommunications or late fees. Ask your landlord their preferred payment method, whether cheque, e-transfer, or something else, so you can ensure you make your rent payments on time. 

21. When Do You Expect to Fill The Unit?

Before you sign a lease, ensure the unit will be available within a timeline that works for you. For instance, if the landlord is planning to do maintenance or renovations to the unit before you take possession, it’s important to verify that it will be ready by the time you need to move. 

The Bottom Line

There are a lot of considerations to make when renting an apartment. Of course, you want to find a place with a good location and a functional layout, but the lease details are just as important to consider. Before you begin your apartment search, familiarize yourself with the tenancy laws in your area so you can be aware of any red flags you encounter. While most landlords are reliable, there are some bad eggs out there and knowing your rights will help you avoid them. 

Keep these questions in mind as you look for the perfect apartment. They will help you choose a place that fits your budget and help you determine whether your prospective landlord is someone you can trust.  

Janine DeVault
Janine DeVault

Janine is a writer who focuses on topics such as credit education, money management, and renting best practices for tenants and landlords. Janine loves to travel and has lived in Canada, the US, and Mexico.

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