VOLUME 5R10 Questions Tenants Should Always Ask Before Moving In
By Jonathan Pressman
Photo credit: Leeloo Thefirst/PexelsWhen tenants are looking for a new home, it is not always as simple as signing a lease, paying a deposit and scheduling movers. During their search for a rental, renters should prioritize the lease and the landlord, in addition to the home’s actual features. Asking the right questions can help avoid a miscommunication before it can start.

Here are 10 questions tenants should always ask before moving into a new rental home.

1. What Is Included in the Rent?
Common utilities like water, gas and electricity may or may not be included. Ask what living expenses are included in the rent and who to contact if any utilities were temporarily turned off until a new tenant moved in.

2. What Is the Penalty for Terminating the Lease Early?
Renters should understand the landlord’s policy for ending the lease early, even if they have no intention of doing so. Caregivers, business travelers, veterans, divorcees and a host of others might find themselves having to move at a moment’s notice. Be prepared for potential fines.

3. What Are the Policies for Landlord Access to the Unit?
Although Texas and Florida have specific laws regarding how much time landlords are allowed to complete repairs, tenants should double-check to make sure the property owner actually follows this.

In Florida, landlords can legally access the premises anytime for inspections or improvements. However, there is a 12-hour minimum and seven-day maximum to get the tenant’s consent. In Texas, there is no law specifying what constitutes reasonable notice, so renters need to make sure they ask the landlord how much notice will be given. The latter state also has a seven-day maximum for repairs.

4. When Is the Rent Due?
Verify which day of the month the rent is due, whether there is a grace period, who to make the payment out to and the cost for late fees. Also, confirm what forms of payment the landlord accepts (ex. check, ACH transfers, money orders, cashier's checks, etc.).

Photo credit: PhotoMIX Company/Pexels5. Who Is Responsible for the Landscaping?
Maintaining a home’s lawn and landscaping can require a sizable investment of time and money, and can easily lead to a dispute between landlords and tenants if garden upkeep is not clearly assigned before the lease begins. Many municipal governments and condo associations (COAs) can issue fines for failing to adequately maintain lawns and shrubs, which landlords could hold tenants responsible for.

6. Is Renters Insurance Required?
Renters insurance is not required by law, but landlords can legally require tenants to purchase it as part of their lease agreement. (Renters insurance is designed to help protect tenants from financial losses, theft and property damage.)

7. Who Is Responsible for Maintenance/Repairs?
Landlords should have a maintenance staff, along with contractors who handle repairs. (This could be the same person or team.) Renters should inquire about the process for submitting maintenance and repair requests. If the landlord does not have one, it could be a red flag that the landlord might not take care of repairs in a timely manner.

8. Can Changes Be Made to the Property?
Though standard leasing contracts in Texas and Florida prohibit renters from making permanent changes to the property, some landlords may be willing to offer exceptions. For example, if a renter wants to paint the interior a certain color or install blinds, the landlord might allow them to make those changes. However, renters should always collect written proof of what changes they can make to the property, including exceptions.

9. What Are the Rules Regarding Pets?
Some landlords prohibit pets altogether, while others might charge pet fees or impose restrictions on the type, breed or number of animals permitted to live on the property. Renters who have pets will typically know the landlord’s pet policies, but this is a question all renters should ask, especially if they are considering adding a four-legged friend to the family later on.

Photo credit: congerdesign/Pixabay10. Have the Locks Been Replaced Since the Previous Tenant Moved Out?
Asking the landlord whether they have rekeyed or replaced the locks can help provide the comfort of knowing the previous tenant no longer has access to the property. In Texas, landlords are required (at their own expense) to replace locks between tenants within seven days of the new tenant moving in. In Florida, there does not appear to be any law requiring landlords to change or rekey locks between tenants.

Asking questions before moving into a new home can help renters better understand the terms of their lease and what to expect from the landlord. These 10 questions are a good starting point for every tenant, though renters who have additional questions are encouraged to pursue all answers before signing any long-term legal agreement.