9 Big Things You Should Find Out Before Signing a Lease

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signing a lease

DC apartment hunting isn’t easy.

You may start out excited and hopeful, but after a handful of on-site tours and dizzying Craigslist searches, you may start to feel exhausted. Before you know it, you’re signing a lease for a 6-floor walkup apartment without bathroom power outlets and with appliances from the 40s.

Don’t give in to the desperation to end the apartment-hunting journey! It’s worth holding out for the perfect apartment, even if it means packing and moving in just four weeks. The next time you’re ready to give up the hunt and hastily sign every paper dropped in your lap, ask yourself these 9 questions.

1. What’s the transportation situation?

You found a place that looks exactly how you pictured—except it’s far away from any public transportation, and there’s only street parking. Should you go for it? Well, it depends. Do you work from home, or is it going to take you three hours to get to work? If you rely on a bike for transportation, are you OK using it in the winter months, too? Do you have a car you’re unwilling to get rid of, though it will take you 45 minutes to find a spot on an average day?

Realtors get it right when they emphasize location over everything. Look for a place that’s relatively close to both work and play, so you don’t spend tons of money or time trying to get wherever you’re going.

2. Is the neighborhood is “up your alley”?

(Pun intended.) Think about it, though—is this really the ideal DC neighborhood for you? Once you’ve figured out your transportation options, it’s time to think about the safety, noise level, and walkability of your neighborhood. Will you have to drive to get anywhere relevant, and will you feel safe walking home from the metro? Think about these things before you get stuck living next to a massive (loud!) construction project while trying to work from home. What sacrifices are you willing to make to live in a great neighborhood?

3. Is your pet allowed?

Apartment hunting with a cat isn’t too tough. Apartment hunting with a dog makes everything a bit more challenging. But before you sign that dog-friendly apartment lease, make sure your dog breed is allowed, and find out if you have to pay a pet deposit and monthly pet rent, or just one or the other. In addition, check to see if there’s a vet or pet store nearby for convenience.

Side note about dog breed restrictions and payments: if you’re thinking about sneaking your pet in, reconsider. You’ll constantly be wondering if your neighbors or landlord will notice and you’ll be in trouble. The peace of mind alone will be worth it—and if your landlord or manager drops by one day to check on a potential water leak, you won’t have to scramble to hide Fido.

4. Are you really OK with that electric stove?

Get ready for the tradeoffs—it’s rare to find an apartment that has it all—the location, amenities, features, and pet-friendliness. Tenley View comes pretty close, but we’re a bit biased! However, now’s a good time to think about your cleaning and cooking habits. Are you OK with carting your laundry to the laundromat, or paying for a laundry service? And if you are a master chef, are you really going to be OK without a gas stove?

Be honest about your needs. This is similar to a relationship—your apartment may not be perfect, but it should have all of the important things present. These “important things” will be different for every person!

5. Do you understand the lease?

Hey, eager apartment-hunting beaver. Did you actually read the fine print in that lease, and do you understand all of it? Even if you do understand it all, is it legal? There are many renter’s laws that protect tenants in DC. Unfortunately, they won’t do you any good if you don’t know them.

Research the DC renter’s laws so you know when you’re being taken advantage of, and what you can reasonably expect. For instance, the landlord can’t retain your full deposit unless there are damages (by you) equalling that amount when you move out. In addition, this security deposit cannot exceed the cost of one month’s rent. Know your rights, and you could save potential headaches and loads of cash.

6. Is the manager responsive or close by?

This is incredibly important. Whether you’re working with a manager or a landlord, you should have their contact information, and they should be responsive. Period.

There is nothing worse than discovering your pipes are frozen or have burst, and your supposed manager is nowhere to be seen. We’ve heard plenty of horror stories about managers or landlords that essentially don’t exist—don’t fall victim to this problem. Make sure you can see, speak with, and rely on your manager. Better yet, go with an apartment such as Tenley View that has a professional 24/7 management team.

7. Do you need renter’s insurance?

This is a good question to ask before you move in. You may not believe you need it, but even in a secure building, you never know—even if you’re super careful to blow out candles when you go to bed or turn off your stove, in a shared apartment community, others may not be as careful.

We’re not saying this to make you paranoid, we’re saying this because renter’s insurance is one of those things you may scoff at until you really need it. You don’t have to pay a ton to get great coverage, either—it all depends on your preference. Just make sure you don’t blindly accept the first offer.

8. Are you allowed to decorate or modify your place?

You may have grand plans for hanging up decorative wallpaper and screwing shelves into the wall, but your lease agreement might say a hard “no” to these things. If the personality of your place is important to you—and will be severely cramped by a limit on the number of walls you can paint—then that apartment probably isn’t for you. Don’t try to work around these restrictions on the down low, either.

At the end of your lease, it’s going to be tough to get your full security deposit back if they notice those holes in the wall above the windows that you barely patched up. Again, just either make those sticky removable hooks your new best friend, or just move into a different place that allows modifications.

9. What forms of payment are accepted?

You might underestimate flexible forms of payment until you are stuck mailing in checks to pay rent every month. If you pay most of your bills online, it’s going to require a slight adjustment to pay in physical form. You might not even have checks on hand! See if PayPal or other kinds of flexible online payments are allowed, when they’re due, and how much you might be charged after a late payment. Note: an awkward payment format isn’t a deal breaker, it’s just good to prepare for in advance.


This isn’t an exhaustive list of questions, but it’s certainly enough to cover the main bases before moving into an apartment. Have more must-ask questions? Share them in the comments!

If you’re currently hunting for apartments, make sure you schedule a tour at Tenley View in Tenleytown, DC. Just be warned—it may be the last tour you go on. Our community is hard not to love!

Filed under: Lifestyle