Questions to Ask Before Renting

Questions to Ask Yourself

First, get to know yourself. Answering some basic questions about where and how you want to live will help narrow down potential rental locations.

  • Deciding if you are comfortable living by yourself or with someone(s) will influence a lot of the following questions, so it is very important to start here.
  • Living by yourself can have its benefits! Space all to yourself, no negotiations with roommates, you (and only you) have to worry about the contents of the lease.
  • Living with roommates can be great! Aside from people generally being social, roommates will often split costs and responsibilities in the living space.
  • While there is "data" out there for having roommates or not, it is important to start by reflecting. Can you afford to live by yourself, if that is what you want? Do you have friends who you would want to live with? Do you know where to look to find folks looking for roommates (especially if you are moving far away)?
  • The main take away is: review the following questions and take the time to reflect on you, and you'll be great!
  • Studios are best suited for those who want to live by themselves, but can also work for couples. These can be the cheapest spaces and can also include "efficiency" amenities (bedroom/dining room/kitchen sharing the same space, smaller appliances, etc). These are also, usually, the smallest spaces so it is important to look at how much you own and how much you need to take with you.
  • "Full-size" apartments here means a space similar to the Village at E 115th or the STJ; separate bedroom(s), full-size kitchen, a stand-alone living room, those sort of things. This housing option usually is the middle size and also has the middle cost. Depending on the apartment building, these spaces can accommodate a single person up to a full family.
  • Finally, rental houses are similar to the off-campus houses on Hessler or South Overlook Roads. These are either partial- or full-houses with multiple bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, multiple floors, possibly even a basement! Since these are often the largest spaces they tend to be the most expensive, but they are also the easiest to share with several people, dividing the cost.
  • How much space do you need? How many people do you expect to be living with? How much are you willing to spend on your living situation? These are the sort of questions to consider when looking at these three major rental styles.
  • Living in an urban setting (University Circle, Cleveland Heights, Downtown) is usually the most expensive of these three options but can have a wide range of prices depending on the community. However, an urban living option usually has the easiest access to the resources of the city like entertainment, healthcare, and commercial options. Cities also generally have more robust public transportation options so owning a car may not be necessary.
  • Suburban housing options vary widely in terms of price, quality, public transit options, and access to resources. But, suburban communities are generally less populated than a city center. It may take a bit more effort to find the right building, but if you prefer to be further from a city, a suburban apartment might be correct for you.
  • The main appeals of rural living are space and quiet. If you are looking for a place without all of the bustle of a city, with a back yard big enough for a couple pet dogs, rural living may be for you. You will likely have access to fewer public resources and public transportation will be less common. Land and property costs can be lower in rural communities so that may offset the costs you'll need to consider for transportation and other amenities.
  • This is another personal question to consider when looking for a place to live. Do you need/want to use a personal car or are you comfortable with public transit? Do you enjoy the bustling city lifestyle or a quiet, rural space? Do you need the space to spread out or are you fine with a smaller, closer apartment?
  • Depending on your personal situation, you may need a place to stay for a month or a couple of years. Many landlords and companies offer a variety of lease options to consider.
  • Short-term leases, usually on a month-by-month basis, are regularly offered by rental agencies but at a significant rent mark-up compared to one-year plus agreements.
  • Landlords and agencies also usually add an additional monthly rent charge when a lease is renewed to reflect increased housing costs, inflation etc. So if you know you will be staying for a longer period, it may be worth pursuing a two-year lease or longer to keep your long-term housing costs down.
  • Are you being hired for a multi-year job or academic program? Are you just passing through for a couple of months? Be sure to ask your landlord what options they offer to meet your needs.
  • On average, individuals should be spending no more than 40% of their monthly income on housing costs. This includes rent, parking, utilities, renter's insurance, and all other housing factors.
  • Any percentage less than this could open up your budget for more savings, paying back loans, and more access to entertainment. So, think carefully if you need all of the offerings of a 40% space or if a cheaper option would still fit your needs.
  • Housing costs will go down the more you share them with roommates. Keep this in mind when considering if a roommate is right for you.
  • How much will you be earning when you move off-campus? How do your answers to the previous questions impact the amount you will need to spend on housing? Have you considered up-front or one-time costs such as deposits and pet fees in your budgeting?

Questions to Ask the Landlord

Now that you have an idea of what your ideal living situation looks like, make sure you are prepared to work with private landlords and realty agencies. Every property is different and leases will be different too. So take a look at these questions and make sure you know the answers before signing anything.

  • How much is the rent?
  • When is the rent due?
  • Is there a penalty/fee if the rent is late?
  • If someone moves out, how will the remaining roommates pay the difference?
  • How long is the lease?
  • When does the lease end/begin?
  • What is the penalty for breaking the lease?
  • How much is the deposit?
  • How and when is the deposit refunded?
  • Should all roommates sign the lease?
  • What utilities are included in the rent?
  • How much is the installation charge for the utilities, if any?
  • What is the average monthly cost for heat, gas, electricity, etc., if they are not included in the rent?
  • Is there parking available on the street, parking lot, or garage?
  • Is there a cost for parking or is it included in the rent?
  • Are there laundry facilities in the building?
  • How many laundry units are there? Are they on every floor?
  • Are they coin operated? How much does it cost?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Is there an additional charge for having pets?
  • May the apartment be altered (painted, etc.)?
  • Can you hang pictures on the wall (and how)?
  • Under what circumstances may the landlord enter your apartment?
  • How much advance notice must be given prior to entry?
  • How are maintenance concerns handled?
  • What is the procedure to report problems or concerns?
  • What is the turn-around time for getting a maintenance problem corrected?
  • Is subletting permitted?
  • What are the procedures for subletting?
  • Is there a penalty for subletting?

This is not a comprehensive list of potential questions and your needs may determine what questions you need to ask. Still, a lease is a binding legal document and it is important that you know as much as possible before signing. 

Renters Insurance

Finally, a note on renters insurance. Just like with CWRU Housing, most landlords are not going to provide insurance for you or your belongings. If you already have insurance, be sure to update your provider for your new address. If you do not currently have renter's insurance, please consider shopping through the various rental agencies to find a plan that works for you. Especially in an apartment building, fires, floods, and other catastrophes can be out of your control. But, if you are prepared, then you will be able to start rebuilding quickly.

For more information on different insurance companies, please review this breakdown provided by ConsumersAdvocate.org.