Renting is a good way to experience the benefits of living in a house without committing to ownership. You may be dealing directly with the owner as your landlord or with a management company. In either case, be sure to ask important questions about the physical condition of the house and details of the lease before you sign any documents.
Ask, "What are the financial qualifications for renting this house?" In most cases, renters must pass a credit check. Some landlords also require particular income levels. Landlords will not rent to an applicant if they don't believe he makes enough money to afford the payments. Keep your credit in top shape.
Inquire about whether the rent includes utilities such as gas, electricity, water and garbage. If you'll be responsible for utilities, make sure you can afford those payments on top of the rent. Ask to see bills from the previous winter. Ask whether you can install room air conditioners if there is no central air-conditioning.
Find out when the rent is due, and who receives payment. Ask whether there is a grace period past the due date when the payment will not be considered late. Ask about late fees if the payment is past due.
If you're still ready to proceed at this point, ask about all monthly fees related to renting the house.
Ask whether the house needs any repairs. Inspect the house. Look for stains on the ceilings. Flush the toilets and turn on showers and stoves to see whether they run properly. Check for cracks in the foundation. If repairs are required, make sure they are made before you sign the lease.
Determine who handles repairs and lawn care. If the toilet backs up, do you do the plunging, or does the landlord? When the roof leaks, should you call the landlord directly or a management company? Ask how long it will take to make basic repairs to the property and how you will be compensated if a repair requires that you leave the rental for a few days.
Ask, "How old is the wiring?" Make sure the electrical system can handle computers, TV, fax machines and microwave ovens.
Find out how well the house retains heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. If you're told, for example, that the house can be drafty in the winter, it's especially important to know who pays the utility bills--or even how high you're allowed to turn up the thermostat.
Ask how long the lease duration is. Ask whether there are penalties if you must move before the lease is up.
Ask, "Are there local ordinances that affect my lease?" Some communities limit the number of people who can live in a rental or the number of pets residents can have. If you have a garage band, find out whether there are noise ordinances that would apply to you.
Ask about the neighborhood. Are there stores nearby? Is the neighborhood safe after dark? Questions like this will help you determine whether this is the right house for you.
Ask about rules pertaining to your car. Are you allowed to park in the garage? How many cars are you allowed to have? Are you allowed to wash or work on your car on the property?