Whether you’re renting for the first time or you just need a refresher, use this checklist to spot potential red flags before signing a lease. Once you’re in your new place (or even if you decide not to move), dust off your renters policy for a quick once-over.
- What is the surrounding area like at different times of the day? Confirm it’s safe at all hours, especially if you have a dog to walk or commute late at night.
- Have you met the maintenance technician? Stop by the apartment office for a visit. Many maintenance technicians have passkey access to all apartments. It’s a great benefit when you have a leak or get locked out of your apartment. (A 24-hour maintenance service might qualify you for a renters insurance discount, too.) But it’s not so good if you don’t feel safe with them.
- Is security a priority? Check for cameras, gates, adequate lighting, buzzer entry locks or a door attendant. Attendants and security systems create layers of protection and provide peace of mind. (Added security might also qualify for a discount on your renters insurance.)
- Are the common areas well-kept? Check out the laundry room, parking areas, hallways, elevators, trash chutes, recycling, storage areas and entryways. Ensure they’re obstruction-free, secure and well-lit. You don’t want to feel unsafe in a creepy laundry area or every time you take out the trash.
- Who’s responsible for outdoor maintenance? If you’re in a flat or town house, you might have to maintain your walkways in the winter and lawn in the summer. Find out if there is a service and how often they come to clear the walkways and parking spaces.
- Are there any signs of infestation? A place might look great on the surface (even recently remodeled), but an infestation could be lurking behind cabinets and under sinks. Take a flashlight and look for droppings and insect shedding around pipes, appliances and sinks. Ask if they use a professional pest control service for the building.
- Are the doors and windows in good condition? Check for locks and tight-fitting doors. Make sure all windows are functional, have screens and lock properly. Poorly maintained doors and windows are a security hazard and can be the culprit behind higher utility bills.
- Is the plumbing in good shape? You don’t want a reverse flow of sewer water or a burst pipe situation on your hands. (Check with your insurance agent about adding sewer backup insurance to your renters policy.)
- Are there bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans and window ventilation? A kitchen mishap can be an olfactory nightmare if there's no window or exhaust fan nearby.
- Are the electrical sockets conveniently located, safe and operable? It’s inconvenient and dangerous to have too few outlets, and it may force tenants to overload them using power strips or extension cords. Remember that the electrical system feeds the whole building, not just your unit. Poorly maintained electrical systems are fire hazards for everyone who lives there, so don’t chance it.
- Are there fire and carbon monoxide detectors on every level and outside all sleeping areas? Modern homes and furnishings are highly flammable, allowing fires to spread rapidly. Carbon monoxide has no odor, so it can silently poison victims before they have the opportunity to escape to fresh air. Most states require property owners to maintain functional alarms, and some even specify the type of alarm and power source. Check the laws in your state.
- Is there lead-based paint? Look for indicators of lead-based paint, like peeling on porches and other aging areas, especially in vintage buildings (1978 or earlier). Curious children might pick at peeling paint or accidentally consume fine particles that settle as dust. Property owners must tell you if there is lead paint in the building. (Don’t repaint on your own. The dust is toxic, so leave it to the professionals.)
- Are there leaks or water damage? Check ceilings for moisture stains, cracks and flaking. These could be signs of a water leak, which could sprout mold. Mold is unhealthy, especially black mold. (And even if the property owner corrects it, proper remediation could take weeks.)
- Is the flooring clean and free from damage? Loose floorboards, threadbare carpet and uneven floor transitions are tripping hazards for you and your guests.
- Do you have strong mobile reception? If your cellphone is your only phone, you’ll need reliable service in all areas of the apartment. Call your best friend during the showing and take a stroll through the apartment to check the reception.
- Is the internet access reliable? Verify your choice of internet providers. Some apartment complexes have an exclusive provider relationship, which means you’ll have to use their internet service provider or get special permission to run new lines at your expense.
- Would you be comfortable working from home if a lockdown or quarantine situation arose? Consider the office space and amenities from the perspective of a two-week quarantine.
- What’s the parking situation? If there is assigned parking or a garage, ask to see the space. Take note of the distance to the building entryway and if the space is well-lit and maintained. If parking isn’t included, check the street parking situation. The last thing you want at the end of a workday is to spend two hours looking for a place to park. Where you park your car (indoor or outdoor, secured garage or an open lot) can also affect your auto insurance. Call your agent to see if the location you’re considering will affect your rates.
- How does the commute feel? Ensure you have backup options like a rideshare or public transit line nearby. Have a test run to see how long the commute is during rush hour.
- Is it noisy? A barking dog could be a deal breaker if you’re working remotely. Schedule a showing for midday and again in the evening if you can swing it.
- What do the neighbors think? They might not be why you sign or bail on the deal, but it’s nice to hear their thoughts (and it gives you an excuse to meet the people you’ll share your space with).
Renters insurance refresher
Even if your property owner has insurance, it won’t cover your belongings. Use this checklist to make sure you're protected.
- Inventory your belongings:
- Take pictures or videos of your belongings (like furniture, clothes, recreational toys, electronics and jewelry).
- Copy receipts, and serial and model numbers.
- Store your inventory on the cloud so you can access it after a disaster.
- Ask your agent about replacement value (RV) and actual cash value (ACV):
- ACV reimburses you for the depreciated value of your belongings (usually a fraction of the actual cost).
- RV reimburses you using current pricing for your belongings.
- Ensure your reimbursement type works for your budget, and consider how much you can afford to pay out of pocket if you lose everything in a fire.
- Review your policy limits:
- Medical payments help if your fur baby bites someone or a guest is injured in your apartment.
- General liability helps if someone sues you for personal injury or defamation.
- Don't forget about essential add-on coverages for things like:
- Additional living expenses (If you have to relocate temporarily because of a fire, this policy would help with additional living expenses.)
- Earthquakes (Any earth movement is excluded without this additional coverage.)
- Flooding (Your basement storage locker might be at risk even if you're on a higher floor.)
- Sewer backups (Sewage can back-flow into your home, regardless of where you're located.)
- Electronics and jewelry (Most policies only cover up to $2,500.)
Give your insurance agent a call for a policy refresh — they’re happy to help protect what matters most to you!
Blue Ridge Risk Partners is a top 75 independent insurance agency in the United States. With 21 offices throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia and access to hundreds of carriers, we are able to meet your unique insurance needs.