Typically, online listing photos show apartments in their best light. But that can quickly go from attractive to scary when you step inside the actual unit and realize you’re walking through a second-rate, poorly maintained place that’s not worth its price.
At a time when rent prices are higher than ever, it’s important for renters to know how to detect an apartment that has lingering issues or will have issues in the future.
So what red flags should you look out for when you tour an apartment?
1. Unkempt condition
Sure, the place appears flawless in the online listing. But you will need to take a closer look to see if it matches up to reality.
Take a good look at the entire community. Poor landscaping, cracked sidewalks, potholes in the parking lot, fused bulbs in the garage, and poor lighting surrounding the community are some signs of poor maintenance.
Make sure to also look at the conditions right before you step into the apartment.
“How are the hallways? Are they dingy with old fluorescent lighting, old carpeting, and multiple coats of bad paint?” says Svetlana Choi, a broker at Coldwell Banker Warburg.
2. A questionable landlord
Be sure to vet the landlord or management company. Are they polite? How forthcoming they are? Are they detail-oriented? These things will all help you determine if they’ll be helpful down the road.
“If the lobby, elevator, and hallways look shabby, dated, or run-down, this can indicate an absentee landlord or rental company that doesn’t maintain a high-end product for its tenants,” says Steven Gottlieb, agent with Coldwell Banker Warburg.
Don’t be afraid to engage the landlord with direct questions. For example, if a maintenance issue occurs, how do they go about solving the problem?
“How quickly do they respond and get things fixed? If they don’t answer you quickly or hesitate, that’s a red flag,” says George Genel, CEO of rental screening service Mysmartrenter.com.
Genel advises doing a landlord background screening, which can uncover rental scams, code violations, unlawful evictions, judgments, liens, and more.
3. Water damage
“Look up to see if there are any water stains on the ceiling,” says Genel. This could indicate water damage from a leaking roof, burst pipe, overflowing toilet, or leaky appliance.
Other concerning signs of damage are cracks or warping in the drywall.
Be aware that water damage from the apartment above can be hidden with stucco on your unit’s ceiling, so if you have any concerns, speak up and ask the landlord about any past flooding incidents.
4. A bad smell
The apartment listing might boast new carpeting and new paint, but if you notice something particularly odorous and out of the ordinary during the tour—like cigarette smoke, rotten eggs, or gas—ask about it.
Bad tap water can smell like rotten eggs, bedbugs can smell like rotting garbage, and a leaky gas stove will smell like, well, gas.
Also, make sure to stay long enough to know what smells enter your apartment from the next-door neighbors. You don’t want to sign a lease only to realize your neighbors smoke cigarettes on their porch and the odor reaches into your apartment.
5. Outdated or non-working appliances
New paint and waxed floors are great, but if the appliances in the rental unit are looking worse for wear, you might have a future problem on your hands.
Choi poses the following questions: “How is the kitchen? Do the appliances function? Does the stove work? Is it reasonably clean or covered with grease? How’s the freezer door? Does it close properly?”
A good rental property should have appliances that actually work. Prospective renters shouldn’t be afraid to try stoves, microwaves, and refrigerators.
“If a landlord is on top of their investment, they should service and upgrade the appliances between tenants or every few years,” says Gottlieb.
6. A feeling of unease
Sometimes you walk into a place and there’s just that nagging feeling. Heed it!