13 Things You Must Inspect Before Signing a Rental Agreement


Before a renter ever signs a lease, he should be proactive about practical matters. While there may be a lot of excitement in looking at a new house or apartment and all it has to offer, it is also important to take the time to check out every aspect of your potential new home. (See also: When You Should and Shouldn't Rent)

When you are looking at a house and feel confident you are going to sign the lease, take out a pen and paper as well as your camera or cell phone and perform a thorough check to save yourself a headache — and your security deposit — later.

Here are 13 things you must check before renting a new house.

1. Interior Paint

Go from room to room making sure all painted surfaces look to be in good condition. Any scratches or other damage to the paint should be documented. Any areas where the paint is affected by mold or water damage should be pointed out to the landlord immediately. Ask about restrictions on changing decor in the home.

2. Carpeting

Inspect carpeting in all rooms to assess the condition of each one. Determine areas where carpeting is new and document areas where carpeting appears permanently stained, ripped, or otherwise damaged and take pictures of each issue. Then, discuss them with the landlord.

3. AC and Heating

Ask the landlord or property manager to operate the heating and cooling system in the home and check that all vents, radiators, or air conditioning units are working in every room. Note any parts of the heating or cooling system that appear excessively dirty or damaged. Inquire about the insulation in the home, as a poorly insulated place can cost you more in heating and cooling bills. (See also: Frugal Ways to Keep Your Home Warm)

4. Windows

Check out the windows in each room to ensure they are able to be locked and that they open. Note any damage to the glass or screens before signing the lease. If possible, note any drafts coming through the window area that may require sealing for proper insulation.

5. Plumbing

Look at exposed pipes in the basement and under the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Note any signs of wetness, mold, or other damage that needs repair. Run water out of all faucets inside and outside the home and flush toilets. Take pictures and inquire about repairs prior to agreeing to the lease. Make note of the shower and tub if any mold is present, or if there are signs of water damage on the floor. (See also: Easy Plumbing Repairs You Can Do Yourself)

6. Appliances

If the home is equipped with appliances, ask the landlord to operate each one to ensure it is in working order — this includes the refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, and washing machine. Ask about repairs or replacements if problems are noted. Document in photos any signs of damage to the appliances like scratches, dents, or broken parts.

7. Electricity

Go from room to room and operate the lights and ceiling fans. Find out what every switch in the house operates to make sure all electricity is working properly. Ask the landlord to test the electrical outlets in each room to ensure they are also functioning. Note where all electrical outlets, cable wires, and telephone connections are in the house and ask the landlord if additional lines are permitted in case you need to have them installed after moving in.

8. Safety Equipment

Make sure the house has at least one working smoke detector on every floor. Ask to see the fire extinguishers and make sure they are accessible. If the home has a furnace in the basement, ask if a carbon monoxide detector is also in the home. If the home has a security system, ask for a demonstration to ensure it works.

9. Exterior

Document any damage to the exterior of the house itself and the yard including fence damage. Inquire about parking on or near the property. Discuss what is permitted in the yard such as burning trash, having a garden, or pets. Consider the neighborhood during your exterior checks including those that have unkempt yards, barking dogs, or other nuisances that may make living nearby uncomfortable before signing a lease.

10. Lease Terms and Other Stuff

In addition to checking the physical structure of the home, it is also important that you clarify all other important details before signing the lease including:

  • Total of the rent and what it includes. Review the lease and make sure all details as disclosed by the landlord are also in writing including any utilities also covered in the rent payment. (See also: 6 Ways to Haggle for Cheaper Rent)
  • Total amount of the security deposit and additional fees. Find out exactly what you need to pay for upfront. Ask for a list of issues that could cause you to lose your security deposit at the time of move out. Find out if there are associated fees after move out, including for cleaning.
  • Inquire about repair work. If there is repair work that needs to be done before you move in, make sure the lease agreement covers arrangements before you sign. Find out exactly what the landlord will take care of in repairs and what, if anything, you must pay for out of pocket.
  • Turn in documentation. When you have thoroughly read the lease agreement and have it signed, print out pictures and your notes documenting issues discovered in the house. Attach the additional paperwork and photos to the lease and have the landlord initial each page to show they have been reviewed.

At the end of the day, your goal when renting a home is to protect yourself from future problems. While many landlords are accommodating and friendly at the start of the lease, they can become very focused on their property when tenants move out. By documenting what was not working or in perfect condition upon move in, you can help protect yourself and ensure you get back your full security deposit when you choose not to renew your lease.

Did you inspect your last rental before signing the lease? Do you wish you had?

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Guest's picture

No offense but this is a good way to lose a lease. While due diligence and obviously making sure the home is move in ready is appropriate, as a landlord if someone was checking the caulking on the windows, i just see that as a high maintenance tenant whos going to be calling me every week.

I most definitely take care of my properties to the utmost, but wear and tear happens and i usually do most fixes between tenants.