1. Create a list of what you need and want
This narrows your search. Include space requirements, proximity to schools and work, transportation options, shopping, recreation and the gym. Some complexes offer amenities, such as a workout room, pool, retail, restaurants and even private buses to nearby locations.
2. Avoid online scams
Online services are a very convenient tool to use for your search, but be sure to read with care. Be alert to deals that sound too good to be true. Warning bells should go off if you are asked to pay money or give sensitive information up front before you’ve even seen the place. Requests for wire transfers are also suspicious. Ask friends and co-workers for leads or use a local real estate agent.
3. Visit the place at different times
View the condo with the owner or owner’s agent during the week to have more time for questions. But visit the complex during off-hours, too. It may be a very different place during rush hour, after work hours and on weekends.
4. When possible, deal directly with the owner
Will he or she be responsive and quickly take care of something that breaks? Search online to see what you can learn. Does the landlord or manager live nearby? How motivated is the landlord to keep the condo in top shape?
5. Read all documentation
Read the rental agreement and a copy of the owners’ association’s covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs). While tenants must abide by all rules and regulations, the owner of the condominium bears the final responsibility for any violations. Some associations restrict the length of visitors’ stays, the number of tenants per unit, the kind and number of vehicles that may be parked on the property and where, as well as kinds of pets.
6. Know your state and local laws
You can visit www.lawhelp.org for your state’s laws on housing. If the owner/landlord has money issues and falls behind on assessments or condo fees, can the board come after you for the fees? If foreclosure is imminent, what happens to your tenancy? The National Housing Law Project offers insights into the laws governing foreclosure and its impact on tenants.
7. Check your lease for insurance requirements
The owner/landlord may require insurance to cover liability, such as if there is a fire or if a bathtub overflows and damages nearby condo units. You’ll also want to consider condo insurance to help protect your possessions.
8. Ask questions
Make sure to clarify anything you don’t understand. Be sure the lease term is what you expect. Understand the terms for renewing the lease and mark your calendar to know when to tell the owner/landlord whether you'll be renewing, moving out or going month to month, if that's an option. If you choose month to month, know how much notice you need to give to move out. See whether there is an escalation clause that raises the rent during the renewed lease period. If the owner sells, make sure to include their responsibility to notify you in advance and specify the notice time, such as 24 hours, before showing the place to potential buyers. Understand the security deposit terms and ensure it will be returned to you in a timely fashion. Know which items you’re responsible for, such as carpet cleaning or fresh paint.
9. Get it in writing
If something in the lease is vague or arbitrary, make sure the terms are specified in writing. This includes agreed-to renovations and repairs such as a malfunctioning toilet or flickering lights discovered during the walk-through, as well as the timing.
10. Know what your monthly payment covers
Clarify whether your rent includes utilities, in-condo repairs, use of on-site amenities, maintenance fees for common areas and property taxes. Know whether you are responsible for association fees that are increased during your lease period.
11. Know the additional fees
These may include a move-in or move-out fee or deposit to reserve the elevator and, if relevant, an application fee paid to the association or owner for a background check. If you’re required to have a parking pass and lose it, know who pays for the new one.
12. Understand who’s responsible for outside areas
If there’s a deck, patio or yard, who takes care of it? How may common areas be used?
Following these tips can help you navigate the condo rental process smoothly. Make sure you protect your new space and your belongings with the right condo insurance. Learn more about what condo insurance covers today.