Before you sign the lease agreement

Before you even sign a lease or give a landlord any money for fees or deposits, you should do a thorough inspection of the place you plan to lease, read the lease agreement, and find out about your credit rating. There are also things you should do after you have signed the lease, but before you move in.

Take a tour of the apartment.

NEVER sign a lease or pay a deposit on an apartment or house until you have seen the exact place you will be renting. Some apartment complexes will show you a model apartment, which could be much nicer than the place you will actually rent. 

When you visit the place you want to rent, use your 5 senses (What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear?) Bad smells, for example, can be a sign of mildew or mold caused by roof or plumbing leaks. You might find signs of pests or rodents when you look in the cabinets in the kitchen. Check the walls and ceilings and inside closets for visible signs of mold or indications that the landlord may have painted over mold. You should test out the following inside the rental to make sure they work:

  • Stove
  • Refrigerator
  • Dishwasher
  • Garbage disposal
  • Faucets, including hot water
  • Toilet 
  • Heating and air conditioning units
  • Lights
  • Cabinets and drawers in the kitchen and bathroom 
  • Locks (for more on locks, check out the Locks and security page)
  • Smoke detectors

You should check out the following outside the apartment:

  • Stairs
  • Lighting
  • Roof 
  • Sidewalks
  • Landscaping
  • Trash
  • Parking
  • Laundry
  • Swimming pool
Request repairs before signing the lease or paying a deposit.

Make a list of everything that is damaged or that needs repair.

Give a copy of your list to the landlord, ask to have any issues repaired, and keep a copy of the list for yourself. If the landlord promises to fix the items, get the promise in writing, or make sure they fix the issues before you sign the lease or give a deposit.

Research the landlord.

Before you agree to rent or put down a deposit, you should research the landlord. Here are some questions you can ask to people already living at the property:

  • Have you needed any repairs?
  • Were they fixed quickly?
  • Have you had any issues with the landlord?
  • Are there bugs or roaches or rodents?
  • Do you feel safe?

If the city has a tenant association, better business bureau, or consumer protection agency, call and find out if other people have complained about the landlord, complex or management company. Ask if the landlord owns any other rental properties. If the landlord owns other properties, you can research those, too.

I’m concerned about crime.

If you are concerned about crime at the property or in the area, ask management and check with the local police department for any information it can provide about reported crimes or incidents. The law requires rental agents and managers to answer all questions truthfully.

Remember, no one can guarantee that any neighborhood, apartment or home will be safe from crime. Crime occurs everywhere. You should always take steps to protect yourself, your family and your property.

Make sure you understand your lease.

Austin Tenants Council has a list of things to look out for in your lease. Here are some things they suggest to beware of:

  1. Landlord’s lien: allows a landlord to enter tenant’s rental unit and seize certain “nonessential” items as collateral if tenant is overdue on the rent.
  2. Landlord’s entry: allows a landlord to enter the tenant’s rental unit, usually for any legitimate business reason or emergency. Some leases require prior notice to tenant, most do not.
  3. Re-letting fee: allows a landlord to charge the tenant a fee for moving out prior to the end of the lease term — often 85 percent of one month’s rent.
  4. Above all, special attention should be paid to lease provisions which are underlined or in bold print.

You should also look for the rent due date and the amount of the late fee you will be charged if you pay your rent late. Make sure you know the house rules, which are not written into the lease, but are usually referenced in the lease. You will have to follow these rules. See the House rules page for more information.

After you have signed the lease:

Once you are sure you want to rent the unit, write down all of the things you think are wrong with the unit so the landlord cannot blame you for them when you move out, and give the list to the landlord. KEEP A COPY FOR YOURSELF. For example, look for holes in the wall, stains or dirt in the carpet, dirty appliances, scratches on floors, and mildew or stains in the bathroom. If you are concerned that the landlord will charge you for damage that was already in the unit, take pictures or videotape, and do a walk through of the rental unit with the landlord and another witness. 

When you move into your new home make sure that any repairs your landlord promised have been completed. If some of the repairs have not been made, you should contact your landlord immediately. If the landlord does not make the repairs he promised before you signed the lease, he may have violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and broken the lease contract with you.

Your landlord must test all smoke detectors to make sure that they work when you move in. See Smoke detectors. You should also test these yourself. The landlord must also re-key the locks between tenants. See Locks and security. You should make sure that the locks were changed by asking your landlord.