Essential Questions to Ask When Renting a Home

Find out the crucial questions to ask before renting a home. Ensure a secure and satisfactory rental experience with our expert tips.

Real Estate
January 14, 2024
Essential Questions to Ask When Renting a Home

A rental is no less your home than an owned property in all the ways that matter. You’ll trust it with your health and safety, your family, and a significant slice of your monthly budget. In fact, at the national median rent of $1,967 in late 2023, annual rent costs can add up to $23,604 or more.1 

For that cost, it’s critical to ask the right questions to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of renting a new home. Let’s take a look at critical questions to ask when renting a house. 

What Tenant Laws Apply?

Before you get started, look at your rights under the federal Fair Housing Act and search for a summary of your state’s tenants' or renters' laws. These are often listed on state attorney generals’ websites, or click on your state from Nolo’s State Landlord-Tenant Laws page.2 Some locations also have county or city regulations covering landlord-tenant responsibilities.

Tenant laws often spell out details such as: 

  • Landlord responsibilities for the state of the home
  • Rights related to canceling before a lease term is over
  • Identifying tenant discrimination 
  • Limits on security deposit charges, deductions, and return timing

Understanding Your Lease Agreement: What to Look For

Although many states offer a boilerplate rental agreement, these are generally a starting point rather than a requirement. Landlords are responsible for complying with federal, state, and local rental laws within their contracts, but they often tailor leases with terms that favor them. 

As a prospective tenant, make sure these components are spelled out clearly: 

  • Exact property identification and description
  • Duration of the lease
  • Whether security deposits are returned with or without interest
  • Identification of all fees and penalties
  • Condition of the property at start of the lease period

Specific to paying rent, the lease should state: 

  • Rental rate and how long it’s guaranteed to remain at that rate
  • Rent due date and whether there’s a grace period
  • How rent can be submitted and whether there are fees for some methods
  • Type and amount of penalty for a late or missed payment
  • Any additional fee that may be required upon signing or moving in 

Here are some more things to ask when renting a house: 

  • Move-out requirements in order to receive your full deposit back
  • Maintenance expectations and tenant responsibilities
  • Any limits on use of the property
  • Overnight guests, pet, and sublet policies

Learn more about Truehold's flexible sale-leaseback

Click here

Hidden Costs in Renting: What to Expect 

Just like buying a house comes with closing costs and a down payment, renting also has some upfront costs to plan for. Be sure to ask about the costs you may encounter as a potential tenant. 

At the start, you may need to cover one-time fees such as: 

  • Application or administrative fees
  • Move-in fees
  • Cleaning fees (upon move-in and/or after moving out)
  • First and last months’ rent
  • Security deposit
  • Pet deposit

What ongoing fees will you be charged in addition to the base rent price? Ask about: 

  • Parking or storage fees
  • Lawn care and snow removal
  • Garbage and waste removal costs
  • Rent surcharges for pets
  • Charges for guests past a limited number of nights

Also consider whether you need to budget for these investments and costs: 

  • Renters insurance, which averages $173 per year nationwide3
  • Utility deposits
  • Site-specific countertop appliances, such as an ice maker for a fridge without one built in
  • Customizing the space to your needs: renter-friendly lighting, storage, wall hooks, etc.

Questions About Utilities and Services

Of the questions to ask before you rent a house, those related to utilities can have the biggest impact on your monthly housing cost. You’ll want to get a rundown of exactly: 

  • What utilities to budget for
  • To whom and how you pay them
  • How they’re determined
  • Average monthly costs for your utility bill 

Specifically, find out whether these utilities are included in rent or payable by the tenant: 

  • Water
  • Gas
  • Electricity
  • Garbage and recycling
  • Internet/cable
  • Any other utilities such as sewer maintenance, propane, etc. 

For any utilities you’d be responsible for paying, make sure you understand the billing system. Check on: 

  • Who you pay – Do you set up accounts directly with utility providers or pay the landlord or management company? 
  • Direct or split billing – Does your unit have individual meters or other methods of identifying actual usage, or are you billed based on a total for a multi-unit or connected property? 
  • Allocation – How is it calculated if you’re charged based on a split bill? Square footage, number of tenants, or other variables? 

Maintenance and Repairs: Who Is Responsible?

It’s common to expect a landlord to handle all major repairs, but ensure you get written details about who’s responsible for both work and costs. 

Repairs and maintenance on major systems: 

  • HVAC, electrical, and plumbing
  • Roof, chimney, and overall structure
  • Major appliances owned by the landlord
  • Windows and doors

What about the regular replacement of cosmetic components? Are they done before every move-in or after a set number of years? Will the landlord automatically charge their replacement out of the tenant’s security deposit or cover the cost of: 

  • Carpet and other flooring
  • Wall and ceiling patching and paint

Understand who is to handle general upkeep of the rental property such as: 

  • Lawn mowing, seeding, and landscaping
  • Ice and snow removal from pathways, driveways, and roof 

Finally, find out: 

  • The process for submitting requests
  • How the landlord handles urgent repair or replacement needs
  • If they cover hotel costs if the rental unit requires tenant absence for repair 

Assessing Neighborhood Safety and Amenities

If you’re comparing multiple options while home or apartment hunting, you may want to set up a rating system or spreadsheet to come up with objective assessments of how each location meets your needs. What do you value about each rental's location, setting, and access? 

Is This a Safe Place to Live?

There are a few different angles for evaluating home and neighborhood safety. Check on objective crime statistics and trends over time with: 

  • Local crime rates by selecting your city and county in the FBI Crime Data Explorer4
  • Crime and safety grades and details from location rating sites like Niche5
  • Apps and sources including your state agencies for additional stats 

Additionally, evaluate safety in terms of: 

  • Lighting in the neighborhood, street parking areas, and streets
  • Window and door locks 
  • Security systems or ability to install a security system

What Amenities Are Available? 

Whether you’re planning to bike, hike, or cut your commute time, you’ll want to compare a prospective rental home in terms of the presence of and distance from: 

  • Highway entrances
  • Airports, light rails, metro bus stops—any transportation you use 
  • Your workplace, school, or other frequent commute destination
  • Parks, outdoor spaces, and walking or biking paths
  • Friends and family homes 
  • Club or activity destinations—bowling alleys, game dens, makers’ spaces, etc.

Tips for a Smooth Move-In

Moving is near the top of the list of life stressors. Besides simply being a lot of work, it comes with the emotional strain of deciding what to keep and bring, plus a complete shake-up of the routines that you’re used to.

Your sensory cues related to security must reset to an entirely new environment. Your schedule will shift based on all the little location-specific habits we’re not entirely aware of, like how long it takes for a shower to warm up. 

With that in mind, a smooth moving experience starts by reinforcing the practices that keep you balanced and energized. Take a little extra care planning your: 

  • Meals, snacks, and hydration
  • Sleep schedule 
  • Exercise 
  • De-stressing activities and self-care

Home-hunting can also be easier if you: 

  • Prioritize your needs and wants
  • Have your paperwork in order (proof of income, past addresses, identification, etc.)
  • Bring your list of questions to ask the potential landlord
  • Take pictures at a rental viewing to help decide between options
  • Read all the fine print before signing a lease

Follow these steps to successfully prep for the move: 

  • Sort and organize your belongings before or while you pack
  • Avoid bringing anything that can be donated, thrown out, gifted, or returned
  • Pack to avoid breakage. Wrap items in towels, packing paper, or sweatshirts
  • Label boxes on all sides and top with room first, then zone (i.e., closet), then contents
  • Take pictures at the start of move-in day to document all dings, stains, etc. 

Consider Renting Without a Move

If you’re wondering: Should I sell my house and rent, we have an answer for that, too. If you currently own a home and are planning to rent nearby, a residential sale-leaseback is an option to investigate. Sale-Leasebacks (SLBs) combine the sale of your property to a residential real estate and services company with a lease agreement that lets you stay in your home as a renter for as long as you’d like. 

With a Truehold sale-leaseback, you’re no longer responsible for property tax, homeowners insurance, or major repairs and maintenance. And instead of heading for an unknown environment, you’ll remain in the comfort of your own home. 

If you’d like to set down the burden of homeownership without leaving your property—and convert your equity to cash without taking on debt—give us a call at (314) 353-9757. A Truehold Advisor will reach out to explain our process to help you decide how a sale-leaseback can benefit your living experience. 


  1. Rent. 12.7.2023 Renting Trends.
  2. Nolo. State Landlord-Tenant Laws.
  3. Bankrate. Average cost of renters insurance in 2024.
  4. FBI. Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Data Explorer.
  5. Niche. 2023 Best Places to Live in America.

Lucas Grohn headshot
Written by
Lucas Grohn
Senior Manager of Sales at Truehold - A Thought-Leader in Real Estate
Lucas Grohn brings over a decade of real estate expertise to his role, where he guides a team dedicated to innovative sales strategies. Known for his thought leadership and diverse experience, from managing brokerage operations to training agents at top firms, Lucas covers a broad span of real estate content for Truehold.
Truehold Logo Image
Chat with a real person & get an offer on your home within 48hrs.
Valid number
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Further Reading

View all posts

Editorial Policy

Truehold's blog is committed to delivering timely and pertinent insights in real estate and finance, purely for educational and informational purposes. Crafted by experts, our content is thoroughly reviewed to guarantee its accuracy and dependability. Although designed to enlighten and engage, our articles are not intended as financial advice and should not be the sole basis for financial decisions. Our stringent editorial practices ensure the integrity of our content, empowering our readers with valuable knowledge.

Ready to get started?

Chat with a real person & get an offer for your home within 48 hours.

Call (314) 353-9757
Get Started