As COVID-19 continues to linger and shelter-in-place advisories remain in effect in some areas, apartment hunters may find it difficult to follow the procedures they’re accustomed to when moving into a new place. Apartment tours are happening virtually, if at all, and often the entire rental process from tenant screening to the signing of the lease can happen online. While this is quite convenient in many cases, you may still have questions about the risks involved in not seeing the property or meeting your landlord in person. We’ve addressed a few typical concerns.
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Should I sign a lease without seeing the property?
Depending on how far away you’re moving, you may not be able to see a property in person before agreeing to rent. That said, during a pandemic, even if you’re moving nearby, you may not be able to get an in-person tour due to health and safety concerns. Ultimately, whether or not you decide to rent a unit sight unseen will be determined by your appetite for risk and how urgently you need to move, among other factors.
Before you agree to sign a lease without seeing an apartment, there are a few other options that you can explore:
Drive by the address
If you live within distance to drive, walk, or bike by, nothing is stopping you from taking a tour at a safe distance. Although you won’t get to see the inside of the place, a quick visit to the address can give you an idea if this is somewhere that you’d like to live.
Check out the neighborhood online
If you are unable to check it out in person, you can also learn about a neighborhood online. A map app or location-based reviews app can give you an idea of the businesses, transportation stops, and other amenities nearby. There are also neighborhood review websites that can give you a general overview of what the area might be like for locals.
Find or ask for more pictures
If you’re lucky, you may be able to search online to find previous listings of the apartment with different photographs. If the apartment is in a complex, you might be able to find images of units that are similar to the one that you are interested in. Often this can help you to ensure that the photographs were not composed in a way that is misleading.
Along the same lines, you could also ask the landlord or property manager to provide additional photos. Given the circumstances, you may find that they are willing to comply. If they are unwilling or defensive about providing more information, this could be a red flag that they are hiding something.
If there are specific details that you are concerned about, you should ask the landlord or property manager directly. For example, if you want to know what type of flooring there is, whether the stove is electric or gas, or what the overall square footage is, don’t be afraid to ask. It can help to take a walk around your current apartment to determine what your likes and dislikes are and address those things specifically. If you need more information, you could also ask to speak to an existing or former tenant.
If the landlord or property manager makes any guarantees regarding property updates like replacing the dishwasher before you move in, make sure that the promise is noted in writing. A lawyer can also review the lease agreement before you sign to help ensure that the important details are covered and that you are not exposed to any unnecessary risk.
Can I get out of a lease if I don’t like the apartment later?
Unless the lease contains early termination provisions or the landlord or property manager made a gross misrepresentation (like using fake photos), you may find it difficult to get out of a lease that you’ve signed. If you feel that you were forced to sign the lease under duress or that the terms were otherwise unreasonable or unfair, it is best to talk to a lawyer.
If you signed a lease and want to terminate the lease before moving in, you can inform the landlord of your intent to break the lease agreement. Depending on the terms of the lease, you may be liable for a termination fee and responsible for the first month’s rent.
Am I allowed to negotiate a lease?
Yes, rent prices, lease duration, and many other terms are negotiable before you sign. That said, whether or not your new landlord will agree to your requests depends on a number of factors, including how competitive the market is and how extreme your demands are. If you are willing to make offers like accepting a longer lease term, or giving up the parking space that comes with your apartment, you might find that your landlord is willing to compromise. Ask a lawyer to help you negotiate, if needed.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.