May is National Moving Month, and this one promises big things for renters.
The construction market is recovering from the Great Recession, and more new rental units are becoming available this year, said Patrick Dodson, vice president of marketing at the CoStar Group, a real estate information company that owns a number of apartment-centric websites including Apartments.com, ApartmentHomeLiving.com and ApartmentFinder.com.
Additionally, rent prices aren't expected to rise much -- only 1.5 percent nationally, according to 2017 predictions from Zillow.
This means renters have a lot of choices in many areas, and competition will encourage apartment managers to offer deals like reduced fees or free gifts like TVs, Dodson said.
On the other hand, it could also mean too many choices, making it harder for renters to pick their next homes. To avoid making the wrong move, renters need to know which questions to ask before signing a lease.
Click ahead for 10 questions renters should ask but often forget.
What's your tenant screening policy?
Before you become emotionally attached to an apartment, ask about the landlord's tenant screening policy, said Lucas Hall, a landlord and founder of Landlordology.com.
"A lot of people just think they're automatically going to be qualified" to rent the apartment they want, he said. "But often landlords have very specific screening requirements."
For example, some won't rent to anyone with a credit score lower than 600 or 650, or they won't accept tenants who have a previous eviction on their record. It's best to check these requirements up-front, especially if there's a nonrefundable application fee you can't get back if you aren't approved to rent the unit.
What are all of the fees you charge in addition to rent?
Consider more than just the monthly rent when making your decision about where to live.
"We see that people don't think about additional fees," Dodson said. "Some [landlords] charge for parking, a pet deposit or lease breakage penalties. Make sure you really understand all those costs, and ask for a full list of the fees, because there could be an extra $100 or $200 there you didn't plan on."
What's your lease termination policy?
When most tenants sign a lease, they have every intention of staying for its full term, Hall said. Unfortunately, life often gets in the way of those intentions, whether renters have to move for a new job or have a growing family.
Before you sign the lease, ask your landlord what would happen if you have to break it. Would you have to give a certain amount of notice (usually 30 or 60 days)? Do you have to pay an additional fee? Know ahead of time what you'd have to do so you'll be prepared if you do need to leave the unit before your lease is up.
What's your guest policy?
Your lease gives you the right to "enjoy the property," and that means you're allowed to have guests over, Hall said. However, some landlords implement their own guest policies.
Some of those policies, such as telling tenants they can't have overnight guests or can't have guests at a certain time, aren't actually things they have the right to regulate, Hall said, but you should ask now to avoid a misunderstanding down the road.
As for how long your guests can stay, the standard rule is they may stay for up to 14 days in a six-month period. Any longer than that and they may be considered additional tenants.
Does the building allow short-term rentals on services like Airbnb?
Many renters don't have a spare room to rent out on home-sharing sites like Airbnb or HomeAway, Hall said, but some may want to rent out their apartment while they're away on a long trip.
"Most of the time, the standard lease in this country has an exclusivity clause, which says you are the person with exclusive access [to the unit], and you can't pass it on to anyone else or you'd be in violation of that clause," Hall said.
However, some landlords may be open to the idea if you approach them ahead of time, he said. Let them know what you plan to do and who would be staying in your unit.
How are packages delivered to the building handled?
"A hot topic right now is whether the front leasing office will take packages [for residents]," Dodson said.
As consumers do more and more of their shopping online, some newer rental properties refuse to accept packages delivered while tenants aren't home, he said. Others may charge a fee for accepting your delivery.
What are the cell phone, internet and other services like in the building?
When visiting the property, check your phone to make sure you have an adequate signal. Also ask the landlord about the building's internet and cable. Is free Wi-Fi available? Does the building contract with a particular cable or internet provider, or can you choose your own provider?
What's the rest of the neighborhood like?
Sure, you're in love with the apartment, but what's outside your front door?
"Whether it's a lot of new construction or older buildings, understand what's around you," Dodson said.
Is there easy access to public transportation? Do the surrounding buildings look well-kept? How noisy is the area? Dodson recommends visiting the property on a weekday, weeknight and weekend to get an idea of how loud the area is at different times.
How are maintenance requests handled?
Ask the landlord upfront how you submit a maintenance request, who handles them and how long it usually takes for things to be fixed.
"If they're not really on the ball and say they don't know or don't have that written down, that's a red flag," Hall said. Many landlords put on a good show for prospective tenants, but you want to know they'll be available to help whenever you have a problem.
What are my legal rights as a renter?
"It's wise for a renter to know basic things about their state's laws for landlords and tenants," Hall said. "These cover things like the maximum fees [landlords] can charge and how much notice they have to give you before coming in for repairs."
If you're familiar with those rules, ask your landlord about something those rules cover, such as how much notice you get before someone shows up to do repairs.
"If they just mumble or say something like, 'I just come over whenever,' that's a sign the landlord doesn't know the laws they're obliged to," Hall said. In that case, you're probably better off renting from someone else.