The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to carefully inspect an apartment before signing the lease. In the kitchen, turn on all the appliances. Check the water faucet for temperature and pressure. Open the refrigerator and freezer. Open the cupboards above the counters and the cabinets beneath the sink and carefully inspect for evidence of water damage, rodents, or vermin. Check the ceilings for evidence of water damage, and check under the refrigerator or behind any radiators.
In the bathroom, turn on the sink and the shower and check the water temperature and pressure. Check the tub and the sink for evidence of mold, moisture, or drainage problems and check for leaks in any cabinetry. Flush the toilet. Inquire about the location and capacities of any water heater and furnace serving the apartment. If both are within the unit, ask to see them. Inspect the furnace carefully and look for rusting or cracking that might produce a carbon monoxide leak.
Turn on every light and, if possible, bring a small electronic device (like a cell phone charger) to test the outlets. (You’ll be surprised how many are not live.) Look for lighting fixtures in the ceiling. Count the number and check the location of all three-pronged electrical outlets and telephone and/or cable jacks. If you’re a real pro, ask whether you have 24-hour access to circuit breakers.
Satisfy yourself that you have sufficient closet space for your bedroom, your front hall, and your bathroom supplies. If there are blinds, curtains, or drapes, check them to ensure they work. Open all windows and doors and check for functional locks, including a dead bolt on the front door. Ask whether the lock on the entry door was changed after the last tenant moved out or whether it will be changed when the existing tenant moves out. (A relatively new Illinois law
requires landlords to either change the locks on the entry doors of most apartments at the conclusion of every tenancy or to give the tenant the option to change the lock at his own expense.) Check the apartment for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and check for fire extinguishers in the common areas. Satisfy yourself that there’s a safe and quick way to leave the building in the event of a fire.
Ask how recently the apartment was exterminated and how frequently the building is exterminated. Inspect the trash room and open the trash chute. If there’s something on the floor, move it gently with your foot to see if you scare any insects out of their hiding places.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to speak with other tenants in the building. This may require you to wait around outside and flag people down as they’re coming or going, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Inquire about such things as cleanliness, landlord responsiveness to tenant concerns (including requests for repairs), and noise.
If this is too much to remember, fear not! The appendix to the domu tenant guide contains a checklist containing all these inspection items and more. Just print out the page and take it with you!