Throughout my life, I've lived in a number of different places, but Wisconsin is the one where spring has the most joyful arrival. This year, after a brutal winter, spring has erupted! I see my neighbors outside, with smiles, faces turned up towards the sunshine. Kids shout gleefully in the neighborhoods through which I drive. Trees drop their buds and sprout eye-searingly-green leaves. It's a delight.
Spring is one of the most common times to look for apartments, though, and it can be tough to remember the steps to take to make sure that you'll be comfortable in the winter to come. Some tips for apartment searching in the spring:
1. Utility Bills: This time of year, when there's no need for air conditioning quite yet, and the heat doesn't need to be on, can be a tough time to remember that heat in the winter will be a big deal. While a landlord does have an obligation to make sure that a rental unit can maintain at least 67 degrees in all seasons, they don't have to make sure that it's an efficient system. In other words, if heat isn't included in rent, even though it's liveable, it might be expensive. It's a good idea to check with your utility company about what the cost of heating the home during the winter will be. (Not sure which utility company covers your area? Here's a list for electric and gas coverage). Many companies will let you know average and highest monthly bills within the last year, like MG&E does on its website.
2. Building Inspection: It's always a good idea to check with your local building inspector - it's always possible that there's a lingering invisible problem on the property. If you contact us, we'll let you know the phone number of your local building inspector (if we have it - not all Wisconsin locales have building inspectors).
3. Look harder for things that are tough to spot in the spring: some things can be especially tough to pick up on when hunting for apartments in the spring. While some things are easier (basement leaks during the wet months, bugs that come out once it's warm, creepy neighbors that aren't so driven by the cold to stay inside), it's important to remember to look for those things that are harder:
- Mold: with the windows open, it can be easy to miss the tell-tale smells of mold. If mold is a big concern for your family (ie, some history of asthma or respiratory distress), then it can be a really good idea to get a test kit (there are some at Home Depot or on Amazon)
- Furnace: Does the furnace work? See if you can get someone to show you the furnace firing up.
- Heat retention: if you are looking for rentals on exceptionally mild days, it's hard to know if the house will keep out winter cold. One good indicator of this is the utility bills (the more gaps there are, the harder it is to heat a unit), but look carefully for visible gaps, and insulation coverage (if visible). Sometimes, too, it can be easier to figure this out on a hot day - the more heat seeping in from outside, the more likely that the cold will come in, too.
- Ice damming: Stains on the ceiling can be a big indicator of water damage and serious structural damage. It's important to take this seriously - ask the person showing you the apartment about the history of the ceiling stains, and see if the answer sits well with you.
4. Neighbors: It's always a good idea to talk to neighbors and see if they like living there. If they won't talk to you, you haven't lost much. But other renters, or watchful neighbors, can give you a great sense of things that you should look out for (for example: crime, bug infestations, mold, leakage problems, furnace issues).
5. Get it in Writing! If there's a problem, and the manager or landlord says that they intend to fix the problem, it's a good idea to get that promise in writing. In fact, ATCP 134.07 says that all promises to repair need to be put in writing. For tips about putting things in writing, see our blog post on the subject.