10 questions to ask when renting a house

It's wise to consider your health when you sign a lease on a single-family home.

By MSN Real Estate partner Oct 4, 2013 10:59AM

Home with for rent sign (© VStock LLC/Tetra Images/Corbis)By Stephen Cook, HSH.com


If you're considering renting a house, you're not alone. The number of single-family rentals grew by 21 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Compared to apartments, single-family rentals offer most of the amenities of homeownership, but without the mortgage.


However, it's up to you to make sure that your family will feel safe and be healthy in the rental you choose. Here are 10 questions you should ask when renting a single-family home.


1. What kind of smoke alarms?

Earlier this year, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) urged homeowners to replace ionization fire alarms, which account for over 90 percent of alarms in use, with photoelectric sensing alarms. ASHI said smoke alarms have failed to provide warning in too many cases.


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"All of the facts tell us that photoelectric alarms provide superior protection in real-world fatal fires," says Bill Jacques, president of the ASHI in Charleston, S.C. "We recommend that homeowners replace their ionization alarms with photoelectric alarms whenever possible."


The National Fire Protection Association, however,  advises that both types of smoke-alarm technologies should be used because they work differently. Be sure to ask the landlord if both types of alarms have been installed.

2. Where are the smoke detectors?

Building codes require a smoke detector be affixed to the ceiling above a bedroom and in any other room such as a kitchen or fireplace where a fire could start.

Local codes may also require landlords to have operating carbon-monoxide detectors, says Brenton Hayden, CEO of Renters Warehouse, the nation's third-largest property-management company serving single-family rentals, in Minneapolis. Make sure fire extinguishers are recharged and onsite, and ask if the home has been inspected by the fire marshal.


3. Is the home secure?

Look for home-safety features such as solid doors with keyed locks and dead bolts on outside doors, peepholes in the doors, security cameras and security systems, Hayden says.

4. Is the outside properly lit?

Lighting may be subject to vandalism. Security lights should either be mounted very high, or protected by wire mesh or tough polycarbonate shields. Make sure that there is outside lighting so that you can walk safely to and from your car at night, Hayden says.


5. What about radon?

Tenants should ask if the home has been tested for radon because long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer and other health issues.


While radon is a problem in some areas more than others, "it's easy to remediate," Hayden says. "Basically, it involves a fan underneath the house and a vent to the outside."

5. Is there lead paint?

According to the EPA, if the home was built before 1978, there's a good chance it contains lead paint. Lead paint may be found on virtually any surface in the home, but is most dangerous on areas a child can reach, such as window sills and doors.


Federal law requires landlords to provide renters with the following:

  • The "Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home" pamphlet
  • Any knowledge of existing lead paint
  • An amendment to the lease which states that lead-paint issues have been revealed and discussed

Renters can also ask landlords to get a "lead hazard inspection."


"There are nonprofits that will remediate lead paint if a tenant can't afford it," Hayden says.


7. How about asbestos?

The prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. In residential settings today, asbestos is rarely found in homes except potentially in or around old boilers, Hayden says. If it is found, the landlord is responsible for having a professional remove it.


8. Is there mold?

"Toxic mold is probably the most common problem we have to deal with," Hayden says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, high quantities of mold spores can present especially hazardous health risks to humans, including allergic reactions, poisoning or fungal infection.


"There is an incredible amount of fear and we take it very seriously," Hayden says. "We remediate it or we make our owners remediate it."


Mold testing costs between $300 to $500, which the landlord might be willing to pay for or split with you. If mold is found, it should be removed and repairs should be made to ensure it won't return.


9. What about flooding?

"Most renters' insurance doesn't cover damage caused by floods," Hayden says. However, the federal government's flood-insurance program has a policy for renters that covers contents up to $100,000 and costs as little as $55 a year for renters who live in moderate to low-risk areas.

10. What if I develop a health issue after I move in?

In addition to contacting the landlord, Jacques suggests you continually document the condition of the property from the time that you take possession.


"Send [the report] to the landlord to document that there is a record of problems like a leaky roof that could lead to mold and mildew if it is not fixed. Documentation is something that could serve a tenant very well, especially in a home as opposed to an apartment. Having a written record could help the tenant get his deposit back."


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Tags: rentals
Oct 5, 2013 5:30AM

I read with interest the comment from the landlord about the unlikeliness of toxic mold being a problem and basically poo-pooing it away as outlandish. I am sorry to burst that bubble, but let me tell you as a homeowner who has dealt with it -- it is NOT obvious, not even always visible, and contrary to what you say it often takes awhile before it is noticeable. I moved into a new home in March and things seemed fine. No odd smell, no symptoms, etc. But two months later, a notably "green", earthy odor became noticeable. I searched the 'net for these smells and lo & behold mold was mentioned. I also began having burning eyes, skin & throat, chest tightness, and actually nearly went to the ER because it was so overwhelming. Finally I abandoned the house & took my 3 kids and left. I heard from the neighbors later that there had been a fire in the house -- yet NO ONE disclosed this info to me at the time of purchase. Not only was *this* house infested w/mold, but little did I know that when I took my possessions (mattresses, furniture, clothing, etc.) to my new house the mold comes WITH THEM! It is called "cross-contamination" and now we are once again suffering. I have never had an allergy in my life, but this has been an absolute nightmare. Even my poor little doggie has nearly gone bald and spends his time scratching and rolling back & forth on the ground. We are all extremely sick.


Another question that this author failed to mention however is investigating whether the house was a meth house. Read up on it: this is becoming an absolute EPIDEMIC in rental units, and it is not at all obvious until tenants begin having serious health symptoms from the chemicals that are now embedded in the walls, carpet, wood, etc. Often times the only thing to do is demolish the place because cleanup is not financially prudent. #  There are meth test kits that you can purchase & perform yourself that are reasonably priced. Hate to say it but it's a cold, cruel world out there & everyone is looking out for #1. It's up to YOU to do your homework & protect yourself as much as possible.

Oct 5, 2013 1:08AM

One more thing, I have lived in my complex for this the third year, I have a great relationship with my management company.  I don't live on state aid or Section 8 or any federal rental program--I pay my rent on time in full  I have the walls painted the color I want, have friends over anytime, have a dog with only $10.00 a month rent, include many amenities in my place, have it quiet all the time, have the view I want, have clean carpets, and have no problems. The place I lived before that gave me a great reference because I asked for it when I moved in saying that was the most important thing to me, getting a great reference, and the place before that where I lived for almost three years also gave me a great written reference.  It is all possible, people who bitch about their management companies don't negotiate, pay rent on time, or treat themselves with any love--don't feel sorry for them. 


Oct 5, 2013 1:02AM
I was a house owner, I hated mowing the lawn, fixing the roof, and fighting for the stuff in the neighborhood that aren't important here:  nevertheless, here are questions to bring up when renting before signing the lease; (1)  I may or may not at this moment have a pet, but I intend to bring in a dog or puppy someday so how much more will I pay?  I am only willing to pay X number of dollars not a penny more especially since I have no pet now--have we got a deal? (2)  how much is the maximum dollars of rent increase for the second year, I will give you a two year deal right here and now if you hold the rate; (3) how many times will you clean the rugs? I want them cleaned twice a year; (4) I want to paint in my place, and change it around, in fact I am getting new faucets I ask you to put in and a new door lock I want you to put in--if I leave in less than two years I will forego it all--on the other hand I agree to put everything back the way it is today if I may have the freedom to make my own changes, any problem with that? (5) I have to sleep nights, if you give me a noisy neighbor that sleeps days, I want you to kick em out, will you? (6) Where's my parking space, how about my company? (7) I am traveling and trading my place with someone in the far east for one month while I use their place--I pay the rent on my place but the guy staying at my place will have full run of the place any probs? (8)  Where can I park my scooter and bike?  (9)  what are the hours of the laundry, pool, spa, gym, and so forth
Oct 4, 2013 11:45PM
It really doesn't matter. You can't beat the money grabbing slumlord that changes everything after you move in. I use to live in a decent apartment but not anymore. It is turning into a ghetto because the landlord doesn't care as long as he gets his rent every month.
Oct 4, 2013 11:25PM
........    has anyone ever complained of blood oozing from the walls?
Oct 4, 2013 10:05PM
Are you in foreclosure or bankruptcy? Don't get put in the street if the landlord is insolvent. Failing landlords often skip out with your security deposit and the new owners or bank do not have to cover your loss unless the landlord turned over your deposit to the new owner and you can prove it. If they are insolvent they usually just skip out with your deposit and you will not know this until much later when you move. Do the other tenants or neighbors  have dogs? When one dogs starts barking at 3:00 am all of the dogs start barking. Why did the previous tenant leave? If you have children under the age of 6 ask for a lead inspection report. Do not jump at what appears to be low rent because these places usually attract low income trash who are violent, dirty and aggressive. It is just a matter of time until your home is broken into because they are already inside the building while you are at work.  Get renters insurance. Get all landlords statements in writing and signed or its unenforceable. In Massachusetts anything that interferes with the quiet and peaceful enjoyment is a criminal act. This includes the landlord entering your apartment while you are at work or threats and noise from anyone.
Oct 4, 2013 8:15PM
The next time I rent a property, I plan to knock on neighbors' doors and ask how quickly repairs are completed.  I've been renting an apartment in a multi-family home for 3 years (in school and just easier not to move), and repairs take MONTHS.  

Example: a gutter fell and was hanging from the roof, right outside my roommate's window.  Whenever the wind picked up, it would bang against it, making it rather difficult for her to sleep.  It took them 4 months to remove the gutters, and they are still by our garbage cans, even though they said they would remove them.  And the window is still cracked from where the gutter hit it when it fell (in January 2012).  

I don't consider myself a complainer, but I would have PLENTY of negative things to say about this landlord.  I pay my rent on time, why can't they keep up their end of the bargain?  (another lovely experience - 4 months (again) for a motion sensor light in the back where we all park - no light out there previously)
Oct 4, 2013 7:28PM
My first question is "Are you currently in a foreclosure or bankruptcy?"
Oct 4, 2013 7:06PM
anyone else notice it went from Five to Seven...?
Oct 4, 2013 6:26PM
I am a landlord. When I have an applicant who comes across as a complainer....or a demander...I will not rent to him. If he talks about how many bad landlords he has had, his chances of renting this property is zero. I dont say so, I just end the conversation quickly and put the application in the dead file...I try to be honest and fair but I will not spend my life trying to please people who cannot be pleased....Or deal with government entities who feel it is their job to harrass people. If a law in sensible and simple, I will comply. 
Oct 4, 2013 6:04PM

There is no end to these types of stupid articles.....There are now many laws written for rental properties only....Like if it is really a safety hazard, why are owner properties exempt? These things come about by people who have a financial interest in selling insurance, building code people, consumer representatives, reps for renter organizations, ACLU, Lobbyists who work for cities and governments, etc. It is like the Federal government. They want numerous laws and requirements for you...but they want nothing to do with them personally. They dont want the laws to apply to them. Yet, they can brag that they are protecting the public....and the poor....


If the renter is not saitisfied with the type of smoke dectector supplied...they are free to supply their own. I just dont hear of many people dying because of the type of smoke detector....Also, I will bet that close to 50% of the detectors in rentals dont work simply because either the battery or the dectector has been removed by the tenant.


You want security cameras and alarms??? Then you buy and install them. Unless it is a very expensive property or a very large complex....this is not likely...If you are that insistant...go to the high rent district and pay the going rent rates.


Radon? Radon is non existant in many areas.....But surely we all want a law for radon control and monitoring....and we want to pay for it, right?


Lead paint....is just bogus...but now we have a law. Few properties were painted with lead paint in the 60s and 70s so the pre 78 date is just phony. If the building was built in the twenties thru the 40s(how many are there?) and if it were painted with lead paint, how many coats on non lead paint are now covering that??? It might be better to check with the records in an area and find out how many people were affected by lead paint....and you will find that it is almost zero....This is an old scare story about large city tenement buildings now mostly more than 75 yrs old...


Asbestos...is another scare subject.  If there is asbestos, it is likely to be hidden and incapsulated behind a cover or coats of paint...and safe. It is only those who are working with this product who are at danger....It is not going to jump out of a pipe that is covered with then coats of paint and inject you with cancer.


Is there mold? I will almost guarantee you that almost every house in the world has some mold somewhere.....and it is rare that it is a danger to anyone. It is a very rare situation that mold will cause a death and if a house has that much dangerous mold....you would certainly be aware of it in short order.


Flood? simply ask the owner and real estate people if an area has been flooded. Ask the neighbors. Check the records to see if it is in a flood plain...


If you are unhappy with a property....simply move. If you harrass the owner constantly with demands, then expect to be asked to move ....or pay very high rent....that you caused.... 

Oct 4, 2013 5:59PM
Oct 4, 2013 5:56PM
hey, is that high-speed blood splatter on the ceiling????!!!
Oct 4, 2013 5:16PM
I rent a house , have for the past two years. I lived in the place for 12 years before that...I have had to fix three switches, two minor water drips... a broken gate and several other things... these tenent  are a major pain in the ****... I plan to NOT renew their lease andput the house on the market...oh yeah...I have fixed more in that house in two years than I did in 12 years...
Oct 4, 2013 3:17PM
Good advice to check on problems with previous tenants. I did not do that in the last house I rented and found out two weeks after moving in that someone had committed suicide in the house and that there was criminal activity taking place on a regular basis....would have been good to know. When I fulfilled my lease and was shopping around, I asked more detailed questions and was told nothing like that happened in the current house I am living in. What they failed to tell me is that there is a scorpion infestation and we have found up to 6 in a 12 hour period inside the house. Been stung 2x so far. Too bad I can't relax and enjoy the home I am in...always on guard. There is a lot land lords are not required by law to disclose to renters.
Oct 4, 2013 3:09PM
All I can say is, how can I get a job writing these moronic articles?  I mean if these articles are for real then a kid in 5th grade could do it.  Do the people who write these articles get paid?  Do they get health insurance?  If so where do I apply, because, wow!!!?? Really???
Oct 4, 2013 2:50PM
Somehow I think the first question I would ask is "How much is the rent?".
Oct 4, 2013 2:42PM
"Why does this chalk outline not have a head?"
Oct 4, 2013 2:20PM
how about does my batsht crazy x live in the complex?
Oct 4, 2013 2:13PM
Who does the upkeep on the grounds of the property?... Mow grass, rake leaves,maintain the trees and other plants on the property?...
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