I think it is important to consider the following tips as well, when examining either an apartment to share or one that you'll be renting yourself.
- Ask the landlord about utilities. Don't get caught unawares and end up paying throught the nose for heating and hot water, especially if you live in a temperate climate. Often, landlords do not invest the money necessary to properly insulate a dwelling, resulting in an unnecessary doubling or tripling of the heating bills. Ask to see either the previous tenant or at least the previous tenant's utilities bill.
- If you have a car, ask about parking. Some landlords offer a parking place with the apartment, but may not mention it in order to give them the opportunity to rent the space to someone else. If there is no protected parking, ask about car theft rates in the area (you can ask the police as well), and have a good look at the hours and days you are allowed to park on your street. I can say, from personal experience, that having to change your parking place every day of the work week is not a fun endeavour.
- Carefully examine all plumbing and wiring, as best you can. While the stuff in the walls is probably not accessible, even an amateur (like myself) can easily spot shoddy and potentially dangerous work that is not only not up to snuff, but probably against building codes.
- Ask about the local schools even if you don't have a child. If they're rough, you'll likely not only have the chance of being vandalized or burgled, but you'll probably have to put up with a lot of noise if the apartment is within a couple of blocks of the school. Even worse, a university. And the worst of all, being near a university where the nearest building to yours is the engineering department; if that is the case, don't move in unless you cherish the idea of four to six weeks a year of screaming in the streets and prodigious vomiting outside your window (he said, tongue in cheek).
- Finally, spend a little bit of time with the landlord to determine whether this person seems reliable and sociable. Having an absentee or hostile or lazy landlord will only cause you headache and frustration after you move in. Ideally, a landlord that lives on the premises and that seems to genuinely care for the tranquility and maintenance of his investment is what you are looking for.
In passing, all of these recommendations have been acquired through making many mistakes when renting apartments. I have had both the best and worst kind of landlords, and let me tell you that the quality of the apartment and the happiness I had living there was directly related to the humour of the proprietor