Apartment complexes sometimes show renters model units because the actual unit the tenant will occupy is being renovated or cleaned, or it is currently housing another tenant. You have a right to know what you're paying for. If the apartment you end up renting is substantially different from the one you were promised, this could void your lease.
Because leasing an apartment is a voluntary agreement, though, you have no specific right to see your apartment before paying. You might have to decide whether you want to rent an apartment without seeing it first.
Leasing Is Voluntary
Leasing an apartment is a voluntary endeavor, and this means that you and the landlord mutually agree to the lease terms. If the apartment you want is currently occupied, both you and the landlord have a right to forgo viewing the apartment and see a similar unit instead. You can't force a potential landlord to show you an occupied apartment, but you can decide that you don't want to rent from someone who doesn't want to show you the actual unit.
Binding Leasing Agreement
Your apartment lease is a legally binding contract. This means that if your lease promises one type of apartment – such as one with two bedrooms or granite countertops – and you end up with a completely different apartment, your landlord has breached the contract. Similarly, apartments must be in habitable, safe condition, and your landlord is legally required to fix broken items.
State laws about what must be fixed and how long a landlord has to fix it vary. If your apartment is not ready for you to move in due to broken fixtures or similar problems, you can opt not to enact the lease agreement.
Voiding a Lease
If your landlord presents you with an apartment that is significantly different from what you were promised, this could void the lease. Ask your landlord, in writing, to provide you with an apartment that matches the lease agreement. If he refuses to do so, notify him that he has voided the lease and that you will not be moving in. If your landlord refuses to give back your deposit, you can sue him in small claims court.
Your Apartment Viewing
When you first move into your apartment, you have a right to conduct a walk-through along with your landlord. Make a note of any broken items, and be sure to take pictures. Then have your landlord sign the walk-through. This ensures that you aren't blamed for pre-existing damage, and it gives you an opportunity to make a note of any items that need to be repaired. Your landlord is not legally obligated to allow a walk-through until the day you move in.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.