Edited questions from Apartment Life, Sara Gebhardt's online discussion about rental issues.

QArlington: I live in a rather large apartment building, and for the past few weeks, there have been signs posted all around saying that the fire alarm is out of service and that we should call 911 in case of fire. I can understand the need for this while the fire alarm is being fixed, but it's been weeks and no signs of progress. Is this legal? It seems that there should be some building code requiring them to maintain a functioning fire alarm system for a 20-story residential building.

AI'm no lawyer, but my hunch is that you're right to think something's mighty fishy. A functioning fire alarm system is extremely important. Call your fire department and perhaps your housing authority to inform them of this problem.

Arlington: A friend and I are going to look at a few apartments to rent. Do you have any tips or suggestions on getting the best deal? Will the complex negotiate rates with you?

To find the best deal, you need to do a lot of research. As far as special deals go, the weak renter's market is strengthening and there are fewer deals to be had. Some experts are predicting that landlords soon are going to stop waiving security deposits, giving three months free or making other concessions. So, if there are deals, it's best to find them now by print advertisements, word of mouth and hitting the pavement. You can always ask for concessions; just be prepared to find landlords who don't need to give anything away to fill vacancies.

Gaithersburg: My roommate and I want to renew our lease for another year. We are making an appointment with the leasing office to negotiate rent. I'm pretty sure we are paying the market rate. We really don't want our rent to increase, so we're trying to prepare as much as possible. Do you have any suggestions or bargaining techniques? How should we arm ourselves? What type of questions or challenges are they going to throw at us?

In terms of negotiating, you should definitely see what units in competing buildings in your neighborhood are going for. Tell your landlord that by renewing for another year rather than going month-to-month, you are ensuring an apartment occupied by good tenants who pay their rent on time.

The landlord may want to increase your rent anyway. The key is to decide what you are willing to pay to stay and then stick to it. Most landlords know that tenants do not want to go through the hassle and expense of moving and will usually agree to the rental increase. Offer to compromise if they are reluctant to negotiate.

Sara Gebhardt's Apartment Life column appears biweekly in this section, and her Web chat appears monthly on www.washingtonpost.com. The next chat is scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 14.