41 percent of all people rent their housing nationwide. With this number of people out hunting for rental housing every day, it is safe to say your landlord will have been through the rental process many times before you arrive! For your landlord, it is a numbers game to keep all the units full. But for you, you are selecting your new home, and you need to do it with the utmost care.
In this article, learn what you need to know before renting your first apartment.
1. Plan out your monthly budget carefully.
Landlords handle this aspect in different ways, but most renters will be required to pay the first month’s rent, a security deposit equal to the first month’s rent and (if applicable) a pet deposit or pet rent (or both) before moving in.
On average nationwide, a one-bedroom apartment rents for around $1,100.
So using the example here, let’s say you just signed a lease for a one-bedroom apartment. The monthly rent is $1,100. Your security deposit is another $1,100. So already you owe your landlord $2,200 up front before you can move in.
Then let’s say you want to bring your dog. The old trend was to charge renters a non-refundable pet deposit, which was usually in the realm of $200 to $300. Today, this still applies, but there is also a gradual shift towards charging pet rent, which can range from $20 to $50 extra per month per pet.
And here, you haven’t even started calculating in any of the following:
– Security deposits for utility hookups (electric and gas are the most common).
– Cable television.
– Garaging fee (some landlords will charge extra if you want access to covered parking or a garage space).
– Renters insurance (insurance you take out to protect your personal items that is a requirement in many rental contracts today).
Clearly, renting can be a pricey proposition. Without careful planning and budgeting, you may find you have rented more apartment than you can comfortably afford.
2. Read the fine print in your rental agreement.
“Boy is this lease interesting!,” said no one, ever. The truth is, most rental agreements come from statewide boilerplate agreements that are just edited for property and contract specifics.
They are long, dull and better than counting sheep for helping you get to sleep fast.
Unfortunately, they are also binding, which means if you don’t read every last word in your rental contract, you may find out only too late that you can move in but your pet (or partner, or roommate) can’t.
Other common types of unpleasantness that can result from failure to read the rental agreement in its entirety can include these:
– Finding out after you move in that it is your responsibility to pay for services like pest control or oven repair.
– Discovering your landlord can take all the time in the world to return your security deposit after you move out.
– Learning you can’t sub-let the apartment, or that you forfeit your security deposit if you do.
– Being fined for having a guest stay overnight or having too many friends over for a party (some leases are incredibly restrictive about how you use your own space).
– Discovering you have signed a year-long lease when you thought it was for six months (or similar other issues).
If this is your first time reading a rental agreement, it can be a great idea to have a second pair of (ideally more seasoned) eyes take a look as well just to be sure you don’t miss anything important.
3. Decide if you will have a roommate or not.
If you are fresh from college, you probably have your share of roommate stories to tell. Perhaps you got lucky and your roommate ended up being your best friend. But perhaps things didn’t go quite so smoothly either.
In any case, the choice of who you invite to share your space, if anyone, can have a bigger impact when you assume full responsibility for your own rental unit. So you want to be sure you select someone known to you whom you trust and relate to well.
Otherwise, since their name will also be on the lease (most landlords will not permit a roommate who is not listed in the lease agreement) whatever they do or don’t do can affect your rental history, your credit report and, most importantly, your quality of life.
4. Take your time with the walk-through.
You should do a walk-through of the rental unit BEFORE you sign the lease. Your landlord may say you will complete a premises checklist on your move-in day, but you don’t want to wait until then to thoroughly inspect what will be your new home.
So take some time to walk through the unit and carefully examine it as follows:
– Check and test each appliance to be sure it works.
– Turn on faucets in tubs, sinks and showers and flush the toilet.
– Look for any signs (visual or odor) of mildew or mold.
– Examine carpeting, tile or hardwoods to be sure the structure is in good repair.
– Measure the living spaces if need be to be sure your things will fit.
If you can wait a day or so to finish the leasing process, also make time to drive by the unit at night to see what the neighborhood and noise level is like in and surrounding your unit. It is also a good idea to check the local crime statistics before you commit to move.
By taking the leasing process step by careful step, studying all documents, examining the property and unit closely and asking the right questions, you can maximize your chances of picking a rental space perfect for your needs.