Heading Out on Your Own — Day 18: Renting Your First Apartment

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 18, 2012 · 27 comments

in Heading Out On Your Own

One of the first “adult” things you’ll likely do when you head out on your own is rent an apartment. The process can be a bit intimidating for a first time renter. Below we take you through the steps of finding an apartment, navigating the legalese of the lease agreement, as well as managing your rights as a tenant. Let’s do this.

Finding an Apartment

Figure out how much you can afford. Take a look at your monthly income. Experts recommend only spending between 25%-35% of your after-tax income on rent and housing. So let’s say your pay after taxes is $1,500 a month. Ideally, you shouldn’t pay more than $525 a month on rent.

You also need to take into account that you may be responsible for some of the utility costs of your rental. So you’ll need to figure in another $100+ to cover those costs.

Keep in mind that some apartments have income requirements that will put you out of the running altogether.

If you can’t find a place within your budget, consider getting a roommate.

Create criteria for your ideal apartment. What are you looking for in an apartment? Do you want a studio or a single bedroom? Maybe you want to rent a small house? Do you need the apartment to come with appliances, including washer and dryer? Do want it to be close to school or your work? Do want it to be within walking distance of retail, like groceries or coffee shops? Are you willing to live in a neighborhood known for its crime levels?

Write down whatever comes to your mind. While you might not be able to get everything on your apartment wish list, it will definitely help in narrowing down the possibilities.

Identify potential apartments. With your list of criteria in hand, hop online and start searching for apartments.  When Kate and I looked for an apartment here in Tulsa, I simply began the search by Googling: “Tulsa apartments for rent.” Google actually brings up a map that pinpoints apartments or homes for rent in your city. That map makes narrowing down potentials pretty easy because you can see if the apartments are close to work or school, near grocery stores, or are in safe areas of town.

Once you narrow apartments down by location, check to see if they have the things you’re looking for in a rental, i.e. appliances, number of bedrooms, etc. Most big apartment complexes have a web page where you can look at floor plans, the amenities they offer, and the cost of rent.  Smaller units might only have a phone number. Give those apartments a call and ask about their available units and cost.

Don’t just limit your search to Google. Make sure to hop on Craigslist to find homes or apartments that might be for rent by individual owners as opposed to bigger companies.

A couple of other good sources for finding potential apartments are rental magazines that you can pick-up for free at supermarkets and rent.com. If you find your apartment using the latter, they’ll send you a $100 gift card. Bonus!

Set aside a day to visit your potentials.  You’ll want to visit your potential rental units in person to see their condition and possibly submit a rental application. Make this process as efficient as possible by visiting as many of your potentials as you can in a single day. Saturdays are the busiest days for landlords showing apartments, so try to go sometime during the week. It’s best to call the landlords and set up an appointment with them, but if you can’t, most buildings will give you a tour anyway. You’ll want to set aside about 45 minutes for each visit, so plan your appointments accordingly.

Visiting Prospective Rentals

Make a good first impression. When you visit a potential apartment, the landlord or apartment manager will be evaluating you just like you’re evaluating them. They want to make sure the people they rent to are reliable, courteous, and easy to get along with. Your first impression starts with the phone call to set up the appointment. Be polite and speak clearly.

When you actually go visit the apartment, dress for the occasion. While you don’t have to wear a shirt and tie, you shouldn’t come rolling in to your appointment wearing sweatpants and a crummy t-shirt. Nice jeans and a polo will work well.

Be on time! If you show up late to your appointment, the manager or landlord could take that as a sign you may be late in paying rent.

When you meet the manager or landlord, offer a firm handshake, a warm smile, and thank them for meeting with you.

As you look at the rental unit, keep your comments positive and your possible complaints close to your vest. No need to spout off a list of upgrades and requests before you’re even offered the place. That will just scare landlords away from you. Wait to bring up your concerns until after you’ve been accepted as a renter.

Check for problems. As you walk through the apartment, check the following things, but again, don’t broadcast your concerns right away:

  • Look for signs of mold, mildew, and insect infestation.
  • Open and close all the doors and windows, and also check that the locks function properly.
  • Flush the toilet and run the water in the sinks and showers. Pay attention to water pressure and temperature.
  • Look for obvious damage like broken fixtures, holes in walls, broken tile, etc.
  • Check for wear and tear in the carpet.

Ask questions. While you should keep small concerns to yourself about the unit while looking at it, feel free to ask the landlord or apartment manager any questions you might have that will help in your decision. Here are some possible questions you may consider asking:

  • What’s the monthly rent?
  • Are any utilities included with the rent?
  • How much is the security deposit?
  • When is rent due? Do you have auto-pay?
  • What’s the make-up of the other tenants? Are they mainly younger students? Married couples with families? Older folks?
  • Have you had any break-ins in the past year? Are car break-ins a problem?
  • What’s the parking situation like? Do you pay for a parking spot?
  • Do you take care of small maintenance issues or am I responsible for some of the repairs in the apartment?
  • Am I able to re-paint the walls or make other modifications?

Again, be friendly and polite when you ask these questions. No need to be combative.

Ask current tenants about their experience. Online apartment reviews are pretty worthless in my experience. It seems the only people who leave reviews are folks who had a bad experience with the landlord or apartment manager. And when you read the reviews, you often get the sense that this person is a little unhinged and probably had a hand in creating the problem they’re griping about in the first place.

To get a better idea of what it’s like to rent at a particular complex, it’s best to ask current tenants. When you’re visiting, and don’t have a person from their office by your side, ask any tenants you may run into about their experience living there. Is the landlord easy to work with? Are they responsive to repair requests? Do they feel safe living here? Are the neighbors quiet and friendly?

Filling Out the Rental Application

When you find a place you like, you’ll likely have to fill out a rental application. Landlords and apartment managers use the application to screen potential renters. The application will ask about your employment and monthly income as well as your rental history. You’ll also be asked to sign a consent form giving permission to the landlord to run a background and credit check. Be completely truthful when filling out the application! Any fibs on it will likely be discovered during the background check, resulting in your application ending up in the trashcan.

And to be clear: submitting a rental obligation in no way obligates you to anything. If the manager approves it, you’ll then be asked to come in to the apartment office to sign a lease.

Check your credit history before submitting a rental application. Landlords are allowed by law to check the credit histories of potential renters to screen for people who are or aren’t likely to pay rent on time. If they see that you’ve had trouble paying bills on time, that’s a red flag that they shouldn’t rent to you. It’s good to check your credit history before submitting an application so you can correct any mistakes that may adversely affect you in the rental process.

Be ready to pay a rental application fee.  Landlords are allowed to charge you an application fee to cover the cost of the credit check. The fee should be in the $20-$30 range; anything more, and you’re probably getting ripped off. If you’re submitting multiple rental applications, the credit check fees can quickly start adding up. To curtail those costs, you might consider getting your credit report yourself and making copies of it to give to landlords. Some may insist on requesting the report themselves, out of worry that you may have doctored the copy to make it look better than it actually is. But you may be able to persuade a few to accept your copy, thus saving you some money. It doesn’t hurt to try.

Have a list of references ready. You’ll be asked to provide a list of personal and professional references. Have those ready and make sure to tell your references they should expect a call from a landlord.

Signing the Lease (or Rental Agreement)

After your rental application has been approved, the landlord will ask you to come to the office and sign a lease. This is where you can bring up any concerns you had about the rental unit, as well as negotiate for better terms or perks. You need to be on your game during this time, because once you sign your name on that dotted line, you’re pretty much stuck with the terms written in the lease.

Have enough money in your checking account to cover the security deposit and first month’s rent. When you sign your lease, the landlord will usually ask that you pay a security deposit as well as the first month’s rent. Make sure you have enough money in available (they may only take cash, money order, or debit card) to cover both amounts. The security deposit will be stored in a savings account during the term of your lease. If you terminate the lease early or leave the apartment in disrepair, the landlord will use the security deposit to cover those costs. If you leave the apartment in the same condition as you got it, you can get your security deposit back. More on that later.

Difference between a lease and a rental agreement. Leases and rental agreements are pretty much the same thing except for one thing: time. Rental agreements typically go from month-to-month, while leases last for a longer period of time, usually a year. Landlords are free to raise the rent at the end of each month when a rental agreement expires; leases lock in the rate of rent for an entire year.

If you know that you’ll only be in the apartment for a short period of time, ask for a rental agreement; if you plan on staying in your place for at least a year, get a lease.

Read the lease or rental agreement before signing!  Don’t sign anything until you’ve read through the lease line-by-line. You want to know exactly what you’re getting into when you agree to rent from a landlord. Make note of anything you find disagreeable, and ask questions about what you don’t understand. As you read through the rent, look for the provisions that answer the following questions:

How much is rent? Duh.

How much is the security deposit and how can you get it back? Understand what sort of condition you’ll need to leave the apartment in if you want to get your security deposit back.

What’s the term of the tenancy?  Month-to-month? Nine months? One year?

What happens at the end of the lease? When the term of the lease is up, what do you have to do to renew it? How much will the landlord increase your rent by? If the lease is up, but you still need a place to stay for a month or two, can you ask that the lease convert to a month-to-month rental agreement?

What happens if you terminate your lease early? This an important provision to check. Sure, you may plan to stay in your apartment for a year, but plans can change and you’ll have to terminate your lease early. Most apartments will ask for 30 to 60 days notice if you plan on terminating the lease early. Pay attention to see if there are any termination fees. Under the law in most states, you are legally responsible to pay the landlord only for the actual loss in rent that your early termination caused. So if you move out early, and it took the landlord a month to find another renter, you’d be responsible for one month’s rent.

Many corporately managed complexes will try sneak in clauses saying you have to pay two or three months rent for ending a lease early. Because they can often fill the vacancy quickly, they end up scoring a huge windfall — they have two months rent from you, plus rent from the new guy. That’s illegal in most states. If you see termination fees like that in the lease, try to get them deleted or modified before you sign. Forfeiting your security deposit and paying a month’s rent is usually a reasonable termination fee.

If you have signed with a roommate, are you jointly and severally liable? Usually when you sign a lease with a roommate, the lease will state that each co-signer is jointly and severally liable. This means if your roommate doesn’t pay his share of the rent or moves out before the end of the lease, you are still on the hook for the full amount of the rent.

Where, how, and when is rent paid and what happens if you’re late on rent? You’d be surprised, but some landlords are really particular about how rent is paid. They want it in a certain form (check, credit card, etc.) and deposited in a certain place. Make sure you know where and how this is to take place. Also make sure the lease is clear on when rent is due and what happens if you pay late. Most landlords will charge a fee on late payments.

Which utilities are you responsible for? Some landlords cover the costs of all utilities, while others cover none. Many will have arrangements where they’ll pay the water bill, but then tack on your portion of the bill to your monthly rent.

Is subletting allowed? Let’s say you take a three-month trip during the summer. You have a friend who needs a place to stay during that same three-month period. Instead of leaving your apartment vacant for three months, you offer to let your friend stay in your place as long as he pays you the amount of monthly rent so that you can pay the landlord. You just sublet. Most landlords prohibit subletting, but some allow it. If you think you’ll need to be able to sublet to someone else, make sure the lease allows you to.

Are you allowed to make alterations to the dwelling? You’re not the owner of the property, so you can’t replace counters or paint the walls without the landlord’s permission. Most places I’ve rented from allow you to paint the walls, as long as you paint them back to the original color before you move out.

Are you responsible for minor repairs or is your landlord? While landlords are required by law to make repairs that ensure the dwelling is habitable, they’re not required to take care of minor repairs, and may leave that to you to take care of. Most large apartment complexes will fix just about anything in your unit. In leases with individual landlords you’ll often see clauses stating that the renter is responsible for minor repairs.

Are pets allowed, and if so, do you have to pay an extra fee for having one? Some apartments allow pets (often with size restrictions); some don’t. The ones that do, often charge an extra monthly fee.

Is smoking allowed? Landlords are allowed to prohibit smoking in their units. If you’re a smoker, you’ll want to know that before you sign the lease.

Get any oral promises in writing. If the landlord made any oral promises to you while you were looking at the apartment, get those promises written in the lease.
Feel free to negotiate and delete any of these terms. If you see any terms you don’t like, ask to have them modified. Also, feel free to negotiate the rent amount or security deposit. Before you and the landlord sign the lease, anything is fair game to change in the contract.

Inspect the Apartment Before Taking Possession

Before you take possession of the apartment, the landlord should give you a Landlord-Tenant Checklist that lists all the rooms, fixtures, and appliances in the apartment. Inspect the apartment and make note of the condition of the various items on the list. If you notice any damage, make sure to photograph it, and point it out to the landlord or manager. Be as thorough as possible during this inspection. This will protect you from forfeiting your security deposit for damage that already existed before you took possession.

Get Renter’s Insurance

Renter’s insurance covers any loss to your personal property due to robbery or accidents. It also covers any damage you might cause to other tenant’s property. For example, let’s say your washing machine springs a leak and water seeps through the floor and ruins your neighbor’s antique dresser. Renter’s insurance would cover that.

When you sign your lease, your landlord may strongly suggest and even hint that you’re legally required to get renter’s insurance. Their concern isn’t for your benefit. The landlord wants your insurance policy to pay for any damage or injury that your negligence causes instead of the aggrieved party suing the landlord.   While you’re not required to have renter’s insurance in most states (except Virginia), it’s a good idea to get it anyway. As Woodrow Call from Lonesome Dove would say: “better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.” Renter’s insurance will set you back about $15-25 a month, less if you tack it onto another policy (like auto) you have with an insurance company.

Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Renter

Court cases and state statutes have established rights and responsibilities that you have as a renter. If your landlord violates any of these rights, you’re entitled to recourse.

Renter’s Rights

You have the right to a habitable premise. While you’re not entitled to five-star amenities, you do have the right to rent a place that’s habitable. What constitutes a habitable premise? Case law and statutes generally define it as having the following attributes:

  • safe structural elements including floors, walls, roofs, and secure doors and windows
  • all electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems function
  • working hot and cold water
  • exterminating infestations of rodents and other insects
  • access to trash receptacles

If your apartment ever suffers any defects that make your place inhabitable (like sewage backing up in your bathtub), your landlord has a duty to fix it. While some apartments let you make online requests for repairs, as well as provide a phone number for “emergencies,” always make sure you document your request in some way. The landlord will then have a certain amount of time to make those repairs. If they don’t, you have several re-courses, such as withholding rent until the repairs are made or paying someone to fix the problem and then deducting the cost of repair from your rent. It’s when you decide to go those routes, that having your communications with your landlord well documented becomes so important.

You have the right to privacy. While the landlord owns the property, they can’t barge in anytime they want. All states have laws stating renters have a right to privacy while renting. Pretty much the only time the landlord can come into your rental without permission or notice is when they’re responding to an emergency that threatens injury or property damage.

Any other time the landlord wants to enter your apartment, they need to have your permission and in some cases give you 24-hours notice before entering. Some landlords or apartment managers will try to bully you into giving permission. Don’t give in. If your landlord bugs more than is reasonably necessary and fails to comply with requests to leave you alone, you can sue your landlord for invasion of privacy or breach of “implied covenant of quiet enjoyment.”

You have the right to a safe premise. The landlord can’t prevent all crimes or accidents that occur on their premises, but if the crime or injury occurred because of the landlord’s negligence, you can sue them for any damages or costs you may have incurred.

Renter Responsibilities

In addition to the provisions in the lease agreement, many states have statutes on the books listing the responsibilities of the renter.

Keep the premise clean, safe, and in good repair. This is the most common responsibility you’ll see listed in statutes. Basically, you’re required by law to take care of the apartment while you’re a tenant there. Not too hard.

Reimburse the landlord for any damages you may cause. If you don’t keep the apartment clean, safe, and in good repair, you have the responsibility of reimbursing the landlord to make the apartment clean, safe, and in good repair again.

Getting Your Safety Deposit Back When You Move Out

So your lease is up and you’re ready to move on to greener pastures. How do you get that $500 security deposit back? In my experience, most landlords will try to do anything to ensure that they don’t pay back your deposit.

First, clean your apartment as well as you can, including carpet cleaning, if possible (landlords will often clip you on this). Second, get your Tenant-Landlord Checklist that you filled out when you first moved in and run an inspection again with your landlord. You can’t be charged for ordinary wear and tear that comes with living in an apartment, but you can be for damage and excessive filth. Check out this chart of what sort of wear and tear a landlord should pay for and what sort of damage they can deduct from your security deposit.

If they try to charge you to replace something when a repair would be sufficient, object. Also, if you paid a cleaning a fee before moving in, your landlord can’t deduct your security deposit for any cleaning.

If the landlord does have to deduct from your security deposit to replace and clean your apartment, you’re entitled to an itemized statement that explains the purpose of each deduction. If you think any of the amounts are excessive and unwarranted, push back and make your case. If your landlord won’t change his mind, unfortunately your only recourse is to take him to small claims court. Make sure you have everything well documented, though, should you choose to do this.

The landlord has 14 to 30 days after you move out to return your security deposit.

 Any other tips and advice for a first time renter? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David August 18, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Something to keep in mind if you’re looking at a building where some or all utilities are included: who controls the climate? Some buildings will only offer utilities if they can control when the heat is turned on or off, so you may end up with a cold day without heat or a warmer day with more heat than you can handle.

2 Njordy August 18, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Oh… Almost a year ago I moved to LA from NYC. And I still can’t get it from him.

I loved in his NY apartment about 8-9 months, my lease was for one year. I paid three-month rate: first month + last month + safety. I was a good tenant without any problem and my landlord Stephen Shapiro was completely fine that I’m moving out. I didn’t pay for last month and moved in the middle of it (new tenants get in right after me) — so he owns me 1/2 of pre-paid “last month” and “safety”. He didn’t give me my money back (over $2000) and said he will send me check.
I’m still waiting it. He asked my address three times (he has an iPhone and can easily take it from history), he said he has problems with bank, what he send it to me and all other buulsh-t.
I asked my friend in Ny to come to his office, but they (company own at least few whole buildings) moved out from old place (the address I remember and written on site). And they don’t want to give her a new address on the phone, saying what I have to call them.
I don’t know what to do. It’s a huge money and I really need it back. Can I sue them?

Thanks.

3 Steve August 18, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Getting back your security deposit; not always a pleasant task even when you do your best. My suggestion – take snapshots of EVERYTHING before the move in. Walls, windows, corners, cupboards, . . . everything. You are documenting the initial conditions. So, be sure to capture every wall crack, protruding nail, odd paint blemish, window crack, mis-hung drape, funky tile, etc. AND, if the day comes when you really need this evidence, you’re going to need to prove the timeframe when the pictures were taken. Caution – the date your camera adds to the picture will likely be unacceptable for this purpose as it is just too darn easy to manipulate. Easy solution – include in each photo the front page of that day’s newspaper! Be sure enough detail can be seen in the paper to permit identifying it months or years down the road.

Then, when your stuff is out of the apartment and you run the vacuum cleaner for the last time and you’ve dusted, and cleared, and cleaned, do the same thing all over again.

More than once I, or my friends and family, have relied on such evidence successfully to retrieve more of a security deposit than a landlord was initially offering up. It just takes 15 minutes or less to really do a typical apartment up well, and digital shots are essentially free unless and until you print them.

4 Samuel August 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm

This should probably be accompanied by all of the usual disclaimers — (1) this isn’t legal advice, (2) the law in your jurisdiction may differ, and (3) if you have questions, please consult a lawyer licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction.

5 Rocketman August 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Just as regards the application not being a binding agreement to rent- the apt I’m moving into had a paragraph at the end of the rental application that said basically, if my application is not denied I agree to lease the apt. I didn’t really notice, and was going to lease it anyway, but later I thought that was really underhanded. It said if you didn’t go through with the lease after that, it was $500. Not that you had even seen the lease yet! So renter beware.

6 Jrock August 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm

To follow up with Steve’s suggestion: not only take pictures, but also video with narration – great for capturing things that “don’t quite work right” but don’t show up on film. As to dating it – burn the images to a cd and do one of the following: 1) write a date on the cd and give it to the landlord, having them (and you) sign it, do the same with a copy for yourself; or 2) have a notary public witness you sealing the cd in an envelope, and put the notary stamp across the seal.

A few things to add regarding visiting a potential apartment and asking questions: don’t rely on the landlord to give you the whole truth regarding a complex, as they may not be fully aware of what goes on “after hours”, or they’ll spin things to their favor. Don’t just visit during the day during the week, be sure to visit during an evening when kids are home from school and parents are home from work. That’s when you’ll get a true picture of noise and activity levels. Driving by on a Sunday afternoon / evening can show how “trashy” a complex can get, as management won’t tidy things up til Monday morning. Also, know that landlord’s and current tenants’ definitions of words such as “quiet” and “activity level” can vary considerably.

Regarding crime, ask local police officers their opinion. They can’t always give details, but sometimes they can make general statements regarding the number of visits they have to make to a complex, compared with other complexes. In my current complex, I was told it was “as safe as anywhere else” by the landlords (and seemed like it would be – decent location, etc). Upon seeing the police visiting various areas at least once a week for the first two months, I inquired with an officer, and was told that they make more visits to my complex than any other complex in town.

7 Keith Thompson August 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm

My family owns several rental houses and I have seen how the business can work. My best advice would be to read, study and keep your lease or rental agreement. If you sign your name to that contract it is legally binding you land lord could mandate that you must keep two flamingos in your bathroom at all times both facing southwest and if you don’t have flamingos you have breached the lease and may have forfeited your deposit and may even be evicted. That’s an extreme example but the point is valid.

Also never hesitate to let the owner know of any repairs that need to be made; even if it’s your fault, its more comforting for us to know that you care enough to have stuff fixed rather than letting damages accumulate.
The main thing is just ask yourself, “how would I want my property to be cared for?” Because that’s the thing, our houses don’t make money, they actually cost us money. So any excess costs at the end of a lease come out of my family’s household budget. Its like my mom says, “pay your rent on time and don’t tear my crap up that’s all I ask.”

8 Keith Thompson August 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm

The comment about the video is a very good point, in small claims court pictures only go so far. Video allows you to put a lot more perspective on things, and you can bet your butt that the land lord has taken pictures and video we would even use smell-o-vision if it existed.

9 Michael H August 18, 2012 at 11:32 pm

When looking for a place, a really useful tool is PadMapper. It basically overlays Google Maps with Craigslist postings, which is very convenient. You can save searches, write notes, rate places…it’s pretty awesome. I’m not affiliated with them (it’s a free service anyway), I found it indispensable during my recent housing search in Oakland.

10 Lee August 19, 2012 at 6:38 am

Anyone know the time a landlord has to fix issues that makes a place inhabitable? (A/C or hot water, etc)

11 Sean August 19, 2012 at 7:45 am

Know your local laws! Like here in Montreal things like “finder’s fees”, security deposit, etc. and asking for any more than first month’s rent are illegal (not just bad practices)

12 kai August 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Concerning which websites to use to find apartments/rooms, http://padmapper.com is a fantastic resource.

13 Matthew August 19, 2012 at 3:02 pm

This helps a lot! Although I sort of have a general idea of what to look for, i never had the specifics down. And since I am going to college next year this is exactly what i needed.

14 Ryan August 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Great article, I could have used this when I fist moved into an apartment. I do have a question, however, regarding the question, “What’s the make-up of the other tenants? Are they mainly younger students? Married couples with families? Older folks?”
I was under the impression that answering this violates fair housing laws. Is there a way around that? Am I mistaken?

15 Srinivas Kari August 19, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I had a bad experience at my first rented apartment. The owner borrowed some money from me and asked me not to tell his family members about it. I gave the guy exactly the monthly rent thinking that in case he does not give the money back, I would just not pay the rent for the following month. However, the guy’s brother did not accept this and asked me to pay anyways. I did not get my money back 6 months hence and I gave up trying to ask the guy for my money. Later on, I learned that the co-tenants had also moved out to another place down the same street because they too had a negative experience with the owner. I think that the number 1 criteria when renting an apartment is judging whether the owner is a nice person and a good human being. People who take advantage of you for being nice and passive (like the owner borrowing money in my case) will make living there a very bad experience. Also, I have decided to keep interactions with the owner to an absolute minimum. I do not loiter around the owner’s flat and rarely speak to him unless spoken to. My second apartment is very close to work, is spacious, the rent is within my budget, the neighborhood is one of the poshest in the city, has good ventilation, but most importantly, the owner is a nice person.

16 Butcher August 20, 2012 at 9:24 am

When looking at an apartment, take notice of door sizes, stairs and turning areas. You want to be sure that you’ll be able to get your furniture in there. A tight staircase with a turn may not allow you to bring in your 7 foot sofabed. Bring a tape measure when you are looking for an apartment.

Take a good wiff when you are in the apartment. Does it smell moldy? That may be a sign of a water issue. Does it smell like pets or urine? Many people like carpeting but it’s really not a good idea for rentals. If you’ve ever removed a carpet, even a clean looking one, you know how nasty they can be.

Also take a look around the property. If things are not being maintained or cleaned up, you may not have the best experience when there’s an issue.

17 lady brett August 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm

i highly recommend your local paper’s classifieds – at least if you live in a smaller city. my experience in my small city is that only big apartment complexes are listed online at all. small apartment buildings, individual houses and garage apartments almost never are, and if you have time to look, you can often find much better deals among them (and much worse, there’s just a lot more variety when you’re dealing with landlords instead of companies). i don’t use the classifieds for much, but since apartment complexes are not my style, i found the paper to be my *only* source of rental info here.

18 Andrew August 21, 2012 at 1:32 am

Renter’s insurance is also handy if you want certain things installed that the landlord does not provide. For instance, here in the Pacific Northwest, because of the climate, air conditioning is not required because it does not get hot enough to require it. So if you want a/c, you’ll need to show proof of rental insurance.

19 RobSanDiego August 21, 2012 at 9:53 pm

That percentage of net income formula is good in certain areas, if you applied it to San Diego California you’ll never move out of mom’s house. Be prepared to spend a higher percentage of your income on rent in some areas.

I always ask people who live down the street from an apartment what it’s like there. Landlords might fudge the truth to gain a tenant in a building that’s a crackhouse or party palace, the neighbors don’t have a vested interest in seeing you move in, so they might be more honest.

20 Mary August 27, 2012 at 7:10 pm

All good suggestions.
Mine:
Ask about parking. Off-street parking? Assigned parking spots? One spot per apartment or two?

21 Al Brune September 1, 2012 at 5:32 am

Make a date and time to see the apartment or house for rent.
Then Secretly go at another time and/or day and discreetly explor. If possible chat with a few tenents or neighbors about what living there is like pro & con. Go there at night and sit in your car/and or just hang out for 15 minutes across the street. Are people selling drugs, prostution, do Hell’s Angels, or gangs live next door or down the street? Load noise, lots of noisy kids, anything that might bother you or actually scare you. If you even get just a negative thought or bad vibe about the neighborhood…follow your gut and pass. You are probably right

22 Tarcas September 4, 2012 at 5:09 pm

As another landlord weighing in, these are good tips. I’d like to point some out from the perspective of the person who you’re signing the contract with:
Don’t be late — Consider your appointment a business meeting. This is someone you expect to be doing business with, possibly for quite some time. As Brett says, do make a good first impression. Tardiness is a pretty big strike against you, and a no-call-no-show is as likely to get you fired as a tenant as it is as an employee. If you have to cancel or postpone, call ahead.
Lying on the application — If you’re caught, you’re done. Even if the truth would still get you accepted, the fact that you lied is a 100% guarantee of a rejection.
Security deposits — Wise landlords don’t want to take your money nearly as badly as they want the apartment re-rented. It is a wiser practice to return a tenant’s deposit if the apartment is left in good (rent-ready) shape, as an incentive to do so. Do document the condition of the property before you move in and after you leave, in case there is a dispute. As Brett said, they should give you a form, but if not, document everything that is wrong that you could possibly be charged for.

23 Tarcas September 5, 2012 at 10:05 am

PS, that’s not to say that there aren’t landlords out there who will try their best to stiff you for your security deposit. Case in point, the large property management company in the town where I went to college. However, I knew a lot of students who wouldn’t do business with them because they had a reputation for never returning the security deposit, no matter how clean you left your place. Do your homework, and as someone else mentioned, pick a “nice” landlord (specifically one who uses fair business practices; not one who could be your friend. It’s better to keep that a business relationship anyway.)

24 Barb July 3, 2013 at 11:41 am

There are 2 bedrooms and 4 people. The master bedroom has more room and private bath. How to divide the rent up proportionally?

25 Matuka October 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Absolutely crucial information. Thank you VERY MUCH for this article! When i will be seeking for my first apartment this info will be golden… For example writing down what you need/wish from your apartment such as how can i get internet connection (cable or fiber? also).

And asking those certain questions, for example have break-in’s or car break-in’s been a trouble? What are the other people who live in this house like? (neighbours)

thx

26 Christian Rodriguez October 30, 2013 at 9:33 pm

I work in the multi-family field and I must say… Thank You

This was an absolute treat to read and I will definitely mention in my Manager Retreat Training coming up in November.

27 Newlyn November 30, 2013 at 2:01 am

Wow. Thank you for the thorough write up for first time renters. I’d like to add one tip to this already amazing list and that is for first time renters, usually you are just entering college and so you won’t have sufficient credit built up to prove that you can pay rent on time. In this case, you’ll need a cosigner from your parents or your a close relative to vouch for you. When submitting the application to any rental, inform the property manager or landlord of your situation and let them know that they’ll need to run your cosigner’s credit report. Also you can have your cosigner sign a letter of guarantee, stating that if for any reason that you can not make rent, your cosigner will be responsible for it. This will help alleviate any concerns your potential landlord may have.

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