Guide: Renting an Apartment for the first time

Deciding to rent an apartment is something that many college students decide to do during their time away from home. If you do not rent one while in school, then renting a place of your own is something you will probably be doing shortly after graduation. Before you make that commitment and sign your name on that lease, there are a few things you should probably know and think about first.

Affordability

What can you afford? Evaluate your budget so you know how much rent you can afford without overextending yourself financially. If you found an apartment that you like, but the rent seems out of reach, then consider a roommate. A roommate can split the bills with you, making a once expensive apartment more affordable.

Utilities

Be sure to check what, if any, utilities are included as part of your rent. Sometimes landlords will pay for the water and heat for a tenant, whereas other landlords will not pay for any utilities. There are even a few landlords out there who will pay for all utilities for their tenants. This is something you should know before renting so that you can estimate your monthly budget accurately. Also, you can usually call utility companies before you move into a place, and they will usually be able to provide you with an estimate of how much you’ll be paying each month.

Location

When checking out apartments, check the location. Make sure it is close to school or work. Make sure you will not have a long or out of the way commute to class. An apartment may be really cheap to rent but may be far away from your daily lifestyle. Keep location in mind when searching for that new place to call home. If you are looking for a place in a certain area of a city, maybe pick up a local community paper and browse classified listings. These free and focused community papers cover a specific suburb or section of the city and can help you get to know the area better. You can also search websites like Craigslist and Apartments.com that offer advanced search features.

Restrictions

When you rent, you are under the restrictions of the landlord of the property. You must abide by their rules, which are usually outlined in the lease you sign. Some landlords will not allow pets, while others are more concerned with noise restrictions. If you are renting a room in someone’s home, you should check to see if you can have visitors sleep over or any other rules concerning others not residing in that room.

Credit Score/Background Check

Know that when it comes to renting an apartment, there will almost always be a credit report and background check done on you. This is why places have application fees, because it costs money to run these reports. Have too many unpaid bills, or a history of getting into trouble with the law and you can find yourself denied on your application. Because you are a first time renter and don’t have much of a history, you may find that in some cases you will need a co-signer on your application. This will depend on many things, such as the policy of the rental agency, your credit score, and whether or not you have a job.

>> Check your credit score at FreeCreditScore.com

Read the Lease Before You Sign It

Read every line of your lease before you sign. This is important because it will contain the rules that the landlord requests by which you abide. The lease will contain what pets you can have, if any, what utilities you are responsible for, how much your rent is, when a late fee is charged, and what conditions you can break your lease, if at all. It is very important you understand these conditions, as once you sign the lease you are entering into a contract. Typically a renter may feel pressured to quickly sign the lease, but take your time and be sure to read all fine print in anything you sign.

When You Finally Move In

When you find that first place and sign your lease, be sure to go through the apartment and note any damages. It is even better if you can get your landlord to perform this “walk through” with you. If you find anything unusual, such as a water spot on the ceiling, stains on carpets, or anything that could be blamed on you, then notify your landlord immediately. Once you move in and start residing in the apartment, you will usually be responsible for any damage to the apartment, beyond typical wear and tear. When you move out, anything that the landlord deem needs to be fixed may be deducted from your security deposit. Therefore it is important to keep the apartment in good condition so that you are not charged for any unnecessary expenses.

Renters Insurance

It is important that once you start renting, you obtain renters insurance. Renters insurance is fairly inexpensive. This minor expense will insure your valuables against damage from fire or burglary. If you have pets, then most landlords usually require renters insurance. After recently shopping around for renters insurance, I have found State Farm seems to offer the best renters insurance policy for the dollar. It is especially important for you to get covered if you have valuable items such as laptops, stereo equipment, and jewelry.

Renting your first apartment is exciting and rewarding but also a huge responsibility. With some discipline and organization, your first apartment renting experience can be satisfying as well as a huge learning experience.