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Tips for First Time Renters (The Ultimate Guide)

No matter what point you’re at in your life, being a first-time renter is both rewarding and terrifying. There can be a lot of moving parts and decisions to make before you even get to the rental application process. Just finding a place somewhere suitable for yourself can take quite a bit of time. There are questions about budgeting, locations, what type of apartment you want to live in, etc. In practice, it can be a seriously daunting process, but it is possible to prepare yourself for the journey.

This piece can serve as your guide into the world of renting, providing you with information ranging from advice about picking an apartment to what paperwork you will need. You may experience some hiccups along the way, but that’s part of the process. Taking the time to educate yourself on renting can help ease worries that may arise later.

Start Here: Preparing to Find an Apartment

Deciding to move into an apartment for the first time is a big step. Millions of people begin a fresh chapter in their life by moving to a new place. But as common as it is, where to actually begin with the process can be a bit daunting. In general, it is best if you focus on your budget first and let that carry you from there. Outlined below are the various things you need to consider as you go hunting for a rental. Making a note of things like your financial position, the location you want to live in, and if you have roommates or not will help steer you in the right direction.

Determine Your Budget

The very first step when it comes to renting an apartment is determining how much you want to spend. Your financial status will play a big role in determining your apartment. Apartment prices can range greatly based on many factors. You need to get a general feel for how much your income will stretch when it comes to paying rent and other apartment expenses. This can help you filter through available apartments. In general, most financial experts recommend renters set aside up to 30% of their monthly income for housing. To get a better idea of this number, you can use this simple math equation: multiple your annual income by 0.3, then take that number and divide it by 12.

The 50/20/30 Rule

In order to help you with budgeting, some financial experts recommend following the 50/20/30 rule. This does not only apply to renters. It can help all sorts of people learn to manage their money more efficiently. Each number represents how you should divvy up your budget.

The 50/20/30 rule is as follows:

  • 50% of your income should go to your “needs.” This includes your apartment rent, various bills, insurance premiums, etc.
  • 20% of your income should go into your savings.
  • 30% of your net income should be reserved for your “wants.” This can include shopping, restaurants, going to the movies, vacations, etc.

While this is not always something you can realistically follow perfectly, it can be a useful guideline for when it comes to managing your income as a first time renter. From the budget for your needs, a portion of that should go to your rent. Keep this in mind as you begin your apartment hunting process.

Picking a Location

An essential part of the rent hunting process is picking the location you want to live in. This can sometimes make or break an apartment. The apartment may be absolutely beautiful on the inside, but then the surrounding area could not be up to par. You want to make sure that your apartment is not only nice but that you are in an area, you feel comfortable and confident navigating.

Some things to consider when picking a location to live in are:

  • Transportation - If you use a car, make sure you note the parking situation for the apartment building. Also, keep in mind access to public transportation like bus stops and train stations if you need to use them.
  • School or Work Proximity - Keep in mind the distance from where you work or study to your apartment. You do not want to be in a rental that requires an hour commute.
  • Neighborhood - Get a feel for the area you are in. It is recommended that you visit the neighborhood both at night and during the day. What may seem safe during the day could shift as nightfalls. Also, take note of the noise level and businesses around you.
  • Safety - Much like the previous point, you want to make sure the area feels relatively safe. Doing some research on the neighborhood of your apartment can help give you an idea of the crime rates.

Preferences For Management Type

When shopping for an apartment to rent, you may come across a few different kinds of landlords. These are the people (or one person) who manage the building you are renting in. Each type of management comes with its own set of pros and cons. Understanding them all as a new renter can be very beneficial in the long run. Explored below are some common types of management you may come across during your apartment hunt.

Independent Landlord

An independent landlord is generally someone who owns the building you are renting in and operates on their own. They are not part of a company, nor is it usually their main occupation. Renting from an independent landlord can be ideal as you are able to communicate with them directly when you have an issue with your place. You can sometimes form a closer relationship with them which can allow you to make decorative changes to the place that a traditional management company wouldn’t allow for. They also could be more lenient on making rent payments and how they go about it. However, an independent landlord can be tricky to find as being a landlord generally is not their only job. Repairs and maintenance may take a while to be addressed.

Large Complexes

Living in a large complex may be ideal for you as these places tend to be well managed. They are operated by professional managers with on-site maintenance at the ready. They could even have extra features like pools and community events. But despite how well run a building may be, it could also mean it feels less homey. These complexes tend to house a lot of renters, making them noisier and feel less personal. You also may not have that direct line of communication as you would with an independent landlord.

Property Management Company

A property manager is someone who works for a property management company to oversee apartments. The property managers can be much more involved with their tenants as they work to resolve complaints and provide repairs. But as personable as they may seem, property managers oversee a lot. This means building a relationship with them will most likely not be possible. Also, being professionals, they tend to screen potential tenants rigorously and are less flexible when it comes to making rent payments.

Do You Need Roommates?

It is not uncommon for people to room with others when they are moving out on their own for the first time. But despite it being common, it is not required. As you are assessing your financial situation, you may find that rent and utilities goes beyond that recommended 30% limit. Being able to split costs with another person can drastically bring down expenses. But while this part of having roommates may be appealing, you should seriously consider the other factors associated with renting a space with someone else. You should sit down with whoever you are hoping to rent an apartment with and decide what you both want from the space. It is best to have expectations clearly laid out. Are you okay with loud noises after a certain time? What about parties? Who will clean the kitchen, who will clean the bathroom? All of these questions and more should be discussed with the person you are looking to make your roommate. If you don’t, you may find yourself living in an uncomfortable situation. Lower rent is one huge benefit, but you cannot afford to only focus on that.

Don’t Forget Future Expenses

Rent is just one of the expenses you will have to plan for when getting your first apartment. Other costs you most likely will face including utilities, parking, furniture/decorations, repairs/maintenance, and renters insurance.

Utilities are one area that may have fluctuating costs. This is due to the fact that, if you reside in such a place, changing seasons require different utilities. If the summer is not as hot as usual, air conditioning may not be used often. This could work the same way for winter and other utilities in the apartment.

You should also be prepared to pay for gas, electricity, internet, and cable. It is possible to find apartment buildings that cover one or two of those amenities, but for the most part, you will have to supply them yourself. Lastly, don’t forget any subscriptions or memberships you also have. They should be factored into your yearly budget. By accounting for all of this, you will have a better idea as to how much you can spend monthly on rent.

Compile Questions For The Landlord

Before committing to an apartment as a first time renter, it is highly encouraged that you ask as many questions as possible during the tour. You want to get as much information as possible so you can make an educated decision if you want to move in or not. It’s frustrating, but you may not have all the facts if you do not ask specific questions. Your landlord does not always intentionally leave out information, but in the rare instance they do, it is best to have all the grounds covered.

Listed below are some questions you should consider asking when touring your potential future apartment:

  • What does the rent cover?
  • What if I need to break the lease?
  • How often will my rent increase?
  • What is your pet policy?
  • What is forbidden in the apartment? (Some specifics to ask about include painting walls, installing cable, guests, noise levels, etc.)
  • What is the moving process like?
  • Is renters insurance required?
  • Are there any current construction projects going on in the area or on the building?
  • Do you offer renters emergency maintenance help?

You should be specific with all your concerns. Do not be afraid to ask about anything in the apartment or the overall building. You want to make sure you have a complete idea of the space and surrounding area. As exciting as moving out for the first time can be, you should be confident that you are choosing an apartment that is right for you and offers a safe, comfortable living space.

You’re Ready to Start Applying

Congratulations, you have found an apartment you want to call home! But before you can get to moving in, you will have to go through the application process. The application process can be comprised of many different steps. From required documents to personal information, you should be ready to present whatever the landlord requires.


You will have to present a number of documents when applying for an apartment. What has been listed below is not a full look at what your landlord may request. At the same time, you may not need exactly everything on the list. What has been outlined below is just a rough idea of the documents you will need to rent an apartment.

  • Photo ID (could be driver’s license or passport)
  • Current employment and income records
  • Pay stubs (copies of your last two)
  • Bank statements
  • Tax returns
  • W-2 forms
  • Personal references
  • Contact information
  • Co-signer application (if applicable, we will go into more on this later)

Failure to present any of these documents may hinder the renting process. All of these may not be asked for, but you should be mindful of where to obtain such documents just in case. This paperwork helps introduce you to your landlord and gives an idea of your financial situation. Some places will not let you rent with them if your income appears insufficient.

Renter Requirements

On top of the aforementioned required documents, there is some other personal information you will most likely need to provide in order to rent a place. Outlined below are some renter requirements a landlord may expect when you apply for an apartment.

  • Credit Report - You will have to give permission to the rental company to access your credit score and subsequent credit report. This is just another part of the process to assure you are financially responsible. They are mainly looking for signs that you make payments on time, and your credit score will show for that.
  • Deposit - This is a one-time fee that will cover any damages you cause in the apartment. This is typically always required during any rental application. It will be used to restore the place once you have moved out. More on security deposits will be explored in a later section.
  • Application Fees - Unfortunately, simply applying for an apartment will come with its own fee. Generally, this is a one-time fee of around $50 and will cover expenses associated with background checks and credit score reports.
  • Rental History - You may not have much to show in regard to rental history if you are a first-time renter. Typically, a rental history report will include former addresses, any evictions, criminal records, credit score, payment history, and any other data necessary to gauge you as a renter.

Fill Out The Application

Once you have compiled the required documents and other information for the rental property, it is time to move on to actually filling out the application. As previously mentioned, this part will come with a fee to complete. You can expect to answer questions regarding your current employment, income, previous households, emergency contacts, and if you are designating a co-signer. The renting market can get competitive, so you should try to make yourself stand out among the other rental applicants. You can do this by being professional and present at meetings, include a letter of reference so someone else can vouch for you, and even consider offering to pay a few months’ rent early. All of this and more will show your landlord you will be a trustworthy, responsible tenant, and therefore they may be more inclined to rent to you.

Your Credit Score And Being a Renter

Credit scores have come up a few times throughout the piece, and, unfortunately, your credit will be a big part of the rental application process. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the rent, the higher your credit score will be expected to be. Credit reports will tell your landlord how financially responsible you are. If you miss car payments or cannot keep up with your credit cards, they may view you poorly without taking the time to get to know you. On the flip side, if you have a good or excellent credit score, your landlord may assume you are financially secure.

In the case that you find yourself with a less than stellar credit score, there are a couple of steps you can take to try to go into good standings with your rental manager:

  • Bring on a co-signer: Adding a co-signer to the renting process assures the manager that they will still get the money they need even if you fail to present it. Whoever agrees to be your co-signer is promising to be legally and financially responsible for your rent if you don’t pay it.
  • Be prepared with your credit report: You can be proactive in presenting your own credit report to the meeting. You will then be able to personally explain any blemishes and issues with your credit history. This shows you are responsible and able to take accountability for your missteps. Landlords may appreciate this.

What is an Apartment Lease?

A lease is an agreement between a landlord and a renter that clearly lays out the terms of the rental. It will include information like when the lease is up, the monthly rent and its due date, renewal or termination guidelines, and other conditions of the lease. Requirements for a lease can vary from state to state due to each having its own laws and regulations. To fully understand what you are getting yourself into, it is highly recommended that you take time to read the lease and make sure you understand it before signing. The best way to understand what you are signing would be to have a lawyer look over the entire lease.

You may encounter leases with varying time frames. Some are month-by-month agreements, while others last one full year. Make sure you completely understand the type of lease you will be signing. Double-check smaller things like the pet policy and any other fees associated with renting. Everything that pertains to you and your time in the building should be outlined within this document. This includes parking regulations, keys, guests, painting the walls, and smoking. You do not want to be blindsided by something in the lease or break any of the rules. That can put your living arrangements in jeopardy.

Security Deposit Requirements

As touched on briefly before, prior to moving in, you will be asked to put down a security deposit. This is a one-time fixed fee for all renters with the intention to cover any damage caused in the apartment. Following moving out, this money will be used to repair the rental. This damage is usually more significant than normal wear and tear. This money could also be used to cover rent should you miss a month. If everything goes smoothly during your time in your apartment, your security deposit should be returned to you, either in full or a portion of it (depending on the laws implemented where you are renting).

Time to Make The Move

You’ve made it so far in the renting process, and you’re almost at the finish line. The last bit is making that big move to your new apartment. Outlined below are some things to keep in mind regarding your apartment necessities, utilities, and how to actually go about the moving process. After having accomplished this much as a renter, you want these final pieces to come together smoothly.

First Time Renter Essentials

Before officially moving in, you will want to make sure you have all the apartment essentials necessary for getting settled in. These items can help all renters make their new apartment functional and welcoming. You can always add more later, but here’s a general idea of the belongings you will need when moving into your new apartment:

  • Mattress and bedding
  • Pillows
  • Curtains (if no blinds available)
  • Trash bins (bathroom and kitchen)
  • Toilet paper
  • Plunger
  • Towles (bathroom and kitchen)
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Plates
  • Pots and pans
  • Cleaning products (laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner, dish detergent, etc.)
  • Furniture (coffee table, TV stand, couch, chairs, etc.)

What has been listed is just the absolute basic items you will need to begin your new life in your apartment. You may want to consider adding other things like decorations and laundry items. Make sure you look into what the laundry situation is in your apartment to get an idea of what you will need. Once you have the basics down, you can always make adjustments to make living there as comfortable as can be.

Apartment Utilities

You will want to check with the apartment building to figure out what kind of utilities you pay for and those that they supply. Typically, apartments will provide trash and water service. Fees for such will be included in your rent. Other utilities like gas and electric service may have to be set up by you. You could even end up in a building where you cover all the utilities. You will want to inquire about this during your tour as this can impact your budget greatly.

Once you have the utility situation figured out, your landlord should provide you with the utility company’s contact information. You will want to call at least one week before you move in to have your utilities turned on. This will allow them to prepare and be ready for you to settle in.

Moving Materials

Moving your belongings may seem like a stressful thing but there are ways to ease some worries. The main thing you should get is an abundance of boxes. Boxes are available to purchase ad hardware stores but there are a lot of ways to get them for free. Ask your local grocery store if they have any leftover boxes from stocking their shelves. Chances are, they were going to throw them out anyway and will happily let you take them off their hands. You can also ask neighbors to see if they have any boxes. The Nextdoor app and Facebook Marketplace are a great way to get in touch with others in the area to see if they have boxes to spare. Tape and markers should also be on your list of materials in order to label your boxes. Once you feel you have enough moving materials, start packing. If you need to hire a moving service, you may find better rates in the off-season (usually from October to April).

Other Types of Rentals

While an apartment is the most common type of rental, there are other types of dwellings that utilize pretty much the same renting process. The type of management you will have to deal with can change, but applications and leases are typically the same across the board.

Keep these other types of rentals in mind as you start your home hunting process. You never know where you will find the perfect place.

  • Townhouse - A townhouse is a multi-floor home that is connected to another with a wall dividing. Each townhouse has its own entrance, and buildings are usually grouped together in a designated area.
  • Condo - A condo is a complex made up of a number of individually-owned units. These can sometimes be larger than an apartment.
  • Duplex - A duplex is one house that has been divided into two different living areas. Units are either side-by-side or on top of one another. Each one has its own entrance and they typically share a yard and porch. You will sometimes encounter triplexes that hold three different units.
  • Accessory Dwelling - This is a second, smaller dwelling that is either attached or near a larger home. This could include something like an apartment over a garage or a smaller cottage on the property.
  • Single-Family Dwelling - A stand-alone home that sits on its own land. Usually, it is detached from other homes but there are some that connect to other single-family dwellings.
  • Shared-Housing - This could be something similar to living in a dorm at college. Each person has their own rooms that connect to a common area like a kitchen or living room.

Do You Need Renters Insurance?

Make sure you talk to your insurance provider before moving to see if they have affordable renters insurance quotes and policies. Your belongings are valuable, and you want to protect them as such.

Renters insurance may be required by your apartment, building, depending on what is stated in your lease. But even if it’s not mandated, renters insurance can offer some valuable coverage for your belongings. Renters insurance protects your belongings in the event of a disaster.

Typically, it is required by landlords due to the fact their insurance is just to protect the structure of the apartment. What is inside those spaces will fall on renters to protect. Renters insurance will also cover liability and medical cover should someone suffer an injury in your apartment. A renters policy is generally affordable with a national average cost of around $180 per year, or roughly $15 a month.

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