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How to Rent an Apartment

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A virtual right of passage into adulthood, renting your first apartment can be an exciting as well as nerve-wracking experience. If this is the first time you’ll be living on your own, you might even be a little bit nervous about how to go about it, and what to expect.

Whether you’ve outgrown your parent’s basement, or have recently graduated from college, you likely have questions about how to rent an apartment.

We’re here to clear the air, taking you through the process of how to rent an apartment from A-to-Z. We’ll help you plan, prepare, and understand what to expect.

With a little preparation, you’ll be well on your way to renting what may be the first of many apartments in your lifetime.

So grab a cup of joe or your favorite beverage and let’s dive right on in…

The Search Begins – But where???

Where to Look for an Apartment

You can almost see it; the perfect apartment. You visualize your style, décor, and arrangement of furniture. You start making plans to have friends over before realizing you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself.

Finding the perfect apartment starts with knowing where to start your search. Luckily, the internet makes this easy peasy.

Consider the Following Popular Apartment Rental Sites:

  • Apartments.com
  • Zumper.com
  • Ret.com
  • Hotpads.com
  • Craigslist.org
  • And Facebook Marketplace

These sites can end up saving you a lot of hassle, allowing you to sort thousands of listings by location, price, amenities and more. You can also lookup reviews to see what current and former tenants have to say about the place.

Of course, asking around is always a good option to broaden your search. Friends, family, and even social media or forums can be a great place to get referrals.

These Top Three Considerations Come First

Apart from your budget, which should be an obvious consideration (unless you’ve got a rich uncle), there are a few key considerations you’ll need to evaluate early on. Paying attention to these early on in your search can save you time, headache and expense later on. Not to mention, getting these right will improve your overall quality of life.

1. Your Living Situation and Needs
What is your living arrangement? Do you intend to have a roommate? Moving in with a significant other? Need a spare room for guests? Or will you be fine with a 1-bedroom or studio apartment?

Your first step should always be to define the exact type of apartment that you’re looking to rent. This ‘broad’ filter will help you cut through the noise and waste less time on apartments that don’t fit your basic needs.

Similarly, you may want to add on other ‘must haves’ such as specific times of amenities, designated parking, natural lighting, security gates, public transportation nearby and more.

2. The Neighborhood: what’s on the outside matters too
Every neighborhood across the United States has its own unique vibe, from youthful, modern and energetic, to quiet and stately. Ask yourself, do you prefer something a bit more suburban, or are you into the fast-paced energy of urban atmospheres? Is being close to the ‘action’ of a bustling city important to you, or are you more of a homebody? Do you enjoy time outdoors in nature or prefer to hit the paved concrete jungles of urban areas?

These questions and more will help you better define the type of neighborhood and location that will best suit your lifestyle.

PRO TIP: Did you know that the zip code, city, and even the neighborhood you choose to rent an apartment in can impact your renter’s insurance quote.
If you’re looking in a neighborhood that you’re unfamiliar with, we suggest the following:

  • Visit the neighborhood at different times of the day (ideally during both the night and daytime hours)
  • Note the level of noise at different times of the day
  • Observe how bad the traffic is in the area (a potential issue with commute times)
  • Look up crime statistic reports for the neighborhood
  • Ask others on social media how they feel about living in the area

3. Property Management
Although renting from an individual may seem attractive, you often lose the added benefit of having a property management company on call should any issues arise. In some cases, property managers of complexes actually live on site.

In general, those apartment complexes with a designated property management service and/or company offer faster and better service if anything goes awry (such as a clogged drain, leaky faucet, etc.).

You’ve Found the PERFECT Apartment: what’s next?

The Application Process

So you’ve found the apartment of your dreams, or the perfect fit for the next chapter in your life? Great, but what’s next?

Ask for an application from either the landlord or the property management company. But don’t wait long, attractive apartments tend to fill up fast, especially if there aren’t that many vacancies in the area. Get this paperwork filled out and returned ASAP.

What to Expect

Although the application won’t be too invasive, you’ll still need to shell out some pertinent personal information as well as supporting documentation.

Be prepared to supply:

  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs or tax returns
  • A copy of your driver’s license
  • A copy of your social security card or number
  • Proof of employment/employment history
  • Rental history
  • References
  • And usually, an application fee (non-refundable)

The aforementioned documentation, along with your application, is used to determine whether or not you’ll be a good tenant. As you likely surmised, part of this has to do with your ability to actually pay the rent, and part of it (such as references) is used to speak to your character and lifestyle.

For as many horror stories as there are about shady landlords, there are just as many about bad tenants who end up destroying the apartment, leaving their landlord with a pile of bills and a major headache.

Getting Approved (the waiting game)

Waiting to hear if you’ve been approved or denied for the apartment is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole experience, putting your life on hold and eagerly awaiting the verdict.

The good news is that the process generally doesn’t take more than a few business days.

Keep in mind, others are likely applying for the same apartment, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it. In some cases, you may be denied due to your income or credit score. If you run into this, ask if you can have a co-signer to help.

If Approved

If you do get approved, either the property management company or landlord will usually give you a phone call to let you know. At this stage, they generally ask for a security deposit upfront. Security deposits are usually the sum of the first and last month’s rent, although this may vary.

Bear in mind that your security deposit is NOT used to pay for your rent. Rather it is a ‘security’ for the property management company in the event that you cause damages, break your lease, or fail to live up to the terms of your lease agreement (such as not paying rent).

Next up is the first month’s rent itself.

EXAMPLE: If your rent is $1200 per month, your initial ‘move in’ costs might look like the following…

  • $1200 first month’s rent
  • $2400 security deposit (sum of first and last month’s rent)
  • TOTAL = $3600

Yikes is right! Unfortunately, the cost of moving into an apartment can add up fast, which is why you should always make a plan and budget accordingly.

Getting your Autograph: Signing the Lease / Rental Agreement

Once all the details are in place and everything agreed to, you’ll need to sign a lease or rental agreement for the apartment.

This agreement is a legally binding contract between you (the ‘lessee’) and the landlord or property management company (the ‘lessor’).

This agreement details the contractual obligations of both parties, and generally includes the following:

Deposit and Fees

Here, the lessor will detail the required deposit, monthly rent and any fees required. This section will also outline any fees you may incur for violating the agreement, such as terminating your lease early or paying rent late (i.e. late fees).

Rental Insurance

Rental insurance is almost always a requirement of the landlord or property management company renting the apartment. Even if it’s not, rental insurance is a ‘must have’ for those renting apartments.

Similar to house insurance, this policy will insure your assets and personal property in the event of flooding, fire, break-ins and more. Best of all, renters insurance is very affordable.

Occupancy Limits

Virtually all rental agreements place limitations on how many occupants are allowed to live in the apartment at any given time.

Maintenance and Upkeep

Spend a lot of time reviewing this section. Here you will be informed about what types of upkeep and maintenance is YOUR responsibility versus that of the landlord. For example, you will likely have to replace your own light bulbs, but if the oven stops working, they may repair or replace it.

Pet Policy

If you have pets, your ears should perk up at this one. Some apartments have rules explicitly prohibiting pets. Others have limitations on the type or number of pets you can have. Others may require additional rental fees for each pet.

Rental Fees

This section is pretty straightforward, defining how much money is owed for monthly rent, and when. It also will detail how the payments are to be made, to whom, and any fees for late payments.

Tennant Rules

No one likes rules, but most apartments will come with a rulebook you’ll need to follow. This section will detail any relevant policies applicable to you. Examples include noise policies, appropriate use of dumpsters, smoking policies and more.

Lease Term

This section outlines the duration of the lease itself, (i.e. how long you are expected to live there and pay rent). Typical lease agreements are for between 6 months to 1-year. However, short term leasing arrangements may also be available (usually at a higher cost).

Utilities

This portion of the agreement will inform you as to which utilities are included as part of your rental fee, and which you are responsible for paying out of your own pocket.

All That’s Left is to Move In!

You found the perfect apartment. You filled out your application with care. You’ve been approved. You’ve budgeted for all of your expenses.

All that’s left now is to move in and enjoy your new home! Looking for more information about renting? Read our Blog articles about How Much Utilities Cost in an Apartment and How to get Low Income Housing Fast.

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