By Sharon Hurley Hall
Renters 101 Torch Blog Banner
Renting your first apartment is a huge life milestone, and it's likely one of the first big financial commitments you'll make when you move out on your own. So, where to begin? Start with this five-point beginner's apartment rental guide:

  1. Set a budget. A good place to start is to understand what you can afford to spend every month on rent. You'll need money for food, transportation, phone and internet, and probably some savings for a rainy day—so determine a budget and allocate a portion of that for your rent. Don't forget to look at your rental agreement for additional expenses—like utilities—and factor those in your budget too.

  2. Find and inspect apartments. Once you've determined your budget, use your preferred search method to find available rental apartments in your area. Make a list of your must-have features to narrow down your search.

    After finding apartments that fit your needs, make appointments with the landlords or brokers to assess suitability. Once you arrive at the apartment, remember to check for the following:

    ° Properly working plumbing and electricity—turn on taps and light switches, flush toilets and check under sinks for evidence of leaks.
    ° Security features—ensure doors and windows have secure frames and sturdy locks.
    ° Routine maintenance issues—inspect the floors, walls and ceilings for obvious damage or decay.
  3. Ask the right questions. Your experience as a renter begins by asking the landlord key questions, including:

    ° How much is the rent, and when is it due?
    ° Are utilities included?
    ° What is the policy on pets?
    ° Is there parking available, and what are the costs associated with it?
    ° Who is responsible for maintenance and common areas?
    ° What security measures are in place?

    If you get the chance, talk to some of the current tenants about what it's like to live in the building. Additionally, be sure to ask about the size of your initial payment and the security deposit—money you give to the landlord to cover any damages you might cause over the time of your lease. This is especially important if you're on a limited budget. Landlords often require a month's security deposit, plus the first and last months' rent prior to moving in.

  4. Rent the apartment. Once you find the perfect apartment, the next step is to fill out a rental application. This isn't a binding agreement; it's simply a form that states you're interested in renting and that you give the landlord permission to do some background research on you (like a credit check, and calling personal references). Some landlords may charge an application fee to cover the cost of the credit check. Keep in mind that as a first time renter, you might not have enough credit history to qualify, and some landlords may request agreements to be co-signed by parents or other family members.

    If your application is approved and you pass the credit check, then it's time to sign a rental agreement (short term) or a lease (longer term). The agreement spells out the details you've discussed with the landlord and sets the terms of your rental. Be sure to read it carefully before signing, and don't be afraid to ask questions about anything you don't understand.

    It's a good idea at this point to inventory everything existing in the apartment, like appliances and apartment features. Take photos to document the condition of each item on the list, and let the landlord know immediately if anything is damaged or not working properly to ensure you don't lose your security deposit due to damage caused by previous tenants.

  5. Get renter's insurance. It's important to remember that your landlord's insurance policy protects the building and his interests and belongings, but not yours. That's why it's a smart idea to get renter's insurance to protect your belongings against loss, theft or damage. Renter's insurance also covers accidental damage to someone else's property (for example, if a leak in your apartment causes damage to other apartments). You can even include additional protection for valuables—like electronics and jewelry—to your policy.

    In addition to these tips, it's always a good idea to research your state's renter's rights so you're prepared and informed. And finally, enjoy moving into your first apartment!


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