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Renting: What You Need to Know

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Renting: What You Need to Know

What are your responsibilities?

Getting your own pad is exciting. You are on your own, you can stay up all night, and no parents or relatives are around to get in your way. But of course, you have responsibilities:

  • As a renter, you must follow the terms of your lease. Failure to do so can result in not getting your security deposit back; it can also mean getting evicted.
  • You must pay your rent on time. If you don’t, you may have to pay late fees. At the worst, you could be evicted and it can hurt your credit.
  • As a renter, you must keep your apartment clean. You must respect your neighbors’ need for order and quiet. You can’t play loud music at 2 in the morning.
  • Don’t damage the apartment. Although normal wear and tear is expected, that is not the same as outright damage. Your lease should spell out the difference. You could possibly be sued for causing damages.
  • Maintain the smoke detector, fire extinguisher, and carbon monoxide detector.
  • If you are going away for a while, notify the landlord as well as the post office.
  • Don’t use the apartment for illegal activities.

What should you look for in an apartment?

There are many factors to look at when renting an apartment. Consider the rent, of course. But don’t make that your only consideration. Different people have different priorities; here are the most common ones to think about.

  • Location. Location matters. Look at what each neighborhood offers. Is there a big grocery store nearby? A college? Recreation? Clean lawns? Think of how much these things mean to you and ask what you are willing to pay to have them.
  • Reputation. Some landlords’ reputations are so bad that they are a standing joke in the community. Some of them look for unfair ways to deny you your security deposit when you move out. Consider this, and also consider their responsiveness to complaints and to maintenance issues.
  • Amenities. Is a more expensive apartment a good deal because it has a nice gym or tennis court, or a party room, or a pool? Perhaps. You might even save money this way.
  • Using a rental agent. Sometimes it pays to use a rental agent to find an apartment for you. It can be worth the time and hassle if you have special needs, or are new in town, or if you live far away and can’t look for places in person.
  • Negotiating the rent. Most renters simply accept the going price on an apartment. However, you may have room to negotiate. Is the rent too high compared to comparable units in the neighborhood? Is there a surplus of apartments in the area? You could consider asking for a lease longer than 12 months in return for a lowered rent. This is an advantage to the landlord because he or she won’t need to spend money on cleaning, repainting, advertising, and showing the unit after 12 months.
  • Cosigners. If your credit is bad, you might need a cosigner—a person with good credit who agrees to guarantee your rent. The cosigner is on the hook for any rent you don’t pay, which makes the landlord more willing to rent to you. Friends and family members are popular choices as cosigners, but remember that this can strain relationships now and in the future.
  • The apartment itself. Be sure to see the actual apartment and make sure that it is clean and maintained and in good surroundings. If it is a house, you will want to check out the lawn and garage, if these exist.
  • The lease. Read the fine print carefully to ensure that you know what you are and are not responsible for. Some landlords require you to pay for this or that when you move out. Some leases state specific responsibilities that you will have to pay for, such as broken windows. They might also specify that you need to do maintenance work such as shoveling snow. If you want to run a business on the side, the lease may prohibit that. Many leases also spell out who is responsible for what legal costs in the event of lawsuits.
  • Renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance is not very expensive, and it can buy peace of mind for your belongings and valuables. If you do not have renter’s insurance yet, it pays to look into its cost and its coverage and set aside funds for it. If you already have some other form of insurance like auto or health, you may qualify for a discount if you get renter’s insurance with that same company. Working with an agent can help you determine the amount you need to cover and at what cost.