First Apartment Rental Tips

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first apartment Your parents warn that you'll never get your security deposit back. Your friends say that you will; don't worry about it. Your boss advises that you and your soon-to-be roommates should all ink the rental paperwork, but your friends say it's cool if you sign alone.

There's a lot of conflicting advice and untruths floating around about leasing an apartment, and for many first-time renters, this entirely novel encounter may be utterly confusing.

So whether you have found or are in the throes of finding the perfect pad or post-college spread, here's a run-down of what every first-time renter should know and a checklist of things to do to make finding and living in a new apartment a stress-free adventure.


The Search

Tip No. 1: Consider the location


Everyone has heard a Realtor say those three little words, "Location, location, location." Well, the repetitious phrase applies to apartment hunting as well as buying a home. Essentially, it means two places of equal square-footage and quality can have fluctuating values in different neighborhoods. With that in mind, a few characteristics to look for in a rental property are proximity to desirable locations, such as shopping, entertainment, outdoor recreation, and public transportation. You'll want to ask the following questions: Is the apartment in an economically stable area? Are there other rental properties in the area? Are the units full or empty? Another suggestion is to view the property both in the daytime and at night, and see how the neighborhood compares. A seemingly safe or quiet area might change in the evening when residents get off work or school.

Tip No. 2: Evaluate the property's worth

Since you can't look up the book value for a rental property, observation is key in determining worth. You'll want to do a once-over on the current tenants and check out the exterior of the building, including fences, backyards, dumpster area, parking lots, and sidewalks. All of these physical attributes provide insight into the upkeep of the rental property.

If your dream building has balconies, you'll want to see if this outdoor space is overcrowded with bikes, boxes, furniture and the like. It's a common practice for management companies to incorporate cleanliness terms into a lease and a pile of junk may signal there's violations of this agreement on the inside. At the very least, it will give you an idea of how your neighbors are going to care for their home.

Tip No. 3: Negotiate terms before signing your lease

You can bargain with your landlord on price, utilities and extra perks with a guarantee only before you sign your lease. One strategy is to bring in advertisements for comparable apartments in the area that are being offered for less. Some tenants moving into brand-new developments may want to consider requesting a "construction discount" if noise and disruptions are going to be frequent, or you also may have a lot of leverage asking for a better price in new building that's primarily vacant.

If you get shot down on price, there's other things that may be negotiable with your landlord, such as utilities, free parking, new carpeting, or appliances. It's also easier to deal with a landlord on damages beforehand, so you can ensure that they get fixed. Point out aspects your pad that are not in tip-top condition--for example, the marked-up walls --and get them worked into the lease. Sometimes, instead of repainting your walls or making other repairs to your apartment, your landlord will discount your monthly rent and leave it up to you to fix it. Then, you can decide to either pocket the money or live with it.

Tip No. 4: Review your lease and keep a copy

Your rental agreement contains important information, including your rent, security deposit required, length of lease,and procedures for terminating your lease. You will need to confirm all of this information in advance of signing it and you should also ask or make a copy of your document for your records.

For roommate situations, it's advisable to have all roommates sign the lease --and assume the risk--as opposed to having just one person bare the brunt of it, or separate leases can be drawn up for each individual renting the apartment.

The Move and Thereafter

Tip No. 1: Take advantage of the renter inspection

In many cases, property managers ask tenants to review the condition of the apartment before they move in. Take advantage of this privilege by listing every floor scratch, carpet stain, wall marks, broken appliances, and so on, to avoid being charged or having your security deposit jeopardized for these flaws when you move out. You should follow a move-in checklist and either video tape or take pictures room by room of your new place to ensure you have your own records of the apartment's damage.

Typically, landlords also go through the apartment and make notes on any imperfections, as well. You should ask to go through a tour with him or her. It may lead you to uncover some additional surface flaws that you missed or alert you to other previously existing problems in your unit.

Tip No. 2: Hold your landlord accountable

There are additional issues of your well-being that are your landlords' responsibility, but you may have to bring these deficiencies to their attention. Some examples include making sure fire alarms and appliances work, remedying fire hazards, repairing faulty plumbing and ridding the apartment of infestation. In fact, in many states, landlords are even obligated to get rid of pesky bed bugs.

Tip No. 3: Get renter's insurance

Renters --not their landlords--are typically responsible for burglary or a damaged apartment, so look into a basic renter's insurance policy, which begin at a few dollars a month, that protects both your place and your belongings.

Tip No. 4: Pay your rent on time

A renter's biggest duty is to pay their rent on time. A landlord has a legal right to collect the money owed on a rental property and in extreme cases, a property manager may resort to a collection agency or initiate steps toward eviction if rent is not paid. To maintain a strong rapport with your landlord, pay your rent on time, or in the event of a special circumstance, give them a heads-up if a payment is going to be late and explain why.

Tip No. 5: Give notice of moving out

Some leases have a contractual clause that you must notify your landlord 60 to 90 days in advance if you want to move out or the lease will automatically renew. As recommended above, you should check this detail when you sign the lease. When you communicate this to your landlord, if possible, leave a paper trail by either sending a letter or email and following up via phone to make sure the information was received.

Tip No. 6: Get your security deposit back

While there's a chance that you won't get your security deposit back in full, you can optimize your chances. By your move-out date, leave the apartment as close to possible as you found it, make sure that you clean the place, remove all your belongings, and return your keys. You can also pass along your forwarding address, and in return, ask who to follow up regarding your security deposit. Sometimes, with bigger property management companies, it can take a follow-up phone call or two to guarantee a check has been cut to reimburse you.

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