Renting an apartment or house for the first time is an exciting milestone on the way to adulthood. The freedom from your parents and the restrictions of the dorms can be liberating, but it’s not all fun and games. For first-time renters, it’s important to prepare yourself before entering into a year-long lease. To help you out, we came up with a list of Frequently Asked Questions you should be asking yourselves—and your landlord—before signing your name on the dotted line.
Q: What’s included in the rent?
A care package in the mail from mom and dad? Good surprise. An electricity bill you didn’t know you had to pay? Bad surprise. Before you sign a lease, you’ll want to know what’s included in your rent, so you’re not surprised by any bills.
Paying rent is already a new responsibility, so avoiding the task of tracking down a bunch of different monthly bills that may have different payment dates will help you stay organized. Anything that makes it easier to make your rent payment on time and avoid a late fee is key.
Q: What’s the parking situation?
Securing a space for your vehicle doesn’t always come cheap, and you don’t want to be blindsided by the cost. If you need a car to get to class or work, make sure to ask about your parking options.
Even if you live near a campus where you don’t need a car, you should still find out about parking. Whether it’s mom and dad or some friends from out of town, you’re likely going to have visitors driving to see you. They’ll need a place to park their wheels, even if you don’t.
If your apartment or house doesn’t come with parking (or only comes with enough space for your car), you should figure out what the street parking rules are in your town or city. Tickets are expensive and annoying, so you should always try to secure your spot and brush up on local regulations before signing a lease.
Q: Will I need a co-signer?
Some apartments will need a record of your rental history. If you’re a first-time renter, you obviously won’t have that. In that case, it’s important to ask if they require a co-signer, so you’ll know to bring your parents along to sign the lease with you. There’s nothing worse than losing out on a place you loved because you had to wait a week for your parents to come and co-sign; figure out the situation beforehand, so you don’t come up short on signing day.
Q: What should I be doing during my apartment/house showing?
Beyond just asking questions, you’ll want to make your actual showing as productive as possible. Walk around and turn on all of the faucets and the shower. It may seem ridiculous, but imagine you’re about to take a nice relaxing shower only to find that the water pressure is lower than the bar in the last round of a limbo competition. Make sure to check the water pressure on day one.
You should also open and close the windows, make sure the locks are working, and that there’s nothing dangerous creeping around the cracks and corners—mold is no joke. Do all the simple things that will impact your day-to-day life before committing to a year-long contract.
Make sure you’re also asking questions about what the landlord does before you can move in. You should ask things like: do you repaint the whole rental or just some rooms, professionally clean the carpets, change the locks, get the rental professionally cleaned, and take pre-move-in pictures/videos? Try to get the landlord to put these things in writing (email/text/letter).
Not only will it help you keep the landlord accountable, but it can also help you protect yourself from unnecessary charges on your security deposit down the line – some landlords will try to charge you for a repainting fee or carpet cleaning fee, but if they stated its something they always do before someone moves in, they can’t charge for it since it’s routine maintenance. For more tips on how to protect your security deposit from unnecessary deductions, check out our post here.
Pro Tip: Make sure you know your rights as a tenant in your state.
We know what you’re thinking—no, this is not a typo. What the heck does this word mean? Legalese is the formal and technical language of legal documents that is often hard to understand. These are the things hidden in your lease that are important to read.
Things like when your rent is due and how much leeway you have before a fee is tacked on. In most states, there are laws in place stating that your landlord needs to give you a five-day grace period after the rent’s due date, but this isn’t always the case. It’s important to ask these questions before signing anything.
Another thing that will be in the contract that you may not catch is the date you have to let your landlord know if you will be staying in the apartment another year or not. Learning the renewal date is important because if you’re thinking about staying, you can take some time before that date to check out other places and see if there is a better option out there.
Last but not least, there will be a section of the lease explaining the maintenance policy. This is important to read and ask questions about while you are with the landlord so if something breaks, you’ll already know what to do.
Usually, there is a maintenance worker that you can contact, and their information will be somewhere in the lease agreement. Some landlords will just ask that you contact them and they’ll figure it out from there. Whatever the case may be, It’s important that if you need maintenance, your landlord is quick with their response about what to do next.
Now that you have a general idea of questions you should be asking yourself and the landlord, you can finally start searching for a place to live near campus. We should be able to help you out with that one though.