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25 biggest first-time apartment renter mistakes
Tips on finding your first apartment, moving, roommates, and renter’s rights
Whether you’re hoping to get an apartment on your own or trying to rent a house with friends, moving into your first rental can be pretty exciting. If you are a first-time apartment renter, there’s a good chance you’ll make a mistake or two along the way. Fortunately, we’ve been around the block (hah!) a few times and have pulled together the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Finding your first apartment
1. Renting an apartment without seeing it in person
Looking online is a great place to start your search, but make sure you actually go out and look in person. Sometimes rooms look much larger in photos — or it’s possible they’re pictures of a different unit — and you never want to be unpleasantly surprised. Virtual tours can be a great alternative or at least help you narrow down options before visiting the final few.
2. Renting during high-season
Finding a new place during the busy summer season can mean higher rent rates. If you rent in the off-season, landlords may be more willing to work with you — lower rent, more flexible leases, etc. However, they’ll often term the lease to coincide with moving season to ensure they’ll find a replacement renter should you decide not to renew. For example, if you take the apartment in November, they may term you through August (10 months) or the following year, May (18 months).
3. Waiting until the last minute
If you wait until you really need a place and are pretty desperate to rent, you’ll have fewer options and less negotiating power with a landlord. You won’t have much time to save up for a security deposit or first month’s rent, either.
4. Not having the security deposit money ready
Not having enough money for a security deposit can delay your ability to move in. It can also disqualify you entirely from getting the place you want. (If you don’t have enough saved up, you may be able to make security deposit payments or use a security deposit alternative service.
5. Not having a cosigner ready
As a first-time apartment renter, you may need a cosigner. If you need someone to cosign the lease, so you qualify for the unit, make sure they have all their paperwork lined up in advance. They’ll need to complete the income qualifications just like you will. Check out Roost’s review of major co-signer/guarantor products here.
6. Putting square footage over the layout
While the size of your rental is definitely a consideration, often the layout has a greater impact on how comfortable it is to live there. You’ll also tend to pay more for square footage, even if it’s not space that’s super usable. Try to imagine the flow of the layout, the organization of your furniture and belongings? If designed right, you can often get away with fewer square feet and a bit less on rent.
7. Paying more rent than you can afford
While a bigger apartment in a nicer part of town may be enticing, make sure you can afford the monthly rent for the term of the lease. Rent payments don’t go away, and you don’t want to find yourself struggling every month to cover all of your expenses. (Rent is just one of them!) Try our handy-dandy rent affordability calculator to self-check the best range for you.
8. Not making sure the unit you toured is the one you’re renting
We know it sounds crazy, but sometimes the apartment you get to tour is not the one that’s actually offered to you. Make sure to confirm that the unit you viewed is actually the one you’re signing a lease on. Watch out for virtual tours especially. We hear this complaint from a lot of renters.
9. Not reading your rent lease
Reading a lease is a commitment. It’s pages of detailed information, much of it written in legalese. But put on some music, grab a beverage and get comfortable — this is a legal contract and you want to make sure you understand and actually agree to what’s in there.
10. Having a verbal agreement with your landlord
A handshake or verbal agreement just doesn’t cut it. Get everything in writing. If the landlord says they’re going to fix something, change terms on the lease, or promises not to raise the rent, confirm it via email or in writing. An oral contract is tough to prove and enforce, but something in writing will go a long way if you ever need to make your case.
11. Not taking pictures when you move in
First-time apartment renter, don’t make this mistake. Taking pictures when you move in is the best way to document the condition of the rental. This will act as a safeguard if any issues come up with the landlord later, who might think you’re responsible for something a prior tenant did. It’s also key to getting the most of your security deposit back!
12. Not checking out the neighborhood or talking with other renters in the building
Always check out the neighborhood you’ll be living in, both during the day and at night. Better yet, chat with current residents to get a feel for where you’ll be living and if there are issues with the area.
13. Ignoring damage seen in the apartment building
If there is visible damage in the apartment building, pay attention. This could be a clue that your future landlord doesn’t prioritize fixes.
14. Not factoring utilities into your monthly costs
Many landlords or property managers cover some utilities as part of your rental payment; others separate out charges per unit. If you found a place with lower rent, but you have to pay extra for utilities and WiFi, the total monthly cost may be significantly more than you think.
Living in your rental
15. Assuming your landlord will fix anything that breaks
Read your lease to make sure you understand what the landlord is responsible for and what you’re responsible for. While landlords are responsible for keeping the unit safe and livable, some of the details vary by state.
16. Not getting renter’s insurance
Many landlords require you to get a renters insurance policy, but even if they don’t, get it! Without renters insurance, your personal property is not protected in the case of damage or theft. You’re also liable for injuries that happen within your rental unit.
17. Not paying rent on time
First of all, this is super expensive. Rent late fees range from $75-$200 a pop and many accumulate penalties for each day after. Not to mention, making payments late or missing a payment entirely is a violation of the lease agreement, which could be grounds for eviction and hurt your credit. If you’re going to be late, make it a rare occurrence and communicate in advance with your landlord. Sometimes they’ll even waive the first one if you communicate well and show good faith.
18. Choosing a bad roommate
Getting a roommate can be a great experience — you can split costs, maybe afford a better place, and have some companionship. But screen your living partner carefully. (And head up: Sometimes friends don’t make the best roomies.) Check out some roommate apps like Roomi to help match you up.
19. Not knowing your renters rights or taking action when your landlord breaks the law
If your landlord lets repairs go unattended, allows unsafe living conditions, or increases your rent more than they’re legally allowed to, read up on your rights and take action.
20. Missing out on a renter tax benefit
Some states offer some form of tax credit or benefit for renters. Do your research online or contact your state tax department to find out if you qualify.
21. Hiding your pets
If pets aren’t noted as permitted in your lease, having one and hiding it is bad news. It’s a violation of your lease terms and can cause major headaches — and even eviction. If you have a pet or want to get one, talk with your landlord in advance.
22. Sharing your space with too many roommates
While roommates can make your new home cheaper and potentially more fun, don’t forget that cramming too many people into a rental can create major issues, especially if they’re not on the lease. Best if you can get a roommate agreement established to help minimize conflict and guide everyone on their fare share.
23. Not giving proper notice as outlined in the lease
Letting your landlord know, early and in writing, that you plan on moving out can go a long way to helping you get your security deposit back. Your landlord will also be much more likely to provide a positive reference for you if you need one in the future.
24. Not getting your security deposit back
When you go to move out, make sure you leave everything in the condition it was in when you moved in so that you can get your security deposit back! And, don’t forget to hand in your keys. Many renters get dinged for forgetting to return the keys in the chaos of the move-out.
25. Leaving stuff behind
The last thing you want to do is forget something behind and struggle to try and get it back later. Walk back through the apartment a couple of times and check every nook and cranny to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind. And, don’t forget your storage area or common space. This also helps ensure your landlord doesn’t charge you to get rid of anything you’ve left behind.
Don’t make these first-time apartment renter mistakes!
Every first-time apartment renter makes mistakes as they get familiar with the process and rules of renting. When you start looking for a new apartment, make sure you visit in person, carefully read and understand the lease, document everything, and try your best to be a responsible tenant. The fewer mistakes you make, the less it will cost you, and the easier renting will become. (Once you’re moved in, be sure to follow our tips on how to be a great renter as well!)
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