How Do You Rent an Apartment?

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Whether you’ve just graduated from college or have simply outgrown your parents’ home, at some point, you’ll take part in an inevitable rite of passage into adulthood: renting your first apartment. However, finding a new set of digs isn’t easy, especially if you’ve never done it. Where do you look? What’s the process?

Don’t fret. While a daunting step, it's one that can be taken with the proper preparation. Here are a few tips that'll have you calling a new place your own in no time.

Where to Look for an Apartment

So you have your dream pad already fleshed out in your head. You’ve even begun to visualize furniture placements, but you may not have given much thought to where that apartment will be. Luckily, thanks to the power of the internet, there's no shortage of sites to aid in your search. Consider looking for apartments on:

  • Craigslist.org
  • Apartments.com
  • HotPads.com
  • Rent.com
  • Zumper.com

You can look for apartments on these sites within a price range you specify, and within certain neighborhoods. Of course, always beware of potential online scams when looking for anything on the web. Don’t ever give out personal information without first seeing an apartment.

If you’re not sure where to start your search, begin by asking friends and family. Someone might even know of a particular building you might like that has vacancies. Be sure to do some exploring of your own as well.

If you get a recommendation for a neighborhood you’ve never spent much time in, take a drive out there and walk around a little. You can get a feel for many neighborhoods pretty quickly, especially when you’re walking. Not only that, but some buildings don’t bother advertising online, and you might find those open apartments advertised on the street.

What to Consider

Looking for an apartment may seem like the easy part, but there are a lot of things to consider in the process. Where you live can affect your environment and mood, as well as your finances. Ultimately, you want to find the right apartment for you, so be sure to account for these factors:

  • The type of apartment/living situation: What kind of apartment are you looking for? A studio apartment or a one-bedroom? Will you rent a bigger place with roommates, or would you prefer a smaller place you can afford on your own? Be clear on what your ideal apartment looks like, but stay flexible while searching. Learn to quickly find key info on an apartment, including square footage, amenities, natural light, parking, and public transit options.
  • The neighborhood: Each neighborhood has its own personality, and you want to find one that jives well with your lifestyle and values. Do you prefer something more urban or suburban? Do you want to be close to arts and culture hubs, or would you rather live near parks and nature reserves? Consider the type of neighborhood you want and understand how each area may differ. While your primary concern should be picking a neighborhood that fits with your lifestyle, you should also be aware of how the neighborhood you choose can affect the cost of renter’s insurance and car insurance.
  • Property management: Many apartment complexes have property managers that handle issues for residents. In some cases, they may even live on-site. Check out reviews online for the property management company and ensure that they will act in your best interests.

Applying

Once you’ve found your dream apartment, it’s time to apply. Get an application from the property management company or landlord and fill it out as soon as possible. Good apartments go fast, so you’ll want to complete the paperwork quickly.

Typically, you’ll need to fill out your basic personal information and provide certain documents as part of your application. Those documents could include:

  • Paystubs
  • Bank statements
  • Driver’s license
  • Social security card
  • Employment history
  • Rental history
  • References
  • An application fee

Ultimately, these documents can help prove you are a viable candidate for an apartment. Landlords want to know that you have good character references, stable employment, income that will easily cover rental costs, and a lifestyle that will be a good fit for the apartment.

Unfortunately, just because you apply for an apartment doesn’t mean you’ll get it. In some cases, you may be rejected because of your credit or income. A co-signer may help you overcome these credit and income limitations—but make sure you aren't renting beyond your means. Be sure to understand what the eligibility requirements are before paying a non-refundable application fee for an apartment.

Getting Approved

After submitting your application with the required documentation, you wait. Getting approved for an apartment may take a few business days or more, depending on the requirements. Once you’re approved, the landlord or property management company will typically call you and let you know.

The next step is to secure the apartment and make it your own by putting down a security deposit. A common security deposit amount is one month’s worth of rent. However, this figure is entirely up to the property management company, so exact security deposit amounts vary from one apartment complex to the next.

Your security deposit is held in case there is any damage to the property when you move out. If your apartment is in good condition when you leave, you will likely get it back, but the concept of "good condition" is another factor that varies from one property management company to the next. If you want to ensure you get as much of the security deposit back as possible, check online reviews of the company to see what former tenants got dinged on during their move-out inspections.

On top of the security deposit, you need to put down your first month’s rent, and in some cases, the last month’s rent too. So if your rent is $800, your total move-in costs might look like:

$800 security deposit + $800 first month’s rent + $800 last month’s rent = $2,400

As you can see, move-in costs can add up, so it’s important to budget ahead of time. The landlord or management company will expect these costs to be paid in cash upon move-in.

Once you have moving costs covered, you will likely need to sign a lease for the apartment. A lease is an agreement between a lessor (such as an owner or landlord) and a lessee (such as a tenant, or in this case, you). You will also hear the lease referred to as a rental agreement.

The rental agreement will usually be presented after a credit check is already completed and the property management has decided they want to accept you as their tenant.

The rental agreement is a document that will outline all of the fine print such as:

  • Deposit and fees: This section should explain what payments are expected, along with the first month of rent. It will also detail what charge you incur for the credit and background checks that will be performed, as well as the fees for violating the terms of the lease, such as moving before your lease is up.
  • Limits of occupancy: This refers to the number of tenants allowed to reside in the home.
  • Maintenance: This section will give details about what sort of repairs in your unit will be the responsibility of the management, and which will be yours.
  • Pets: Some buildings don’t allow any pets. Some will allow pets under a particular size or weight. This section will explain those regulations and how to get a pet approved.
  • Rent: The amount of money to be paid at regular intervals by the tenant and when those payments are expected—typically the first of the month.
  • Rules of the apartment: Any miscellaneous rules and policies for the apartment complex will be outlined in the lease. These include aspects like where a tenant is allowed to smoke, when "quiet hours" begin each night, and what kind of items you're allowed to throw away in complex dumpsters.
  • Terms of tenancy: The length of time that a tenant is expected to remain and continue making rent payments. Terms of tenancy vary but generally range between month-to-month, six months, or one year.
  • Utilities: A lease will often describe which utilities are included in your rent, and which you will need to pay for yourself.

It’s important to review all the terms of your rental agreement, so you know where you stand. The rental agreement acts as a legal document to protect both parties. Once you’ve signed the lease, you are legally bound to stick to the terms of the lease, including your monthly rent payments.

With the lease signed and the deposit paid, your landlord will give you the keys and a move-in date so that you can have your own home sweet home.

Bottom Line

Renting your first apartment can be an exciting and daunting task, especially if you’ve never done it before. The more you prepare, the smoother the apartment hunt will go. Do your research, know what you're looking for, and have the cash ready to deploy at a moment's notice once you've found the apartment of your dreams.