What to look for when renting an apartment

My first apartment was a complete mess. I moved there because it was cheap and close to work. The first night I cried because I couldn’t believe this was my life. It was the traditional crummy, first apartment. (I’m happy to say that I’ve since progressed to some nicer apartments!) Renting an apartment, much like buying a home or car, can be a stressful and sometimes daunting task. Often young renters don’t know what to look for, what questions to ask, or what is expected when renting an apartment. Being on your own for the first time can be so exciting that you can overlook details that will cause a disaster later. Below are tips to help make your apartment search smoother.

Make sure you can afford to live on your own. Before you make that leap from your parents’ home to your own place make sure you are financially ready for the responsibility. Your rent payment should not consume more than 30 percent of your monthly income. You may even consider getting a roommate to share the cost of rent.

Be cautious of incentives and deals. Not every deal turns out to be so great. Sometimes it’s just bait to pull you in. Be wary of signs that read, “One month free rent” or “Special savings.” Often apartment complexes will advertise rent for a certain price, but the rate will increase afterwards.

Understand the total cost of the apartment. Rent isn’t the only financial obligations when leasing an apartment. Consider other monthly costs such as utilities. Some apartment complexes require you to pay for convenient services like trash pickup or assigned parking.

Live within your means. There’s a lot to consider when renting an apartment – location, price, number of bedrooms, etc. A two bedroom apartments is more expensive than a one bedroom apartment. Apartment prices also vary depending on the neighborhood. Don’t try to take on more than you can handle. Maybe a studio apartment (sometimes known as efficiency) is lighter on your wallet than a one bedroom apartment.

Check your credit report. Many young adults may be surprise to know that their credit report has a huge impact on their ability to rent an apartment. If you have a low credit score you may still be able to rent an apartment, but the leasing office may require you to pay first and last month’s rent in advance along with the deposit and other fees. Ouch! That’s expensive. However, a high credit score can mean extra savings and less up-front cost like down payments, fees, and advance rent. To find out what’s on your personal report check out AnnualCreditReport.com.

Read the lease agreement. Being unaware of what’s in your leasing agreement can cause a lot of financial problems. For example, know the apartment’s policy for damages you cause to the apartment. Some apartments will charge you for certain damages like a hole in the wall or a broken window.

Consider renter’s insurance. You may consider it an extra bill, but like health or auto insurance, renter’s insurance can save you money if something were to happen to your apartment. Renter’s insurance covers damage to personal property in the case of a fire, hurricane, or some other natural or foreseen disaster.

Finally, leasing is a two-way street of responsibility. If you feel your landlord is neglecting certain responsibilities, research your state's tenant rights. For more, read When renting makes sense.

Renee McGruder is a former communications coordinator and grant writer at MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.