Wait! Before You Rent That Apartment…
Searching for an apartment whether you are on a mission to find your first place or you’ve rented many times before, there are still many things to consider. Each apartment complex is different, and the rules vary by property. Keep reading below before you decide to sign that lease.
1. Stay Within 25% – 35% Of Your Taxed Income
Ah, the good old 25% rule. This will help you to afford your bills and deal with any possible rent increases or extra fees. For example, if you make $1,000 per month (after taxes), do not pay more than $350. If you plan to pay more than 35% of your taxed income, finances will be tight and you do run the risk of falling behind on rental payments and bills. Count on your rent being higher if you have pets (monthly pet fees can apply). Consider this while setting a budget.
2. Rental Rates Can Change
Let’s say you find that apartment that has that awesome move in special that takes off $50 each month if you sign up for a 12 month lease. If your apartment is $650 per month with that special, if you decide to renew your lease it will more than likely jump back up to $700. Apartments may also change their rental rates at any time so if you renew your lease, don’t be surprised if your rental rate is a bit more expensive. Never be afraid to ask what the rate is before the special is applied.
3. There Is No Such Thing As a Stupid Question
You need to understand what you are renting. If there is any question you feel you must ask then please do ask. Better to be laughed at for your question than to not have asked it at all and it lead you into trouble later.
4. Understand What You Are Looking For
Make a list of what your “must haves” and “deal breakers”. Do you absolutely need your own balcony or patio? Is it important that you have a dishwasher? Do you need a complex that accepts pets? Is it important that your apartment comes with a bed or microwave? Is a downstairs unit a must have? What about a pool on the property? Do you need access to free pest control services? Is a gym of great importance? Not all apartments offer the same amenities.
5. Not All Apartments Are Furnished.
That’s right, you heard it. Not all apartments come with furniture. This is not a legal requirement of the landlord/leasing agent to provide you with a bed, couch, television, dishwasher, or microwave. If you do want a furnished apartment, it may cost extra. However, unfurnished is an excellent option if you have furniture or simply don’t want to be responsible for the landlord’s furniture if there is accidental damage.
6. Don’t Rent an Apartment and Have Plans To Completely Change It.
Many apartment complexes do not allow you to paint the walls so you are stuck with the color they are. Some complexes do not want you hanging pictures/mirrors on the walls and others simply do not wanting you putting anything on your patio besides a chair or two. There isn’t a whole lot of leniency when it comes to remodeling in apartments. In fact, most of it will be an immediate violation of your lease.
7. Plan On Deposits and Fees.
Oh, it’s the horrid word that I wish not to have to repeat! These are one of those necessary evils for renting an apartment. There are many types of deposits that can be charged depending on the complex. There can be a pet deposit, security deposit, holding fee, redecorating fee, application fee, etc. and these can quickly add up. At times, if you have a poor credit score or no rental history, they will charge you even more for deposits. Pet deposits are probably the worst since they can be anywhere from $50 – $500 per pet. A monthly pet fee of anywhere from $5 – $50 per pet can be added to your monthly rent, too. I’ve seen move in deposits as high as $1,500. What a headache! Budget for the amount you are willing to spend on deposits. As a note, never expect to get your deposits back. In the past, my husband and I have rented out many spaces and our “refundable” deposits were never refunded even though we left the place clean and never did any damage to the apartment.
8. Make Sure Your Pets Are Allowed.
Not all apartments accept pets. In fact, there are many that have “no pet” policies. While some apartment complexes do accept pets, they may not accept your type of pet(s). For example, an landlord/leasing agent may say, “We accept dogs, but we do not accept pitbulls, rotweillers, german shepherds, etc.” I have seen some places accept dogs but not cats and cats but not dogs. There are landlords out there that do not allow exotic animals, reptiles, or rodents (yes, that means hamsters and guinea pigs, too). Beware of the “one pet policy” or “two pet policy”. This is especially important if you have multiple pets. More often than not, you can call an apartment complex by phone and ask them their pet policy. If this is a deal breaker for you then you can mark these properties off your list.
9. Decide Your Method of Payment.
How will you be paying your rent and deposits? Do you plan to pay cash? Do you plan to use debit from your Visa or Mastercard? Is a money order or check the way to go? Would you prefer to use a credit card? Are online payment portals a must? Not all complexes accept the same forms of payment. I have looked at apartments that said money orders only and yes, this means no cash or cards. Some apartments do not accept debit or credit cards. I was surprised at this, but a lot of places we looked at said they did not accept credit cards at all. Some complexes are okay with credit cards for paying monthly rent, but not for deposits. Make sure to ask what methods of payment they take.
10. Ask If the Apartment You Will Be Looking At is a Model.
I can’t stress this enough. Model apartments are set aside to look pretty and nice for future tenants that wish to see an apartment. This can mean that no one has ever lived in them, therefore they won’t have much if any damage at all. Do ask, “Is this the apartment I will be renting?” They will answer your question. If they refuse to answer your question that should be sending up some red flags. Usually they will say, “No, this is a model.” or, “No, the apartment you will be renting has yet to become available. I am showing you one that have the available layout.” You struck the gold mine if they say, “Yes, this is the apartment you will be renting.” I have come across models and I have even heard them say, “We are completely full so there are no apartments to show.”
While my husband and I have taken a leap of faith before and rented out of an apartment before actually looking at the one we were renting, it isn’t the smartest idea. Thankfully, we got a good apartment and we were not disappointed. There are others out there that unfortunately ended up with a nightmare. Look at the apartment you will be renting before you agree to sign.
11. Read the Entire Lease.
A lease could say, “And we have possession over your first born child,” and if you signed you would be agreeing. Please, please, please! Read the entire lease before you sign. The leasing agent will more often than not feed you their short summary. Basically the “it protects you and me” and, “This basically says that…” Be polite and listen to them. Also, let them give you time to read it. I have been to a couple complexes where they talk the whole time you are reading the lease and you don’t fully comprehend what you read until after you signed it and think, “I don’t remember what I signed.” If you need to, politely ask, “May I have a moment of silence while I read this? Sorry, I have a hard time reading with background noise. Thank you.”
I have seen other leasing agents try to rush you past everything and tell you it’s not necessary to read it all because they told you everything. Do not take their word for it and read the entire lease. Don’t miss any small print and always ask for a copy to review later. This also helps if you need to review the rules before using certain amenities on the property or if you fear your landlord is breaking the law.
12. Know How Big of an Apartment You Need.
Know your state’s laws on this. Some states say that you can have 3 people per one bedroom apartment (pretty much two in the bedroom and one on the couch type deal). Other states have their own laws. Property management tends to make their own rules about this despite the state law. I knew someone that was apartment hunting. It was them, their spouse, and their one child under two. Even though state law said, “2 per bedroom plus 1,” the apartments flat out refused to allow them a one bedroom apartment. They were told, “That is a little small. I mean, you have a baby.” Leasing agents were telling them they would only rent out a 2 bedroom or bigger, which was often more than they could afford. In turn, they eventually ended up with more space than they needed because there was an extra bedroom their child wasn’t using yet. Sounds like wasted money to me.
13. Don’t Ignore Red Flags.
If you are viewing a property and you have red flags going off in your mind then do not sign the lease! Whether the red flags make sense or not, it is better to listen than to ignore them.
14. If the Landlord/Leasing Agent Belittles You, Do Not Sign.
Let’s say you are viewing a property and the landlord is poking fun at your clothing, your spouse, your children, etc. then do not sign the lease. If they are belittling you now, imagine what is going to happen when you need to request maintenance.
15. Don’t Look Then Lease Immediately.
I know, it’s a lot of pressure. There are signs that create a sense of urgency whether it is true or false that say, “Look and lease today!” You are constantly told, “If you don’t lease and someone else wants this apartment today, it may no longer be available.” The pressure is real! It is better to look, make sure you know their business hours/phone number, and come back if you truly want to fill out the application. Ignore the sense of urgency and take your time to think about it. It is true that the apartment may not be there if you take too long, but it is better to wait than to mindlessly rush into a lease.
16. Know the Year the Apartment Complex Was Built.
This may sound weird to some, but it is a question that is worth asking. If it was built before 1981 then there is a chance of asbestos still in the dwelling. If it was built before 1978 then there may be lead from lead-based paint. Some apartment complexes have you sign a disclosure saying that the landlord is not aware of any asbestos or lead in the apartments.
17. Weapons? Gas Cans? Fireworks? Not So Fast!
There are apartment complexes that have banned guns and other weapons. Gas cans may not be allowed on the property due to explosion hazards. Fireworks are more often than not considered an explosive, therefore are not allowed on the grounds. If you have a large fish aquarium or water bed you want to bring along then think again. Most landlord’s want to avoid the possibilities of water damage and explosion hazards and avoid taking on liability for such events.
18. Know the Lease Term You Want.
Are you looking for a month-to month? What about 3 months? 6 months? 12 months? 24 months? If you aren’t sure, think about how long you will be staying there. Leases can be renewed and if you want to play it safe you could do a month-to-month or a 3-6 month to decide if you want to stay before taking on a bigger lease. Keep in mind that some move in specials only apply to 12 or 24 month leases.
19. You Get What You Pay For.
If you are paying for a $350 apartment, you may be getting lousy a/c and heating, lazy maintenance, high crime rates, etc. If a price is too good to be true then you may not want to bother with it due to scams.
20. Check Out the Area at Different Times.
Don’t rent an apartment if you don’t know much about the surrounding areas. Is it noisy? Is it quiet? You may not know unless you ask or visit during those times. It’s possible that when you looked at your apartment it was quiet. Maybe your neighbor’s sleep during the day and work nights or perhaps the kids weren’t home from school yet. Ask residents if you are able so you have an idea of what to expect before you sign the lease.
21. Your 12 Month Lease May Not Be 12 Months
Make sure to look what month your lease would end before signing. Your 12 month lease may actually be 10 months. Sometimes your 12 month lease may be more like 13-14 months. What counts as a “12 month lease” seems to vary through experience and what I have heard others go through. Before signing, count the months. If it is not the right amount of months then definitely point it out. Make sure it is not a mistake and know what you are agreeing to.
[Image Credit: Brandon Griggs on unplash.com]