First Time Apartment Renter Tips

Everything you need to know before Renting Your First Apartment is covered here!

So, you're ready to move into your first apartment…is that right now?

Well…when the excitement of moving out of campus to your first apartment or finally leaving your parents’ house to live independently dies down or whatever the circumstance, what’s left is a task that many find very daunting.

Renting an apartment for the first time can be overwhelming.

Not only do you have a lot of new information to wrap your head around, but you also have a budget to balance around a lot of new expenses.

To make the transition less intimidating, you need to know how to find an apartment that is suitable and what is expected of you as a first time renter.  Don't worry, Resident Therapy  is here to help our renters figure it out!

Things to Consider Before Going Apartment Hunting

Here are some of the questions a first-time renter should ask themselves before heading out to find a suitable apartment.

1. What is my budget for renting an apartment?

This is in arguably the most important question you need to ask yourself before moving to your first apartment.

How much of your income will be used for rent?

Is your budget enough to live comfortably off of?

Will you be left with enough money for food, or will you have to survive on top ramen forever?

By the way, if top ramen noodles are your thing then check out this 5 star recipe courtesy of NY Times…sigh…millennials. 

Back to the important stuff...

It is crucial that you know what percentage of your income will be spent on rent and utilities every month.

This way, you will be able to budget for other needs appropriately, be it food, entertainment, or emergencies.

Don’t expect to spend less than $150 on food every month unless you’re planning to survive on the bare minimum like your ramen noodles which is fine if that's your thing.  We love top ramen too…sometimes.

Bottom line, don't rent an apartment you can't afford

This means you may have to skip some of the bells and whistles offered out there to get what you can realistically afford.

You can always upgrade once you are financially able to which is one of the many benefits of renting an apartment.

2. Apart from rent, what other fees am I required to pay?

Other than rent, the other fees you will may be required to pay upfront are a security deposit and utility bills.

Ideally, you should allocate around 30 percent of your income to rent and utilities every month.

For the first month, however, you may have to cough up a bit more to cover the first and last month’s rent along with the security deposit and a pet deposit if you plan on moving in with a furry friend or two.

If you are lucky enough, some landlords or management companies may waive some of these fees as part of a move in incentive or special.  Ask them…it never hurts to ask.  As the saying goes…a close mouth doesn't get fed.

Property management companies will consider waiving fees and deposits more than you know in order to get you to sign that lease so ask, ask, ask, and ask again.  Don't be afraid to.  Trust us, they are expecting you to.

Some of the additional costs of moving in include the cost of applying for an apartment and having your credit score verified by the apartment management, which could be as much as $100-$300.

Some landlords also expect you to pay for rental insurance.

Every renter should budget for renter's insurance no matter what.

Most landlords and property management companies will require that you have it before moving in.

Be careful when signing up for the renter's insurance offered by your property management company. 

Usually those policies only cover liability and does not cover your personal property. 

If a fire or natural disaster happens and wipe out your apartment and belongings, you are screwed without personal property renter's insurance.

You can get reasonable quote online in 10 seconds from Jetty Insurance.  It's really that easy!

3. Is my new apartment close to my place of work/school?

Take into account how far your new apartment is from your place of work, or school.

If you plan on using public transportation to get to work every day, check how close the nearest bus stops are, and how much it will cost you to commute to and from on a daily basis.

For those who intend to bike their way to work or school and back, map out your daily route to see whether you will be able to handle the distance.

If you have a car, check whether the apartment community offers free parking spaces, or whether you will have to pay to reserve a spot every month.

4. Do I need a co-signer?

There is a chance that you may be asked to find a co-signer when moving into your first apartment.

Most landlords require first time renters or residents to have co-signers if they lack any rental history so don’t worry, it is not a reflection of their lack of faith in you.

However, a low credit score and a small monthly income may spur some landlords to ask for a co-signer on your lease, but this is only for their protection.

Once you have established a solid rental history with the landlord for a year or more, usually they will allow you to opportunity to remove your co-signer obligations from the lease.

This is something you should inquire about ahead of renewing your lease.

What are the Requirements to Rent an Apartment?

Now that you know how to prepare yourself before finding an apartment, here are the things you will need to qualify for renting your first apartment.

  • First, you will need to be 18 years or older to rent an apartment, with the exception of those under the care of the government.
  • As a general rule of thumb, many landlords require your annual income to be at least 3-4 times as much as your monthly rent.
  • This baseline is set, not to intimidate low wage earners out of renting, but to ensure that you will be able to pay all your bills (including utilities) comfortably.
  • For college students and people who don’t have an income, a guarantor may be necessary.
  • Apart from the rent, you may need a security deposit and any other fees that the landlord or apartment management requires up front.
  • Every apartment will have its own set of policies, but to be safe, you need to save up enough to cover the basics such as application fees, security deposit, pet fees and deposits, and first and last month's rent. 
  • Again, don't be afraid to ask your landlord or management company if they can waive some of those fees and deposits for you.
  • Don't forget costs to cover a moving truck or movers if you go that route.
  • A credit score of not less than 620 is also necessary. 620 credit score seems to be the average baseline to rent an apartment but there are many landlords and management companies who will rent to you with a much lower score.  Chances are they may require a substantial security deposit so be prepared for that.

This quick step-by-step guide should help familiarize you with the process of renting an apartment:

Step 1 – this step involves finding an apartment that is available, and one that checks all the boxes in your list.

You should ask for a tour of the apartment as well as the premises before deciding whether to rent or not.

Note the condition of the apartment including how clean it is (it should be spotless) and whether there’s anything damaged or defective.

Also note the surrounding area of the community.  Drive by at different times during the day and night to get a better feel or understanding of the neighborhood.

Step 2 – once you find an apartment that checks all the boxes, fill out the apartment application.

It will cost you anywhere from $30-$150, but this fee also covers the credit check.

Don't forget to ask if any of this fee is refundable in the event your application is declined.

Step 3 – you may be required to provide some references before your apartment application is approved.

Some landlords may seek references for first time renters to find out about their characters as well as their credit scores.

Providing good references will convince the landlord that you are capable of being a reliable tenant.

Step 4 – once you’ve submitted your application, the apartment management will review it, then inform you whether you’ve been approved or not.

Many apartment applications will have a clause stating the landlord or management company will notify the applicant of the approval status within 48-72 hours.

Be sure to read the application in its entirety and ask questions if you do not understand some of the jargon.

Step 5 – upon acceptance, you will be required to submit your first month’s rent along with the security deposit and any other fees required up front.

Some landlords will ask for the last month’s rent as well, and others will require additional security fees if you have pets.

Make sure you understand what fees covers what with your landlord or management company.

Don't assume that since you are paying a pet fee and pet deposit that your pet is allowed to destroy your apartment.

In case you’re wondering who you should make out the payment to, the answer to this question is that it depends on the apartment’s policies.

Some apartment communities ask for the payment to be made straight to the landlords while others request their tenants to pay through property management companies.

If in doubt, ask your landlord or leasing office.

Also refer back to the copy of your lease agreement.  It should state in your lease agreement who and where to make payments to.

In any case, you will most likely be told who to make the payment out to so don’t worry too much.

Unlike the old days when we used to send checks to landlords at the end of every month, most rent payments these days are made online.

To save yourself the hassle, you can issue a standing order to your bank and have the payments automatically made at the end of each month.

This will save you from the dreaded late payment penalties too.

Oh and by the way, most apartment communities have done away with the dreaded drop box. 

Even if there are communities that still accept payments via drop box, we suggest that you stay away from them.

If your rent check ever becomes missing from a drop box payment the burden of proof lies on the resident, not the landlord.  It's a big pain in the butt.

We highly recommend making online payments.  Ask your bank, landlord or leasing agent for more details.

What are the Most Commonly Paid for Utilities?

Again, this varies from apartment to apartment. However, some of the most common utility bills you’ll have to take care of every month include:

  •   Water bills
  •   Gas bills
  •   Electricity bills
  •   Sewer bills
  •   Trash collection fees
  •   A monthly pet fee in some apartments

What are some of the Things I Should Ask about before Moving In?

To make sure you’re getting exactly what you pay for, there are a number of questions you need to ask before moving in. Here are the most important questions you should ask:

1. Is the neighborhood safe?

To be fair to the landlords, you need to do your research about the neighborhood you’ll be living in before moving in.

To be honest, most landlords and agents are not going to share with you the crime statistics of your community. 

Even if you ask them they probably won't divulge the information. 

They will dance around the question with a prefabricated statement since ultimately their goal is to get you to sign a lease.

If you really want to know if there is significant crime in the area or the apartment community you are looking to move to, ask your local police or sheriff's office for a crime report of the area

They will be happy to provide it and the reports are typically free.

2. What is the term limit?

Ask whether the lease is to be renewed monthly or annually. This will help you organize your finances better.

Keep in mind that most will charge a premium for shorter term leases so make sure you budget for it.

Typically the shorter the lease (1 month to 6 months), the more you payThe longer the lease, the less you pay.

Ask your agent or landlord what the difference in rent will be if you decide to do a short term vs a long term lease.

3. How do I pay the rent?

Does your landlord require you to mail them checks every month, or is the rent paid online?

As mentioned before, find out how you will be making your monthly or annual rent deposits.

4. Are pets allowed?

If you’re bringing pets with you, clear it up with the landlord BEFORE you pay the security deposit to avoid any complications after you’ve signed the lease.

5. Am I allowed to have roommates? If so, how many?

Do you plan on splitting the rent with a friend or a sibling?

If you plan to have a roommate, make sure you ask the landlord first because some apartments don’t permit cohabitation.

Roommate situations can become very sticky.  Make sure you understand the landlord's policy for dropping or adding a roommate.

If you have a disgruntled roommate or one who can't afford their portion of the rent, you'll need to know the procedures to have that person removed and it's not so black and white.

Landlords prefer not to be the middleman in roommate situations so know all your options and obligations before signing with a roommate.

6. Is there central air conditioning? Do the apartments have floor heaters?

Ask about the amenities you cannot do without before signing the lease.

Find out if you’ll be comfortable with the heating arrangement as well as the air conditioning before you fill out the application.

7. Are there quiet hours?

The last thing you want to do as a first-time renter is to step on the toes of your fellow tenants by not adhering to rules about the quiet hours.

Ask the landlord what the quiet hours are to avoid this.  Also ask them if they actually enforce the quiet hours.

8. Who do I call when something needs fixing?

You pay your security deposit for a reason, and that reason is to ensure everything that gets damaged during your stay is fixed promptly.

Ask the landlord how long it takes to get something fixed and whether there are any additional costs involved (normally, there shouldn’t be).

Most property management company will offer emergency maintenance services which includes but not limited to:

  • Major water leaks
  • A/C out in summer
  • Heat not working in winter
  • Lockouts
  • Refrigerator not working
  • Major Plumber issues
  • Loss of utilities
  • Natural Disasters
  • Amenities that pose a risk

9. Are there rules regarding trash collection and management?

Ask the landlord whether there are any rules that govern how and when trash is collected or recycled.

Overall, as a first-time renter, it is especially important to take into consideration all the aspects of moving into your first apartment.

Know how much you are willing (or able) to spend on rent and utilities, and check that against your income to see whether you will afford to live comfortably.

Don’t rush into choosing an apartment, and by all means, go for the cheapest one you can afford if you are starting out.

Keep in mind that your first apartment will be the marker that future landlords will use to determine whether you are a good tenant, so be on your best behavior.

Otherwise, congratulations on your first apartment, and welcome to living independently!