Tips For College Students: Renting Your First Apartment

Congratulations on getting ready to graduate!

This is a huge accomplishment and the first step towards adulthood (cue scary music). One of the next big steps is finding a place to live. Renting your first apartment is a big deal and there are a lot of things to consider. This guide will walk you through the process and offer some helpful tips along the way.

Get your financial ducks in a row

The first step to take when you’re renting your first apartment is to get organized and stay on top of your finances. Make sure you know how much rent you can afford to pay the rule of thumb is no more than 30% of your take-home pay. This will help you create a budget and stick to it (you can use the 50/30/20 budget rule as a starting point).

And of course, be prepared.

Pull your credit report and credit score before when you start your search so there are no surprises when the rental company pulls your data.

Pro Tip: If you are concerned about your credit score, you can call the rental company and ask if they accept candidates with your credit score ahead of time

Plan to pay the security deposit and in some cases, the security deposit plus the first and last month’s rent – so have those funds ready in your account.

Line up 2 to 3 references that you can share with the landlord to judge your character.

Additionally, try to save up some money before you move into your new place so that you can cover any unexpected expenses that might come up.

Start your search early – don’t wait until the last minute

As soon as you have an idea of where you will be working or moving to, then it’s time to start looking for an apartment.

The more time you have to secure your apartment the less likely you are to accept ‘anything’ because you are desperate.

Roommate/s – Yes or No?

This is something you’ll need to decide before signing a lease.

If you’re fine with living alone, great! But, if you’re looking for someone to help split the cost of rent, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, try to find someone who is responsible and tidy. You don’t want to end up with a messy roommate who never cleans up after themselves. Second, make sure that you get along well with your potential roommate—you’ll be spending a lot of time together, so it’s important that you like each other! Finally, be sure to set some ground rules before moving in together. This will help avoid any disagreements down the road.

Narrow down your choices and make a list of priorities

The price of course matters, as we said before, ideally you want to be at 30% of your take-home pay or less (this might be more for the high cost of living areas) but it’s not the only thing that matters.

The one of the most important factors in choosing an apartment is the location. Amenities, proximity to transit or your job, and access to necessary resources like the grocery store, pharmacy, or the hospital might be important to you as well depending on your situation.

You want to be close to campus (or your new job), but you also don’t want to be in the middle of all the noise and partying. Find a happy medium by searching for apartments that are a short walk or bike ride from campus. This will make getting to class a breeze and you’ll still be able to enjoy peace and quiet when you need it.

Another important consideration is apartment size. Do you need a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom? Keep in mind that a larger apartment will cost more money, so you’ll need to budget accordingly. But, if you’re planning on having roommates, a larger space may be worth the extra expense. Just be sure that you’re comfortable with the layout and that there’s enough storage for all of your things.

Interview potential landlords and check out the property

Do not, I repeat, do not sign a lease without seeing the property.

It doesn’t matter how great the property looks on paper or online – that could be a picture of the property 10 years ago when they first renovated and it looks a lot jankier now. So always view the property, and if possible, try to see the property you personally will have.

And go with your gut.

If they aren’t respectful now when you’re not under contract, then they likely won’t respect you when you are on a lease.

Protect Your Identity When Applying

Only submit applications to places you really want to live.

Each time you submit a rental application they might take your social security number to complete background checks. That means they will have your ssn number on record. That makes the rental company a treasure trove of personal data for ID thieves and many people don’t think about it.

Don’t be afraid to ask how they secure your data when you don’t end up living at the residence.

Read the lease agreement carefully before signing anything

Life happens – people switch jobs to new cities, move in with partners, or move back home to help out family – so you want to be sure you understand the cost of fees if you need to break your lease or add a roommate.

You also want to look for details on your expectations as a tenant – noise complaints, shared space, or even repairs.

Remember, your lease outlines your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and includes important information about things like rent price, length of lease, utilities, etc. Pay close attention to everything that is included in the lease and ask questions if anything is unclear. Once you sign on the dotted line, you’re agreeing to all of the terms in the lease, so it’s important that you understand what you’re agreeing to before putting your signature down.

Take pictures before you move in and after

Protect yourself and take photos of your apartment before you move in and after and document any damages, or areas of concern. If you don’t voice those issues you could be charged as being responsible for the damages when you mve out.

If you want to ensure you get as much of your security deposit back, then take precautions.

Know your rights as a renter and what to do if something goes wrong

What might sounds like common sense, may not be alright in the eyes of the law. Your landlord cannot just show up at your apartment whenever they want, or delay repairs like fixing the A/C in the summer or fixing the only working toilet in the apartment, or changing the locks on you because they want to evict you.

Likewise, you can’t simply stop paying rent to force your landlord to comply with your demands. There are laws to protect you and the landlord and housing court to handle when things can’t be handled amicably.

Renting your first apartment is a big step towards independence and adulthood. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing an apartment, but following these tips should make the process a little easier. Be sure to take your time in choosing an apartment that’s right for you—after all, this is where you’ll be calling home for the next year (or longer)!

Jordanne Wells

Jordanne Wells is your Master Instructor. She is a Certified Financial Educator, holds her Bachelors of Art Degree in Economics, has advised first generation wealth builders on personal finance and wealth building through her organization Wealth From Scratch.Club. She is the author of the personal finance book Credit From Scratch and her work is featured on Good Morning America, CNBC, NextAdvisor and more.

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