First of all, think about what neighborhoods you might like to live in. Is it important that your home be close to school, work, or a bus line?
Ask a trusted friend to come with you on your search; a second opinion can be helpful, and it’s always good to have some moral support.
Potential landlords may want you to provide salary information, former landlord names and numbers, and personal references. Think of the interview with the leasing manager as equal to a job interview. Dress accordingly.
How to Find an Apartment
- Ask your friends if they know of any available apartments or people who are looking for roommates.
- Check the bulletin boards (including on-line bullet boards) at your college or university
- Look in your local newspaper
- Check postings on Craigslist
- Drive around neighborhoods you are considering and find apartment complexes that you like. Go to the leasing office and speak to an agent there.
- You may want to use a rental agent to search for an apartment, especially if you are completely unfamiliar with the area. Sometimes they are free, but others charge for their services, so make sure you know what fees are involved up-front.
Choosing the Right Apartment
Compare the features of the apartments themselves, the facilities, management, and neighborhoods. In addition, you may want to check with local law enforcement about what the crime rates are in the area.
- What is your impression of the landlord or property management staff? Did they treat you with respect and give you their undivided attention? Did they answer your questions clearly and plainly? Keep in mind that the behavior of the management and the condition of the property are indicative of the relationship and conditions you can expect if you choose to live there.
- When investigating the apartment units or the house, note if there is adequate outdoor lighting, and look for fire escapes and fire extinguishers. Make sure that there are locks on all the doors and windows.
- What “extras” are offered? Is there a pool or a workout facility? Are these extras important to you?
- Is there a laundry room? Find out if the unit or home has a washer and dryer, or just the washer and dryer hook-ups. You may not want to purchase these big-ticket appliances at this point in life; consider using a laundromat if there is no laundry facility at the complex. Another option is to rent a washer and dryer. Usually appliance rental companies will bring and install, as well as remove them when you move out. You can often find a good deal on used appliances; just make sure the machines are not too old and are still in good working order.
When the landlord or property manager is not around, informally interview some tenants:
- Do you enjoy living here? Why/why not? Do you plan to stay when your lease expires?
- Is the complex or neighborhood safe?
- Is it quiet or are there lots of late-night parties?
- What problems or complaints do you have?
- When problems come up, such as maintenance issues, are they addressed quickly?
Look at a good number of places; it is inadvisable to rush the process and grab the first place that seems appealing.
When you’ve found a place that you like, have the property manager take you to the exact apartment that you will be renting – not a model, or a “similar” apartment.
A formal move-in inspection is required if the landlord owns more than 10 rental units. The purpose of this inspection is to note any damages, even minor ones, to the apartment before you move in, so that you will not be held responsible for those damages when you move out. The inspection must be signed within three days after you move in.
When you move out, the landlord should conduct a similar walk-through, called a move-out inspection to see if there are any damages to the apartment that you will be charged for. This should not include normal wear and tear, (such as the need to re-paint or steam clean the carpet). Again, this inspection is only required by landlords who own 10 or more units. The landlord has three days to inspect your apartment and make a list of any damages for which you will be charged. You must then sign the list, noting whether or not you agree with the stated damage.
If your landlord is not required to do a walk-in or walk-out inspection, then you should request one. Make a list as you go of any damage that you see – down to minor carpet stains or scratches in the tile. Take pictures of everything. Give the landlord a copy of your list of damages as well as copies of the photos. This way, you can prove that the damage was done before you ever moved in, so that your landlord won’t unfairly withhold your security deposit.
The lease is a legal contract. It typically states the property address, the name(s) of the tenant(s), the rental amount and when it is due, the landlord’s contact information, the start and end dates of the lease, the amount of the security deposit, which utilities you are (and are not) responsible for, whether pets are allowed, whether you can sublet your apartment, penalties for late or missed rent, and penalties for early termination of the lease.
Before you sign it, read it carefully, make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with it. Once you have signed it, it is considered a legally binding contract between you and your landlord or apartment management. You may want to take the (unsigned) lease home with you to review it. You may want an attorney to take a look at it. Note any items that you don’t understand or have questions about. Get answers to these questions when you return to the leasing office. Some consumer advocates advise that you write in your own clause that you will be able to move out without penalty, should something come up, such as a new job or other life change. This way, you might avoid the penalties for breaking your lease, which can be enormous.
If you have roommates, they must sign the lease also. Otherwise you will be responsible for everyone who lives in the house or apartment. Take home a copy of your lease, and remember: it is not legally binding unless all parties have signed it.