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8 Things to Know & Do Before Renting an Apartment

By Valencia Higuera

apartment for rentWhether you’re a young adult searching for your first apartment, or a seasoned renter in need of a new place, looking for a new apartment can be an exciting process. You may already know what you want in an apartment, and you probably have your heart set on a specific area or neighborhood.

However, some aspects of finding an apartment and renting are not exactly enjoyable. And while renting an apartment is often cheaper and quicker than buying a home, getting approved for a rental isn’t always easy. However, there are a number of things you must keep in mind, as well as steps you must take, to help make the process simpler.

Things to Know Before Renting

1. Some Landlords Require Good Credit History

People with low credit scores often apply for apartment rentals because they can’t get approved for mortgage loan. But don’t think that all apartment managers and landlords will approve your application. It’s true that some apartments place little emphasis on credit scores; in fact, these communities allow renters with recent bankruptcies, foreclosures, and repossessions. However, some apartment communities have strict credit requirement.

Ordering your credit report before applying for a rental provides clues as to whether you’ll receive an approval. Credit score requirements vary by landlord; however, 680 or higher is considered to be a good credit score. Fixing credit problems, such as improving your payment habits and paying off defaulted accounts, improves your odds of getting a rental. But if you can’t fix bad credit, explain it on your rental application, as some apartment managers may show leniency after a job loss, divorce, or illness.

2. Rent Doesn’t Help Your Credit Score

If you’re looking to improve your credit to qualify for a mortgage loan in the near future, understand that rent payments don’t help your FICO credit score. Your landlord is a creditor, and you’re obligated to make your rental payments on time. However, the majority of landlords do not report to the credit bureaus. Thus, your credit report will not reflect your apartment agreement or your timely rental payments.

If you need a credit score boost, getting a credit card or auto loan is your best bet. These creditors update credit reports on a monthly basis, and your timely payments helps add points to your score.

3. Your Rent Can Increase

If you find an affordable apartment to rent, don’t get too excited – rent prices aren’t fixed. There are two primary ways in which rent can be increased:

  • Periodic Rent Increases. Signing a one-year lease guarantees your rate during this time span. However, after this one-year period, some apartment landlords increase monthly rent payments. Seasoned renters are aware of periodic rent increases, but if you’re a first-time renter, rent increases can catch you off-guard and impact your personal finances if funds are already tight. Plan for rent increases by selecting an apartment with a monthly rent that’s below your rental budget so that you can handle increases in the future.
  • Income Reassessment. Each apartment complex varies. With some apartments, the manager or landlord reviews your income documentation once and never asks for additional information. But if you live in an income-based apartment complex, wherein your monthly income determines your monthly rental payments, your landlord may ask for copies of your W-2 or paycheck stubs on an annual basis. Losing your job, a decrease in your income, and earning a higher salary can affect whether you re-qualify for the apartment, as well as the amount of your monthly rental payment.

4. You Can’t Always Remove a Co-Signer or Joint Applicant

It’s not unusual for first-time renters to have a parent co-sign their apartment lease, and it’s common for two people to rent an apartment together as roommates. Landlords don’t mind if there are multiple people listed on a lease agreement – in fact, having multiple people on a lease helps tenants qualify because landlords consider both incomes and credit scores.

Understandably, your situation can change within a year. Your roommate can move out of the apartment, or your co-signer may renege and want his or her name taken off the lease. But if you choose to have a co-signer or joint applicant, understand that you can’t easily remove this person from the agreement. Each person that signs the lease remains responsible for the unit and the rent payments until the lease ends.

apartment building

Steps to Take Before Renting

1. Get Renters’ Insurance

Don’t think that you don’t need insurance simply because you’re a renter. If a natural disaster or fire destroys your apartment, the landlord’s insurance does not cover your personal belongings.

Obtain renters’ insurance from any local insurance agent. The monthly premiums are relatively cheap, and $50,000 worth of coverage costs about $25 per month. This insurance covers your belongings against theft and damage, as well as any damage you cause to the apartment. Displacement coverage is also a feature of renters’ insurance.

2. Evaluate the Property and Neighborhood

You should choose a neighborhood that’s comfortable and safe. Some first-time renters make a hasty decision and sign a lease without fully checking out the neighborhood.

Don’t rush the rental process. Before committing to an apartment, visit the community during different times of the day – perhaps in the evenings and on the weekends when most of the residents are at home. Is the neighborhood quiet? Do you feel safe? If possible, talk to some of the people in the community and get their opinions of the neighborhood.

3. Inspect the Property

Once you decide on an apartment, schedule a final walk-through with your landlord and conduct an inspection before signing your lease. Some landlords keep the water and electricity turned on, thus allowing you to test the faucets, the hot water, the shower, the toilets, and the light fixtures. If the electricity is on, make sure the appliances work. Open the refrigerator and freezer and check the temperatures. Turn on the stove burners and the oven. Check the roof for signs of a leak, and inspect the apartment for signs of insects or rodents by checking beneath the sinks for droppings.

Realistically, the apartment may have some signs of wear and tear, such as scratches on floors or countertops. If you see any damage, take pictures and notify the landlord before signing the lease.

4. Read Your Lease

Yes, lease agreements are long and boring, and it can take awhile to read the entire document. However, once you sign your name, it’s a done deal. Apartment managers typically go through each page and explain the document. But rather than rely on their summary, sit down and read the document in its entirety. Make sure that you agree with all the terms, and if necessary, ask questions. Sign the document only if you’re comfortable with the terms of the agreement.

Final Word

Don’t let eagerness to find a new apartment result in a bad decision. There’s nothing worse than being locked into a one-year lease and being subject to unfavorable conditions. When compared to buying a home, renting an apartment doesn’t seem like a such a big deal – but it’s still a major decision. The more you know about the process, the easier it becomes.

What steps did you take for a smooth rental process?

(photo credit: Bigstock)

Valencia Higuera
Valencia Higuera is a personal finance junkie who enjoys reading articles on budgeting, saving money, and credit cards. She has written personal finance articles and blogs for several online publications. She holds a B.A in English from Old Dominion University and currently lives in Chesapeake, Virginia.

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