Renting an apartment
When renting an apartment for the first time, you'll want to follow these tips:
- Get the money upfront. Normally, you'll need enough money for a security deposit and the first month's rent to move in. Make sure you have the money upfront from each roommate before signing the lease.
- Know your state law. In some states, when you sign a lease with other roommates, each of you is responsible for the total rent amount, not just your share of the rent. So if one of your roommates skips out or cannot pay, you are still responsible for the payment of the entire rent amount each month. The legal term for this concept is jointly and severally responsible. It also means that you are held responsible for complying with all the terms of the lease individually and collectively.
- Make sure all the roommates sign. Roommates who verbally agree but later change their minds are not legally responsible for the lease. Try to get everybody to sign the lease from the very beginning, so the responsibility will be shared.
- Understand how the rent will be paid. Does your landlord require one check or will she/he accept separate checks from each roommate? Make sure you know from the very beginning of your lease how the rent is to be paid.
- Pay rent on time. Always, always, always pay your rent on time. As a college student, this may be one of your first opportunities to establish good credit. If you find that you and your roommates are falling behind and will be late with your payment, contact your landlord immediately and try to
negotiate a solution.
- Set money ground rules with your roommates. Decide ahead of time how you want to handle paying bills with your roommates. Who will pay the rent? What if someone is late with the rent money? How will utility accounts be set up and who will pay the utility bill? Will you use a phone landline or does each roommate have a cellphone? How are household expenses to be divided? Will you have a joint food account or will each person buy their own? Consider writing down the ground rules in a roommate agreement document.
- Take good care of your rental unit. Your security deposit can be used to cover any damage that is done to the unit, whether or not it was another roommate who caused the damage. Landlords are not required to establish who is responsible for the damage. You may want to discuss this ahead of time with your roommates and establish how you will handle and pay for any damage that is done while you are renting together.
- Designate one person to receive the returned security deposit. When the security deposit is returned at the end of the lease, the landlord may return the money with a check written out to all the roommates. That could be a time-consuming hassle, since the signature of each roommate may be needed to cash the check. You may want to designate one person for the return of the deposit. Let the landlord know in writing who that person is. When the landlord returns the security deposit, the designated roommate will divide the money and distribute it among the former roommates. As with all other aspects of roommates, be sure you can trust the person designated to do this!
You've scoured the streets and found the place that is right for you. Now what? Generally, the next step is to fill out an application for the landlord. Remember that the landlord is a businessperson who wants to find the best renter for his or her property.
You will need to provide basic information such as name, current address, phone number, and occupation (it's fine to list student as your occupation). You will also need to supply information about your income and your current or past work history, if any. The landlord is also likely to ask for your Social Security number in order to run a credit check and the names and contact information for one to three references. If you are working, your employer might be a good reference. You might also consider a university professor, academic counselor, or other person who can vouch for your integrity and strength of character.
In general, a landlord looks for adequate income (gross income at least three times the amount of rent) and a good credit history before renting an apartment. Because many students do not have much income and may or may not have a credit history, landlords may ask for a parent or guardian to co-sign a lease. In that case the landlord would run a credit check on the parent or guardian who co-signs the lease.
Making the move
Use the Moving Checklist Worksheet to ensure a smooth move.