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5 Things You Need to Look for When Renting

You’re about to rent an apartment or house for the first time, or as a first step in relocation or downsizing after selling your home.  Regardless of your reason for looking for a rental, here are some important questions to ask and things to keep in mind when you are looking for a rental home:

  1. Should I use a Realtor or look on my own?

The answer to this question depends on where you are looking.  In some rental markets, it is important to use a realtor, who will screen your qualifications and make recommendations for rentals that fit your requirements for size, price, and locations.  In other markets, tenants use the internet, Craigslist, and word of mouth to individually approach landlords and property management firms. 

  1. Ask financial questions

How much is the security deposit?What are the income requirements?  Is a cosigner required?

You can find the greatest space in the greatest neighborhood, and believe you can afford it, but nothing will happen until you square away the landlord’s or property manager’s requirements for financial stability.  You should know how much of a security deposit you will need to pay, and if that increases for pets or roommates.  You should also find out up front what the income requirements are, and how a credit check will affect you.

In some cities, landlords may require an income of up to 40 times the amount of the monthly rent.  Many first-time renters may be entering a job with this salary, but cannot show it on past tax returns.  You may need to have a cosigner, which could be a parent, a friend, a relative.  Think carefully if you want to rent this space, and what can happen if you lose your job, or cannot make the rent.

  1. Roommates and Pets

Most apartments will allow roommates, but they have a limit on the number of people who can occupy a space.  They may also require financial documentation or credit checks on roommates as well, even if roomates are listed as occupants, and not as tenants responsible for the payment of the lease. Check out requirements for roommates in advance, if you will need a roommate or if you are considering inviting someone to come and live with you.

Many landlords and property managers have specific rules for pets.  They may specify what type, and how many.  They may also specify size, breed, and prohibit some animals.  Be prepared to show that you pet is properly cared for, has all their vaccinations if required, and that they meet other requirements.  For example, if a landlord will allow up to three dogs, and you have three Rottweilers or Shepherds, make certain that the breed is allowed or that the dogs are within the size limits.

  1. Can I decorate? Can I install my own washer/dryer or dishwasher?

Find out the rules about what you can actually do with the space.  You may need the permission of the landlord or property manager before painting or making any changes to walls or flooring.  Some rentals specify that tenants are responsible for holes left in the wall from pictures that are hung.  Also, before installing a washer/dryer or dishwasher, make certain that the plumbing will allow for their operation in a unit.  Check with your landlord first.

It's also a good idea to check on how to contact maintenance in an emergency.  If there is flooding, a stopped-up toilet, a refrigerator that is draining water and food spoilage, it is tempting to call a repair company yourself, but you may be stuck with the bill.  Many landlords have property managers available during the week, and emergency procedures for off hours. Find out what those are before moving in.

  1. What is included? Are utilities included or separate? Is parking included? Rules about common spaces

Some rentals include utilities and heat, but you must verify exactly what is included.  Find out if temperature can be controlled inside the apartment, or if heat is turned on at certain times of the day. It is also a good idea to find out if parking is available, and how many spaces are allocated per apartment.

Many apartment buildings and communities have common spaces, such as lobbies, clubhouses, swimming pools, and gyms.  You will need to know when these are available and not available, and the policy for inviting guests.

Renting a home is an important step toward establishing your life in a community, as well as your credit and reputation.  Making sure to be prepared as you begin your search will save you much time and effort.  You’ll also be more likely to find the place that is just right for you!

By Adrian Clark

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