Moving into your own place for the first time is an accomplishment that can come with a great sense of freedom.
You’ll have new control over your living situation and lifestyle, and like any responsible adult can enjoy the occasional perk of deciding to eat a bowl of cereal for dinner just because you can.
Of course, with great freedom comes with great responsibility. Financial and otherwise. You are now responsible for your own decisions and bills, and some of these new responsibilities come into play before you even move in.
Here are 5 tips for renting an apartment. Before you move into a new home with roommates, or even if you’re moving into a place of your own, you’ll want to consider these things.
Carefully read the lease
Your lease is the written contract between renters and the landlord. If you’re renting a home with multiple people, each renter should sign the document. The lease will generally outline the basics of your agreement, such as how long the lease will be for, the rent and security deposit amounts, if you can have pets, how many people can live in the home, who pays for utilities, and whether you’re allowed to sublet (rent out a room or the home to someone who isn’t listed on the lease).
Even if a landlord offers to rent you a place without a written lease, it could be better to get everything in writing. If there’s a disagreement later, being able to pull out the lease and review what everyone agreed to could quickly end the dispute. Also, be sure you understand every part of the lease before you sign it. If you have questions, you could ask friends or family members who have more experience renting, or look for answers online.
If you’re moving into a house as a subletter, you may have a different agreement between you and the current tenants. However, it’s just as important to review and understand this agreement.
Learn about tenant rights in your area
Federal, state and local laws can govern your rights as a tenant and your landlord’s duties. These laws can cover how often (and how much) the landlord can increase your rent by, who has to pay for regular maintenance or repairs when a landlord can evict tenants, anti-discrimination protections, and more.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a list of tenant rights resources by state. NOLO and FindLaw may also have helpful resources. Additionally, you may want to look for information from your county or city government as local laws may give you extra protection.
Consider renters insurance
Renters insurance can be a relatively inexpensive way to protect yourself from financial risk. Policies often start at $5 to $15 a month with online providers like Jetty.com or Lemonade.com.
Some companies offer renter’s insurance at no additional cost if you bundle it with another policy multi-line discount that makes your renter’s insurance essentially free.
A renters insurance policy provides two main benefits. It could reimburse you if your possessions are stolen, damaged, or destroyed. Some policies will even cover theft that occurs outside your apartment, which could be especially important if you frequently carry a laptop or expensive smartphone.
Policies also come with liability insurance, which may be just as important. If someone injures themselves inside your apartment, or you accidentally drop something out a window and hurt a passerby, the injured person could sue you. The liability insurance can help pay for your legal defense and resulting damages, such as medical costs.
Document the conditions before moving in
Taking pictures or a video of the space before you move in can be one of the easiest ways to avoid disagreements about security deposits later. Make sure to document any current damage, such as scratches on a wood floor or a wall with water damage.
You could also ask the landlord or current tenants to walk through the space with you and include a list of any damages on your rental agreement. Depending on the situation, you may want to ask the landlord to fix a problem before moving in, or simply keep a record of it so you don’t get blamed for the damage later.
Set expectations with a roommate agreement
Whether you’re sharing the space with friends, friends of friends, or strangers on Craigslist, setting a few ground rules upfront could save you from mishaps later. Some people use a verbal agreement, however, especially if you’re living with people who you don’t know well, a written roommate agreement could be best.
The roommate agreement could list general house rules, such as whether you’re allowed to have overnight guests, how long friends can stay for, if food in the fridge is communal or personal, and if there are quiet hours. You may also want to list each person’s responsibilities, including who does which chores, how clean the shared space should be kept, and who pays for utilities and then gets reimbursed by the others.
You can find examples of written roommate agreements online. Adding some organization to the agreement with a chore wheel or chart can help keep small disagreements (or messes) from turning into larger feuds. And yes, there are apps that could help. PS If you’re using Venmo or another digital wallet to quickly reimburse each other for shared expenses, remember you can easily connect you Varo Bank Account to Venmo.
Even with a roommate agreement in place, it can take some time to get used to each person’s quirks. Some may be odd or bothersome to you, others may be amusing or eye-opening. In the end, discovering what other people feel is normal can be a great part of the experience.
Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou.
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