10 Things Every First-Time Renter Needs to Know

Before you get too excited about moving into your own place, read up on what you need to know

first-time renter on move-in day

Getting your first apartment is super exciting. You set your own rules and decorate how you want, and no one but with liberation comes liability. Whether you’re moving off-campus and into an apartment in town or leaving the nest for the first time, there’s a lot to consider when getting your first apartment. Knowledge is power, so here are ten things every first-time renter should know.

1. Renters’ insurance isn’t necessary, but it’s recommended.

There is no federal law requiring renters to have renters’ insurance. However, some landlords can require renters’ insurance as a stipulation on the lease agreement. Renters’ insurance is similar to homeowner’s insurance in that it protects your home in an emergency. If a flood sweeps through the building or fire ravages your unit, renters’ insurance will cover the cost of your belongings. So even though it’s not always required, it’s nice to have that coverage — especially since most policies cost less than $15 per month.

2. Furnish and decorate your apartment a little at a time.

When we move into a new space, it’s tempting to go on a shopping spree and fill the apartment with stylish decorations and furnishings. But resist the urge and buy only the apartment essentials. These include a bed, a table, and a couch. From there, purchase things a little bit at a time. Not only will this method help you save money, but it’ll help you avoid impulse purchases. 

3. Understand your rights as a tenant.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a great relationship with your landlord. But the truth is that it’s not always smooth sailing. That’s why it’s important to know your rights as a tenant. Freshen up on local laws by searching for your state’s Tenant Landlord Handbook. The handbook will provide information on things like the security deposit (and when it can be withheld), the number of days necessary when submitting a notice to vacate, and other important information.

4. The time of year you rent impacts how much you’ll pay.

When searching for your first apartment, avoid looking during spring and summer, if possible. While there are more options during this time of year, prices are also higher. Winter is a slower season, and landlords are eager to rent out their properties. That means they’re likely to lower rental prices or offer move-in specials just to get the unit filled.?Remember, there’s a certain timeframe you should use as your window for apartment hunting, and it generally doesn’t exceed 30 days.

5. Find out if your landlord allows subletting.

Life happens, and sometimes you may have to move out prematurely. If you have to vacate before your lease is up, subletting is an option. When subletting, the original tenant moves out and a new tenant moves in. Usually, whether or not subletting is allowed is discussed in the lease. You should also know the landlord’s policy on roommates. While you’re at it, make sure to ask your landlord these 10 questions before signing a lease and see if there’s any room for negotiating your rent.


6. The lease reigns supreme.

Speaking of leases, while it’s tempting to glance at each page of your lease agreement and sign on the dotted line, beware. A lease is a contract meant to protect the renter and the landlord. Read it thoroughly so you know what is expected of you. Are you allowed to have pets? Can you smoke inside the home? What is the subletting policy? The contract also holds the landlord accountable. It mentions how much notice they must give before raising the rent or showing up at your apartment, and provides other stipulations that protect you, the renter. Do yourself a favor and read through it before you sign it; you’ll be glad you did.

7. Save up for a security deposit and move-in fees.

Before you move in, you’ll have to give your landlord a security deposit. The security deposit is usually equivalent to one month’s rent and is typically refundable, though some landlords can have a non-refundable deposit in the lease. There might also be non-refundable fees, including administrative and re-key fees. Save up for these fees and any others your landlord may require upon move in.?

8. Understand the landlord’s ideal lease duration.

Preparing a unit for a new renter comes with certain costs. The landlord has to get carpets steamed, have the place professionally cleaned, patch holes, and sometimes even paint. For that reason, generally speaking, landlords prefer a tenant who foresees themselves staying at the property for a good bit of time. However, if you only want a one-year commitment and the landlord is looking for a two-year lease, that just won’t work. Be sure to clarify lease durations before absolutely falling in love with a unit that you can’t ultimately have.

9. Can you renew the lease after the contract is up, or can you rent on a month-to-month basis?

When renting your first home or apartment, one important thing to consider is whether or not you can renew your lease when the original one you signed expires. Some landlords plan on selling or moving into the property and will only rent it for a specified time period. Others are willing to rent it out as long as the tenant is willing to pay. Find out what your options are before signing the lease so you have an idea of how long you’ll be able to stay there.

10. You’ll have to compromise on some things, but you should also have some non-negotiables.

Let’s face it, your first apartment might not be exactly what you want. Sometimes, you have to make small compromises. Maybe you wanted stainless steel appliances but the ones in your first apartment’s are white. Your ideal apartment had hardwood floors, but the floors here are laminate. While these are minor things you can likely overlook, some things are non-negotiables.

For example, if you have a dog, you obviously need to rent in a pet-friendly apartment. If you have kids, you’ll want a home or apartment that’s in a good school district or one that is easily accessible. When looking for an apartment, keep an open mind but don’t be so picky that you end up with no apartment at all.?

Renting your first apartment is a milestone. It’s an exciting time, and one of the first real steps toward adulting. Search thousands of apartments on Zumper and find the perfect one for you.

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