Prior to Looking
- Be realistic - what do you need vs what do you want
- Price Range - what is your ideal price and how high are you willing to go (make sure you factor in utilities)
- Know thy neighborhood - make sure you are informed about the area that you are looking at. What is the crime rate? What is the neighborhood like? Do you need to be centrally located to bus routes, stores, interstate, etc.?
- What is the rent? What is the deposit? Is there an application fee?
- What are the terms of the lease?
- For what utilities are you responsible and for which are covered by your landlord? Gas, Electricity, Water, Sewage, Trash Removal, Phone, Cable, Internet Connection.
- What amenities are available?
- Parking - is there an added cost for parking? What about visitors and towing?
- Laundry - where, how much, who has access
- Pets - pet deposit, extra rent, pet responsibility
- Privileges - pool, party room, exercise room, etc.
- Grounds - snow removal, lawn care
Top 7 Things to Think About
1. Tenant Law
Understand your rights and what the state does to protect you. It pays to be informed. Stick up for your rights! The Department of Residential Life has a copy of the Tenants' Rights Handbook from the St. Paul Tenants Union. These booklets are available for check-out from the Office.
2. Check-in and Check-out inventories
Even if your landlord does not require one, make sure you do a check-in inventory and be SPECIFIC - details count in this one. Take pictures of "bad" items and keep everything together. Make sure you give a copy to your landlord for his/her files.
3. Rental Insurance
So cheap and so worth it! It offers such a great piece of mind and will protect your items because your landlord's insurance won't.
Make sure you fully understand what you are responsible for in a sublease agreement and what the previous tenants are responsible for.
5. What floor do you want to live on?
Think about what it means to live garden level, first floor, second floor or higher. Are there safety or health precautions that you need to think about?
6. Your own eyes
It's hard when you're moving to another state, but nothing is better than seeing a perspective place with your own eyes.
7. Gut Instinct
Follow your gut - it knows whether or not you will feel safe in your new home. Don't rent something because it's there - make it your home!
Homeline (Minnesota nonprofit, provides free legal, organizing, educational, and advocacy services so tenants throughout Minnesota can solve their own rental housing problems. Through our Tenant Hotline, attorneys and volunteers provide free legal advice to tenants.)
Tips for Renting the Right Apartment
1. Make a list of your top housing priorities.
Do you need extra parking spaces? A place that welcomes pets? Thinking through your needs ahead of time can help you find an apartment that meets those needs, instead of one that just strikes your fancy at first glance.
2. Check out the property.
In addition to examining the condition of the for-rent unit, walk through the property to see whether it appears to be well-maintained. Is the landscaping healthy or dying? Nicely trimmed or growing wild? Are any windows, steps or railings broken or dangerous? Do the access doors open easily and shut tightly? Walk through at night, too. Are the parking areas and pathways well lit? What about the stairwells and hallways?
3. Talk to the neighbors.
If you're serious about a particular apartment, knock on a few doors and ask your potential neighbors whether they're satisfied with the building's amenities, management's responsiveness to repair needs and other issues of concern to you. Ask: Would you tell a friend to move into this building?
4. Examine the lease.
A lease is a legal obligation to pay rent for a specified length of time, and every lease has variations on the terms and conditions of tenancy. If the terms of the lease agreement don't suit your needs, negotiate or reconsider renting the apartment.
5. Consider security.
Does the building have controlled access? If so, are the exterior security gates and doors closed? Are the locks in working order? Does your individual unit have secure door locks and window latches? (Some states have specific laws regarding minimum security devices for apartment units.) Does the building have a security service? If so, is a guard on duty 24 hours or does he/she just drive by periodically?
6. Ask about shared facilities.
Does the building have a swimming pool? A recreation or fitness room? Tennis courts? Laundry facilities? Who is allowed to use those facilities and during what hours? Is there an extra fee charged for use of the facilities? Where are the facilities located in relation to your prospective apartment? Do you really want to live poolside or near the laundry room?
7. Ask about utility costs.
Is the water bill paid by the owner or separately by the tenants? Are electrical or gas utilities included in the rent? Is there a single thermostat for the entire building? If so, who controls it?
8. Take notes
Before you move in, document the condition of your unit and make note of any nonfunctioning doors or windows, leaking plumbing, missing fixtures, stained carpets and so on. Ask your landlord to initial a copy of your documentation to prevent disputes when you eventually move out. Better yet, take pictures or make a video of the premises before you bring in any of your furniture or belongings.
Safety Issues: Finding a safe place to live
- Are the locks on the doors and windows in good working condition?
- Are they strong enough?
- Are the doors secured with a dead bolt?
- Is there a peephole in the door?
- Is the complex and surrounding area fully illuminated at night?
- How close is the unit to high traffic areas?
- Does the parking lot look safe?
- Is there enough lighting around the lot?
- Are there working smoke detectors?
- Always keep doors and windows closed and locked
- Ask to see a company ID when utility or service people come to your door
- Use a peephole to determine who is knocking before you open the door.
- Leave a light one when you are gone or purchase a utility timer that can turn lights on and off.
- Have someone check your place when you are out of town and have the post office hold your mail while you're gone.
- Check smoke detectors every month. If there is no smoke detector in your residence, ask your landlord to install one.
- Get to know your area,. Know where to walk and where streets and alleys lead.
- Never leave your keys outside your home under a doormat or in a place accessible to a stranger.
- If you lose your keys, work with your landlord to replace your locks immediately.
- Never leave notes on your door or messages on your answering machine indicating that you are away.
Preventing Deposit Disputes
If only security deposits could really be secure. Secure seems to be the last thing a renter can call the sum of money they hand over to their landlord to cover any possible damages to the apartment. So how does a renter protect this large sum of money? Here are some tips for avoiding a deposit dispute with your landlord.
What is a picture worth?
A picture is worth thousand dollars, if that's how much you put down for your deposit. Your landlord isn't going to be able to prove a bogus story if you've got actual before-and-after pictures of your apartment. Take photos of everything when you move in and move out. You can do this without telling your landlord about it. But if your landlord knows you've taken pictures, he or she may be less likely to try to pull a fast one on you when you move out. And if your landlord does falsely claim that you damaged the apartment, you can use the photos as powerful evidence in small claims court. Be sure to try to date the pictures. Get them developed right away with a date stamp if possible. Also take photos of everything: rugs, doors, walls, the shower, the refrigerator. It's hard to predict in advance what you'll be bickering about in the end.