Renting an Apartment

Renting an apartment is more than having a place to put your stuff.  The apartment process is made of several
factors, starting with the selection.


SELECTION
The selection part of the process starts with finding an apartment that fits your needs.  These needs may
include:        

      - Price: The monthly rental payments must be within the range that you have established in the budget.  
The big issues here are the additional charges incurred at the signing of the agreement.  Be sure to
understand and be prepared to make the total payment at the time the contract is signed.
              - Rent is paid in advance.  In other words, you must pay at the beginning of the month for the rest of
the month, so you'll need to be able to pay for the first month before moving in.  
              - There is a normal requirement for the last month rent to be paid in advance (prior to moving in).  
Note that this is intended to protect the lessor in case you don't make your payment on time.  The nice thing is
that when you move out, you've already made the month rent payment for the last month so you can save the
payment for the next apartment or home.
              - There can be a requirement for a 'cleaning deposit' that is also paid before moving in.  The cleaning
deposit is money available to property owner (called lessor) to repair damages caused by you while you are in
the apartment.  

      - Location: This consideration has more to do with your convenience than anything else.  An apartment is a
place where you will spend a great deal of time but also a place that will require a lot of comings and goings, so
judge the movements and the frequency.  Keeping a short commute time to work each day may be important to
you, while distance from family or friends may be more important.  Another consideration is the location in terms
of shopping or other services.  Here is another situation in which making a list can be useful to determine the
priority of each item, then search for options within the part of the city defined by the list.  Using a city map to
mark all the places of importance may be helpful to find a convenient location.

      - Size: This can be the most important factor or the least important factor, depending on your perspective.  
Going back to the list, decide how much time you will be actually spending in the apartment.  People who spend
a lot of time in the apartment have different needs than someone who is looking for a place to change clothes
and sleep.  College students who spend most of their time studying may have different needs than someone
who has people stop by often.  Small (studio) apartments are perhaps the least expensive but don't provide a
lot of space to stretch out or provide storage.  As the size increases, so does the price (within the complex);
however, the same price can get different sizes based on the apartment complex location.

      - Safety: The safety factor refers more to your feeling of security in the apartment complex.  This can be
reflective of the lighting, openness, controlled access, and more.  Often, you can get a good feeling for this
condition just from getting out of the car.

      - Comfort: Like safety, this factor is a matter of personal preference.  This can take into account the type
and condition of the flooring, the floor plan / layout, and the decor / styling.  As with safety, just walking through
the apartment can provide a good scale for judgment.

      - Pets: If you have a pet or want to get a pet, remember that a pet in an apartment is different than a house
with a doggy door.  First, check with the lessor and see if pets are allowed and if there are any additional
charges or deposits required.  Second, review your schedule and determine if you have the time needed to
manage a pet.  Different pets have different needs depending on breed and size.

      - Roommates: Lastly, a consideration for cost savings is the option of a roommate.  This option works well
for some people and not well for others.  


CONTRACT
This is a legally binding agreement between you and the lessor for a fixed period of time.  This document will
detail all of your rights, restrictions and obligations.  Be sure to read and understand this document.  The rent
amount and required timing of payments will be detailed.  Be sure to understand the restrictions and
obligations, such as no pets, noise restrictions (parties), or parking, etc.  Your rights are also provided in the
various state and city laws relating to lessor and lessee.  The laws change based on the location, so check with
a local legal aid association if you have specific questions.

The Monthly Rental Contract / Agreement can take a number of different forms based on the legal office that
develops the form.  There are many that are preprinted and can be purchased at many office supply stores.  
You should read and understand the contract.  However, without regard to the actual form, there are a number
of items that you need to verify before signing the contract.

      - While the date of the agreement is important, the date the lease is to begin, the move-in date, and the
date the payment is due each month should be clearly identified.

      - The date of the agreement should show up in two or three places (including the date of the signature).

      - The lessee (person renting the apartment) should be clearly identified, along with an exact property
address (with legal description, if needed).

      - Along with the lessor's name, the contract should identify the exact location for rent payment delivery and
preferred method of delivery.

      - The lessee's name (your name) should be clearly identified and you need to verify the spelling of your
name.  

      - The monthly rent amount and any prorated amount for the first and last month should be written out as
numbers and written out in words.  Prorated amounts refer to any partial months.  Most landlords like for the
payments to be due on the first of the month.  So they will often set up the lease to start on the first of the next
month and charge you for a portion of the current month.  They will prorate the month rent due for the number
of days left in the current month.

      - Any fees charged for late payments or returned checks should be written out as numbers and written out
in words.

      - Maximum number of occupants should be provided, broken down between adults and children, if needed.

      - Limitations and fees for pets should be clearly written out.

      - Security deposit amount in numbers and written out in words should be provided, along with conditions for
return of the deposit.

      - The number of apartment and mailbox keys should be documented, along with any fees for failure to
return any of the keys at the end of the lease.

      - Make sure the utilities are discussed as to what is included in the lease and paid for by the lessor and
what is paid for by lessee.

      - Amenities and usage should be discussed.

      - Most of the time, very little is said about what you can and can not do to the interior regarding painting or
nails in the walls but you are required to return the property in essentially the same condition you received it, so
don't make changes that can't be easily undone and patched.  It never hurts to ask the landlord before making
any changes.


MOVING IN
When you move in, you are taking possession of the property and are then responsible for two primary
obligations: first, since you have possession of the property, you are required to insure that the property is not
damaged beyond what would be considered normal wear and tear, and second, the security of any personal
property that you bring into the apartment is your responsibility.  For this reason, many insurance companies
provide renter's insurance.  Please make a note to ask the lessor if you are required to provide Renters
Insurance which provides two forms of coverage: first, coverage for your personal property and, second, liability
insurance for your apartment which in intended to protect you in case someone trips over your furniture and
gets hurt, or a wide range of others accidents.  Some lessors will charge you if you do not have renters
insurance but only for the liability portion.

When moving in, one of the first things to do is walk through the apartment and look for existing damages.  
These should be documented and agreed by both parties.  Next, check all the faucets, showers and toilets to
make sure they are in working order (during the lease, the lessor is required to fix problems relating to the
property).  Any problems should be documented and both parties agree as to when and how they will be
resolved.  Third, check any appliances that are included in the lease and make sure they are in working order.  
If possible, check the water heater, heater and air conditioning to insure that they are operational.  Be clear as
to where trash will be left for pickup.

Make sure that you have a solid understanding of where you can park and where visitors can park.  Always ask
for an assigned parking place, even if you may not get it.  


PAYING RENT
This is normally a monthly obligation and the contract will document what constitutes a default and what the
lessor can do if a default occurs.  Be sure to be aware of the proper method or place of payment.  Making a
payment at the wrong place or to the wrong person does not relieve you of the obligation to make the payment
properly and timely.


OTHER COST FACTORS
Many apartments require the tenant to pay for the utilities, telephone and cable service.

      - Utilities:  These include the electricity charges and gas charges while the water, sewer and trash
collection may be covered by the apartment complex.  While this may be the normal case, there are exceptions
and make sure to include projections for these costs in your budget.

      - Telephone: While many people have a cell phone, there are options for a land line but these seem to be
on the way out.

      - Cable Service: Where else can you get TV service? And with the Internet broadband now available from
cable service, you must deal with that additional cost.


MOVING OUT
Often, the lease agreement may require that you provide a notice of intent to evacuate the property.  When
leaving the property, it is your responsibility to leave the property in the same condition that you received it
(less normal wear and tear).  In order to insure that the cleaning deposit is returned in full, be sure to work with
the lessor to make sure everything is done.  There are limits to the demands that the lessor can make (refer to
the lessee rights discussed earlier).  Note that the lessor will require the property be empty on the required
date and the lessor does not need to give you time beyond the end of the lease while you move to a new place
of residence.


OPTIONS
Remember, that renting an apartment is nothing more than providing a place to live.  There are other options
and these should be considered in the decision process.  

Roommates provide a means to share the cost of an apartment.  There are other costs besides the basic rent
amount and these can be split among the roommates, reducing the overall cost impact per person.  The
primary problem with this approach is when one member of the apartment does not provide payment of their
portion on a timely basis,  this places additional burden on the other roommates.  If the lease is in your name,
you are responsible whether you get the payment from the others or not.

Buying a house has specific advantages other than those of renting an apartment.  Additional discussion
follows in the chapter: Buying a House.

Renting a room in a house instead of an apartment.  While this option is slowly disappearing, there are still a
few rooms.  You just need to look around.  The advantage is the lower price and often,  the inclusion of meals.