FAQ: Renting Your First Apartment Or Home

November 06, 2020 by Dan Green

Renting an apartment for the first time can be intimidating. You’re about to move out on your own and your choices can feel overwhelming. Plus, you’re loaded up with questions.

The good news is: whatever question you have about renting, you definitely won’t be the first person to ask it. More than 100 million people rent homes in the United States. You’ve got excellent company.

Here are some common questions renters of homes like to ask.

How do I find a pet-friendly building?

For renters with pets, it’s getting easier to find pet-friendly properties.

Many online rental search services let you filter for “pet-friendly”; and, others display pet-friendly designations prominently within listings. Note that some buildings have weight restrictions on dogs. This, too, will be displayed within property listings.

Does my rent go up if I have a dog or a cat?

No, not typically. Rent is the same whether you have a pet in your apartment or not.

However, renters with dogs or cats should expect their landlord to withhold a larger security deposit because pets often damage flooring.

If your pet causes no damage, your security deposit will be returned 100%.

What is a studio apartment?

A studio apartment is an apartment that is one multi-purpose room, plus a bathroom. In a studio apartment, the bedroom, kitchen, and living room are connected; with the bathroom typically separated into its own room.

What is the difference between a studio apartment and a one-bedroom apartment?

The difference between a studio apartment and a one-bedroom apartment is that a studio apartment is a single, multi-purpose room in which the bedroom, living area, and kitchen are all co-located; and, a one-bedroom apartment sections off the bedroom into its own area with the living room and kitchen in shared space.

I live out-of-town. Can I rent an apartment online in another city, without ever seeing it in-person?

Yes, you can rent an apartment in another city sight-unseen.

Using Google Earth, you can tour most buildings virtually and rental listings often include 10 photos at minimum to help you with your choices.

Renting an apartment online can be risky, though. You can’t get a feel for the neighborhood, you can’t get a sense for the noise, and you can’t see the intangibles that often make a rental great.

Whenever possible, make a visit to see a rental live.

Do my parents need to co-sign on my lease?

No, your parents don’t necessarily need to co-sign your lease.

If you’re 18 or older, you’re a legal adult, capable of signing a lease on your own. However, if your credit scores are especially low or if your rent accounts for more than half of your income, you may be asked to get a co-sign from your parents or another willing adult.

When something major breaks in a rental, who pays for its repair?

When something major breaks in a rental, the landlord pays for its repair. Additionally, the landlord pays for most minor items, too.

Landlords are required to provide tenants with a fit and habitable home, which means that heat and electric must be working; hot and cold water is required; proper plumbing and ventilation are a must; and, smoke detectors must be in place. Landlords also handle appliance repair and replacements.

There is very little that a renter pays to maintain.

Can I make home improvements to a rental?

Yes, you can make improvements to your rental. However, get permission from your landlord first.

Leases and rental agreements are explicit about the improvement types allowed. Some leases and rental agreements allow painting, modifications, and the removal of walls. Others expressly forbid them.

Some agreements allow “fixtures”, including new track lighting, built-in bookshelves, and new windows. Some do not.

Home improvements are allowed in a rental property. Check with your landlord first.

Will a landlord let me rent an apartment if my credit score is bad?

Yes, you can rent an apartment with poor credit. Many landlords perform credit score checks as part of the tenant application process. However, credit is rarely the sole determinant of whether your lease is granted.

Having good income and a stable job history can neutralize a bad credit score. So can having a co-signer on your lease. Ask your landlord about your options. Most will be willing to work with you.

What’s the difference between a rental agreement and a lease?

The difference between a rental agreement and a lease is that a rental agreement is month-to-month and a lease is longer-term, usually 9 months or more.

When you rent an apartment or a home, for the same rental unit, a month-to-month rental agreements will typically cost more per month as compared to a lease.

What does “rent-to-own” mean?

Rent-to-own is a longer-term agreement between a landlord and a renter that, over a period of several years, aims to convert the renter of the home into its owner.

The typical structure of a rent-to-own agreement has the renter paying an upfront sum upon moving in; making a regular rent payment over the term of the agreement; and, having the choice to buy the home at a pre-determined purchase price when the agreement reaches its end.

Most rent-to-own contracts last 36 months.

What is a “lease option”?

A lease option is the same a rent-to-own contract. It’s an agreement between a landlord and a renter that gives the renter the right to buy the home at some point in the future, at a pre-determined price.

Lease options require the renter to pay an upfront sum upon moving in; to make regular rent payments over the term of the lease; and, to buy the home at a pre-determined purchase price when the agreement ends, or to forfeit all rights to the home.

Most lease options last 36 months.

Can I break my lease if I get a job in another city?

In some cases, yes — you can break your lease if you take a job in another city. In other cases, no.

A lease is a contract between landlord and tenant. Within that contract, there are provisions for lease termination (i.e. “breaking the lease”); and, just about everything else. Your ability to break your lease will depend on its language.

If there’s a chance you might move while your lease is still active, reach out to your landlord and ask about your options. With enough advance notice, your landlord may be willing to help.

We Can Help You With Your Rental

The internet is full of good information, but sometimes you want to talk with a human. This could be one of those times.

Connect with a rental property specialist in your area; somebody who can answer your questions and help you get settled with a place. Renting your first apartment is exciting. Let a professional help you do it right.

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