Renters guide: Are you ready to rent?

A guide to renting an apartment to help you understand what you and your landlord are responsible for.

Lady using a renters guide to help select her new apartment.

Owning a home may be a dream for some, but renting is the reality for many. Finding and renting a home or apartment that is right for you can be daunting but with a few simple tips and information, you can help ensure a good rental experience. Here are things to consider when renting an apartment or home.

Decide what you want in your apartment or rental home

Looking for a new home to rent can be exciting, but don't go into your hunt without doing your research. Doing so can be expensive and lead to unexpected hassles and disappointments. Before you begin your search, you should think about where you would like to live, what type of rental property you want and how much you would like your lease to be. With this information, you'll be able to keep your perspective and your cool.

Do a careful inspection of your potential new home or apartment

The neighborhood might be friendly and the property fantastic but it's important for you to carefully inspect the apartment and the lease. From experiences with other less-than-stellar apartments, Lisa*, 25, learned what many her age haven't, train your eagle eyes before you rent. Ask yourself some questions such as:

  • Do the locks work? Are the hinges secured?
  • Are there cracks in the bathtub?
  • Do you see bubbles in the paint?
  • Could mold be starting to grow?

Ask questions of your potential landlord and neighbors

When looking at the apartment, you should ask questions about the building and the expectations of the landlord. Some questions that you may want to know answers to are:

  • Can the home or apartment be sublet?
  • Is anything broken and if something breaks, who is responsible for fixing them?
  • What type of decorating is allowed? Can you hang curtains or pictures on the wall or will that void your security deposit?
  • Are there surrounding buildings or business that might present a problem like bugs?
  • Does it have a formal superintendent or a formal process for submitting work requests?

Asking about any common problems before you sign a lease might help prevent potential problems after you move in to your new home or apartment.

Know what you and your landlord are responsible for

Put it in writing. After you've talked to your potential landlord about each other's responsibilities, make sure the lease reflects the conversation. Jane*, 27, is now a lease believer, thanks to a deposit nightmare in Austin, Texas. "I moved into a place with other roommates and it was under the original tenant's name," she said. "That tenant wanted us to give him a deposit equal to the one he had with the owner. When the time came for us to get our deposit back, he refused and said he couldn't remember what we agreed to or how much each of us gave him. And we didn't have anything in writing. We ended up with nothing." Even when you do have a lease, read the expenses part carefully. On another lease Jane said she "didn't realize you needed to have the carpet and apartment professionally cleaned before you moved out. About $700 later, you feel pretty dumb."

In summary, make sure things like security deposit return, cleaning expectations when moving out and sublease information are explicitly written in the lease agreement. This will help avoid any misunderstandings that might come up down the road.

Beware of rental and landlord scams

Unfortunately, rental scams are difficult to spot. If you don't protect yourself beforehand, you may find yourself out of cash and a place to live. Haley*, 25, found that out the hard way when she started searching for an apartment in New York City. "I rented from a man on Craigslist and he was insistent that I pay all the money up front," she said. "That's a bad idea, even if the reason for paying upfront seems plausible." She had her dad check out the place and then reluctantly gave the man the money. Big mistake: "It turned out he was pulling a scam on many people and was actually getting evicted himself," she says. "I got the money back but had to get [law enforcement] involved." Be patient when looking for an apartment. If the apartment doesn't feel right or the landlord makes you nervous, you should move on.

Consider renters insurance for your apartment

Would renters insurance be a good idea? Think about everything you own: computer, smartphone, clothes, furniture, TV. Just those basics are probably worth several thousand dollars. If you rent an apartment and an unexpected event such as a fire, theft or water leak occurs, the insurance the landlord has covers his interests, such as repairs to the building, not yours. This means any losses or replacement costs come out of your pocket. When it comes to renters insurance, there's no one-size-fits-all policy. A policy can be customized with the coverage amounts and additional coverages that are right for you.

Prepare to be a good renter

You should consider your apartment as if it was your own home and care for it accordingly. In addition to keeping your landlord happy, taking care of your rental gives you a stronger hand in rent negotiations and might even allow you to change the terms of the lease. You'll also save money if you're not evicted or you don't have to forfeit your security deposit.

Other things on your renters guide

Things you might want to consider when you are getting ready to lease an apartment or home include:

  • Budget: Establish a budget before you begin your search. This will allow you to view places that fit within your budget.
  • Be prepared: Many landlords will require you to provide a copy of your credit report in order to be considered as a tenant.
  • Documents: Know the list of documents you might need like paystubs, bank statements or other forms.

Common rental terms

You should know some common rental language before you sign the lease, such as:

  • Rent: Your lease should explain acceptable payment types and late-fee terms.
  • Deposits: Your lease should specify the dollar amount, use and requirements for return of your deposit.
  • Tenants/occupancy limits: Letting a friend couch-surf to cut the rent may be a violation of your lease. Failure to list any and all tenants may be cause to terminate a lease. In addition, letting someone illegally stay absolves them of financial responsibility.
  • Pets: If your lease doesn't allow them, don't have them. You both could find yourselves on the street.
  • Repairs/maintenance: It's important to know what repairs and maintenance you're responsible for, how to alert the landlord to repairs and a reasonable time limits for updates.
  • Terms: A lease should explain termination dates, which are typically a year or month-to-month.
  • Utilities: You should understand what the lease covers and what it doesn't, such as snow removal, lawn mowing and leaf raking. Your lease may also discuss whether utility rate increases may be passed along to you.
  • Landlord right of entry: Your landlord must specify when he or she is legally entitled to be in your rental and whether or not you have the right to be present.

*Names withheld to preserve privacy.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm® (including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates). While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. State Farm is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

Neither State Farm nor its agents provide tax or legal advice.

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