Updated: Mar 21
How Do I Rent My First Apartment?
Renting your first apartment can be overwhelming. The stress of looking for your new home, rental agreements and preparing to move make it difficult to pay attention to the finer details, especially if you’re new to the process. When you rent an apartment, you need to protect your interests, finances, and lessee rights. Our guide to renting your first apartment will help you make important decisions with confidence. Take a closer look at the factors you should consider before you invest in a new apartment including the steps to affordability and protecting your rights.
1. Renting an Apartment with Bad Credit or No Credit
Whether you have bad credit or no credit, finding a suitable apartment is challenging. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to secure your next apartment despite a less than perfect credit history.
Start Your Rental Apartment Search with Smaller Landlords Or Self-Managed
Private landlords with smaller listings tend to be more flexible with new tenants than traditional listings. While this does not mean late rental payments or slacking on apartment upkeep, it means such landlords may be willing to work with you to create an individualized lease agreement that fits your circumstances.
Get Your Documents in Order
Preparation and planning are key to securing a rental apartment when your credit history is negative or non-existent. By demonstrating that you have sufficient finances to pay your rent and cover utilities, you could be viewed more favorably. Bank statements and tax returns dating as far back as 6 months prove your financial stability.
If your income isn’t steady or is supplemented, include proof of savings or alternative finances in your application. Your landlord wants to know that you can afford the monthly rent and pay on time.
Co-signer or Guarantor
Co-signers with a better credit score than yours could act as a second tenant on the lease. A guarantor signs surety that should you fail to pay your rent, they will be held liable for the payment. Carefully consider these options prior to applying for a lease.
References and Negotiation
A reference from a prior landlord, an employer or provider who can vouch for your reliability and monthly payments can make a significant difference to your application. A future landlord or property manager wants to trust that you can make your monthly rent.
An alternative is to contact the landlord and negotiate the best way to get your name on the lease. Rentals for applicants with bad or no credit may involve a higher deposit or monthly repayment depending on the state law governing rental caps.
Other topics you might like:
2. Budget Your Money
Whether you are renting on your own or with another tenant, managing your finances is crucial to paying your rent, and other pressing expenses, on time.
Start by jotting down your monthly income, then list your monthly expenses. Once you have deducted your expenses from your income, the next step is to breakdown general living costs and saving for a rainy day.
Pressing expenses would include rent, groceries, insurance, utilities, and internet services. Ensure your budget can comfortably cover these each month, even in the event of an unexpected expense.
Always read your lease agreement carefully prior to signing as additional expenses such as garden maintenance and administration fees can quickly add to your bills. Include your security deposit and costs for moving your goods to ensure the budget is intact and upfront expenses covered.
3. Understanding Your Lease and Renter Rights
Lease and renter rights have significantly transformed over the last decade. Renters are now protected from hiking landlord fees, monthly rent is capped in specific states, and must be aware of individual responsibilities once your name is signed on the lease.
To ensure your rights are protected, learn of basic conditions for lease agreements, what happens to a security deposit in the event you change your mind on the property, and the steps needed to receive a refund of your security deposit at the end of your lease.
Understanding your lease and remaining aware of your rights, empowers you to make informed decisions that secure your financial and personal interests.
(You might also be interested: Why Do Landlords Take a Deposit?)
4. Renter’s Insurance
One of the biggest mistakes made by first time renters is overlooking the renter’s insurance. The policy issued by a landlord covers the building and not the personal contents of the renter. If you suffer a home burglary or fire damage ravages your apartment, renter’s insurance provides financial compensation.
We cannot predict what tomorrow will bring, but we can plan for accidents and unforeseen circumstances that could leave us out of pocket. Renter’s insurance is a form of financial protection that offers peace of mind you are covered should damage or loss of valuables occur. (read more why renters insurance is so important)
5. Do Your Research
Research and more research! Equipping yourself with market knowledge helps prevent paying too much for a rental in a specific location while understanding your rights avoids being taken advantage of in a lease agreement.
The process of finding an apartment and securing a lease is exciting but should never be without caution. Do your research and you can prevent complications such as financial strain or facing legal action.
Other topics you might like:
What Do You Need to Rent an Apartment?
Proof of Employment
Your landlord wants to know that you have a stable income. Proof of employment including the last 3 to 6 months of salary deposits, tax records, and a letter from your employer prove you have stable employment and can pay your rent.
Landlords and property managers will perform a credit check when you apply for a lease. This is to determine your financial history, stability, and responsibility to pay your rent on time. Renters with bad credit or no credit will have to follow alternative steps in application to traditional lease agreements.
A driver’s license or a government issued document confirming your identity provides landlords with proof that you are the person applying for the lease.
List of Past Addresses
Specific landlords request references and former addresses from prior landlords or property managers. The purpose is to determine whether you are a responsible and hassle-free tenant.
Recent Tax Return and/or Banking Information
Tax returns and bank statements reveal your earnings and expenses for a period often averaging a year. This information lets the landlord know whether you can afford the monthly rent and deposits.
Proof of Residency and/or Lease Ledger
A landlord or rental agency will request proof of residency from tenants who are not US citizens. A lease ledger or a rental ledger provides proof that you have paid your past rent on time.
How Do I Get an Apartment I Want?
Determine Your Apartment Needs/Essentials
The apartment you will be signing a lease for should meet your daily lifestyle and affordability. If you enjoy open plan and minimalist living, the apartment should offer a layout that meets this expectation. Essentials in apartment living include location to the city, available amenities, safety and security, and privacy. Once you know what you need, where you want to live and what you can afford, you are better prepared for lease application.
Choose a Good Time to Move
Move-in etiquette is an important part of creating a positive impression with your landlord or rental agency and good rapport with fellow neighbors. During the week or on the weekend, early in the morning are fair times to move. Do not move after dark, times when people need to leave for work or busy holiday periods when your transfer of goods will be an inconvenience to the neighbors.
Budget the Costs
Budgeting and planning remain key factors when choosing an apartment to rent. A rental agency will not consider your application if your general earnings cannot cover your monthly expenses including the rent. Stay within your financial means and improve the chances of having the agreement accepted.
Can You Have a Co-signer? Do You Need One?
A co-signer can strengthen your application if they have a good credit score (generally if better than your credit score), have a sound rental history and a stable job. Co-signing will provide the individual the same rights and accessibility as the primary tenant. A co-signer is viewed more favorably where bad credit, or no credit is affecting your application.
Have Everything Together For, When and If They Have Availability
Not many properties that are listed for rent stay on the market for long. By preparing your documents and keeping it in order, you can reduce delays in your application and be among the top applicants for consideration. Most successful rental applications are all about the timing.
Are the Lease Terms Acceptable?
Reading through the lease agreement, you will come across many clauses. If you are dissatisfied with any conditions but fail to address it prior to the signing, it could spell disaster during your tenancy. Ensure the terms of the lease are acceptable and compliant.
Can You Negotiate an Apartment Rent?
Many rental applicants never imagine associating the word “negotiate” with rental agreements. Remember, that a landlord or rental agency governs a business. This means finding a satisfactory medium between good tenants and themselves to continue their business and their profits. The following factors must be considered when negotiating apartment rent:
Successful negotiation focuses on value for both you as the lessee and the lessor. You can negotiate a fair rental by offering landlords upfront payment for a few months. Most rental agencies and landlords will value upfront payments and depending on the terms, will be open to negotiation.
The traditional lease is 12 months. If you see yourself living at the apartment for a longer term, you could extend the lease and negotiate the monthly rent. A reduction in rent may be issued for lease agreements up to 2 years.
Will pets be allowed? Many landlords are not fond of tenants with pets owing to the potential for destruction and costly cleanup. If you are moving without a pet, determine whether you can pay less for the security deposit or monthly rent.
Lease agreements include additional costs for a parking spot. If you do not have a car or you won’t be using a designated parking spot, you can give this up in exchange for a lower monthly payment.
If a landlord is struggling to find tenants in your complex, determine whether you can refer possible lessees and receive a reduced rental for successful references.
How Much Should You Save for Your first Apartment?
To best protect your financial interests, your income should cover 3 times what your rent is. If you are searching for a rental unit of $1000 per month, your income should be in excess of $3000.00.
Financial providers advise on 30% or less of your gross monthly income towards rent. A fair way to determine affordability is to take half of your gross income, then deduct rent (if any) and essential living expenses. What you have left should be divided between personal expenditure (entertainment) and saving for your apartment. There is no set rule for the amount to be saved for your first apartment. Instead, determine how much you can afford to save each month after your expenses, and work towards this goal.
How Do You Find an Apartment?
1. Determine Your Price Range
The best way to find an apartment is to be realistic about what you can afford. Budget 30% of your gross monthly income, which consists of your earnings before tax. Take your yearly earnings, divide it by 12, and that’s your gross monthly income. Then multiply this amount by 30% and what is remaining is what you can afford towards rent.
2. Start Saving
Renting an apartment is not only about the monthly payments, it includes the security deposit, the utilities (depending on the agreement), renter’s insurance, and costs that are often not factored into the total expense. Started a savings plan at the earliest possible stage, even if it is a small amount every month, is the best way to afford your future apartment.
3. Check Your Credit
Most rental agencies and landlords run credit checks on your application. This is to determine financial history in paying your debts on time. By checking your credit score you can prevent any unexpected responses. You can also review your credit background to check for any errors on your report and correct these before applying for a lease.
4. Settle On a Neighborhood
Based on affordability, proximity to your job, and general lifestyle, choose a neighborhood you prefer. Be flexible with your choices and look at surrounding areas from a sought-after location.
5. Start Looking
Look at listings from property type, number of bedrooms and space to the monthly rent. Compare your findings before choosing the first available rental that meets your criteria. Research helps you determine value.
6. Put in an Application
Every agency or landlord requires a rental application be submitted. The application includes social security, bank statements, tax statements, proof of income, proof of current address, and references from employers. The application criteria are stipulated on the listing. The landlord will assess the application and if approved, will contact you to sign the lease.
7. Sign the Lease
The time to sign on the dotted line is exciting but should also be met with care! Thoroughly read your lease before signing. Ask your landlord if you can have a day or two to read the agreement. If you are satisfied and there are no hidden clauses or costs, sign the lease to secure the apartment.
An important note: Only pay the full security deposit after you have read and signed the lease!
8. Transfer/Set up Your Utilities
The final stage of settling down is to transfer the lease title into your name including utilities such as water and electricity, so your bills arrive on time.
What is the Best Place to Look for Apartments?
This popular site lists a broad range of rental apartments, houses, and more. Here you will find the latest property listings at affordable monthly rent with second chance program and discounts on your monthly rent.
Find an apartment, a condo, townhouse or other property styles. Refine your search criteria using the online filter and compare furnished apartments, pet friendly rentals, and even a SoundScore to assess general neighborhood noise.
Rent.com will generate apartments in your chosen area and surrounding locations that match your stipulated requirements. You will also find ForRentUniversity.com, a sister website assisting college students find suitable accommodation.
Apartment Finder works by displaying the number of available rentals in select neighborhoods. It is a quick search option, showing the latest listings.
This unique site helps you find walkable rentals or apartments. If you prefer to walk to where you need to be, check this website out.
Despite its shaky reputation, Craigslist is used by many people to find apartments to rent. From finding tenants to share a room to fair rental prices, you can easily find a broad range of offers. Always practice due diligence and research a listing thoroughly when using Craigslist.
Can I Rent an Apartment with a 500 Credit Score?
Landlords can deny an application that has a poor credit score despite a sound rental history and fair earnings. Credit reports are important in the application process and scores of 600 and above are viewed most favorably. Properties for lower score called second chance friendly. (How to rent with second chance)
How Can I Avoid Getting Scammed On My Apartment?
Follow the Golden Rule
If you read a listing and it sounds too good to be true, or you feel pressured by the advertiser, it probably isn’t the right route to find a place to stay.
You’re Asked to Send Money Without Having Met Anyone or Seen the Apartment
Many online listings request a down payment to secure a property based on the images online or chats over the phone and email. Do not make any payments unless you have viewed the place, you have met a representative or landlord, and you know the listing is authentic.
Landlord Seems Too Eager to Lease the Apartment
Landlords who put pressure on you to sign a lease may have hidden clauses, may be aware of apartment problems that are undisclosed, or may be in financial difficulty and fail to implement strict practice when creating the lease.
Unusually High-Security Deposit or Too Many Upfront Fees
Some landlords issue higher deposits for a negative credit application; however, where prices are far beyond the average neighborhood rentals, it is best to move on.
Unwarranted Sales Pressure
Landlords who set unrealistic time limits on signing a lease and paying a deposit should be avoided. No reputable agency or landlord will pressure potential tenants into the sale.
You’re Told You Don’t Need a Lease
According to state law, every rental property must be governed by a lease. If you’re told you don’t need a lease, we suggest you run!
The Landlord Not Being Able to Meet You or Show the Property
Landlords who fail to show you the property or schedule a meeting have something to hide. Move on to a reputable listing.
If you have never rented an apartment, proceeding to find a rental to suit your lifestyle and affordability can be both exciting and challenging. One key point to consider is equipping yourself with research. Prepare for the ups and downs that come with a property search and learn of your rights prior to looking at listings. Determine what should be included in a lease and perform affordability calculations to ensure you can cover your rent for the duration of the lease.
When you know what to look for and you know your finances, you have the confidence to make sound leasing decisions and that includes choosing your dream apartment!