According to a study released by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, roughly 35 percent of households rented in 2012, which is an increase of four percent from 2004. This means that the rental market is a competitive one and that can, often, be problematic for college students who are hoping to find a space off campus or who have recently graduated and now have to find housing of their own…especially if you’ve never had to rent a place before.
If you’re new to the renting game (and that’s probably most of you who are reading this article), here are some things that you need to know.
Your Credit History
Most landlords will conduct a credit check to determine your ability to pay your rent on time. When they do this they are looking for a few things:
1. That you don’t have a bunch of outstanding or bad debts (as a college student, especially if you are traditionally aged, this likely won’t apply to you).
2. That you have a steady and positive repayment history on the debts you do have (this could prove problematic).
3. That your debt to income ratio isn’t insane (this is where your student loans are going to bite you big time).
These things, along with the fact that most college students do not make enough to live on their own right away are why many people your age set up roommate situations so that your combined incomes can help reduce any fears a landlord might have about your ability to pay your rent. It’s possible, though, that even with a couple of roommates you’ll need a credit-worthy cosigner. Start buttering up your parents and other family members right now, just in case.
No matter where you rent, it’s a good idea to have renters insurance. Renters insurance will protect your belongings in the event of a break in, or if there is a natural disaster, like a fire or flood. It can also protect you if a guest is injured in your home. While it’s true that your landlord should have some kind of insurance on the property, his insurance won’t protect your belongings.
It’s important to know, too, that in a roommate situation, renter’s insurance only covers the stuff owned by the person who took out the policy and policies cannot be shared by people who are not domestic partners or family members. This means that your roommate’s policy won’t automatically cover your stuff. Make sure everybody is covered properly.
Read the lease carefully before you sign. The last thing you want to do is commit to a place and discover that there are rules or restrictions that you can’t live with, such as restrictions on guests or pets. It is especially important to look at the rules for occupancy and subletting. Many rentals come with strict regulations about how many people are allowed to share a bedroom or living space, which can put a kink in your plan to shove your entire frat class into a two bedroom apartment filled with bunk beds to help everybody save money.
Each state has its own set of landlord tenant laws, and you should familiarise yourself the laws for your state. Many property owners, particularly the shady ones, will count on your youth and naiveté when it comes to ousting you or trying to raise your rent. Don’t let them! Prove them wrong!
Your New Neighborhood
Check out your prospective neighborhood at different times of day. A neighborhood that’s quiet during the day could turn rowdy at night, when everyone is home from work. Or, for a group of college students who might have visions of blasting their music at two in the morning just like they did in high school or undergrad, living in a neighbourhood that rolls up the sidewalks at 9PM might not be a good idea unless you want to have the cops called on you all the time.
You can also check with the police department to find out crime statistics for the neighbourhood, and even talk to your potential neighbours.
Your New Home
Always inspect your new home before you sign the lease. Bring a renter’s inspection worksheet with you, so you know what to look for, and immediately notify the landlord about any problems. Submit a written request for any repairs and keep a copy of that request for your records.
On moving day, do a walk through and take pictures of the empty apartment; if there are any issues, show the photos to the landlord. Keep a copy of the photos for yourself in case there is a dispute later. Write down everything you see.
Always check with the landlord before making any changes to your apartment, such as painting or hanging shelving. Even if the lease is clear about what changes you can make, it’s always a good idea to inform the landlord beforehand. Most landlords don’t mind if you paint as long as you paint back over it before you move out. Other landlords will be very picky about that sort of thing.
Moving off campus or into your first apartment after graduation can be very very exciting. Talk about not having any rules and being able to do what you want! It’s important, though, that you take steps to keep yourself safe and legally covered. The last thing you need is for your first renting situation to go awry and then hang around your neck for years, making it really hard to find housing later on!