Renting 101

Renting 101

by Heleigh Bostwick, September 2009
Whether you're a first-time renter or someone who's been renting for years, finding and renting a new place can be intimidating. Because your home is such a big part of your life, it's important to find the right place. And your housing is probably the biggest expense in your budget, so it's equally important to make sure you're getting a fair deal.

Here are our tips for making sure your next rental is a home sweet home.

Location, Location, Location

It's true what they say; location makes all the difference. Consider the environment: Do you prefer a quiet tree-lined street or a bustling city block? Is public transportation more important than a reserved parking space? What about neighbors who do early-morning yard work or host late-night dinner parties?

For a good sense of the location, visit at different times of the day—rush hour, morning, and evening. You can also call the local police station's non-emergency number and ask about the neighborhood to learn how safe it is and how the crime rate compares to other areas.


So you've found the perfect neighborhood and your dream place—don't sign anything just yet. Take the time to thoroughly inspect a rental before paying any deposit or signing a lease. Make sure that smoke detectors are installed and working and check for carbon monoxide detectors in states where they're required by law. If you notice any damages: holes in the wall, scratches on the hardwood floors, etc., be sure this is noted on your lease prior to signing. If possible, ask the landlord to give you a work order or other written document with assurances that repairs will be made within a certain timeframe and paid for by the owner.

Applications and Fees

Once you've found the right place and inspected it for potential problems, it's time for the paperwork. Rental agencies and landlords will likely require you to submit an application, which can include permission to run a credit check. Often with agencies, there's an application fee that typically runs $25 or $30. Private landlords rarely charge an application fee, but may include a similar fee to run a credit check. Also, be prepared to provide contact information for references that can speak to your integrity.

If your application is approved, things can often move quickly. After signing the lease, expect to provide payment equal to the first and last month's rent, plus a security deposit typically equal to one month's rent.

Decoding the Lease

At first glance the lease may seem a bit daunting. It's usually several pages long and filled with legalese. Not to worry though, most of it is standard legal language, but it does contain some important information you need to know, including whether any utilities are included in the rent (heat, water, electricity), whether or not pets are allowed, what noise restrictions exist, and other details specific to your new tenancy.

Renter's Insurance

A lot of tenants think that if something goes wrong in their rental, the landlord is responsible for replacing it. For building amenities (cabinets, windows, countertops), this may be true. But for your personal property, it usually isn't. If the upstairs water heater leaks through the ceiling and floods that new computer and flat screen TV, it's usually your responsibility to replace your property, not the landlord's. Renter's insurance can be a smart and affordable way to help protect your property.

Know Your Rights

Most states have specific regulations regarding landlord and tenant rights. Knowing your rights as a tenant is a good idea. For example, in most states, landlords must provide at least 24 hours notice before entering your apartment. Knowing you won't be interrupted without notice can provide peace of mind.

Renting a new place can be a fun and exciting time in your life, and as long as you know what to expect, it can relatively hassle-free.