Experts Explain 5 Things First-Time Renters Must Do

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what first-time renters must do
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Getting your own apartment for the first time can be a great experience. But while it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of apartment hunting, you must be practical.

Signing a lease is a big commitment, and protecting yourself financially is imperative. To make sure your experience as a new tenant is a positive one, here are five things you must do.

1. Find out your total upfront and monthly costs

When you shop for an apartment, it’s important to know the total amount you’ll have to pay to move in as well as your monthly costs after you’ve become a tenant.

“Upfront cash required for your first apartment can be steep,” warned Scott Bierbryer, co-founder and chief operating officer of VeryApt, an apartment search and review website.

Bierbryer explained that it’s common for a landlord to require both first month’s rent and last month’s rent as well as a security deposit before you move in. Security deposit amounts vary but could equal one month’s rent or be set according to state laws.

You’ll also need to know what your ongoing costs will be, including rent and utilities you’re responsible for paying, such as electric, gas, water, internet, and garbage.

“Make sure that the monthly payment you’re going to take on is affordable,” advised Glen Henderson, a Realtor with Alliance Group Real Estate. “Many times, people don’t have a budget and don’t understand how much all of their monthly expenses add up.”

2. Read your lease agreement carefully and follow the rules

Your lease provides details on more than your rent and security deposit. The lease also will specify things such as:

  • How long your rental term is. “When a tenant signs a lease, they’re locking themselves into that obligation for the length of the lease, and there may be stiff financial penalties for breaking it early,” said Kevin Deselms, a Realtor with Re/Max Alliance. Most residential leases last a year, but if you aren’t sure you’ll stay put that long, ask potential landlords if they’d agree to a shorter term. “Many places will offer six-month leases, and some will allow tenants to pay rent on a month-to-month basis, which is ideal for people who aren’t sure how long they will want to stay there,” Deselms said.
  • What the rules are for pets. Find out if pets are allowed and if an additional monthly cost or deposit is required. There also might be restrictions on what kinds of pets you can have, such as weight limits for dogs.
  • What’s included with your apartment. Read the lease carefully to find out if parking or other amenities are included. You don’t want to be surprised to discover the gym is only for tenants who pay for a membership.
  • Who else can live there. Are you allowed to sublet your apartment? Are there restrictions on guests or roommates? Read every detail of your lease carefully because you’ll be bound by the contract terms and could be evicted for violating them.

If you and your landlord agree to anything else, such as the landlord painting the walls before you move in, make sure you put it in writing. Otherwise, you have no leverage if the landlord doesn’t do what was promised.

3. Document damage to protect your security deposit

When you move into your apartment, you’ll almost always be required to put down a security deposit. This is to protect the landlord in case you cause damage, but you don’t want to lose the money without cause after you move out.

Bierbryer recommends doing a detailed walk-through with the landlord on move-in day.

“The walk-through is one of the best ways for renters to document the condition of each part of the unit. Nothing needs to be contentious, but a renter should note, with the landlord’s sign-off, that certain items may be a bit older or suboptimal,” Bierbryer said.

Photographic evidence also can go a long way toward resolving disputes. “Take out your smartphone and take pictures of the unit,” advised Aaron Bowman, a Realtor with Mazz Real Estate. “Take pictures of things that are broken, missing, or worn out so when you leave the apartment you can show it was in that condition when you took it over.”

4. Budget for essentials before move-in

Move-in day is exciting, but it quickly will become less fun if you discover you don’t have forks, a bed, or a place to sit.

“Most new renters are not prepared for how much they’ll need to buy when they move in,” Deselms said. “It can be costly getting set up in your new pad, so I’d advise making sure you’ve saved money for furniture and supplies. There’s a lot people take for granted when living with others, especially parents, and the amount of stuff they end up needing can be a surprise.”

If you’ve never had your own apartment, do a thorough inventory of what you’ll need to buy. If you can’t afford the essentials, a personal loan could help you start your new life. But don’t borrow more than you can afford for necessary items and pay off the loan as quickly as possible.

5. Buy renters insurance to protect your possessions

There’s one more thing you need to do as a new renter: Get covered under a renters insurance policy.

“Don’t forget the renters insurance,” Deselms advised. “Many property managers and landlords require it, but not all. Whether they do or not, I strongly recommend the modest monthly cost of a renters policy to protect your belongings.”

“Renters insurance will protect you in case there is ever a fire, flood, or theft,” Henderson said. “It’s a relatively inexpensive protection in case anything ever does happen. In many instances, the landlord is not responsible if a pipe were to break and flood the residence, which in turn would ruin your items.”

Being properly insured will give you peace of mind. Along with taking the other steps on this list, getting covered helps you ensure moving into a new apartment won’t damage your finances. You can enjoy your new home worry-free because you’ve been responsible about becoming a tenant.

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1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Personal LoansFixed rates from 6.58% APR to 14.87% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 6.275% APR to 12.575% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of July 16, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 6.275% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 2.10% plus 4.175% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

2 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Personal Loan Rate DisclosureFixed interest rates from 6.49% – 19.49% (6.49% – 19.49% APR) based on applicable terms. Lowest rates range from 5.99%-18.99% (5.99%-18.99% APR), are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  1. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  2. Automatic Payment Discount: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their Citizens Bank Personal Loan during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account two or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.

Upgrade Bank Disclosures

  • Personal Loan Rate DisclosureFixed interest rates from 6.49% – 19.49% (6.49% – 19.49% APR) based on applicable terms. Lowest rates range from 5.99%-18.99% (5.99%-18.99% APR), are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  1. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  2. Automatic Payment Discount: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their Citizens Bank Personal Loan during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account two or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.