How to Lease Your First Apartment

6 Tips for Renting Your First Apartment 

On the lookout for your first apartment? Checking out apartment ads during your lunch break? Here are 6 tips on how to make your first rental process go as smooth as possible. 

1. Learn About the Process
After you tour a place and decide you want to live there, you will need to fill out a rental application. This is a way your potential landlord or property manager will decide whether you and your roommate(s) are a good match for the rental unit. 

A standard application includes your personal information, previous addresses, and employment information. It also includes a background check, credit report check, and a document asking if you have any pets. Finally, your potential landlord or property manager may call your references.

2. Be Aware of Upfront Costs and Fees
After you are approved to rent, you will need to sign a lease (rental) agreement. During this time, it is common to be asked to pay your landlord for the first month’s rent. However, there may also be additional costs during the application and signing process such as application fees and a security deposit.

Application fees can range from $10-50 per rental unit you apply to. Security deposits are usually equal to one month’s rent. Make sure you save enough money to cover these additional costs.

3. Check Your Credit Report
When you submit your rental application, almost all landlords or property managers will ask to check your credit report. Your credit report includes an overview of your credit history (such as your loan payment history) and your current credit situation (such as how many credit cards you own and any debt you might have). 

These factors generate what is known as a credit score, which acts as a rating of your credit risk. Credit scores are on a scale of 300-850, with 850 being the best rating. Checking your credit report and score is a free service. Never pay to check your credit score. 

4. Ask Your References in Advance
References for a rental application are usually former roommates, peers, or co-workers. Reference checks are used to confirm your identity and serve as a character assessment to see if you would be a reliable tenant. 

It’s best to ask the people you would like to be your references before putting their names on your application. It is common courtesy to them. Plus, it’s a good way to make sure that they aren’t surprised by the phone call.

5. Find a Cosigner if Needed
More often than not if you are renting for the first time, you have a low credit score, or your monthly income is less than 2-3 times the monthly rent. In these cases, it is likely that you will need a cosigner for your lease agreement.

A cosigner is a person who legally agrees to take on rent payments if you are unable to make the payment for some reason. This person is usually a parent, guardian, auntie, uncle, or some other relative with a good credit score and steady income.

6. Know Your Rights
Once your background information is approved, you will be sent the rental agreement to review and sign. Before you sign your lease or pay any money, review what the local legal protections are for tenants (renters). Tenant rights typically include: the right to certain types of repairs on the house or apartment, non-discriminatory practices, and a liveable home. 

A livable (or habitable) home means a home has working appliances, insulation from the heat and cold weather, and no pests or mold/mildew growing inside. It is a landlord’s responsibility to make sure your home meets these standards.

Tenant rights vary by state, county, and city, so it is important to understand what yours are. Many states and major cities have their own tenant rights organizations that can provide free information and free or low-cost legal services upon request.

Resources to: 

Author: Originally from Oklahoma, Summer Lewis is a Muscogee and Seminole woman working in Tribal public health in Northern California. She is preparing to start her first semester of her Master’s program at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley’s School of Public Health and enjoys baking, beading, and being outdoors.

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