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First-time Renting an Apartment with Hilary Stumpus

A live interview with onomy and Hilary Stumpus to talk about the basics and essentials of renting an apartment for the first time.

Hilary Stumpus

onomy.co x Hilary Stumpus

Hilary Stumpus is a Broker Associate with Coldwell Banker Mason Morse. She has an extensive sales background and helps people achieve their real estate goals.

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How to find your first apartment

Welcome, Hilary! Can you tell us how to look for an apartment?

Hilary: Well, the internet is amazing. I always recommend checking out Zillow or apartments.com. Also there are a lot of great local Facebook groups. So where I live, we have a group on Facebook and there’s about 20,000 members and if someone has a basement apartment for rent, let’s say, they’ll put it on there. And it will only go to those local members. That’s a great way to find something if you’re not necessarily looking for a large complex. Also, if you live in New York, there’s a great site called streeteasy.com. You’ll see a bunch of different neighborhoods and most of these sites, they also give you information on what are the crime rates? What are the schools like in that area? So if you’re moving to an area that you’re not familiar with, definitely check out those sites.

What to look for in your first apartment

Once you’ve done your due diligence, you’re all locked in and about to sign your lease, what are you supposed to be looking for?

Hilary: A lease is a very long document and it can be a little overwhelming with lots of fun language in it. So I always recommend people read their lease, read everything. Most people just look at things like how long is my lease, how much is my security deposit?

I always recommend certain things to look at when reading your lease. One thing is how does your security deposit work if you’ve never rented in a place before? A security deposit is something that your landlord will hold until the end of your lease. It’s a security for them. And it’s also really helpful for you too.

Let’s say that you rent an apartment and something comes up, you move out, you don’t have time to clean the carpets. They’re going to take it out in your security deposit and then you will get the remainder sent back to you.

onomy: What about things like animals, does everywhere accept animals? Does every place have parking? Do I have to look for that in the lease? Is that separate? Where does that live?

Hilary: All of those things are going to be in the lease. And I’m glad that you mentioned animals because that is one thing that people overlook. If you have an animal, make sure to talk to the leasing office or to your landlord, do they even allow them? If they do allow them that you likely have a non-refundable pet deposit, that’s what I have for my basement apartment. And also ask them if they have any type of breed restrictions. What if you have a pit bull? What if you live in an area where that’s restricted? You have to really make sure that you understand everything before signing a lease because it’s hard to get out of a lease and break it over a technicality like that.

You may also incur quite a few fines because of it. For me, I require up to date vaccinations. So if I do allow a dog or a cat, I need to make sure that it’s vaccinated. If it gets out, if something happens, there is an altercation, I want to make sure that people involved in the altercation are completely covered and that they’re not going to be dealing with a rabies situation or something like that. Also ask if they have a leash lawnplace, that’s something that’s important too.

How to pay rent at your first apartment

What about when I have to pay my rent? Is it on the same day every month? Should I be prepared for that and budget for that?

Hilary: Yeah. So it will be on the same day. Like for me, my rent is due on the third of the month and if it’s not paid by then, then there’s a $50 late fee that’s associated with it. So just be prepared to pay it at the earliest possible. I have an amazing tenant right now. She’s super fabulous and she pays early. If something breaks down there, I’m going to get down there quick! It’s that mutual respect thing.

Something I also want to talk about too is utilities. With my apartment, all utilities are included. That’s not the case in a lot of places. Some places will have partial utilities, like gas and electricity whereas, some places have no utilities included, so just make sure to budget correctly. If your max budget is $1,500 a month and utilities aren’t included, maybe you’re going to be looking for an apartment closer to about the $1,100 to $1,200 range. Make sure to call around too. I always recommend that people call the water company, ask them, for this size apartment, approximately how much would that be for normal usage? And they’ll usually get you information.

Another thing to look for to lease is parking. So, do you have a car? Maybe you don’t have a car. You don’t have to worry about it, but if you do have a car, is there a fee for parking? Is there a garage that’s available? Do you have to pay extra for that garage? Is there underground parking? What about your guests? How much guest parking is there? At my community, we have very limited parking and the owner will get ticketed if a guest stays there for too long. Make sure to double check on that.

How much notice you need to give if you terminate your apartment lease

If I need to terminate my lease, how much notice do I have to give as soon as I know something?

Hilary: As soon as you know something. Speak to your landlord or the leasing office. If you have a good relationship, a lot of people understand stuff comes up, just communicate it. If you try to leave and not say anything, you’re still liable to pay the rent until your lease is over. Let’s say that you love your place and you want to continue to stay there. You can’t just keep staying there. You need to communicate that as well. Most people will ask if you want to get a lease extension, and you definitely want to do that usually about 30 days prior to your lease expiring.

Short term vs. long term apartment rentals

Can we talk a little bit about short term versus long term rentals? What is the best option? What do we look for?

Hilary: There are a couple different options: you have month-to-month options, short term, which is like a six month option and then longer term, which is a year or above. If you’re moving us to an area that you’re not familiar with, I say, go on the shorter side, you could have done all your due diligence, got online, researched, know the schools, everything for your kids, all that stuff but what if the traffic is terrible and you work on the other side of town, but you thought you really wanted that neighborhood. It’s always better to be on the side of caution when you move to a new area.

If you know the area, you’ve maybe lived somewhere very close to the area that you want to rent, go on the longer side, just know that sometimes it can be hard to break your lease if it’s not an emergency. So you want to make sure that you put yourself in a good situation.

onomy: So if you have a lease signed, is subleasing allowed? Is it typical?

Hilary: In most leases there will be a clause about subleasing. If there isn’t a subleasing clause, just ask prior to moving in. If you think that might be a possibility in your situation, talk to your landlord, see if that’s something that they would consider.

Why income ratio is important in your first apartment lease

What is debt to income ratio and why is it important in this whole conversation?

Hilary: A debt to income ratio calculates how much money you have left over after you pay your rent and all of your monthly expenses are put into the equation. A really great website that I would recommend checking out is called Ramseysolutions.com. There you can enter in your rent, your car payment if you have one, any student loans, any credit cards and it’s going to calculate what your debt to income ratio is.

So in the best-case scenario, you want your debt to income ratio to be 36%. If it starts getting higher, like 50%, that’s called the danger zone. And that’s when you’re going to start getting declined for a credit card.

It’s really important — what if there’s a medical emergency? What if you don’t have health insurance, you have to pay a bill and you want to make sure that you’re going to be able to afford getting another credit card. And if your debt-to-income ratio is high, just work on paying off those debts to help it get back into around that 36% range.

onomy: Would a landlord look at that to approve you as a renter?

Hilary: Sometimes, I don’t just because I just have one basement apartment. If you’re renting from an apartment complex, that might be something that you’re looking for because they want to make sure that you can afford rent. If you are at over 50% even before renting the place, you’re going to be in some trouble. They may feel that you can’t afford this. You think you can, if something happens, you want to make sure that you do have extra monthly cash on hand.

Do I need renters insurance at my first apartment?

Why is renter’s insurance so important?

Hilary: It is ridiculously important because it protects your personal property. So if there is a flood, fire, vandalism, theft, you’re going to be covered by your renter’s insurance policy. You can also up the coverage if you have even more expensive valuables, like your grandmother’s diamond ring or a grand piano. You can speak with your insurance company about that. 

Also, it’s really affordable. It’s crazy, crazy affordable. And if you have auto insurance already, I highly recommend reaching out to them to see what their rates are like, because most insurance companies actually give you a multi-policy discount. So you can even save more money there. Most places require it. It just protects you. And it also protects your landlord as well. If there’s a catastrophic event like that.

How should I handle disputes with my landlord?

How to handle disputes with your landlord?

Hilary: Get a lawyer. I know it stinks but when you sign a lease that is a legal contract. So if you have any types of issues, always go to your landlord first, don’t go the lawyer route immediately because that could be expensive, but if it’s a minor dispute, communication is the biggest key in anything with renting.

And if you two are bumping heads and things aren’t going well, talk to a lawyer or a mediator and get some type of information because with a lease, it does protect you quite a bit, as well as with the landlord. So you want to make sure that someone who is a lawyer can look that over for you.

Even when doing your due diligence to figure out what kind of apartment you want to live in, meet your landlord and see if you can get along with them. Talk to them before you even sign anything. If you get creepy, weird vibes, go look somewhere else. You never know. And there’s less of that in like a larger complex, because there’s usually several different parties involved. But if you’re renting a basement apartment like mine, I always try to get to know my tenants really well prior.

Also one thing that I really want to stress, make sure you have a lease in place before you move in. If anything should happen. If you do have a dispute with your landlord and there’s no lease, they can kick you out and there’s no recourse because there’s nothing in writing to protect yourself.

onomy: Whenever you have a dispute of some kind, assuming that it’s not going to go the legal route, is it good to have things in writing just in case?

Hilary: Yes, absolutely. In the real estate world, paper trail is key. You need to make sure that you know what’s going on. Because if you go to a lawyer and you’re like, hey, my landlord kicked me out. They’re like, well, what are the terms of your lease? And if you’re just like there are none, then you’re in trouble. Don’t be in that situation. It’s always, always safe to have everything in writing.

onomy: If you enjoyed hearing from Hilary, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more quick tips on making adult life easier!

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