What do you have in common with Austin McBroom and a hermit crab without a shell? Presumably, you’re all looking for a new place to live. (You guys should start a band).
They say you never forget your first time renting an apartment. Maybe that’s because there’s so much crap to remember. The worst part is that if you miss something, you might get stuck in a year-long contract that you hate — and trust us, you can’t just break up with landlords over text.
So whether you just finished college or you’re moving out of your parent’s place, we’ve got you covered. This 7-minute read will teach you how to make apartment hunting exciting again. Ready? Begin!
Definitions You Should Know as a First Time Renter
Before you start thinking about renting your first apartment, you should understand the key terms involved. Will there be a pop quiz at the end of class? Maybe, maybe not — we like to keep things spicy.
Lease vs. Rent
A lease agreement is a contract between tenant and landlord that lays out all the rules and expectations for your stay. That means rent, utilities, pet regulations, and more. Lease agreements are long-term deals that last anywhere from six to twelve months.
A renters agreement covers the same things but only ensures your tenancy for a month. Don’t worry; these contracts usually renew at the end of each term. It’s a bit like signing up for the annual vs monthly plan for Disney Plus (minus the discount).
You thought you were done with scores after high school? Think again, my friend. It doesn’t matter how many degrees, books, or abs you have — this is the number to rule them all.
A credit score measures how likely you are to pay your bills on time — aka credit risk. It’s based on your payment history, how much debt you have, and how long you’ve had credit. Landlords look for tenants with good credit scores to make sure they get paid on time — it’s a bit like the first picture on your Tinder profile.
Wanna know more on how to make sure you’ve got a good credit score? You already know we’ve got a course for that.
A security deposit is a sum of money you pay your landlord in advance to cover any damages or missed payments that happen during your tenancy. The deposit size can vary depending on your state, but it’s usually based on your monthly rent. If all goes well through your residency, your deposit gets refunded at the end of your lease.
Co-signer or guarantor
The first time you rent an apartment, there’s a good chance you won’t have the income or credit score to do it solo. If you don’t have enough credit history or your rent is more than one-third of your monthly income, you’ll probably need a co-signer. This is someone who will take financial responsibility if you can’t pay your rent on time. Your options when this happens:
- Find a sugar mama/daddy to help you out.
- Become a viral TikTok sensation and triple your income overnight.
- Recruit your parents (like most first time renters do).
Preparing to Rent an Apartment
Renting an apartment for the first time is a complicated process. But it can be much easier with some preparation ahead of time. Here’s how you can devise your master plan:
Selecting your First Apartment
We can cover your selection process via three questions: how much, when, and where?
- How much: Your entire search will be determined by how much you can afford to pay in rent and utilities. A rule of thumb is to spend around 25-30% of your income (before taxes) on rent. Allocate another 25-20% towards other needs like insurance, food, and more food. Check out our lesson on the 50/30/20 rule of budgeting for a simple breakdown.
- When: We can all fall into the trap of endlessly searching for the perfect apartment. But if you’re always waiting for something better, you could miss out on what’s right in front of you. (Hold on, there’s a life lesson there.) Try to keep your apartment search between 30 and 60 days to avoid any availability issues.
- If you have the option, do your search during the winter season. Around this time of year, landlords have more difficulty finding tenants, so they’re more likely to offer discounts and bonuses.
- Where: Location isn’t just the best song Khalid has ever made — it’s also one of the most important factors in your apartment search. Ask yourself: is the building in a nice neighborhood? Is it close to public transportation? Is it near your workplace or school? Are the streets well lit at night? Most importantly, is there a Starbucks within walking distance at all times?
Most landlords require some kind of rental insurance within the leasing agreement. Your insurance will cover things like water damage, fire, or theft. After all, you’ve got valuable stuff: your laptop, your projector, your limited edition Baby Groot Funko Pop. Insurance can start anywhere from $15 per month depending on the value of your belongings, and it’s a good investment to make.
Documents You’ll Need
Throughout your application process (don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon) you’ll probably need various documents on hand. (Pro-tip: carry these files in a ridiculously cool metal briefcase so it always looks like you’re a secret agent).
- A passport or driver’s license (some kind of photo ID)
- Proof of your employment and income (maybe paystubs from your last two paychecks)
- Some recent bank statements
- Tax returns and W-2 forms
- Details about how to contact you (social security number, email, phone number, password to enter your evil lair.)
A Step-by-Step Guide to Renting an Apartment
So you’ve followed our tips on selecting an apartment. You’ve collected all the documents you need. The Avengers have finally assembled. All that’s left to do is three final steps:
1) Tour the apartment
If you have the option, you absolutely need to tour the apartment before making any decisions. The last thing you want is to be catfished by a Zillow listing. When you’re in, test everything. Pretend you’re in a Chuck E. Cheese’s for adults and pull, shake, and turn everything you can! Okay, maybe don’t go that crazy, but don’t be afraid to flush the toilets, run the taps, and test the outlets.
2) Apply for the apartment
Now it’s your turn to be tested. (Oh, how the turntables). If you’ve found a place you like, fill out the rental application ASAP. Note: you’ll typically pay a $25 -$100 fee, so budget accordingly. Using your application and credit check, the landlord will determine if you’re a good match for the unit.
Paying for an apartment application and not getting it is a lot like responding to your crush’s IG story and getting left on read. Sometimes you shoot and miss, but it’s a part of life. No, I’m not crying. You’re crying.
3) Pay your move-in fees
Alright, you made it! All that’s left to do is pay your move-in fees and start packing. Usually, landlords require the security deposit and the first month’s rent before your lease begins. Once you’ve paid, you’re ready to enter your new home.
Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment Checklist
- Is subletting allowed?
- Can you renew the lease?
- How much will utilities add to rent?
- Is there a parking spot included?
- Are central heating and air conditioning available?
- If you’re splitting rent with roommates, does everyone sign their own lease?
- Are pets permitted?
- Is there a policy for recycling and trash?
Final Tips for Renting an Apartment
Along the way, try to keep these things in mind:
- Decorate slowly. When you first move in, you’ll probably want to raid Ikea with an axe in one hand and your credit card in the other. Please. Don’t. Do. This. For your first month, just purchase the essentials. Add plants, decor, and furnishings month by month. You just put a lot of money down, so a month by month approach to decorating is a great way to mange your spending!
- Read the fine print. We get it. Reading an entire legal document sounds as fun as watching The Room at 0.5x speed for 13 years straight. But that leasing agreement will dictate your entire tenancy — make sure you know what you’re in for.
- Decide your non-negotiables. This can be a list of amenities, room number requirements, or proximity to school or work. There will be many compromises throughout the process, so determine upfront what won’t be debated.
You did it! You’ve learned everything you need to rent your first apartment. Want to know even more? Subscribe to our newsletter for more tips on real-life adulting.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I rent for the first time?
When you rent an apartment for the first time, make sure you have good credit, proof of employment and income, and some form of photo identification. Select an apartment that is big enough for you, your pets, and/or your roommates with a rent below ⅓ of your monthly income.
What to do when you first rent an apartment?
Typically, your landlord will process your application and do a credit check. Once approved, you’ll also do an inspection to make sure everything works. Finally, you’ll need to pay a security deposit and your first or last month’s rent.
What credit score do I need to rent an apartment?
The higher the rent, the higher the credit score you’ll need. According to a survey by RENTCafe, the average renter has a score of 638 as of 2020. In practice, that number can change from city to city.