We think of renting as a way to cut back on the budget – to avoid big investments and stay flexible. There are many hidden rules that come along with renting however and you might be surprised to learn just how much you didn’t know about not owning your own home.

Renting an apartment seems so much simpler than buying a house, and generally speaking it is. You sign a lease, not a 30-year-loan, when you arrange an apartment, but there are significant considerations as well as you’re planning your budget and choosing your next home.

Your Credit Score Matters

Landlords at apartments are increasingly more apt to check your credit score than you may realize. This means your mistakes in the past may keep you from renting an apartment now. Naturally you need somewhere to live, so you may be stuck in an apartment that doesn’t require a credit check or you may beat the system by simply finding a roommate with a decent credit score who can carry you in this regard while you improve your score. Co-signing on the lease may work as well if you have a parent or close friend who trusts you to honor the lease and is willing to lend you their credit score.

Document Damage Carefully

Before you sign on any dotted lines, take the landlord with you on a walk-through of the apartment you’re considering. Bring along a pad of paper and note every aspect of damage that you see – and be sure to look closely.

Flush the toilets, check the electrical outlets, turn on the appliances, and wiggle the banisters. Everything that is loose, faulty, weak or damaged in any small way needs to be noted on the form. Then have the landlord sign the form with you and place a copy in your rental file as a good first step to avoiding problems later – many landlords find reasons to hold onto your security deposit when they can.

Visit the Apartment at All Hours

Going to check out an apartment complex on Tuesday afternoon will show you one version of what that new home would be like. Go again on a Saturday night after dark and see what the atmosphere of the complex is then. Apartments can be dramatically different on the weekends when the majority of residents are home, and that’s not always a good thing. If you can talk to others who are living in the apartments now to see if there is a general feeling or mood about living conditions and management.

Read Your Lease and Make Changes

The lease you’re signing is a legal contract and you’re bound to what you sign to. Read the lease carefully with an eye out for sneaky elements like hidden fees for pets or key replacements. Check to see if there are any additional obligations that renters are accountable for.

Check also to see how to get out of the lease if there is a problem and how much you’ll be charged if you break the lease early. If you find a term disagreeable, inappropriate or downright illegal, don’t sign until the lease is corrected or simply don’t sign at all. You don’t want to be stuck for a year under a lease that is truly a mess.

You May Have to Rent Multiple Bedrooms

It is rationale to think that you can rent what you want to rent without worrying too much about square footage and the like. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly true and it seems to affect single parents the most. Many landlords won’t rent a one bedroom apartment to a single parent with an older child of the opposite sex. What that looks like is a single dad with a twelve-year-old daughter can’t rent a one bedroom apartment in many, perhaps even most, apartment communities.

It makes sense when you think that sharing a bedroom wouldn’t seem right for a child that age and a parent, but when you look a bit deeper, it gets convoluted. Consider that a parent is now forced to pay perhaps $200 more per month for a separate bedroom instead of sleeping on the futon in the living room. When money is tight, a futon or sleeper sofa makes sense, but it’s not always about what makes sense to us – it’s the rules of the apartment that make the difference in what you can do.

Schools Don’t Always Make Sense

You might assume that children attend the nearest school, but that is not always the case. In many districts, children living in apartments are sent by bus to schools throughout the district to balance numbers and other demographics.

This means that parents with children should look closely at where the school is located for each particular apartment you’re considering. You may be surprised by how far children have to travel from one location to get to school and how little travel is involved from another apartment complex just down the street.


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