By Ron Carter
When you’re renting an apartment, it’s easy to make mistakes. And these mistakes can run the gamut from simply irritating to extremely costly. But like everything else, a little preparation and research can go a long way in helping you steer clear of the bad stuff.
Here are the 9 mistakes to avoid when renting an apartment:
Renting Mistake #1: Not reading the lease carefully. Like any financial transaction, the details can be a killer. In this case, your lease will include much important information, or details that will affect your overall cost. The lease will specify if you have to pay your own electricity, gas and water bills. There could be a charge for parking. Important rules regarding pets, including if they are allowed or not, will be included. And above all, take careful note of the lease’s start and end date.
Renting Mistake #2: Passing up renter’s insurance. Your landlord will have insurance on the property, but that won’t cover your possessions. You need to buy your own renter’s insurance policy to truly protect your belongings. This is true regardless of how the loss is incurred, including fire, flood, broken water pipes, sewer backup or theft. Fortunately, renter’s insurance is relatively inexpensive, normally costing several hundred dollars a year.
Renting Mistake #3: Ignoring the neighborhood. You might be in a hurry to secure an apartment, but don’t be in such a rush you overlook the surroundings outside the apartment. You will want to know if it’s a good, safe place to live. Visit at different times of the day to make sure peaceful afternoons give way to pleasant evenings. You also will want to check about the crime rate (crimereports.com and mylocalcrime.com ) and the quality of the schools (greatschools.org ).
Renting Mistake #4: Renting the apartment without seeing the unit. While plenty of people rent apartments without seeing them, you should try to check out the property in person. Apartment photos can often be difficult to gauge the entire apartment on, which may leave you disappointed when you enter the apartment. A first-hand check also will enable you to know some basic (but important) things, like if the unit smells clean. Most importantly, it helps you avoid common online scams where photos are stolen from the landlord’s website. The scammer then uses these images to pose as a rental agent to collect a down payment and first month’s rent from you. It’s much more difficult to pull off such a scam if you see a unit in person.
Renting Mistake #5: Not making sure the location works for you. Getting a rental that has everything you need is a chore to itself, but it’s also important to know the location is a good fit. This means checking to see how easy it is to get to places you need to be often, such as the grocery, day care, school and work. It’s also good to check the routes at different times of day because of changing traffic patterns. Google Maps is good. Driving it yourself is better.
Renting Mistake #6: Failing to inform your landlord of maintenance issues. As a renter, it’s your responsibility to immediately report things that need fixed in your unit. Even small problems with appliances, plumbing and other areas could lead to bigger damage you would be responsible for if situations are left unattended.
Renting Mistake #7: Not sweating the details. Some things seem so simple – in retrospect. Many renters have had the experience of signing a lease for an apartment only to find out the sofa won’t fit in the living room, or the bed is too big, or something just won’t make it through the door. It’s a maddening experience that can be avoided by checking the measurements of both the apartment and the stuff you own. The same goes for vehicles and your available parking options.
Renting Mistake #8: Not paying the rent on time. You not only will have a date when rent is due, but you also will have a set policy on how late payments are handled. After a certain time, you will owe a penalty, often 10 percent of your monthly rent. In some cases, late fees might grow by the day. Additionally, since your landlord will be a reference for future rental activity, a bad track record will follow you around. And if your history is bad enough, it could affect your ability to land a rental in the future.
Renting Mistake #9: Missing the mark with your roommate. Getting someone to share an apartment can easily sound like a great idea. It’s someone you like and you’re looking to save money on rent. There’s no reason such a situation can’t work out well, it’s just more difficult than it looks. You can quickly find out that you and your roommate have very different ideas on day-to-day living. That’s why it’s important to set ground rules from the beginning, such as how costs are handled, chores are done and visitors are received. If you are looking to sublet your apartment, you’ll need to check your lease for any rules that might apply and possibly restrict such an arrangement.
Bottom line: If you do your homework, many of the problems of renting can be avoided, even if you are signing up for your first apartment.
Ron Carter is the former business editor of the Columbus Dispatch.