A few weeks ago, you probably made a resolution to lose weight, or to eat healthier or to watch less Netflix. Hopefully you’ve given up on those by now so you can turn your attention to more important things, like becoming a smarter renter.
There’s more to being a good renter than paying your rent on time and keeping the noise down: Educating yourself can save you money, hassle or even potential legal action.
Here are three things you can do in 2016 to become a more responsible renter — and they’re all a lot easier than losing weight.
Read yourself your rights
Since July 2015, the District has required every landlord to give rental applicants a copy of D.C.’s Tenant Bill of Rights, which is also available online. If you’ve applied for an apartment in the past six months, you should have one. If not, any current renter can request a copy from their landlord. Now it’s time to read it.
“The tenant bill of rights should be a must-read for any tenant,” says Joel Cohn, the legislative director of D.C.’s Office of the Tenant Advocate. “Then when an issue comes around they can say, ‘Oh, yeah, I read something about that in my Tenant Bill of Rights,’ ” and check the document or call the OTA for more information.
The document summarizes 14 tenant protections you may not know you had. Like, did you know your landlord has to put your security deposit in an interest-bearing account and give you the interest when you leave? Or that if you send your landlord a written notification that your unit has mold, he or she must inspect your unit within seven days? If you read your Bill of Rights, you will!
If you live in Maryland or Virginia, you may have some of the same rights, but they’ll vary depending on what county or city you live in. In general, jurisdictions outside of D.C. won’t have as many tenant protections. Contact the relevant local government agency or tenant advocacy association to learn more.
Treat yourself to some renters insurance
Maybe you’ve been meaning to gets it for years, or maybe you’ve only recently realized you need it. Either way, you need to get renters insurance yesterday.
“That’s the best insurance you can buy,” says Grace Langham, vice president of the property management firm Nest DC, which serves as a landlord to more than 550 rental properties in the area. “It’s super affordable from almost any vendor, and it will save you if you have any issues come up.”
While landlords will likely insure their unit to protect their physical property, their insurance won’t cover their tenants’ belongings, nor will it protect you from liability if someone is injured in your rental. Renters’ insurance will reimburse you if your belongings are stolen or damaged a fire or a similar unfortunate event.
Most major insurance companies (places like Allstate, State Farm, Geico, Progressive and many others) offer renters insurance. Policies start at around $10 a month, which should get you about $10,000 in personal property coverage and $100,000 in liability coverage. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the average renters insurance policy costs between $15 and $30 a month.
So for the cost of a commercial-free Hulu subscription, you can protect your possessions against the unexpected.
“It offers major benefits,” Langham says. “Some plans will cover your bike even if it’s not stolen at your apartment.”
Be a realistic apartment-hunter
This year, you might have resolved to change your living situation. And like any resolution, that means you need to be realistic about what you can have.
During a stressful apartment search, it’s easy to fixate on things that may not be the most important, or to compromise on things that are. But take time to think about what your living experience in a rental would be like before you sign a lease.
“People often come to us, and they love the charming look of an old rowhouse,” says Langham of Nest DC, whose company finds renters for the apartments it manages. “What they might not love when they move in is that it’s 150 years old and that comes with challenges.”
In the same vein, even though the amenities in an apartment building are tempting, shared walls can be a pain for noise-sensitive renters. And though more space in the suburbs is luxurious, it might not be worth it to be far from public transit.
Before embarking on your apartment search, come up with a realistic list of what’s a must-have and what’s just a like-to-have.
“Realistic must-haves are things like access to a Metro, the size of a space or having central air conditioning,” Langham says. Things like a parking spot, on the other hand, are less realistic if you’re hunting on a budget.
“Know what you have to have and what you can let go of,” Langham says.
Good advice for your rental search — or any 2016 resolutions, for that matter.