Plus, navigating the Washington-area rental market can be daunting.
Here are a few things you need to know before renting your first apartment:
• You will need to know what your budget will be. Make sure you know whether the bottom-line rent payment includes — or does not include — utilities. If it does not, you will need to find out approximately how much utilities are so you’ll know whether you can afford the unit.
• If you find you can’t afford the rent, consider finding a roommate or roommates. Make sure that the person or people you are considering as roommates will be reliable. If you are signing a lease with other people, you want to make sure you can count on them to pay their portion of the rent and utilities. Another way to find a more reasonably priced rental home is to be willing to go a bit farther from the center of the city. If you rely on public transportation, sometimes considering taking the bus to Metro or commuting fully by bus can give you more choices, including less-expensive rents and ways to get you more items on your wish list, such as a nicer kitchen.
• In some cases, if you’re dealing with an independent landlord (not in a building with a management company), a lower rent might be negotiated with a lease term longer than one year. If that is something you are considering, make sure you are comfortable with a longer lease term, knowing you will be responsible for the rent the entire term of the lease.
• Make a list of your needs in order of priority. You should have a list of mandatory items, among them, perhaps, walking distance to the Metro; a parking spot; laundry on the premises; the number of bedrooms you need; and a dishwasher. Make a list of items you don’t need but would consider a bonus to have — a pet-friendly building, a balcony, an on-site fitness center and wood floors, perhaps. Determine what you can and cannot be flexible on.
• Be prepared for when you find the rental home you like best. You should have all the information you will need to put on an application at your fingertips. If you have never had a credit card or paid any bills in your name, you might not have a credit history. A landlord will want to have some history of bill payment, so you may need to ask a parent or a relative to act as a guarantor on the lease. Know who that person is and have them ready to submit an application with you as a co-applicant.
• You should also be prepared to have up to two months’ rent for a security deposit and the first month’s rent. A security deposit may be less than one month’s rent, but it is better to be prepared just in case. You should also be prepared with application fees, which can range from $25 to $100 per adult applicant, including guarantors.
• Have a copy of current pay stubs or an offer letter from your employer stating your salary and a contact who can confirm your salary.
• Have one or two personal references available for a landlord to contact.
• Be cautious. Rental scams abound. Make sure that if you are considering renting from an independent landlord you can confirm that the person you are dealing with is the owner of the home or is someone authorized to work on the owner’s behalf to get the home rented. If you cannot personally view the home you are considering renting, make sure a friend or a family member can see it on your behalf.
• Once you are approved to move forward on the lease, take time to review it carefully. Know what you are responsible for and what the landlord is responsible for concerning maintenance and utilities. If you are renting a single-family house or rowhouse, you will most likely be responsible for tending to the yard and cleaning the gutters. Make sure there is an emergency number in case something breaks and needs to be fixed, such as plumbing issues.
• Know how much notice will be given to you as a tenant for an increase in rent; the landlord to enter the property; the home to be shown; and the home to be put on the market when your lease has ended.
Know any fees in addition to your rent. Make sure all people who are to be on the lease are on the lease. Find out what is included in the rent and what is not. If you’re moving into a condo or a co-op, learn about any rules and regulations you need to abide by, and make sure you have a copy of them.
Once the lease is signed by all parties, make sure you know if you need to transfer utilities into your name and which utility companies to contact. If you are moving into an apartment, condo or co-op building, check to see if you need to schedule your move-in date with the building.
Nancy Simmons Starrs is founder and president of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment-search service.