Things to Know Before You Sign the Lease on Your First Apartment
Categories: Career

Things to Know Before You Sign the Lease on Your First Apartment

After 18 years under your parents’ roof, four years of dorm life (and uh, maybe a year or two back under your parents’ roof), you’re finally getting your own place. But before you go crazy pinning apartment decorating hacks and DIYs to make it look like an adult actually lives in your new apartment, you have to do some actual adulting and make sure you’re not about to sign a lease on the one-bedroom from hell. So before you add that final signature and drop half your savings on first, last and security, here are some things you should be sure to do:

1. Go see the apartment in-person. You should always, always do a walk-through of any apartment you’re interested in — if only to make sure it matches the photos in the listing you saw online. (You know how powerful an Instagram filter can be.) But you’re not just there to measure that your bed will fit into that teeny tiny excuse for a bedroom; you should also make a note of any damage or safety issues to bring up with the landlord, and see if they’re able to make fixes before you sign the lease. Rent.com has a handy apartment tour checklist you can use, which includes things like “look around for good outlet locations” and “check the locks on the doors and windows.”

2. Document any existing damage. If there are things your landlord can’t or won’t fix but you still want to rent the apartment, make sure all of those things are specified in the lease as preexisting conditions. That way, there won’t be any question as to whether or not you’ll get your security deposit back when you move out (assuming you don’t trash the rest of the place).

3. Find out what’s included in your monthly rent. Don’t assume that parking, cable, internet, gas and electric are all included. Or even that any of those are. Some buildings include utilities and perks, but not all. You don’t want the rep from the gas company rolling their eyes at you over the phone when you call to find out why you don’t have hot water, and they inform you it’s because you never turned it on.

4. Make sure your credit doesn’t suck. Landlords won’t rent to just anyone. You have to be able to prove you can actually cover your rent each month, with more than just a copy of your personal budgeting Google Doc. Your credit score is a big part of that, and if you know your score going in, you’ll save yourself the embarrassment (and disappointment) of being told you’re not getting your dream place. Sites like Credit Karma offer easy, free tools to check your credit yourself at any time, and help you spot any errors that might have damaged your score (like a supposedly unpaid credit card bill you know you covered.)

5. Get your paperwork together. Generally, it’s a good idea to go into apartment hunting with a photocopy of your ID, your most recent tax return, two recent bank statements and two recent pay stubs. If you have all of it ready ahead of time, you can jump on an apartment you love right away — and show your landlord how reliable and organized you are. Some landlords also require a letter to show proof of employment and/or a letter of reference from a past landlord, so you might want to give your job or current property management company a head’s up that you’re looking.

6. Get a bank check. You can’t show up to the lease signing with just a regular old check book or cold hard cash. Most landlords and rental companies will ask for a bank or certified check for your security deposit and any other move-in fees (like first and last month’s rent). And when you hand over that chunk of change, Naked Apartments says to make sure you get a receipt — or verify that your lease will serve as one.

7. Know the rules. Some landlords are hardcore about things that might not even occur to you, like keeping bikes in the building. You’ll also want to verify whether there are specific move in/out times, the process for maintenance requests and the conditions under which you could break your lease (if you had to) without penalty. Lifehacker put together a pretty comprehensive checklist of the key questions to ask, and you’ll also need to find out your landlord’s rules on making any major changes to the apartment, like hanging shelves or painting walls.

8. Get the OK on pets. FYI: Your landlord will probably also consider bringing in a pet a “major change,” so be transparent about any four-legged friends that are coming to live with you. Some apartments have a zero-pet policy, but occasionally you can persuade your landlord to make an exception. EasyRent has some tips on how to make the case for Fluffy and Snickers, and a sample contract you can present to make you legally responsible for any damage they might cause.

9. Get everything in writing, and keep copies. If there are any changes to the standard lease agreement (like pets, paint jobs or anything else we’ve already covered here), make sure all of that is spelled out in your lease. And after you sign, make sure you get your own copy and keep it in a safe place so you can reference it easily if there’s ever a dispute in the future. And because another key part of adulting is not tossing important files into random drawers to be lost forever.

What are your must-dos for signing a lease on an apartment? Tweet us your tips @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)