Before You Rent An Apartment

Mornings were never my favorite part of the day, but for the past year and a half they’ve been particularly annoying. It usually starts the night before when my upstairs neighbors, who never seem to sleep, run laps around the room above our bedroom. Once in a while they make a sprint down the hall and to the living room, but it’s mostly just above our heads while we’re trying to sleep. Then there are the barrages of car stereos and revving engines, not to mention the light that is right outside our window, which has caused us to put layer upon layer over our window, just to have some sense of darkness during the night.

I absolutely dread getting into my heat-challenged shower. It burns, it freezes, the only thing it doesn’t do, is give me a steady stream of warm water to make my waking a little easier. My husband has developed a seemingly physically impossible solution of hitting the floor, ceiling and wall all at the same time to let our neighbors know that their flushing is ruining what consistency we do have in our shower.

While I love my apartment because of what it represents (our first home as a married couple, the growth we’ve seen in almost two years and all our belongings finally beginning to find their place) there are many things I wish I would have known before we jumped in headfirst.

Before you even think about looking, establish the things most important to you. Do you want a big kitchen? Room for entertaining? Big closets? One bedroom? Two? Consider the layout of the apartment. Do you want a front door that opens right into the living room or do you want an entryway? Think long-term, because you never know how long you will stay. Will you ever want pets? Could you afford a washer and dryer down the road? Don’t get stuck in a place that is not flexible.

Next figure out how much you can afford. Typically dividing your monthly income by three can give you a good idea about your limit. Start searching on the Internet and pick up the free booklets at the grocery store. That will give you a good starting place. Realistically, think about how much you will use the amenities that you want. Our complex has two pools and a gym. Have I ever used them? No, but they looked appealing. If you’re serious about using them, ask to see them. Call the places that interest you, even if they are not in your price range, and always ask for specials because the price can come down. Though it makes for a long day, try to set up appointments with as many places as you can in one day; it makes it easier to compare.

On your first visits don’t forget your driver’s license, many places require them to view apartments. Look hard at the details. Check behind doors and in corners. Check the carpet, walls, kitchen and bathroom floors and the overall cleanliness. Are the appliances up to date? Is there adequate cupboard space? Check the water pressure, flush the toilet and turn on the shower. Most importantly make sure the apartment has its own water heater. Imagine your furniture in the space. Take a measuring tape with a list of measurements to make sure bigger items will fit. Look out the windows to see the view. On our first visit, the concrete wall and parking lot didn’t seem too bad for the price, but after a few months it became an eyesore, not to mention noisy. Don’t be afraid to ask to see another apartment with a better view, on a different floor or in a different building.

After the initial visit, go to the complex at night. Does it feel safe? Are the walkways well lit with open spaces? Are some lights burnt out? Listen for how noisy the area is. Is it near an airport? How are the buildings set up? Are the doors all in a row or do you have a more private entrance? Remember, the more doors, the more people will be walking past your apartment. Also don’t be afraid to ask to see the apartment again before you decide.

When it comes time to signing the lease, read it all the way through. If there are parts you don’t understand, have them explained. Ask about rent increases, who is responsible for repairs and who pays for utilities. What options do you have when the lease is up? What do you lose if you need to get out of the lease before it expires? Finally, keep all copies of transactions in a place where you can readily find them.

Moving in can be very stressful. Management should come through to write down damages already in place before you moved in. If they don’t, make sure you note all damages and keep them with your other documents. You should get a copy of your lease within 30 days, if not, send a letter to your landlord and keep a copy of that letter to show you requested it. Setting up utilities, T.V. services and Internet connections take time, but make a list and do one thing at a time to keep from getting overwhelmed. Another very important piece of business is renter’s insurance. It usually isn’t very expensive and can save you a lot of heartache. Take pictures of your possessions and give copies to your insurer. Write down everything from your computer to your toothbrush. You never know what freak act of nature will ruin your toothbrush and no one wants to be without that.

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Once you’ve settled in, get to know your neighbors. They can be your greatest allies in case of emergency and keep an eye out for suspicious activities. As far as safety is concerned, never isolate yourself in a basement laundry room and don’t leave valuables in your car. Also, never open your door to a stranger. In most cases it is probably just a salesman trying to sell you magazines so they can go to Aruba and you can still be stuck in your apartment. Just use your judgment.

I know this might be a lot to take in all at once, but the process of renting an apartment isn’t one to be rushed into. Take your time, feel the place out and learn from your mistakes. For my next apartment, or if I’m dreaming big, my first house, I’ll know what to look for and maybe my mornings will become a little more joyful.

[Erin is a senior at the University of Kansas. She is married and ready to move out of her apartment.]

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