Moving out of your family place to a place of your own will always be a little anxiety-inducing. Students have to factor in many different items when choosing a rental unit.
The best (or worst) of all is that learning the 'rental market' ropes comes with experience and time. Since students typically don't start their rental journey with either, we've made a guide to help them out!
What should students consider when renting?
Every student will need to go through a list of points they want to hit when finding their first rental home. They will need to identify and avoid the costly pitfalls of the rental process.
Factors like the terms of the lease, the deposit, the condition of the unit, and potential roommates come with their own hazards. They should also keep in mind the rent price, location, and walkability of the building.
According to recent stats, the cost of rent has gone up an average of 11.3% in the past year. That's a lot for a working professional, let alone a student.
The cost of your rent is one of the biggest (if not the greatest) factors to consider when looking for a place. That means that establishing a monthly budget with a comfortable rent is crucial.
Ideally, your monthly rent and utility bill should be no more than 30% of your monthly net (after-tax) income. Most students will want to pay well below city averages, given that your income as a student will likely be limited. Once you've established your monthly rental budget, you need to think about any upfront costs. These costs will include:
- First and last month's rent
- Security deposit
- Rent application fees & holding fees
- Renter's insurance
- Pet deposits
- Extra fees for parking or storage
- Other services such as internet, cable, etc.
A great way to start your renting journey as a student is to find a roommate! Many students choose to live with more than one person to drive down the cost of their share of the rent.
These are some basic considerations to make before choosing a roommate (whether that be a friend, workmate, or family member):
- Do they have a reliable source of income?
- Can you trust them to be around your personal belongings?
- Are they willing to co-sign a lease with you?
- Will they be able to consistently afford the monthly rent and utilities?
- Do they have pets?
- Are your lifestyle choices similar to theirs?
- How do you plan to split up home chores?
- Are they planning on having many guests over?
Given that many students live with more than one roommate, these types of concerns can quickly compound. You need to have a strong sense of how comfortable, respectful, and cooperative potential roommates will be.
If you feel someone will clash with your expectations, do not hesitate to seek out a more compatible roommate.
Location is huge for students planning to rent. Most will likely rely on public transportation or walking to get to where they need to go.
If you don't plan on having a car at school, you should expect to rely on buses, trains, bicycles, and your feet to travel. One of the easiest ways to get a handle on your commute is to use a tool like Google Maps to get an idea of local transit options. Keep in mind that the school may run its own transportation, which will require you to find a service schedule on the school website.
Most students will choose to live near school for the sake of convenience. Living in student neighborhoods also allows students to interact with people their own age and to be within walking distance of other classmates!
Type of rental property
Most rental properties come in the form of an apartment or a home. Although both don't differ greatly, they both offer different pros and cons.
Apartments will have a secure and private entry to the building and unit. They will also, typically, house fewer tenants per unit than are found in a house. Apartment renting is also great because there's a greater chance of an onsite, and more responsive, landlord or property manager.
However, the apartment also comes with some downfalls. Apartments will have shared spaces, especially laundry rooms, mail areas, and lounges. The buildings that have many units have a greater potential for noise issues and hazards.
Also, apartment hallways, trash rooms, and entryways may be neglected or abused if the building has too many tenants.
On the other hand, if you choose to rent a house, you'll generally have more space than an apartment holding the same number of tenants.
It's also a much better and cheaper option if you're looking to live with a large group of people. Homes have a better chance of permitting pets, especially if the house comes with a yard. It'll also be more likely that you'll have private amenities, such as a washer and dryer.
On the flip side, homes will have shared bathrooms, kitchens, and living areas which can mean less privacy overall. Homes may require more maintenance, which can mean more reliance on the landlord. Also, homes are less secure than apartments, especially if the property is isolated.
Leases come in a variety of different lengths. Depending on how long you're planning to stay in the area, you should consider different lease lengths.
Lease agreements typically break down into these rental periods:
- Six-month lease (most expensive)
- One-year lease (most common)
- 18-month lease
- Two-year lease (cheapest)
- Month-to-month lease (most flexibility)
Generally, the longer you agree to rent a place, the cheaper your rent will be. Ending your agreement early can mean finding a suitable subletter who you are at least partially responsible for (as determined by the lease). Abandoning a lease can also mean serious financial and legal consequences for you and any roommates.
What to do when viewing the rental unit
Ask questions, questions, and then more questions. A landlord should be open and eager to answer any questions during a viewing. They should also seem friendly and flexible when presenting the rental unit.
Here are some questions you can ask during your rental unit viewing:
- What is the total square footage and room configuration?
- Are some or all of the utilities covered by the rent? If not, can you give me an estimate for those costs?
- What are your parking options?
- Is there on-site maintenance, security, and/or property managers?
- What is the refund policy for security deposits?
- Is there a secure area for mail and inbound packages?
- What types of customizations can you make to a property (paint, nails for hanging pictures, etc)? Which ones are prohibited?
- Will facilities staff conduct inspections, and how much notice do they need to give?
- Are there any safety or health concerns associated with the property (mold, lead paint, etc)?
- Are there quiet hours?
- Are there guest restrictions?
- Are there any fees associated with the rental that we haven't discussed?
What to do before signing the lease
Always read your entire lease. You may very well discover restrictions and procedures counter to your assumptions of how the terms of a lease agreement work. Most landlords will provide lease agreements with a high level of detail in order to protect both parties.
Here are some things you should note when reviewing your lease:
- What are the penalties if you are forced to break a lease due to work, school, or family responsibilities?
- Are you allowed to add roommates to your lease?
- What expenses are you liable for?
- If you decide to move away during summer break, are you allowed to sublet your room?
- What are the pet policies?
- What are your maintenance responsibilities? How are hazardous situations handled?
- Under what conditions can you be evicted?
- Under what conditions can you legally break your lease without incurring penalties?
Things to look out for finding a rental
The rental market has fallen victim to a variety of rental scams over the past few years. Scammers tend to target inexperienced renters (like students). A 2010 public service announcement posted by the Internet Crime Complaint Center, warned that prospective renters should be wary of fraudulent online rental listings.
These scammers look to steal funds through fraudulently collected security deposits and rent. Sometimes they also steal identities with information gathered from fake applications. Here are some warning signs to look for:
- The price seems too good to be true (doesn't fit with market rates)
- Listings have multiple grammatical mistakes or broken English
- Excuses for why a rental unit can't be shown such as "the owner is traveling" or "the landlord is sick"
- High upfront costs, such as security deposits and other fees
- Requests for payment before you see the apartment
- No professional online presence or leasing office location
There you have it! This concludes our student guide to renting. Hope this helps you on your journey toward finding your first rental home!
If you have any more questions about the rental process or want help finding a home, reach out to us! Lighthouse is making it a goal to get you cash back on rent while making the rental process easier for you!