The Ultimate Guide to Renting
1. Establish Your Rent Budget
Before starting any search to find a rental home, it is critical to establish your rent budget. A common rule that financial experts recommend is the 30% Rule- where 30% of your monthly income should go towards your rent. However, this rule fails to factor in different salary levels, rent location variations, and personal situations.
A Harvard study found that 45% of households earning between $30,000-$44,999 have housing costs that take up more than 30% of their yearly income. Those making more than $45,000 were spending less than 30% of their revenue on rent.
A better guideline to follow is the 50/30/20 budget. After calculating your net monthly income, allot 50% of your earnings to fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, transportation, or essential recurring bills. The other 30% of your income goes towards non-essential costs such as entertainment, dining out, miscellaneous items or shopping. The last 20% should go into a savings account or be used to pay off any outstanding debts.
2. Determine the Best Neighbourhood To Live In
Finding the perfect living location is dependent on a myriad of factors. Your rental location should resonate with your lifestyle, social life, financial goals, and transportation needs. It's critical to review all these factors before picking a neighborhood in which you'll look for rent.
Paying Rent Downtown
Living downtown will always come with its pros and cons. These areas are always the most densely populated, meaning there are many rental buildings to choose from. However, the competition and demand are inevitably higher. Rent is the highest in downtown areas, while the rental unit sizes tend to offer less square footage.
On the bright side, every metropolitan area has many entertainment, restaurant, and nightlife options for those who like a social scene. You can find many job opportunities or schools located downtown, and many places can be within walking distance from home, cutting down on your cost and time for transportation.
Paying Rent in a City Suburb
City suburbs are great options for those looking for a more peaceful lifestyle. Many families choose to live in city suburbs as life is a little more relaxed, there are more green spaces, and the crime rate tends to be lower.
Living in the suburbs can also be far more affordable than living downtown. It also gives you more bang for your buck as rental units may come in larger sizes.
If you work downtown, transportation options may be limited, and the commute will be longer. You may also notice that nightlife and entertainment options may decline the further you get from downtown.
Paying Rent in an Area Neighboring a Large City
Deciding to live in a neighboring city can come with its pros and cons. This is your best option if you're looking for cheap rent. It's a great alternative when trying to save, as rent takes up a large portion of your monthly income. It's an added bonus if you find work or go to school in your area, eliminating the need to spend on transportation.
Despite this, living in a neighboring area usually means quieter neighborhoods and a lack of transportation options. The social scene may also be absent- offering a limited amount of choice when going out to socialize.
3. Consider What Type of Rental Property Would Best Suit You
Rental units can come in all shapes and sizes. They will all vary in building and unit size, amenities offered, and price. Depending on your wants and needs, a specific type of rental property may suit you better.
Typically smaller complexes, a multi-family home can come as duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes. Tenants share walls with other households, so be wary that these units may be noisier than other rental options.
Many multi-family properties have a landlord that lives on-site, giving the tenant a more direct line of communication in case of emergencies, repairs, or issues.
Apartment buildings can be low-rise, high-rise, or medium-rise, containing many units in one building. Apartments are typically managed by property managers or have superintendents that remain on-site.
The price of rent for apartments is lower than that of condos, however, they offer fewer amenities.
Nowadays, many rental apartments come renovated or with updated appliances. Despite this, apartments may be subject to more wear and tear as their turnover rate are typically higher than condos.
Condos hold a similar structure to apartments, consisting of multiple units in a single building. Condos tend to be slightly larger and more updated than their apartment counterparts. They differ mostly in price, offered amenities, and tenants have fewer neighbors.
Many condos offer amenities such as rooftop grilling areas, pools, fitness areas, and concierges. These extra bonuses considerably raise the price of rent. Other condos may also make you pay HOA or maintenance fees, raising the cost of rent even higher.
Similar to condominiums, luxury properties will offer state-of-the-art appliances and updated rental units. Most will also provide luxury amenities such as gyms, pools, rooftop terraces, concierges, and more. These properties come at a hefty cost, usually charging two to four times the cost of average rent.
Single-family homes are advantageous if you're looking to rent as a family or if you're looking for a basement rental unit. These properties are all under one address and may have shared spaces if you're not renting out the entire property.
Single-family properties can come with a backyard or driveway and are detached from other neighboring homes.
4. Decide if You Want Roommates
The benefit of renting a home is that you can always lower the cost of rent by adding roommates. Rent prices tend to decrease as you live with more people. If you're looking to save money, renting a multi-bedroom home might be the best option for you.
Depending on the location you're living in, some rental properties may have as many as 8-bedroom units. Whether you're tight on cash or like living with others, here are some people you can potentially ask to be your roommate:
- Family Member
- Romantic Partner
- Business Partners
- Random People
Consider roommates who match your lifestyle and are compatible with your personality. Personal hygiene, cleanliness, pets, guests, and social life should all be topics of discussion before deciding to move in with someone.
5. Learn About Local Parking
Finding parking can be a real hassle sometimes. That's why if you have a car, it's essential to learn about the parking situation when looking for your rental unit.
If a rental property doesn't have parking spots, check if the neighborhood has street parking. Street parking can be free, although most are paid, have limited spaces, and are only available during specific hours of the day.
If the rental property does offer parking, confirm the price of the parking fees to remain within your budget and if the building has vacant spots. If no spots are available, it never hurts to check if someone around the area is renting out their parking space.
Many cities offer plenty of parking options, so make sure to exhaust all potential avenues if you don't find a parking space right away.
6. Consider Transportation Options
Depending on what city you choose to live in, transportation might be an essential part of your life. Factoring in your daily commute can persuade you to pick specific rental homes.
When deciding on where to live, it is best to consider the following transportation options.
Discover what type of public transportation is available in the area. Having accessibility to a metro or bus station is critical if you need to commute daily.
Mapping out the length of your daily route will also inform you of how much you will spend on transportation and how long you'll spend traveling every day.
If you tend to rely on taxi services, it's beneficial to research how costly and accessible taxi services are in the area.
Smaller cities or more distant neighborhoods may experience a shortage of taxi services. On the other hand, metropolitan areas will experience price surges in the cost of taxis, making them very costly in the long run.
Having a car will make transportation much more convenient for you. When looking at rentals, it's important to check for the average cost of gas in the area. It can also be valuable to plot out your daily commute. You can then visualize how long you'll spend driving or how much traffic you'll encounter daily.
7. Are Amenities Offered?
As you narrow down your search for a rental unit, you may come to realize that you wish to have specific amenities in your home. You can always customize your search criteria to find a home that fits your lifestyle. Although, it's always important to keep in mind that some services may cost a pretty penny.
Below is a list of some commonly offered building amenities.
During the hot summer months, having air conditioning may be a deal-breaking feature for you. AC is generally available in newer rental units, although many landlords let you install a window unit if there is no AC in the apartment.
Rental units can offer in-unit laundry, on-site laundry, or no laundry facilities at all. Extending no laundry facilities within the building may mean you have to travel to your nearest laundromat to wash your weekly load of clothes.
Newly updated rentals may include technologically advanced appliances within the unit. Some buildings offer wifi as an included amenity in the cost of the rent.
When narrowing down your search, you may find that some rental properties will offer premium building amenities. These can include anything from having extra security or a doorman, accessibility to an elevator, having a package room, or on-site recycling.
Many people rely on their cars as a form of transportation. If you're looking to keep your car, it's essential to find a complex that offers paid parking spaces, on-site garages, or assigned parking spots.
Many of us have a daily routine that includes exercising and working out. Finding a rental building with facilities such as an on-site gym or pool may be right up your alley. Other offered building facilities can be rooftops access, outdoor cooking spaces, designated party/event rooms, or even a playground.
Advantages to Having Included Amenities in Your Rent
Finding rental apartments that already offer specific amenities within the building can make your life a lot easier. The rent price usually includes the cost of these services or is packaged into a maintenance fee. Eliminating the need to outsource these amenities, you won't have to worry about supplemental expenses or opening new accounts.
Disadvantages to Having Included Amenities in Your Rent
Even though having amenities included in your rent can be very convenient, there's always a risk that you may be paying a higher price for these services. The cost of amenities is usually embedded in the rent price, making it difficult to visualize how much you're paying. Having your own utilities allows you to pay for exactly what you want and need.
8. Learn About the Building’s Policies
Lease agreements come paired with many rules and policies. Confirming the details of all lease policies will help you understand what freedoms or constraints you may encounter.
Every US state dictates that a landlord must abide by the implied warranty of habitability, meaning that every rental unit must meet basic safety and living standards before and during occupation.
Question what the pest policy is, and make sure that the lease includes regular maintenance and prevention. Furthermore, it's essential to know that the landlord must arrange and pay for pest control in the case of an infestation.
If you're thinking of getting a pet or already have a pet, make sure to read over the pet policy in your lease. Many buildings only accept small pets such as birds, reptiles, or smaller furry animals. Others may have stipulations that your dog has to be a specific size to live in their complex.
With a rise of households owning pets, more landlords are making their buildings pet-friendly. Nonetheless, it's essential to know what the pet policy is before signing a lease.
It's always beneficial to know what exactly your lease states. If you're anticipating breaking your lease early, be wary of your lease rules and policy. Prematurely breaking a lease can result in hefty fines or the landlord taking you to court.
On the other hand, many landlords allow you to sublet your unit to someone else if you decide to move out. This allows you to move out when school is done or relocate to any city without worrying about paying rent.
Be sure to check the details of your lease in case you decide to break it or sublet to another tenant.
9. Learn About the Building Management
The person managing your building can really make or break the renting experience for you. There have been far too many renters that have come face-to-face with poor building management.
Although no one type of management is better than the other, here is a rundown between the differences of each.
The landlord is the person who owns the property you're trying to rent. Landlords may live on or off their rental property. They are in charge of everything that encompasses their building- from leasing agreements to making every rental unit habitable to tending to major or minor issues.
Depending on how involved they are with the rental building, tenants may have the chance to form close and mutually beneficial relationships with their landlords.
Building superintendents, also known as supers, will often reside in one of the rental properties units. They are almost always on-site and will be the ones to call in case of emergencies or minor repairs.
Their tasks include keeping the building clean, removing snow, or taking out the garbage. They also handle renter complaints and show rental units to potential tenants.
Supers add a sense of security to the rental building. Their permanent presence also makes dealing with minor issues or questions a lot easier.
Property/leasing managers are people or businesses hired to oversee the rental property. They typically don't reside on-site, meaning that resolving an issue or complaint may take longer. They are in charge of daily operations and tasks.
Many renters tend to encounter difficulties with property management groups. They're slow to sort out issues and generally overlook many rental properties, meaning your problem may take a while to be solved or may go ignored.
10. Inquire About Maintenance and Repairs
It's easy to forget about the maintenance or repairs for rental units when signing a lease. It's often overlooked- only realizing how it's dealt with when we urgently need a repair done.
Make sure to establish the process of repairs in the rental complex. It's always best to confirm who is to be contacted, the expected wait time for a repair, and who pays the cost of damages.
11. Save for Upfront Costs
Many people tend to overlook the upfront costs of renting. They are the most costly expenses renters pay and are mostly asked for immediately upon signing a lease.
The most common upfront costs include:
- First and last month's rent
- Security deposits
- Application Fees
- Moving costs
- Pet deposits
- Buying new appliances
12. Budget for Recurring and Hidden Expenses
Recurring and hidden expenses can quickly rack up. Considering them before signing a lease will help picture what your overall monthly costs will be. It might seem like a trivial step, but it will help determine what rental units you can sustainably afford.
Here are a few expenses to think about when choosing a rental unit.
Late Rent Fees
Some landlords write late rent fees into their leases. The cost is different for every building, although they generally vary between $50-$100. Many landlords charge a late fee that equates to 5% of the monthly rent.
If you have a pet, be prepared to pay extra monthly fees for them. The cost of pet rent differs depending on your landlord. Most renters should expect to pay about $35 or less, according to the American Kennel Club.
Many rental complexes do require you to have renter's insurance upon signing a lease. Renters insurance will typically cover any costs of damage that take place in your rental unit. Many also provide liability coverage or cover your possessions when traveling. The best part is that renter's insurance is affordable, averaging at about $180 yearly.
Parking Spot/ Garage
Parking spots can be hard to come by, so finding a rental complex that offers them can be a good find. However, these spots always come at a cost. In popular cities, parking spots cost a monthly average of $225. In low-demand places, parking spots can be as low as $50-$75 per month.
The decision to include specific utilities in the rent price is entirely up to landlords. Typical utilities you may have to pay are electric, gas, sewer, and water.
Every rental building offers a different set of amenities. You can find a few rental complexes that provide cable or wifi as an amenity. Other pricier buildings may offer gym or pool facilities or front-door security as their included amenities. You can always customize your search complexes that give your desired services.
Similar to parking spots, some rental complexes may also have available storage space to rent. If you have a lot of possessions, a storage unit may be useful to you. The average cost of one differs from $30-$75.
It eliminates the need to source an external storage unit for your belongings, and you can keep them within the parameters of your building. However, apartment storage spaces may be slightly more expensive than others in the area.
A huge advantage to renting is that tenants don't have to worry about maintenance or repairs. If you choose to live in a multi-home or apartment complex, chances are the landlords will take care of any repairs.
If you decide to live in a single-family home, there may be a chance that you may have to pay for repairs yourself. It's always important to consider what type of maintenance support your landlord offers if something breaks or a drain clogs.
13. Check Building Reviews
The art of social media and the internet is that many rental properties now have reviews. It never hurts to check your prospective rental building's reviews to see what you're getting into.
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Tiktok can also act as great reviewing tools. Use forums or discussion websites to also inquire about any rental property recommendations or dissuasions.
14. Figure Out When Is the Best Time of Year To Rent
Depending on where you're moving to, it might be advantageous to consider moving during a specific month or season. Many cities experience a higher demand for tenants when the winter comes or the school year ends.
If you are avidly trying to save, moving into a rental unit during the winter months will be the best option for you. A study conducted by RentHop found that rent prices are the lowest from December to March. Students are back in school, and substantially fewer people are looking to move when the weather worsens.
If you're looking for ultimate bargain prices, the best month to look for rentals is right after Christmas. Winter is at its peak, and rent prices in metropolitan areas are between 1.8%-7.1% lower than in high peak seasons.
Many people value finding their 'perfect home' over rent prices. If so, looking for rentals during the summer months might be the more favorable option.
From May to September, the school year ends, so many students and families move out. Additionally, many leases end around these months, creating a lot more options within the rental market.
The high turnover rate during this season creates much more rental selection. Despite this, those moving in the summer months will face higher demand, competition, and rent prices. Alternatively, moving during the warmer months is also much more convenient.
15. Give Yourself Enough Time to Find a Home
There's nothing more stressful than trying to find a home while under a time constraint. Ensure that you give yourself enough time to look for rental units.
It's always best to keep in mind that you'll need time to search for listings, contact the landlords, view the rental unit, and gather paperwork to apply. It's best to give yourself 1-2 months before your desired move-in date to search for a rental.
Searching too early- 3 months or more in advance, might mean that most listings won't be available by your expected move-in date. If you rental hunt too late- less than a month in advance, you might face limited availability or rental options. Giving yourself enough time to find a rental property will raise the chances of finding a unit you love.
16. Consider Hiring a Realtor
The process of finding a rental can be very time-consuming and daunting. Although it is possible to independently find rental properties, working with a team of experts or a realtor can help speed up the process.
Realtors can especially be beneficial when looking for a rental in a large city or when you find yourself in a time crunch. An industry expert will guide you in the right direction, using their tools and expertise to find your perfect home. Their services come with a cost, but they save you time and the stress of contacting landlords and scheduling viewings.
17. Watch Out for Rental Scams
Rental scams have become prevalent over the years- trying to get you to pay a security deposit or fees without viewing the apartment or signing a lease.
According to the United States government, some common tell-tale signs of rental scams include:
- They are not able to host in-person viewings of the unit.
- They are intent on you immediately moving in.
- They insist on you signing an incomplete lease.
- The price of rent is below average.
- They request rent installments or security deposits before signing any leasing paperwork.
- There are grammar mistakes or excessive punctuation on the rental ad.
- They don't ask for any references, proof of income, credit score, or rental history.
- They send you to a website that asks for personal or financial information.
Make sure to always see the rental unit in person and meet the landlord before signing a lease. These two steps are guaranteed to help you avoid rental scams.
18. Have an In-Person Viewing of the Unit
Perhaps one of the most important steps when choosing your home- viewing the rental property in person. Although it may be time-consuming, it is critical to see your prospective rentals.
Upon viewing them, you can get a feel for the neighborhood, the building, and the actual unit. You can check if there are any obvious defects or issues throughout the unit. Having an in-person viewing will also enable you to ask questions you may think of as you look through the rooms.
In-person viewings also eliminate the risk of rental scams and introduce you to the building management. Viewings come with great benefits and give you peace of mind- knowing you're moving into a rental that you've visited and approved.
19. Check for Defects
The last thing you want is to move into a new home and realize you missed an issue while viewing the unit. Checking every last nook and cranny of your potential rental can save you lots of stress and headache in the long run.
A few things you want to check for during your viewing are:
- If all lights are working
- If all appliances are working and in good condition
- If there are any defects or damage throughout the apartment
- If there are any signs of mold or mildew (especially in the bathroom and kitchen)
- If all the taps are working
- If there is good water pressure
- If the unit emits any strange smells or odors
- If the heater is working
- If the toilet flushes properly
- If there are any clogged drains
Addressing these points throughout your viewing can tell you the current state of the unit. Also, inquiring and discussing any issues with the person in charge of the building will help discern how management addresses incoming problems. You'll thank yourself in the long run for asking these questions.
20. Gather All the Documentation to Submit an Application
Upon finding your perfect rental unit, you'll want to apply as quickly as possible. Great rental units are highly sought-after, so they're never on the market for long.
The documentation required for an application will vary according to every landlord. Typically, a government ID, proof of income, and a bank statement will be required. Many landlords may also request references or your rental history.
Here is a complete list of the paperwork you may need to submit a rental application:
- Official ID
- Proof of Income or Pay Stubs
- Letter of Employment
- Credit Score or Credit History
- Rental History
- Rental Insurance
It is important to note that landlords or property management companies cannot ask for your age, sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, medical history, or credit card numbers. If any of this information is required to apply, they are violating your personal privacy or may be scamming you.
21. Keep Photo Records of the Unit
Disputing charges over property damages can be a real hassle. Some landlords will vehemently try to pin the repair costs on you or refuse to give you back your full security deposit as a repercussion.
The best way to protect yourself when renting is to take video and photo records of the unit. Photographing all rooms and appliances before your move will ensure that any previous damage is properly documented. Double-check that all records have time stamps and that they are backed up on your device.
Inspect the unit before moving in to report any visible damages to the landlord. Make sure to also check the functionality of all light fixtures, outlets, and appliances. The last thing you want when moving out is to receive damage charges that don't belong to you. Take all the appropriate measures to protect yourself!
22. Carefully Read the Lease
A lease will be one of the most critical components to revise before choosing a rental unit. It's a legal contract between you and the landlord- defining all the terms and conditions in which you can occupy the rental unit.
A lease is usually a few pages long, but reading it in its entirety is always beneficial. This contract will highlight all pertinent details involving your rental agreement.
Every lease should include the official address of the unit and the landlord's personal and contact information. Property information such as what appliances are included and if the unit comes furnished will also be present on the lease.
The date of lease signing, the date of lease termination, lease renewal, and rent-increase policies should all be included as well.
Defining Rent Charges
Upon signing a lease, you will have to pay a myriad of charges. Every deposit paid should be defined within your lease. The cost of monthly rent, security deposit, late payment charges, and other fees should be clearly stated.
Different rental properties will have different policies written into their lease. Pet policies are included if the building is pet-friendly.
Subletting may also be a policy present on your lease. Some properties do not authorize subletting or using the rental unit as a homestay. Be sure to read over this policy if you plan to sublet your unit in the future.
Depending on the lifestyle you lead, it might be in your best interest to carefully read the house rules defined on the lease.
These rules are determined by the landlord and can include enforcing the following:
- Quiet hours
- Maximum occupancy
- Number of overnight guests allowed
- Rental unit alterations
- Landlord's right of entry into the unit
- No smoking rule
- No party rule
- If rental insurance is required
- Right to evict
Repairs and Maintenance
This may seem like something trivial, but maintenance and repairs can cost a lot of stress, money, and time. Your lease agreement will dictate who is responsible for the repair, damage, and maintenance expenses.
Some lease contracts will cover all expenses, while others may only cover the cost of broken appliances. Other lease agreements may state that you are liable for the cost of all repairs and maintenance.
It's imperative to establish a clear understanding of this matter. Questions like what costs will fall on you, who you should call when repairs are needed, and response times should be asked before signing your lease.
Utility and Amenity Inclusion
Many rental properties will advertise different utilities and amenities in their listings. Some landlords will include the cost of water, heating, sewer, air conditioning, or even electricity in the rent cost. The monthly rent of higher-end buildings might include the cost of facilities such as a gym or a pool.
If you're lucky enough to find a rental that includes a utility or service, make sure to verify that this stipulation is defined in your lease.
Breaking a Lease
Many people might choose to move out of their rental unit before their lease is up. Reading their rental termination policy will be critical if this situation might pertain to you.
Breaking your lease pre-maturely might result in huge penalties or fines. Additionally, you should check to see if your building allows subletting. If they do, verify whether you or the landlord are responsible for finding a subletter. Some management companies will also charge a 'Finder's Fee' for connecting a new tenant to your unit, so be cautious of those too.
23. Organize Your Move
Once you've submitted all your paperwork and the lease is signed, it's time to organize your move! When you establish which date you would like to move, contact your landlord to let them know.
Don't leave anything to the last minute. It's essential to book moving companies or trucks well in advance, especially during busy months like September or May.
Agreeing to a move-in date with your landlord is also imperative if you need to reserve an elevator or close off a stairwell. Your landlord will also tell you where to park your car or moving truck when moving in. Maintaining an open line of communication with your landlord will ensure that your move is seamless and stress-free.
24. Prepare a List of Furnishings to Bring
The last thing you want on the day of your move is to be stressing over how to pack or what you should bring to your new home. Depending on how small or large your new home is, you might want to tweak your list of items or furniture to bring.
Segmenting your list by room or need will guarantee that you don't forget anything and will help you stay more organized.
Down below is a generalized list of furnishings to bring to your new rental unit:
- Kitchen: Microwave, coffee maker, blender, other small appliances, pots and pans, bakeware, plates, bowls, eating utensils, cooking utensils, cutting board, cups, glasses, measuring cups or spoons, kitchen organizers, oven mitts, can opener, colander, Tupperware, utensil tray, dish soap, sponges, bags, dishtowels, dish drying rack, paper towel, paper towel holder, aluminum foil, saran wrap, baking sheets, trash or compost bins
- Living Room: Couch, chairs, coffee table, side tables, lamps and lighting, couch cushions, TV stand, television, area rug, decor
- Dining Room: Dining room, chairs, tablecloth, placemats, table runners, bar cart, extra lighting, decor
- Bedroom: Bed frame, mattress, mattress toppers, bed sheets and pillowcases, duvets, comforters, blankets, curtains or blinds, nightstand, dresser, fan or heater, mirror, small trash bin
- Bathroom: Over-the-toilet cabinet, wall hooks/over-the-door hooks, garbage bin, bath or hand towels, bathroom mats, non-skid bath mat, shower curtain, toothbrush holder, toiletries, toilet paper, plunger, toilet brush, cleaning supplies
- Office: Office desk and chair, computer, printer, filing cabinets, paper shredder surge protector, bulletin board, desk or floor lamps, extra storage
- Closet: Shoe racks, clothing hangers, closet hanging organizers, shelf brackets, storage bags or bins, shoe organizers, belt or tie racks, bins
- Cleaning Supplies: Vacuum cleaner, mop, dustpan, broom, microfiber cloths, cleaning rags, cleaning supplies
- Laundry: Laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, clothes steamer, iron, ironing board.
- Emergency: First-aid kit, medication, sewing kit, flashlight, candles, batteries, extra keys
- Electronics: Security cameras, doorbell cameras, extensions cords, smart home devices, speakers, WiFi router, cable box