You may have survived until your 18th birthday, but you haven’t really achieved true adulthood until you’re forced to put yourself on a strict ramen diet to pay rent. We’ve all been there. In fact, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, nearly 43 million American households are renters. Though finding the perfect apartment and signing a lease may seem stressful, remember millions of people are in the same boat. Here’s what you need to know about how to successfully “adult” in your new digs and avoid going mental over your first rental.
11. READ THE FINE PRINT
Blindly agreeing to anything is never a good idea, whether it’s meeting up with that too-good-to-be-true Tinder date or signing up for that “easy” engineering elective. Like most things in college, it’s important to do your research. Signing your first lease is no exception. You don’t have to be fluent in legalese to sign a lease, but you should be smart about what you’re signing. Read the entire document thoroughly, especially the fine print. If you don’t understand something, ask your landlord to clarify.
10. BAKING SODA IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
Having your own apartment means a lot more freedom, but it also means a lot more responsibility — and a lot more space to clean. That doesn’t mean you have to rush to Target and buy everything in the cleaning supplies aisle; all you have to do is cop a case of baking soda. This nontoxic, multi-purpose household product is a cheap cleaning catch-all. Use it to clean stubborn carpet stains, kitchen counters, stovetops, toilets, bathtubs and pots and pans. It also serves as a top-notch deodorizer and detergent. Sprinkle it on virtually any surface to remove tough scuff marks and grease stains, pour down the drain to unclog, use it to refresh the fridge or scrub stainless steel and tarnished silverware to make them sparkle.
9. SAVE MOOLA DURING YOUR MOVE
Moving to a new spot can be a huge expense, whether it’s across town or across the country, so looking for ways to cut costs is crucial. Save money on your move by finding packing boxes behind businesses or on Craigslist. Use old newspapers and magazines or clothing, socks and pillows to pack fragile items instead of packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Rent a moving truck yourself or compare moving companies to find the best deal (or just use beer and pizza to bribe your best friends to help you).
8. GIVE YOURSELF SOME CREDIT
Most landlords will ask for credit scores, a background check and your housing history. If you have poor or no previous credit or this is your first time renting, you might need to get a co-signer — a parent or other trusted relative with good credit history and a stable income who’s willing to sign on the dotted line as a promise to pay the rent on time if you can’t.
7. WHAT THE HECK IS RENTERS’ INSURANCE? AND DO I NEED IT?
In a nutshell, renters’ insurance is like car insurance or health insurance for anything that goes down in your apartment, from break-ins to structure fires. A renters’ insurance policy will cover the cost of damaged, lost or stolen items. Though it’s not always required, renters’ insurance is a great resource to have at your disposal and can cost as low as $15 to $20 a month, which is way less than it would cost to replace your laptop, phone and comic book collection.
6. BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
Another important part of apartment life is paying for water and electricity. While going without AC or frequent showers in the summer absolutely isn’t an option, there are dozens of ways to save on your water and electricity bill. For starters, you can replace all your light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which use less power and last longer while emitting the same level of light as regular bulbs. Invest in a few surge protectors or power strips to turn off all your appliances with the flick of a switch and use electric blankets in the winter and fans in the summer to avoid using your thermostat as much as possible.
5. LAWS OF THE LAND(LORD)
Think of your first apartment as a library book; you want to return it in the same condition it was in when you first checked it out, and if it’s damaged? Be prepared to pay up. Be aware renters are forbidden from making any significant modifications to the property without permission and be careful you don’t make any accidental modifications (i.e. mysterious carpet stains or holes in the wall). There are certain rules landlords must abide by as well, such as giving tenants privacy and notice of any changes in the lease.
4. ROOM FOR TWO
Most people opt to live with a roommate in their first apartment to split the cost of rent. If you choose to live with roommates, whether they’re strangers or your best friends, it’s important to hold them accountable. Professionals in the rental industry recommend that you require all tenants to sign the lease. The last thing you want is to be left high and dry when your roomie bails to go live with her boyfriend mid-semester. It’s possible to break a lease but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, so make sure you know what you’re singing up for and if you’re doing it with someone you trust.
3. PAWS CLAUSE
If you have a four-legged friend you can’t live without, make sure you’re wise on the apartment’s pet policies. Some apartment buildings only allow cats and others are very strict about housing only human tenants. Even if they allow dogs, ask if there’s a weight limit or breed restriction. There are pet-friendly places on the market, but be prepared to pay up. “Dogs are welcome” doesn’t translate to “Dogs are free.”
2. SECURITY CHECKPOINT
Most landlords will ask for first and last month’s rent upfront as well as a security deposit that, assuming you don’t punch holes in the walls and spill wine on the carpet (see #5), will be returned to you when you move out. Walk around with your landlord the day you move in and make a note of any preexisting damages so you don’t get dinged for them later on.
1. PAY YOUR DUES
The rent is due at the same time every month, usually the first of the month unless otherwise discussed with your landlord. If a tenant doesn’t pay their rent on time, they may be subject to eviction. The landlord must legally give the tenant a five-day written notice before kicking them to the curb.