October 11, 2022

9 Tips for First-Time Renters

Renting your first apartment? Here are 9 tips to help first-time renters feel more prepared as they search for a new living space.

9 Tips for First-Time Renters

When you’re moving into your own place for the first time, finding the right apartment can be overwhelming. First-time renters have to manage applications and administrative processes, budget for rising rental costs, and watch out for scams. 

Renting your first apartment is a big step but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one. We’ve put together the following tips to help you find a living arrangement that works for you. 

Best practices for first-time renters

1. Plan your budget carefully

Before signing a lease, calculate your expenses accurately to make sure you can afford the apartment. While your monthly rent will be the largest cost, there are additional one-time and recurring fees to be aware of. 

Here’s a closer look at some common costs that first-time renters should include in their budget planning.

Initial upfront costs:

  • Application fee
  • Security deposit
  • First and last months’ rent (if required)
  • Moving costs
  • Furnishings, if needed

Recurring costs:

  • Rent
  • Gas and electricity
  • Garbage
  • Internet and cable
  • Parking
  • Laundry

2. Gather your rental application documents

While property managers may have different rental application requirements, they typically will include some or all of the following documents:

  • Identification documents including drivers license, state-issued ID, passport, or social security card
  • Proof of income including recent pay stubs and/or a W2 
  • Rental history and landlord references (unless there are none available)
  • Proof of renters insurance
  • Co-signer option if you have no credit history

To ensure a smooth application process, get these materials in order before you start searching for apartments. This will demonstrate to potential landlords that you’re responsible and organized. Note that many landlords also ask tenants to undergo a background check and credit check, which may require additional information. 

3. Make a list of your priorities 

Before starting your search, consider your needs as a first-time renter. What qualities or features of an apartment can you not live without? While few apartments will meet all your preferences, narrowing down what’s most important to you will make the search process that much easier. Some considerations for first-time apartment renters to think through are:

  • Clean and fully functioning kitchen
  • Outdoor living space
  • Desirable neighborhood
  • Closet and storage space
  • Proximity to work (unless you work remotely)
  • Building amenities (common spaces, laundry, gym)
  • Parking 
  • Pet policies

4. Give yourself enough time

Sometimes it can take a few months to find the right apartment, so be sure to start the process early. You don’t want to still be looking for a place to live just a few weeks before your move-in date. Keep in mind that if you’re looking for an apartment with special accommodations, such as one that’s pet-friendly or has a covered garage, it may take even longer. 

If your timeline for moving is flexible, there are certain times of the year when apartments are not as competitive and rent is cheaper. By being strategic about your search, you can score a better deal as a first-time renter. Summer is a popular time of the year to move because the weather is warmer, which makes it easier to move — but it’s also a highly competitive season for renters. As the school year approaches, the rental market is usually cluttered with high school graduates and college students looking for a place to live. During the winter, you may be able to find an apartment at a reduced cost since demand is typically lower, but there may not be as many apartments available. 

5. Choose a compatible roommate

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends spending no more than 30% of your gross income on rent. When this isn’t possible, teaming up with a roommate is a good way to offset your living expenses. However, before choosing a roommate, consider what compromises you’re prepared to make and what you definitely can’t tolerate. Here are some important questions to ask potential roommates:

  • What are your cleanliness standards?
  • Smoking or non-smoking?
  • Are pets ok?
  • Is it ok to have guests? And how long can they stay?
  • Who is responsible for purchasing furniture and other items for the apartment?

If you decide that having a roommate is a good choice for you, consider drafting a roommate agreement to clarify expectations and ensure both of you are on the same page. 

6. Watch out for rental scams

You may not expect to run into scams, but listings that seem too good to be true often are. Data shows that 5.2 million people have fallen victim to rental scams. Of the millions affected, one million people lost $2,000 or more, and two million lost at least $500. Scams may not be obvious, but here are a few red flags to look for: 

  • Too good to be true (listed at an extremely low rent price)
  • Fake listings (no address or photos listed, or lists a suspicious-looking email address)
  • Duplicate listings (the same apartment, address, photos and description but listed with different contact information or at a different price)
  • Higher-than-normal security deposit requirements (more than 1-2 months’ rent)
  • Listings that don’t require tenant screening

7. Thoroughly review the lease

It’s important that you review your lease to make sure your obligations and expectations are clear. Be aware of your rights as a renter, and look out for these things:

  • Security deposit requirements
  • Rules about subletting
  • Utility responsibilities
  • Maintenance policies
  • Liens or claims to your property
  • Consequences of late/missed rent payments
  • Pet policies, if applicable, and any additional fees for having an animal

If you have specific questions or concerns regarding your lease, consider having a tenant attorney look at it. An attorney can spot any illegal provisions, point out unfavorable provisions, and suggest changes for a more favorable lease. 

8. Don’t skip renters insurance

Some landlords require renter’s insurance. Even if they don’t, it’s still wise to have it — whether you’re a first-time renter or a long-term tenant. Renters insurance policies are relatively cost-effective  (about $15 per month on average) and protects yourself and your belongings in case of damage or theft, and provides other liability coverage in case you or a guest gets hurt on the premises of your rental home. A typical renters insurance policy covers: 

  • Personal property protection: If your personal belongings get stolen, damaged, or destroyed, you’ll be entitled to a payout (minus the deductible).
  • Personal liability: Depending on the terms of your policy, renters insurance will pay for medical bills and lost wages if someone in your home gets injured or hurt. It may also provide coverage if you end up in a lawsuit. 
  • Loss of use: If your apartment becomes uninhabitable for any reason, loss of use coverage helps pay your expenses while you live outside your home, such as in a hotel. 

Before signing up for renters insurance, have a record of the value of your personal inventory and belongings. This way, you can ensure you choose coverage limits that are high enough to offer complete protection. 

9. Pay rent securely online

While you can’t always choose your payment method, ask your landlord if they are willing to use a rent collection platform that allows you to pay rent online. Online rent payments are more secure, and first-time renters will benefit from the transparency of having a record of past on-time payments. Some platforms like Azibo allow renters to schedule automatic payments so they never miss a rent deadline. 

How Azibo can help first-time renters stay organized

Searching and finding the perfect apartment requires patience, diligence, and preparation. By following our tips, first-time renters can make the apartment hunt as seamless as possible and avoid common pitfalls.

Between renters insurance, rent payments, and application documents, renting an apartment can be overwhelming — but Azibo can simplify the process. With our free, easy-to-use platform, you can pay rent online from any device with flexible payment methods. You’ll also get access to other benefits such as renters insurance, as well as the ability to improve your credit score by reporting on-time rent payments through Azibo Credit Boost