First Time Renter Apartment Checklist

By Jared McKinney

Moving out for the first time can be a very intimidating task. Whether if it’s moving off of campus (and away from meal plans) to an apartment in town, or just moving out of the parent’s house for the first time, there’s a lot going on and a lot of new information to consider.
To help make your independence a bit easier, here’s a list of questions and terms that are first apartment essentials to finding a comfortable new place and understanding what goes into renting an apartment. Select the topic below to skip to the section you need, or read all the way through.

  1. My First Apartment Checklist Questions
  2. The Basics of Renting for a First Time Renter
  3. Common Questions To Ask about an Apartment
  4. Apartment Amenities Checklist
  5. Speaking the RentLingo: Apartment Terms

My First Apartment Checklist Questions:

These questions may seem basic, but for the first time renter, they are absolutely crucial.

1. What’s your budget?

This is a very serious question and can make or break the comfortability of your lifestyle. Identify how much you make each month and incorporate how much money you expect to spend on food, fun, and unexpected expenses. Expect to spend $150-200 on food if you plan to eat more than just beans, potatoes and top ramen for every meal.

2. How much is rent going to cost you? How much is the security deposit? How much will the utilities add? Which utilities do you need to pay for?

The ideal ratio of rent to income is 25-30% of your monthly income. If you spend more, it’s going to make the rest of your budgeting much more difficult. Make sure to include your utilities and wifi into your budgeting and note that utilities can change very drastically from climate to climate. To see how much rent you can afford, try RentLingo’s How Much Rent Can I Afford calculator.

3. What are the additional costs of moving in?

The initial move can be costly. Some landlords expect the first and last month’s rent up front and rental insurance. Along with the security deposit, the fees can really add up. Also, take into account the cost of rental applications and credit checks which can range from $40-100.

4. Will you need a co-signer?

Typically, when moving into your first apartment there’s a good chance that you will need a cosigner such as a parent. A cosigner vouches for your lease by signing a contract. If you are unable to pay your rent, the burden legally falls upon the cosigner. Reasons that a co-signer might be required include: your monthly income is more than 1/3 of your rent, you have poor or little credit history, or are a first time renter and lack any rental history to indicate previous responsibility.
Click here to read more about apartment guarantors/co-signers.

5. What is your transportation going to be like?

Taking into consideration how you will move from your home to the places you need to go is very important. If you own a car, make sure to inquire where you can park it and where your guests/roommates will park their cars. Do you intend to use public transportation or a bike? Make sure to get an idea how close you are to bus stations, stops, light rails, etc.

The Basics of Renting for a First Time Renter

You are renting your first apartment, so of course you are going to have a couple questions about how it all works. Here are four questions we get asked often about renting an apartment.

1) How do you rent your first apartment?

While it seems complicated, there are only 5 steps needed to rent an apartment:

  1. Find an apartment with availability and tour the apartment.
  2. If you like the apartment, fill out an apartment application (apartment applications may cost between $30-$100 which also covers the credit check).
  3. Some landlords will ask you to include references to enquire about your character. If you have poor credit, providing some solid references is one of the few ways to persuade a landlord that you will be a good and reliable tenant.
  4. The apartment management will contact you to let you know that you’ve been accepted.
  5. Once you have been accepted, you will have to provide a security deposit and your first month’s worth of rent. Security deposits are often one month’s worth of rent and with pets, this may be even more. So, you will need to have a little saved up in order to rent.

2) What are the requirements / what do you need to rent an apartment?

  • You need a credit score of 620 or more.
  • Your yearly income needs to be more than 40x the amount of your monthly rent. While this isn’t a rule that is set is stone, many landlords use this number to make sure their tenants will not have trouble paying their bills. If you do not have an income (in case of many college students), you will need a cosigner/guarantor.
  • A security deposit.
  • With most apartment complexes, you must be 18 or older unless you have government assistance.

3) When you rent an apartment, who do you make a payment to?

The answer to this question varies from apartment to apartment, but renters usually pay either a property management company that runs apartments for landlords, or renters pay the landlords themselves.

In the past, one would have to mail the landlord or property management company a check each month, but now most of this takes place online. Often, you can set your payment to be automatically taken from your bank account every month, so that you are not penalized with late fees in case you forget.

4) What do you pay for when renting an apartment?

The answer to this question also differs between apartments. Here’s a checklist of the things you will most commonly have to pay for when renting an apartment:

  • Rent
  • Your deposit (often the cost of one month’s worth of rent)
  • Utilities, often referred to as bills such as water, sewer, gas, trash, and electricity
  • Parking spots (usually only in large cities)
  • If you own a pet, you will have to pay a pet deposit and for some apartments, a monthly pet fee

Common Questions To Ask about an Apartment

Here are some more questions to ask before moving in.

  1. What’s the term limit? Is it a year-long contract or month-to-month?
  2. How do I pay rent? Can I pay by check or online?
  3. Are pets allowed? How much is the pet deposit?
  4. If renting with roommates, how many roommates does the landlord permit?
  5. Is there central heating/air? Floor heaters?
  6. What are the quiet hours?
  7. What are the rules regarding trash and recycling?
  8. Is the neighborhood safe?
  9. How close is the nearest grocery store?
  10. Is there enough space to store food for me and my roommates in the kitchen?
  11. Is there enough space to cook?
  12. Is there enough room to store extra stuff?
  13. Is the apartment clean on the tour? It should be spotless. Is the apartment complex clean and well-kept?
  14. Who do I call if something breaks within the apartment? How long does it take to get a response?

For more specific questions to ask when touring an apartment, check out RentLingo’s Questions To Ask When Renting an Apartment.

Apartment Amenities Checklist

Every apartment community has its own unique amenities, but it’s hard to know exactly what type of amenities exist. Luckily, we’ve seen every possible amenity known to apartment living and are here to let you know about all of the options.

Types of Outdoor Amenities

  • Pool
  • Hot Tub
  • Basketball Courts
  • Tennis Courts
  • Dog Parks
  • Outdoor Grilling Areas / Picnic Areas
  • Bike parking / Locking Stations
  • Walking Trails
  • Outdoor Gyms
  • Propane Fire Pit Lounge Areas

Types of Indoor Amenities

  • Office Stations with Computers and Printers
  • Racquetball
  • Game Rooms / Lounges / Billiards Rooms
  • Gyms
  • Free Coffee

Types of Service Amenities

  • Package Drop Offs
  • Laundry Service
  • On-Site Massage

RentLingo: Apartment Terms

If you are going to walk the walk, you have to talk the talk. Learning the lingo isn’t difficult, but it’s good to know your basic terms for your first time moving out.

All Bills Paid: Another term for utilities included. An apartment that has all bills paid means that utilities such as water, sewer, garbage, trash, gas, and electricity are included with the rent.

Application Fee: Many apartment managements require a paid sum to run your rental application. They can range from $25 to $50.

Amenities: The basic definition of amenity is something that is a useful or desirable feature of a facility. Within renting, these can range from in-apartment amenities such as a washer and dryer, microwave or central heating and air, to community amenities such as fitness centers, pools, and movie theaters.

Condominiums: Multi-family housing that allows ownership of individual units - aka condominiums. Residents of condos often have HOA payments they must make as well as civic responsibilities within the condo community. Condos can be both purchased/owned, and rented.

Deposit/Security Deposit: The deposit is a sum that you leave to your landlord/leasing agent to secure your apartment. Often, the deposit goes towards your security deposit, a sum of money that your landlord keeps throughout your stay to cover any damages you make to the apartment. The security deposit also serves to provide some collateral to prevent you from taking off in the middle of your lease and leaving the landlord empty handed.

Lease Agreement: A legally binding contract that is made between a landlord and tenant. Within the lease agreement, you will find all of the terms and conditions related to your apartment.

Landlord/Owner: The owner of your apartment, apartment building, or property. Depending on your type of rental, you may not ever have to encounter your landlord and will instead work through an apartment management group or leasing team.

Leasing Agent: Many apartment complexes have their own leasing office and staff. The leasing agent will be the person that shows you your apartment, facilitates your residency, and answers your questions.

Move-in Specials: Apartments often host move-in specials to attract renters. An example of a move-in special may include $100 off of your first month’s rent.

Section 8 Housing & Low Income Housing: Apartments and rentals with income restrictions in order to provide affordable housing to those that cannot afford market-rate apartments

Studio Apartments: The most basic of apartments, studio apartments are one bedroom, one bath apartments that generally include a small kitchen, but not always.

Sublease / sublet: Subleasing or subletting an apartment is when a renter signs another renter under their name. The original tenant retains responsibility for the rent and condition of the apartment while the renter resides there. Click here learn more about subletting an apartment.

Townhouses & townhomes: Townhomes and townhouses are two story rentals that are more similar to a single-family house than an apartment.

Upgraded / Renovated Apartments: When an apartment is considered upgraded or renovated that means that the portions of the apartment have been recently redone. This can take the form of new lighting fixtures, counter tops, appliances, and cabinetry. An upgraded apartment often is a bit more expensive than its upgraded cohorts.

Utilities / Utilities Included: Utilities include important services such as electricity, trash, sewer, gas and water. Often you are required to pay for these on a monthly basis in addition to your rent. However, if they are included, all you need to worry about is the fixed rent price.

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