Things I Wish I Knew Before Renting My First Apartment
Every time you rent an apartment, you learn something new that you did wrong the time before. There are many types of landlords, maintenance people, problems, and laws that can throw you for a loop. While you can’t prepare yourself for everything ahead of time, there are quite a few things I wish I knew before getting my first apartment.
The first time you go off and live on your own—or at least away from your family—it can be incredibly exciting. Then, within a few months, the weight of your new responsibility can feel like a pretty heavy burden.
When you pick an apartment, you don’t get to pick the owner who rents to you. If you want to move in, you have to deal with them. Some landlords are awesome. You can never know exactly who you’re going to get, but you can root out the bad ones in advance and foster a good relationship with anyone worth renting from.
If you do decide to sign a lease, meet your landlord face to face if at all possible. Get to know the maintenance guy and any other key employees. If you ever need a favor, such as an extra few days to pay your rent or an urgent resolution to a broken toilet, you don’t want to be a faceless tenant to anyone who can help you. When problems occur, they want to think of you as the nice, responsible, happy tenant they met and enjoyed talking to. So pay your rent on time, keep your apartment in good shape, and foster a good relationship with your landlord. If they like you, they’ll be more willing to help you.
Obviously you can’t pick your neighbors. Homeowners can’t either, but when you live in a multi-unit dwelling you’re a little closer to those neighbors than someone who just bought a new house. Furthermore, people who own their property are literally more invested in its upkeep and—especially with condos—who they live near. Renters, regardless of their merits, don’t have a reason to care that much. As a result, your odds of getting an awesome neighbor are considerably worse. First, talk to the neighbors and discuss the problem. Don’t write notes. You can make them as polite as a sugar plum fairy, but your neighbor will still probably read them like you mean to be annoying and rude because you’re criticizing their behavior. Knock on their door and be a nice human being. Let them know what’s bothering you and suggest a fair way to resolve the problem.
If talking to them gets you nowhere, contact your new friend: the landlord. Ask them for help, and—whenever possible—cite a clause in your lease that the neighbor is violating. Most leases specify quiet hours. Whether you’ve got someone blasting dubstep through the walls or a drunk fellow waking you up because he can’t remember which door is his, you have cause for complaint. The landlord will then contact your neighbor and ask them to stop their behaviour.
If this fails, file a complaint with the police. You can call to complain about noise and all sorts of legitimately inappropriate conduct. You shouldn’t resort to law enforcement if you can avoid it, but if your neighbour can’t shut up or you worry about them causing you harm, know that you can put your tax dollars to work to solve the problem.
You might think you know a neighborhood, but if you don’t spend a lot of time in the specific area you’re moving to you may find yourself surprised. Sometimes you’ll find annoying downsides in your neighborhood after you move in and you’ll deal with them. Every neighborhood has its problems. Sometimes, however, you’ll find yourself in a place you have to live for a year and you’ll wish you didn’t. Neighborhoods offer all sorts of surprises, both good and bad, so it helps to get to know them in advance so you don’t pick one you’ll hate—even if the area seems ideal at first glance.
Most people rent in the summer, and—generally speaking—things look great in the summer. But then the seasons change and your once wonderful apartment has problems. You’ll learn the heater isn’t quite as effective as you thought, or snow and rain somehow seep through your poorly-sealed windows. Weather can change your opinion of a place pretty quickly, so you should prepare yourself for these potential problems.
You can’t prevent all weather-related issues. Sometimes your landlord just won’t know, and they may not be forthcoming with the information you want. As previously suggested, this is where talking to existing tenants can help. Ask them if they had an trouble during extreme weather conditions. If so, find out how the landlord handled the situation. If it wasn’t well-managed, maybe you shouldn’t sign a lease. If it was, great.
To be honest, I knew I needed to read my lease when I moved into my first apartment because my dad told me repeatedly. But I didn’t want to read it, and just about everyone I knew at the time just signed theirs without actually paying attention to what it said. Yes, it’s a boring legal document. Yes, you’re unlikely to find any dealbreakers in the text. Still, you need to read your damn lease.
First, if you know what it says you can cite things in it when there are problems later. For example, the aforementioned quiet hours policy make it easy to prove you’re right in the event of a noise issue. If you don’t read the lease, you get to go back and search through it every time you need to see if it supports you in the event of an issue. This will waste more time than reading it before signing.
Second—and more importantly—you can request changes. I’m going to say this again for effect: you can request changes to your lease. Just because your landlord went through the trouble to download a lease template off the internet, change a few words, and print it out for you to sign doesn’t mean it’s written in stone.
If you don’t like something, cross it out or change it to what you do want. Next, tell your landlord why you changed it and ask them to either initial those changes with you or print a new and improved version with said changes. They don’t have to agree, but they probably will if your request is reasonable.
So read your damn lease, because you might be able to change the stuff you don’t like.
While it might make renting seem like a horrible nightmare, if you’ve never rented before you shouldn’t worry too much. It can get overwhelming at times, but it’s not as much work as owning a place. It’s also a non-issue on most days. Just do your research, ask lots of questions, and the problems you do encounter should be pretty minor and easy to resolve.