Leases, Landlords And Laibilities - Part 1Go Back To Guides
Finally, you’ve graduated and are ready for a place of your own and some real independence. A place of your own can become a reality, but you need to look very carefully at the costs involved in this move.
Budget experts agree that your monthly rental should normally amount to no more than your weekly (gross, before taxes) salary. In other words, if your salary is $2,000 a month, your budget will allow you to spend about $500 for rent. If you follow this formula, does your budget allow you to rent and maintain an apartment on your own, or is it unrealistic to do so? Most of the new graduates I know could not manage, financially, to live without one or two roommates. You may have dreamed of a place of your own, but that dream may have to be deferred for a while. Besides, sharing an apartment with the right person or persons can be a very positive experience.
Again, you will need to think about your priorities and determine which issues dealing with the quality of your life are most important to you at this time. If you have $500 a month to spend on rent and you must live alone, would you consider leasing a very small, studio-type apartment?
Would you consider living in a house with an elderly person, where you would have your own room or rooms, possibly rent free, in exchange for providing prearranged services? There are many possibilities out there. Creatively exploring your options can be fun once you’re sure of the direction you’d like to pursue.
It’s a good idea to prepare a checklist of those things that are important to you in your search for housing. Some of the items to consider are safety, parking, laundry facilities, the availability of public transportation, and the possibility of renting a furnished apartment. Later on, when you start looking at a number of places, you’ll want to consult this list.
Start looking for an apartment as soon as you know where you will be living after graduation. Keep your eyes and ears open and communicate your needs to friends and relatives. The best way to locate a suitable apartment is through word of mouth: Not only can you learn about the good and bad points of the rental firsthand, but you will be able to avoid a realtor’s fee, which could be sizeable. So start spreading the news!
Many newspapers have specific days of the week when rental listings are published. Saturday and Sunday are usually the best days to look in daily papers. You may want to check publication dates for suburban newspapers, which are usually published weekly or biweekly.
Check out bulletin boards in your college if you’re going to remain in the area. If you’re moving to another location, you might want to contact colleges in that vicinity. Hospitals, too, often have listings of available apartments as well as notices posted by staff who are seeking roommates. We’ll talk about roommate selection later on.
The local Yellow Pages of the telephone directory can provide you with a list of real estate agencies that can help you locate housing. Usually, there is a "finder’s fee" charge for the realtor’s service. In some geographic areas, however, it is customary for the landlord to pay the fee. Make sure you understand what the situation is before you go to look at any apartments. Fees can range from $50 to a full month’s rent, and they can be negotiated. It’s always a good idea to let the realtor know what your price range is before you start looking at apartments.
Once you find a suitable apartment, be prepared to pay the first and last month’s rent before you move in. Sometimes you will also have to pay a security deposit that will be set aside to cover any damages to the apartment during your stay. You may want to check with the local housing authority so you can learn the rules governing security deposits, such as the maximum dollar amount allowed, returning the deposit after you’ve moved out of the apartment, and the possibility of accrual of interest on the deposit while it is in the hands of the landlord.
It’s important that you carefully inspect the apartment and make note of any existing damage. You probably have experience filling out housing inventory forms for your college’s Office of Student or Residential Life. Create a similar list, have the landlord sign it, and make sure you have a copy. One realtor who specializes in rentals suggests that you videotape any damage you notice in the apartment before you move in. This will give you a visual record of damages you shouldn’t have to pay for when you are ready to move on.
When you start looking at apartments, make sure you have a checkbook with you. If you find a place you really like, you will have to put a deposit on it as soon as possible. Deposits can range from $50 to a full month’s rent, and should always be applied to your first month’s payment. It’s a good idea to find out if the money is refundable in case you change your mind and, if so, how long it will remain refundable.
Before you write that check, take out the list of priorities you made before you started searching actively. Does this apartment or house offer those things that are important to you? This is also the time to get any additional information you’d like about the rental. Some questions you might ask include:
- What is the average monthly cost of utilities?
- How is the place heated, by gas, oil, or electricity? What appliances are permitted?
- Are utilities included in the monthly rent?
- Does the landlord permit pets?
- Who lives in the same house? On the same floor?
- What does the landlord expect of you as a tenant?
- Is the neighborhood fairly safe?
If you’re not sure of the neighborhood, you might want to call or visit the local police station where you can get additional information about the general safety of the area. Don’t be afraid to ask about the nature of crimes committed in the area. Are most offences merely parking tickets and traffic violations, or have there been a rash of robberies in the neighborhood recently? I know a number of people who have consulted the police and received helpful advice concerning areas to avoid. Alumni, too, can be helpful in steering you in the right direction as far as neighborhood and safety are concerned. Don’t hesitate to contact your college’s alumni office and get a listing of people who live in the area you’re considering.
It’s helpful for you to know that landlords fall into several categories. An owner-occupant is someone who owns and lives on the property you are renting. This kind of landlord is usually very interested in keeping the property in good condition, and will probably expect you to do the same. On the positive side, the owner-occupant is most often around when you need to have repairs made in your apartment. Sometimes, however, you may feel that your privacy is being invaded. It’s a good idea to communicate with the landlord and work out rights and privileges from the start. Can he enter your apartment at any time, or must you be home? How does she feel about your inviting several friends to stay with you for a weekend? These certainly are not major issues, but it is always helpful to know what the rules are.
If you choose to move into a large apartment complex, you will most likely deal with a professional landlord or superintendent who lives in the complex and makes repairs when you need them. Here, too, it’s a good idea to find out what kind of access this person has before you sign the lease. You might also want to ask about the neighbors: Are there other young people in the complex? Are there any facilities on site for working out? If not, how far away is the nearest gym?
An absentee landlord is one who does not live in the building he rents. If this is the case, it’s important to know whom to call when things break and need repair. You may want to contact the previous tenant and inquire about the maintenance of the property and the landlord’s response to requests made by the tenant. If there are other apartments in the complex, you could also ask one of the neighbors about the landlord’s track record when it comes to caliber of services performed. If you get some negative feedback, you may want to continue your search elsewhere.
A lease is similar to the housing contract you signed if you lived on campus: This time, though, it is a contract between tenant and landlord instead of an agreement between student and college. A lease is considered a legal document, so pay close attention to its content. It should clearly state your rights and responsibilities. In order to be a binding contract between you and a landlord, a lease should contain the following items:
- The address of the premises, with a brief description of the number of rooms
- The names of the lessor and lessee
- The length of time of the lease, or term of occupancy
- The amount of the monthly rent, when it is due, and to whom it is paid
- Signatures of landlord and tenant
These five provisions make up a standard lease. The remainder of the lease usually consists of tenant responsibilities, and is known as the fine print. Here again, as with your credit card contract, it’s important to make sure you read the fine print carefully. Also, be sure to keep a copy of the lease in a safe place so that you can refer to it if questions arise later on.
Excerpted from Reality 101: The Ultimate Guide to Life After College, by Fran Katzanek.New York: Simon & Schuster (Kaplan Books).Copyright 2000 by Fran Katzanek.