I’ll admit that I had no idea what I was doing the first time I signed a lease. My first two years of college I lived with my older brother who took care of finding the place, signing the lease and paying bills. Before my junior year he had to move for work, so I decided to find a place with a couple of friends.
We knew we needed three bedrooms and a washer and dryer. But we kind of forgot about air conditioning, to look into how the place was heated and if there were parking spaces.
Surprise, there were no parking spots! The two of us who had cars ended up renting spots down the street for about $80/month. Oh, and there was no air conditioning, which is pretty common with older rental units in Morgantown. And the gas heaters, which I lovingly called “death traps,” were very, very old, loud and smelly.
I actually don’t know why we decided on that place, other than the fact that it was a five-minute walk from campus. When we went to see it, it was trashed – piles of fast food wrappers filled the living room floor. Dirt and leaves were all over the entryway, since there was no screen door to keep debris out. This was a learning experience. I was definitely more careful when I looked for my next apartment.
I ran into this article from The Athens News yesterday – “The Top 10 Thing To Know Before Signing A Lease.” While this publication is based in Ohio, it does have some helpful tips for anyone looking into renting for the first time.
The Athens News suggests asking:
- What type of lease is it?
- What amenities does it include?
- When are the move-in and move-out dates?
- What utilities are included with rent?
- What are the terms of subleasing?
- When is rent due?
- Is there a security deposit?
- Are they pet-friendly?
- Can I decorate the place?
- Ask questions and more questions.
You should definitely come up with a list of requirements you have when looking for a place to rent, and a list of questions you want to ask. I know it’s difficult when you’re on the spot after looking at an apartment, and you’re flustered and can’t think of any questions. Here are a few things from my personal experience that you might want to also look into:
- If there is a pet deposit, will it be refunded? One apartment I looked at had an $800 nonrefundable pet deposit because the carpets were always replaced when a pet owner moved out. (I honestly don’t think that place even had $800 worth of carpet in it to begin with.)
- What happens if a roommate stops paying rent/breaks the lease? You may think your friend would never do this to you, but so did I, and it happened. And I almost lost my security deposit until that person finally paid off all their rent. This should be written in the lease, but make sure to ask – you may be forced to live with a stranger if your landlord decides to sublet that empty bedroom or paying extra.
- Look for cable, phone and electrical outlets. You don’t want to only have one outlet in your room for your computer, lamp, alarm clock, phone charger, etc.
- Is there a washing machine and dryer? Are they shared with other units? Are they free to use or coin operated?
- Is there parking for each roommates’ car?Is it on-street or private? Where can visitors park? Some neighborhoods in Morgantown have Blue Line Parking, which is affordable and pretty easy to find in some areas. Unfortunately, there’s nothing about Blue Line Parking on the city’s website, so I’m going to go off track for a second and explain what it is:
- For $5 per year, you get a permit sticker that allows you to park in spaces that have blue lines on the curb – they look like handicap spots, but they are not. The city has a book that lists every rental unit that it eligible for Blue Line parking permits, and the number that is allowed for each unit. When signing up, you must have proof of residence. You also receive one guest pass per rental unit, which hangs from the rearview mirror.
- Is there central air? If not, are there windows where you can put in an air conditioning unit with outlets nearby? It’s against the city code to plug an a/c unit into an extension cord, and the cords are typically pretty short, so you want to make sure that there’s an outlet close enough to reach. Also make sure that window is easy to open and not painted closed. Yes, that happens.
Once you decide on a place, you may want to walk through with your landlord and write down all things that need repaired – holes / repainting / broken cabinets / stains on the carpet – before you begin moving in your things. Date the list and make a copy for both yourself and the landlord so that if those things are never fixed it’s not taken out of your deposit.
Have any helpful tips I left out? Leave them in the comments!