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Things to Consider When Renting

If you are considering renting a house or apartment, it’s important to know the basics of how the process works before approaching a landlord or rental agent. There are certain financial and legal aspects that you should understand before signing a lease that will help protect you and your wallet.

A lease is a legally binding document that outlines the obligations of both the owner and renter of the rental property. Each state has its own tenant rights, laws, and protections, so you should research those before you begin. In addition, you may want to familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Actand the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; federal laws that seek to protect renters from discriminatory practices. If at some point in the rental process you feel your rights have been violated, contact the HUD office nearest you or speak with a lawyer.

Choosing Your Apartment

Although your local newspaper should have plenty of listings for rental homes and apartments, you may want to begin your search online so you can compare different amenities, prices, and even view pictures of rentals you are considering. Some popular sites are:  realtor.com and rent.com.  If you are having trouble finding an affordable rental unit, you may want to contact a local public housing agency, or you can search for rental help in your state through the HUD website.

Some criteria you may want to consider when viewing apartments:

  • Is the neighborhood safe? – You can research local crime statistics online or in the community newspaper, visit the local police precinct, or even asking people who currently live in the area.
  • What are your privacy rights? – Can the landlord show up unannounced or do they have to give you prior notice?
  • Does the landlord allow pets in the building? If so, are there any breed restrictions.  Is there an additional security deposit associated with living with a pet?

Lease Agreements*

A lease is a legal document outlining the agreement between you and the landlord or property owner. As the document is usually prepared for the landlord, it will tend to favor their interests. Therefore it’s important that you carefully review the document, make sure you understand the terms, and ask questions if you need clarification. Remember, once the lease is signed, you may not be able to dispute any of the provisions contained in it. If you believe the lease contains something illegal or based on a deception on the part of the landlord, you should consult a lawyer to learn more about what rights you may have.

Each state has its own tenant rights, laws, and protections. And tenants as outlined on USA.gov, who lease or rent property are protected against discrimination by The Fair Housing Act. If you feel your rights have been violated, you may write a letter or telephone the HUD office nearest you.

Get any and all agreements with your landlord in writing. If they tell you they will pay for repairs or cover a fee and it is not specifically outlined in the lease, follow up any such oral agreement with a letter. This way, if there are any misunderstandings later, you have documentation to back up your claim. Renting can be a great living arrangement and much less of a commitment than purchasing a home, but you are still entering into a legal agreement. When you agree to rent, make sure that you understand what you are agreeing to before signing a lease.

Things to consider:

  • Are there any provisions allowing the landlord to change terms of the lease?
  • What are your responsibilities regarding maintenance, such as lawn care and cleaning?
  • Who do you contact if there is a need for repairs such as plumbing, heating or a major appliance?
  • What is the policy and requirements for getting your security deposit returned?
  • When do you have to provide notice of your desire to extend or terminate the lease?
  • Some states require that landlords provide proof that dangerous materials or chemicals (such as lead paint) have been properly removed from the residence. Be sure to research renter’s rights laws in your state, or speak with a lawyer.

Protecting Your Wallet and Your Possessions*

Security Deposits

All landlords require a security deposit to be used against any possible damage; the amount is generally equal to one month’s rent but does vary, so be sure you know what it is in advance so you can save the appropriate amount.

Rent & Utilities

Typically rent is paid on a monthly basis. There may also be conditions contained in the lease with regards to how late you can pay rent before an additional fee is charged. The lease should also make it clear who is responsible for paying utility bills such as electricity, gas, and land-line phones.

Renter’s Insurance

You will also want to consider purchasing renter’s insurance to cover your possessions. Should you experience a fire, or other disaster that causes damage to the apartment, your landlord’s homeowner’s policy will cover their losses, but your possessions will not be included. Likewise, should you suffer a break-in or robbery; you’ll want to make sure your valued items are protected. The good news is that renter’s insurance is less expensive than homeowner’s insurance and some policies also cover you in the case of a care break-in too.

Credit Checks

Some, but certainly not all, landlords will want to run a credit check on all potential renters to try and ensure that they enter into a lease agreement with someone they believe will be a responsible tenant. Generally they’re looking for evidence that a potential tenant has exhibited consistent and reliable behavior, for example: managing their other bills consistently, or maintaining steady employment. It’s important to note that according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) it is illegal for your landlord to run a credit check without your permission.


*This article is not intended to be, and is not, legal advice. Consult an attorney for specific information on contracts, agreements and policies pertaining to your renting experience. 

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