Adulting: What I Wish I’d Known Before Renting My First Apartment

I know what it’s like when you’re dreaming about moving into your own apartment for the first time.

You have the freedom to set your own schedule. To stock your fridge with what you want to eat (chocolate – or chia seeds?). To decorate your living space to reflect your unique style. To enjoy nights in with the girls and, of course, nights out without having to answer awkward questions when you creep home in the small hours.

Those are the blissful moments I had in mind when I rented my first apartment. And all these things are divine. But they only tell half of the story (the rose-tinted half) and there are some annoying things I didn’t foresee – and could have prevented.

But they only tell half of the story (the rose-tinted half) and there are some annoying things I didn’t foresee – and could have prevented.

So, after three years of finding out the hard way what it’s really like to live under my own rules, here is what I wish I had known before getting my hands on those keys….

Not All Landlords are Created Equal

Your landlord has a fair bit of power and if you think mom and dad can make your life miserable at times, then just imagine what a stranger – aka your landlord – could stoop to. For example, one of my landlords would literally patrol the complex and sit on the windowsill for hours on end, casting an eye inside to see what we were up to. He was so damn nosy! On the other hand, one of my landlords a couple years later was completely invisible. That was great until the day he decided he was finished with renting and decided to gather up my possessions in a trash sack – lease or no lease – so he could sell up.

Don’t get me wrong; the majority of my landlords have been great but it is wise to do some digging. Literally knock on the doors of existing tenants (or grab them as they pass by) and ask them what the owners are like. While you’re at it, you can cover the next section too…

have you talked with neighbors to get a sense of the building’s vibe?

Try Your Darndest to Avoid the Neighbors from Hell

While you’re getting the lowdown on your landlord, make sure you ask a couple renters about the neighbors (and neighborhood) too. Unlike homeowners, who have a vested interest in looking after their home and getting on with other folk, renters may be less than respectful – of either their own apartment or the lives of those who live the other side of their paper-thin walls.

Is there a particular person who gets drunk and rowdy? Is there loud music blaring out at all hours (parties soon lose their appeal when you’re forced to listen to someone else’s every other night). Of course, it is wise to avoid being the neighbors from hell too–or you could find yourself back at home sooner than you think – and with your tail between your legs.

turns out these alt ragers are not lulling me to sleep

Household Stocks, Sadly, Do Not Replenish Themselves

There’s nothing like running out of toilet paper to drive home the realization that basic necessities aren’t always on the forefront of our minds, but they should be. Living on your own – or with friends – brings with it the need to organize your household supplies and come up with a system. Otherwise you’ll be continually popping out to the local store to replenish items you’ve run out of (coffee, razors, cleaning products, etc.) This is not only inconvenient but costs more too ( the “convenience” store jacks up prices because they know you’ll pay for the “convenience” part!) so the sooner you can get on top of this process the easier – and more economical – your life will be. If you like the ease of online lists, there are numerous apps and online organizers that can help you with this. Two free apps that come to mind are Hub and Restock by BarnesWarePro. However, if ‘to do’ lists or post-it notes are more your speed, do that. It’s about sticking to what works for you. 

Rental Viewings Shut Down Your Brain + Memory Center

So you’ve stayed on top of things and made a mental note of everything:

  • You checked for signs of damp… all clear!
  • You ask how long the lease was for and whether rent includes electricity and trash removal… done!
  • You checked which appliances are installed (and that they were in working order of course)… yep yep!
  • And you found out whether the landlord has to give notice before popping round for a catch-up coffee… check!

Then you arrive at the new apartment, get hit by a wave of adrenaline and your brain turns to jello. A few weeks later, you click on your stove and there’s nothing happening…uh-oh, you’ve just learned the value of a checklist.

If I had known how much the sheer excitement (and fear) of simply viewing an apartment would have numbed my mind, I would definitely have hunted on the internet for a downloadable checklist and gone through it box by box. The University of Pittsburgh has actually published a comprehensive renters’ checklist that I recommend. Getting this right is important because, as the next section points out, once you’ve signed the lease you’re pretty much committed to seeing your tenancy through – or paying a lot of money to escape. 

Leases are Not Set in Stone…Until you Sign Them

have you read everything and used the lease in your favor?

Before you sign the lease you are in a much stronger position to improve your rental experience, and if you are in a “buyer’s market” your lease becomes a bargaining chip to do just that. Many landlords download a lease template from the internet and are more than happy to amend clauses if it will secure your rental money (especially if you’re a student and the new semester starts next week!).

Some parts of the lease will be legal requirements and non-negotiable, but others can be struck out or modified with the stroke of a pen, providing you and your landlord are in agreement. Prefer to have trash, electricity and water included in rent? Ask the question; your rent will probably need to go up but you’ve just saved yourself a whole lot of hassle. Would your landlord loosen up on pets to allow your house-trained pooch to move in with you? It’s a possibility. Go through your lease with a fine-tooth comb before signing it and pick out items where you might have some leverage. International movers who moving to USA from Mexico or Europe might want to have the lease translated into their language to avoid misunderstandings.

Tenants Have Rights Too

As the previous point suggests, your lease is not just a boring legal document written to make sure you pay your rent on time. It is an important negotiated agreement and contains crucial information about your rights as a tenant. Making a note of those rights can be useful when communicating with your landlord in the future. For example, “I notice that there is a break clause in my lease if requested maintenance work is not carried out within two weeks,” can have an almost magical effect when, “Please will you come and fix my bathroom sink this week?” has failed to get a response.

On the flipside, you also have responsibilities too, so make sure you know what these are and are happy to abide by them before putting pen to paper.

Learning from mistakes is part of life but isn’t it so much better to learn from other people’s mistakes than from your own?! I hope my mistakes will help you enjoy your new-found freedom while avoiding some common pitfalls. Happy moving, Bossery!

This post was written exclusively for Like A Boss Girls by Pamela Taylor

Pamela is a professional writer who’s a little obsessed with keeping things organized and orderly. Her motto? Never. Stop. Moving. She currently writes for MudanzasGou, the oldest moving company in Mexico.