What do you need?
Before looking for an apartment, room, or house to rent, you should determine how much rent you can afford. You should aim to spend up to 30% of your income towards rent and utilities.
- Size: How many bedrooms do I need?
- Location: Is it important to live near work, child care, family, doctor, or school?
- Transportation: How will you get to the grocery store, hospital, bank, or other businesses? Should housing be located near a bus line? In a walkable area? Accessible by bicycle? Is there parking easily available?
Where To Look:
You can research apartments using apartment guides, magazines, or directories. The apartment guides and magazines are free and can be found in most grocery stores. Apartment locators are alternative tools for narrowing down your housing choices. Apartment locators are usually a free service to the consumer and are paid by the apartment complex based on referrals. However, it is still a good idea to ask an apartment locator whether you will have to pay a fee for their services. Oftentimes, in order to locate housing based on your needs, apartment locators ask you for minimum search criteria such as preferred location, number of bedrooms needed, and price range. To find an apartment locator in your area, look in the telephone book’s yellow pages under “apartment locator.” Another way to conduct a housing search is via the Internet. Some locating services on the Internet offer incentives for using their services.
What Can You Do if Rents Are Too High?
If you are low-income, you may want to look at apartment buildings and/or landlords that participate in housing assistance programs.
The local Housing Authority may offer different types of housing assistance programs, such as public housing and Section 8 vouchers. Public housing was established to provide rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. If you qualify, your rent is based on your family’s anticipated gross annual income less deductions, if any.
Section 8 vouchers are a housing assistance program whereby the tenant pays a percentage of their income (usually 30 percent, depending on your family size and other factors) for rental housing. The Housing Authority pays the remainder of the rent directly to the landlord. Section 8 vouchers stay with the tenant and allow him/her to find and choose which affordable, privately-owned rental housing he/she wants to rent. However, not all apartment complexes or landlords participate in the Section 8 voucher program.
In order to apply for public housing or the Section 8 voucher program, you must contact your local housing authority. You can get more information about applying for public housing or the Section 8 voucher program at your local Public Housing Authority.
Calling Around: Questions to Ask
Once you have determined which apartment complexes you wish to inquire about, it is a good idea to call the complex and ask whether there are any vacancies and confirm rent prices and square footage.
Accessibility and Reasonable Accommodations
If you have a disability that affects your mobility, hearing, or vision, investigate whether the building has any apartments that meet your accessibility needs. If the building does not have any accessible units, you may request permission to make reasonable modifications, at your expense, to the apartment in order to make it accessible to you, due to your disability.
In some cases, landlords may be required to pay for the modifications. This depends on when the building was built for first occupancy or whether it receives federal funding.
If an apartment building sounds like it will meet your individual needs, schedule an appointment to view their units. It is important to confirm that the unit and/or apartment complex does in fact have the features that you need and/or desire.
Download Our Free Apartment Search Checklist!
Everything you should look for when viewing an apartment – all the details you need to know about safety, plumbing, electrical, and maintenance.
Applications and Tenant Screening
Once you have selected an apartment, it is almost always required to fill out an application and pay an application fee. This fee covers the cost of verifying information such as rental history, income, criminal background, and credit. Many property managers check all of these criteria in order to assess your likelihood of fulfilling a lease agreement.
Signing a Lease
When you are ready to rent, you will sign a lease agreement and, in most cases, pay a security deposit. The lease agreement is a contract between you (the tenant) and the landlord that states what your responsibilities are under the lease, such as the date by which you must pay the rent, the rent amount due, the length of your tenancy, etc. In addition, the lease agreement details the consequences of breaking your lease agreement.
Read Your Lease!
It is very important for you to read and understand the entire lease agreement and agree with the lease terms before signing the lease. The security deposit is an advance of money that is intended to secure your performance under the lease. Upon the successful completion of your lease term and your move-out of the apartment, the landlord is required to refund your security deposit to the address you have provided within 45 days after the date you move out of the unit. However, before returning the security deposit, the landlord can deduct from the security deposit any damages or charges that the tenant is legally liable for under the lease, with the exception of normal wear or tear.
Photo credit: Housing4Hoosiers