Renting an apartment: Financial pitfalls and how to avoid them

Renting can present several financial pitfalls that become apparent only after you've signed a lease agreement.

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WASHINGTON, May 31, 2017 – Finding a suitable apartment to rent would seem, on the surface, to be an easy process. As long as the monthly rental cost is reasonable and the apartment looks good, it’s usually a no-brainer. But renting can present several financial pitfalls that become apparent only after you’ve signed a lease agreement. These can end up costing you a considerable amount of money as well as time and hassle.

Here are some steps you should take to avoid the pitfalls that can come with renting.

Avoid renting without seeing the accommodation for yourself

If you have not set foot in the prospective apartment or seen it from the outside, you can miss a lot of information that would be important to you.

Pictures of a rental pad can be deceptive. The photographer almost certainly will photograph only the best parts of the apartment and avoid the bad areas. Also, the pictures might have been taken years ago ago and will not show subsequent changes to the space, such as any damage that might have occurred.

Even if the apartment is located in a good area — for example if it is situated in one of the best places to live in Washington state and you want to move there — there is no guarantee that the apartment will be suitable for you when you arrive. Indeed, the street on which the apartment is situated might be out of character with the general nature of the neighborhood.

Remember, too, that odors, such as mold or even odors from a nearby restaurant, cannot be captured inn pictures and will not appear on any written description of the property.

Unless you are aware of these factors, you might find that once you move into the apartment, you will want to move out again as soon as possible. But you will likely have signed a lease that binds you to pay for the apartment for at least two months and possibly a lot more. Therefore, if you have to spend money to drive or fly there, it might be worth the investment to do so before you sign that lease.

It also is a good idea to meet the agent or landlord of the property in person to make sure you are not falling victim to some sort of scam.

Check for items that might not be apparent on a short visit

Even if you inspect an apartment in person, you might miss features that are apparent only on occasion or during certain times of the day. Proximity to a major arterial, for example, might not be immediately apparent at 10 a.m., but the freeway noise might be significant in the evening hours. Light from an adjacent hallway might flood your bedroom. You might find you will have to spend money on black-out curtains to dampen noise and block out the evening light in several rooms.

Ask around the area to check on such drawbacks. Neighbors might not be entirely honest, but will give you some feedback you can use in making your decision.

Determine whether you will fit into the apartment

If you are bringing your own furniture to the apartment, make sure it will fit. If the apartment is small, your couch might be too long for the living room or your king-size bed might not fit into the bedroom.

Take measurements of the large, important items you currently own, and make sure that you will not be faced with having to buy new furniture when you move in to your new place.

Also, check whether a garage accompanies the apartment and is included in the rent. If it’s not, check out how much extra you will have to pay and determine if your car will fit into it.

Another factor to consider is the apartment’s proximity your workplace and/or public transit. Public transit will generally keep down your commuting costs. But if you have to use your car to commute a long distance, the cost of gas and maintenance could be significant.

Go over the apartment’s condition with the landlord or agent

On the day before you move in, go over the flaws you note in the apartment. Make sure the agent or landlord records all the existing stains on the carpet, the dings in the wall, and the holes left from previous pictures hung on the wall. Where necessary, take photographs or even a video to record the move-in condition of the apartment.

Do not forget about any pictures on the wall — or the absence of pictures. You do not want to be accused of removing any that belong to the landlord when you leave.

If you fail to check out all these factors, when you leave you might find yourself being blamed for damage you did not cause. In addition, without compiling an agreed-upon list with the landlord present, you might be faced with an outsized repair bill when you move out, and you will not be show you did not cause the damage you’re being blamed for.

Also determine what works in the apartment and what does not. Is the stove capable of cooking a meal? Will the refrigerator keep your food cold? Do the toilets run on? If so, will they be repaired before you move in, or will you have to fix them and how much will that cost you? Get the landlord’s commitments in writing if you can.

Check out the apartment rules

Find out the rules involved paying your monthly rental bill. By knowing when the rent is due and the latest day you can pay it without penalty, you can avoid incurring late fees, which can be substantial.

Also, ascertain whether you are responsible for paying the electricity, the water or any additional utility fees. Water is typically included, while other utilities, and sometimes cable, are not.

Ask for a copy of any of the apartment development’s rules that cover items like permission to have roommates, hanging towels drying over the balcony rail, or late night parties, including apartment mandated noise curfews. You might be fined for disobeying these rules, so it’s best to know about them right up front, and preferably prior to signing that lease.

In short, make sure you know your responsibilities before you move into your nest apartment to avoid incurring unnecessary and often outrageous costs or penalties.

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