How To Be A Superstar Tenant

Get ready to rent by educating yourself about the process and resources available before you sign your first apartment lease.

You women unpacking a box in her new apartment.

Renting your first apartment is both exciting and intimidating. Educating yourself about the process and resources available can ensure your experience goes smoothly.

The Search

Before you Google, think about these factors:

  • Location: Will you be close to classes, work, etc.? Do you feel safe in the neighborhood? What is the noise level like?
  • Budget: Be realistic about how much you can afford. Living with roommates is a great way to split costs. Which amenities do you need (parking) versus want (rooftop pool)?
  • Space: How many bedrooms? What kind of storage/closet space do you need?

The Lease

You’ve found a place to call home. You’re ready to make it official. Before you sign on the dotted line:

  • Check online reviews of your rental property/landlord to make sure they’re viewed positively by former tenants.
  • Read the lease agreement carefully -- your money, credit score and future ability to rent are all at stake.
  • Ask a trusted person to review the lease with you or seek guidance from your school’s tenant resource center (if available).

The Move-In

You’ve got keys and a new address! Before assembling furniture and finding the perfect spot for your beloved goldfish:

  • Get renter’s insurance: This add-on provides substantial protection of your belongings and is usually affordable (more affordable than paying to replace everything you own after an accident).
  • Document everything: Your landlord should provide you with paperwork on move-in day to note pre-existing damages; if they don’t—ask. Write down every imperfection noticed and take photos for backup. Email the document to your landlord so you both have a copy and record of when you sent it.
  • Understand your rights: Most schools have some variation of a tenant resource center for students to learn more about off-campus housing. Generally, states require the landlord to provide safe housing that’s in good repair, fix major problems in a timely manner, and give ample notice before entering the premises and before eviction.

Paying Rent

Amid setting up streaming services and filling the fridge with your favorites, don’t forget your monthly obligation to pay rent:

  • Your lease agreement specifies how (check, mobile, web) and when (monthly, beginning/end of month, etc.) rent is to be paid.
  • If web or check payments are expected, have an account Keep enough money in there to cover your rent expenses (tip: set up low balance notifications as a cya) and know how to write a check. UW Credit Union offers checking account options with features like online payments, mobile banking, and budgeting tools included.
  • How will you remember to make payments? You can set reminders in your phone or set up recurring payments through your account if available.

Moving Out

You’re packing boxes and planning for your next adventure. Here’s how to get that security deposit back:

  • Request a check-out sheet from your landlord before moving day so you know where to focus.
  • Arrange a pre-moving walk-through with your landlord to assess the property together.
  • Take good care of your rental all year long!

Your first rental experience can be rewarding. It’s a great way to build your credit, manage a budget and learn valuable lessons about property ownership.

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