Tips for Apartment Seekers
Here are some things for you to consider when renting an apartment:
- Choosing a Neighborhood
- The Lease
- Security Deposits
- Utility Bills
- Apartment Sharing
- Right of Entry
- Leaving the Apartment
- Fair Housing Office
When you choose where you want to live, think about safety, transportation, and, if you have no car, be sure that the things you need (shopping. library, etc.) are near enough to reach easily by walking, taking a bus, or riding a bicycle.
A lease is a binding legal contract between you and the property owner or landlord. When you sign a lease, you are obligated to pay the landlord monthly rent for the duration of the lease even if you move out before the lease ends. The minimum information a lease or rental agreement should include is rental rate, required deposit, length of occupancy, apartment rules, and termination requirements. If corrections or repairs are needed, make the rental contingent upon these corrections and agree (in writing) upon a completion date. Remember that the written word is binding. Be sure to thoroughly read and understand everything before signing documents such as leases and contracts.
Some questions you may want to ask include:
- What is included in the rent (gas, electricity, water, parking, laundry)?
- How many persons may occupy the apartment? What is the guest policy?
- When and how must rent be paid each month? Are you allowed to sublet?
- If roommates share the apartment, who is responsible if one should leave?
- Under what conditions are the security or cleaning deposits refundable?
- What is the length of occupancy? What is the landlord's right of entry?
- What are the rules concerning pets, conduct, and recreational facilities?
- Whom do you call for emergency repairs?
- Are there laundry facilities in the building? If not, are they nearby?
- Is parking available? If not, where do you park?
- Is the apartment located near public transportation?
- How, where, and when do you dispose of trash?
- What are the requirements for full refund of the security deposit?
When you sign a lease, you will typically be required to pay a security deposit, usually equivalent to one month's rent, as well as the rent for the first month. Before moving in, inspect the apartment. Get a checklist, note all damages present in the dwelling and make sure the landlord signs it. Keep a copy for yourself so that you have a record of the apartment's condition and will not be charged (have money taken out of your security deposit when you leave) for any preexisting damage. It is always good to pay rent and other payments by check not by cash. Write the purpose on the front of the check. If you are forced to pay cash, make sure you get a signed and dated receipt from the landlord. The landlord must return the refundable part of the deposit within 21 days of the time you move from an apartment. Any applicable deductions from the deposit must be itemized in writing.
The rent states that rent is payable in advance for each rental period. The rent due on the first of the month, then, is for the month just beginning, not for the month ending. In most cases, rent is considered late on the fifth of the month. Penalties can be assessed after this date. Check your lease for details about when your landlord considers rent late and learn about the penalties in your particular case.
You will probably be responsible for paying the cost of your telephone service and utilities (water, electricity, and gas). Ask your apartment manager ho to get these services turned on. The utility companies may require you to pay a deposit before service is activated. These deposits will be refunded to you or credited to your account when you terminate your service, provided you have paid all of your bills.
If one roommate leaves without paying his/her share of the rent, the landlord has the right to collect the rent from the remaining tenants. Great care should be taken to choose roommates who will fulfill their share of the obligation; otherwise you may be obligated to pay their share of the rent.
The landlord has the right to enter the premises at reasonable times to inspect and make repairs but usually the landlord will not enter your apartment without calling to ask permission or notify you that there is work to be done.
If the landlord fails to make reasonable repairs, the tenant, after repeatedly asking for those repairs in writing, has the option of making the repairs himself (only if the cost does not exceed one month's rent) and applying the amount of the repair as a deduction to the next month's rent. If the repairs are more expansive than that, the tenant has the right to leave the apartment without the 30 days notice.
If the tenant or guests of the tenant damage the premises, the tenant is responsible for making repairs or replacing the damaged items. Make a list with all the damages and ask the landlord to sign and date it, sign it yourself, and keep a copy of the list.
If you have signed an agreement to rent an apartment and then take rent from another person to live in that apartment instead of you, that is called "subletting." Most often a student would do this if wanting to travel during periods when school is not in session but did not want to lose the right to live in that apartment when returning. Subletting is only permitted with the landlord's consent. Many landlords do not allow subletting and even if you have the permission of the landlord, you are responsible for the rent payment each month whether or not you collect it from the subletting person.
Under certain conditions and with proper notice (usually 30 days) a landlord may demand that the tenant leaves or that a higher rent be paid in future months. Similarly, when you intend to end your tenancy, you should write a letter to your landlord 30 days in advance of the time you plan to leave.
The Echo Housing Assistance Center provides assistance to both landlords and tenants and mediates discrimination and other housing complaints. Is located on 770 A Street in Hayward, phone: (510) 581-9380.