7 Things Every Apartment Renter Should Know

If you’re a renter, you’re in good company. More than 95 million Americans rent their homes, according to the American Tenants Association. Maybe you live in a part of the country where the costs of home ownership are out of reach. Perhaps you don’t have the time or desire to tend to a home. Or maybe you’re not in a position to commit to a location for more than a few years.

Whatever your reason, renting is a perfectly reasonable and relatively non-committal way of living out on your own. But just because your home is in someone else’s name – ahem, your landlord’s – doesn’t mean you relinquish all rights. Here are seven tips that can make your renting experience easier and more affordable:

1. Protect Your Stuff with Renter’s Insurance

Nearly two in three college-age adults have no insurance protection, despite almost half reporting belongings worth more than $10,000, according to a recent study from Allstate Insurance. The reason? Misperception of cost.

The truth is renter’s insurance is perfectly affordable; the national average is just $16 per month, according to Allstate. And the insurance protects your stuff against fire, theft and vandalism. Think of it this way: If a fire sweeps across your apartment destroying everything in it, is the ability to replace all of your stuff worth just four fancy cups o’joe a month?

2. Lease Your Apartment during Low-Season

Just like there’s a purchase season for homes, there’s a high- and low-season for renting. These seasons vary depending on your location, but typically follow demand. For example, in northern states, high season is often in the summer or when college kids are scooping up apartments. Low season, on the other hand, ordinarily occurs during the winter.

With apartment leasing, inventory dictates price, so your best bet is to lease your place during the low-season. Not only will you have a greater variety of apartments available to choose from, but you’ll be in a better position to negotiate price.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

You’re likely stuck with your rent payment for at least a year, so get the best deal you can! Before you start negotiations, make sure you have all the information your landlord has about you, including your credit report and score. To take a peek at your credit report and score for free, no strings attached, swing by Quizzle.com.

To be a smart negotiator, you don’t have to be a seasoned salesman. Here are five tips to help you get the best deal:

  • Know Your Neighborhood: Find out what comparable apartments are going for in your area, including any specials that are running.
  • Know Your Apartment Complex: Is your complex completely occupied or are there a lot of units available? The more empty apartments your landlord has, the more willing he may be to negotiate.
  • Time It Right: Make sure to give yourself enough time to negotiate so if dealings fall through, you can find another place.
  • Promote Yourself: Tell your landlord why you make a good tenant and give him reasons to keep you around.
  • Think beyond Money: Your landlord might not be able to budge on rent, but may be willing to give you other perks like free storage, flexible move-in/out dates, premium parking or new carpet.

4. When Money’s Short, Talk to Your Landlord

This tactic doesn’t count if you spent your rent at the mall, bar or casino. But if you’re truly strapped for cash, talk to your landlord. There’s no guarantee a landlord can or will help, but if you don’t ask, you’re never giving him or her a chance. If you’ve experienced a hardship, your landlord may be willing to work out a payment plan with you, cut you some slack on your rent payment due date or help you get into an apartment that’s better suited for your situation.

5. Know Your Lease Terms and Termination Fees

Many landlords offer a variety of lease terms: six months, one year, two years, etc. Make sure you choose the lease term that fits your situation. Typically, the longer the lease term, the sweeter the deal. But, if life happens and you need to bail, breaking your lease could cost you. Before signing anything, take a look at your lease-break fee. Can you negotiate it? Is the potential cost worth it?

6. Know Your Rights

Just because you don’t own your home, doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. For example, if you rent a home from a landlord who then lets the house go into foreclosure, you may remain in your home through the end of your lease unless a home buyer purchases the home to live in, in which case you have 90 days to find a new place to live. You may get scary letters from the bank, lender and everyone who has financial interest in the house telling you to get out, but you signed a binding contract that protects you from being kicked out of your home without notice.

Different states have different protections for renters, so do your homework. If your landlord does something that feels unfair, you may have a legal recourse. There are numerous free law resources online for renters, as well as tenants’ rights organizations that you can contact for help.

7. Uncle Sam Likes Renters Too!

Many states offer a “Renter’s Credit” or “Homestead Property Tax Credit” when you do your income taxes. The credit is typically based on the difference between your household income and property taxes. As a renter, you may not directly pay property taxes, but your landlord does, and those taxes are figured into your monthly rent payment. Make sure you hang onto any receipts showing you paid your rent so you can provide the IRS with documentation should they request it.

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Posted in Housing Markets, Real Estate.

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