Before I bought my first home, I rented (a lot). To date, I’ve rented more than 10 different properties. Renting, like owning, comes with its own learning curve. I’ve made many of the mistakes in this post, and I can promise you—I won't make them again!
If you’re renting, here's to hoping these 10 tips can help you avoid the same.
1. Not reading your lease before you sign it
Leases are often long and boring. But if you don't read it, or if you only skim over it to make sure your personal information is entered correctly, you have no protection later. You’ll also miss important information that details how having overnight guests, pets, extra vehicles, sub-leasing options and early termination penalties are handled.
2. Glossing over sections of the lease that cause you concern
While many landlords will use the state-approved lease template, others may choose to modify the lease to their liking, and these modifications may or may not be legally permissible in your state. If you’re concerned about a section, do your own research to find out if you have just cause before asking the landlord.
3. Not getting rental insurance
Some landlords require tenants to purchase rental insurance (although, to date, I’ve never had a landlord ask for proof of insurance). But this aside, this insurance is really to protect you. Whether from theft, natural disaster or just bad luck, the cost of the average renter's insurance policy ($100-$300 per year) is minimal enough to make it worthwhile.
4. Not scouting out the neighbors (and neighborhood) BEFORE signing the lease
Every time I’ve jumped into a lease agreement without scouting out the neighborhood, I’ve been SORRY. Now I scout first and sign later.
- What to do: Do a daytime and nighttime drive-by on a weekday and a weekend. Do an Internet search of crime in the area and reported issues. If you have friends in the area, ask them to watch out for you. Do your research first and then sign the lease.
5. Agreeing to pay more rent than you can afford
According to personal finance guru Dave Ramsey, no more than 25 percent of your annual income should be allocated to rent (or mortgage). This is the general consensus among many financial gurus so that you can live well (and maybe build that dream savings account one day).
6. Letting your roommate (or partner) shop, negotiate and sign without you (or vice versa)
If you let your roommate or partner choose your living space, you risk not getting your needs met. The same holds true if your living mate tries to delegate this responsibility to you. Plus, if you find a great property but then your living mate wants to see it first, you risk losing the property in competitive markets.
7. Skipping on potential rental because it doesn't appear to exactly match your criteria
I love vintage (aka "old") apartments. I love the twists and turns, the quirks, the odd ways space is sometimes allocated. If the unit seems to be a good match in some ways, give it a chance—you might just discover your new home!
8. Failing to capitalize on rental tax breaks
If you work from home at a small business, you can take a tax break on "business use of home," whether that home is a rental or owned property. As well, some states offer tax breaks or credits specifically for renters due to higher costs in those areas.
9. Putting up with illegal landlord activities
I’ve heard many stories of tenants getting bullied, harassed or abused by their landlords. In these situations, too many tenants behave like they have no rights. This is never the case.
Resources you should bookmark:
- The Department of Housing & Urban Development: Tenant Rights
- Your local county or city apartment association (For example, Houston’s association is called the Houston Apartment Association).
10. Not taking your own photos before you move in
When you move out, your landlord will do what’s called a "walk through" to determine how much (if any) of your security deposit to return. While your lease spells out the conditions under which the landlord can dip into your security deposit, without your pre-move-in pictures as proof, you’re vulnerable to "he says, she says" at the time you move out.