Renting your first apartment? Here’s what you need to know

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Congrats! You’re one step closer to adulthood now that you’ll be renting your own place. While moving out of the dorms and into an apartment is an exciting time, there’s a lot to be aware of before you make your decision.

Renting an apartment isn’t necessarily cut and dry. There are a lot of factors outside of just location and price point. For instance, the chaos of finding a good roommate, avoiding bad landlords, and how to handle an unexpected expense.

So, before you lose your mind trying to figure this all out on your own, here are some tips. 

Seriously vet your roommates

If you’re a college student, you’re not likely to be able to afford a place of your own. That means you’ll be going through the complicated process of deciding who to live with.

Here are some questions to ask potential roommates: 

  • What are your cleaning habits?
  • What’s your idea of a great weekend?
  • Are you friends with any previous roommates? Can they provide references?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you host a lot of out-of-town visitors or have friends over frequently?
  • What time do you typically go to bed and wake up?
  • What do you do for work/money and can I verify that with your employer/parent?
  • What is your work/school schedule?

These are just a few of the essential questions you should ask someone before moving in with them. As desperate as you might be to get a roommate and move-in, make sure the answers to these questions align with your lifestyle. 

If you’re both morning people who have a set schedule and dedicated work ethic, not to mention love to clean your space, you’ll likely be a good fit.

If someone is the polar opposite of you, move on to the next one. 

Thoroughly tour the apartment and the building

where's the bathroom?

Bonus points if you take photos. Something can seem really great when it’s the perfect location and price point, but once you get home to fill out the application, you realize how much is actually wrong with the place.

Check for anything in disrepair, or that doesn’t work. Check the faucets and showers for proper water pressure and to see how quickly the water heats up. Make sure there are ample outlets, working overhead lights, and proper appliances. 

There are a ton of tiny things that are easy to overlook, or not even check, in an apartment. So, make sure to do a full tour, and don’t be afraid to poke around at everything and ask questions. 

Shop around

You’ll never know if you’re getting a good deal if you don’t look around. There’s no harm in checking out several buildings and even units within a building. The bottom line is, some landlords hike up the prices around college campuses because they know students will pay it and that they have help from their parents. 

Once in a while, with enough digging, you can find an apartment that’s priced appropriately and save yourself a lot of money.

Wait for the slow times of year

Every city has a slow time of year for leasing units. Most of this time this starts around the Holidays and continues until about March or April. If you can wait, making a move during this time will not only save you money on rent but on all your moving expenses. 

Additionally, if you’re looking at apartments in a large building or complex, ask them if they have any move-in specials. Sometimes they’ll knock off a few hundred dollars, waive fees, or offer a rent discount.

Question neighbors

Know someone that lives in the building? You should ask them about the pros and cons of living there. Ask how quickly problems get fixed, if there have been any recent incidents, or if it’s a quiet/rowdy type of building. 

If you don’t know anyone that lives in the building, think about waiting around to stop a tenant before you leave. Current tenants will probably be willing to share some of their likes and dislikes with you.

Enquire about utility costs

this is how much we pay?

If utilities are not built into the cost of your rent, you should ask how much they usually run. Heating a large apartment in the winter can cost hundreds of dollars a month in some cases. Not to mention the high cost that comes with running the A/C in hot climates during the summer months. 

Large utility bills can come as a huge shock if you’re not expecting them. Ask the landlord or someone in the building what their cost usually runs. It’s better to know what you’re getting into ahead of time than to find out later. 

Try to live close to campus

College is your life right now. Moving too far away might encourage you to remove yourself from both the social aspects and educational opportunities that a campus provides. If you’re far enough away, on mornings, when you’re tired, it might seem like too much of a hassle to make your way to campus.

If you can be within walking distance, a short drive, or even a short metro ride, you’ll still be able to take advantage of everything that your campus has to offer with little obstacles. 

Check the crime report in your area

You can often learn about issues with crime through your local police station or online. While this might not seem like a big deal, if car break-ins or robberies are an issue in that area, it’s something to be aware of. 

At the very least, it should help you be aware of your surroundings. You’ll know if you should refrain from leaving any costly items in your car and add some extra security to your apartment doors and windows. Knowing what’s going on in your neighborhood can be the thing that protects you most.

Set roommate expectations

i hate it.

Once you pick a roommate, it’s time to set the expectations. Everyone sit down and discuss what you want your living situation to be like. This includes everything from loud music to cleanliness and visitors. 

If you’re upfront before even signing a lease, nobody can feign innocence when they’re called out for not following the rules you set in the beginning. 

Compare your off-campus and on-campus costs

The point of moving is (hopefully) to save a little bit of money on your college experience. Try to budget for your move by finding a place that saves you a significant amount of money compared to what you’re paying in room and board at school. 

Keep in mind what you pay at school isn’t for a full 12-month lease, which is typical for most apartments. If that means you’ll be paying more overall, it might not be in your best interest. 

Get your lease checked out 

just sign the paper

Some landlords take advantage of college students in the worst way. You need to make sure you protect yourself from that. If your school offers free legal resources, take your lease to be reviewed before you sign it. They should be able to point out any unusual stipulations or items that you should be aware of.

Review it yourself to make sure the dates make sense (it’s tough to get out of a lease once you sign it and could cost you thousands of dollars). If you don’t have access to legal services, ask your parents or a trusted adult who has been through the process before to help you out. 


As you can see, there are a ton of things to think about before you make the decision to move. While this is a great starting point, it doesn’t hurt to talk to friends and family that have moved numerous times for additional tips.

Moving can seem like an overwhelming experience, but if you focus on the right things, the experience will be worth it.