Real Estate

Moving Into a Rental

Are you one of the millions of Americans who are about to enter, or are already in, the real estate rental market? Maybe you're about to enter college or relocating for new job and it's time to find some rental property, like an apartment or a floor in a two-family home.

It's an exciting time, of course, but it's also a time when you need to pay attention to some practical matters and protect your rights and interests. So, knowing a few things about what to look for and how the rental market is supposed to work will not only help you find the right apartment or other rental, but also help make the process go smoothly, and even give you some long-term financial protection.

Practical Matters: Deciding Where to Live

There are dozens of things to think about when looking for a place to rent, the key aspect being, will the place suit your needs? When looking for the "right" place, consider some things like:

  • What appliances are included with the property
  • Are there are enough outlets for your computer and electronic equipment
  • Security features, such as sturdy, working deadbolts and locks, including window locks
  • Whether there are smoke detectors and fire sprinklers

Don't be afraid to ask the landlord for references from former tenants; they're in the best position to tell you about the property and the landlord.

You Have Rights

Housing discrimination is illegal, even in the rental market. Federal law, as well as the laws of most states, makes it illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to you on the basis of your race or color, religion, national origin, sex, family status or disability.

If you think a landlord has discriminated against you with respect to your application to rent, you can file a complaint with the federal government, or speak to a real estate attorney.


  • It's a good idea to have a written agreement with roommates as to:

    Signing a Rental Agreement or "Lease"

    Before the landlord agrees to rent an apartment to you, it's likely that he or she will "screen" you by getting a credit report, references, and other information about you. Expect to pay the costs of the screening process.

    Before you sign a lease or rental agreement, be sure to read every single word of it. Ask questions about anything you don't understand. Don't sign something you don't agree with, no matter what the landlord says. You don't want to be surprised to find out that you're responsible for cutting the grass or shoveling snow.

    Check the lease for what its says about things like:

    Most landlords will make you pay a security deposit, which helps make sure that you pay rent and don't damage the premises. Be prepared to pay this deposit in addition to the first month's rent when you sign the lease. And, make sure you get a receipt so there won't be a dispute later over how much you paid.

    Moving-In Day

    On the day you move in, tour the place with your landlord and make a detailed checklist of anything that's not in perfect condition. Have the landlord sign this checklist as an accurate representation of your apartment's condition. For a sample checklist, contact your state attorney general or local tenants' union.

    Also, it's a good idea to take photos of areas where there's any damage.

    Remember, in almost all states, your landlord can deduct money from your security deposit to pay for any damages to the apartment that you or your guests make, except normal wear-and-tear. So, protect your security deposit by taking note of pre-existing damages, preventing damages once you've moved in, and fixing any damage before you move out.

    If you pay your rent and don't damage the rental, you're landlord must refund your deposit in full. If he or she makes deductions, you have to be given a detailed list of the deductions along with any balance remaining.

    Questions for Your Attorney

  • How you'll split rent and utilities
  • Any house rules regarding pets, smoking, drug use, late hours, overnight guests etc.
  • What each of you will have to pay if you or your roommate decides to move out before the lease has expired
  • If you're allowed to keep pets
  • Are you or the landlord responsible for paying utilities- gas, electric, water and telephone
  • Can you rent the apartment to someone else, called "subleasing" or "subletting," if you want to move out before the lease expires, for example
  • The rent, that is, make sure the amount of rent stated in the lease is the amount the landlord told you it would be, when the rent is due, and if there's any charge if you pay it late
  • Repairs to be made by the landlord, if he or she agreed to make any, and make sure the repairs are listed in the lease
  • I didn't sign a lease, and my landlord hasn't said anything about it, but he keeps accepting my rent. Is this a legal arrangement?
  • A landlord said he wouldn't rent to me because I want to have a roommate to share expenses, but the landlord says the space is too small for two people. Can he do that?
  • My lease states that my rent is $500 per month for one year, but my landlord just told me that he's raising the rent $25 per month. Can he do that?
  • My roommate moved out, I can't find a new one, and I can't afford to pay the rent on my own. My landlord says I can't sublease, either. What can I do?
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