What to know before signing an apartment lease

By Allison Caso

Moving into an apartment for the first time can be scary for college students. For many, it is the first time that people are without the comforts of either their family members or resident assistants from living in a dorm.

There are many considerations to consider when looking for an apartment, especially as a student looking to rent in college towns. Below are tips and tricks to ensure a seamless process for someone moving into their first apartment.

Getting a Cosigner:

A cosigner “is a must on 99.99% of student living properties,” according to Cole Bowman, who works as a community assistant at the Epoch apartment complex in Clemson, South Carolina.

A co-signer is responsible for a person’s rent if they cannot make the payments which is typically the case for students whose parents are paying for their rent while in college. Typically, the cosigner is required to earn at least three times the rent and will need to confirm their “financial info, social security, and correct primary address,” Cole said, with the apartment complex.

It is important for the resident to find a cosigner before the leasing process beings and ensure both parties understand their obligations and expectations, Cole said.

Go on a tour:

Pamela Turner, a housing and consumer sciences professor at the University of Georgia, encourages students to “physically see the unit you are renting.”

She said that she understands that in recent times, especially in the midst of a pandemic, virtual apartment tours have become prominent, but she warns people that the apartment they are shown may not be the actual apartment they will be leasing.

She also said that students should reach out to friends and residents of the building to get an estimate of utilities and other fees residents must pay.

Double Check Everything:

Both Bowman and Turner emphasized the importance of asking lots of questions and reading every document they give you before signing a lease.

Important things to double check include determining whether management is on or off-site and what their response time is to certain issues.

Turner said that there are some good questions to ask, including asking about regular pest treatments, how management deals with noisy neighbors and whether the resident can sublease the apartment.

Bowman said students should also fully understand what their rent payment includes, which could be community fees, application fees or any other one-time fees.

Turner discusses the importance of asking questions stating, “I’ve heard situations where they would only show a certain part of the apartment to make it look better and people were unhappy.”

Renter’s Insurance:

Renter’s insurance is a must-have, Bowman said. Renter’s insurance protects a person’s personal belongings inside their rented space in the event of damage or theft.

“Your possessions are valuable and must be protected,” he said.

Without renter’s insurance, the individual will be fully responsible for their losses because the landlord’s policy does not cover personal belongings.

Turner said that the low cost of the insurance makes it “really worth it.” Many apartments, especially in college towns, offer a low-cost option that is billed along with your rent every month, and several places such as Lemonade Renter’s Insurance start as low as $5 a month.

Turner said it “is a definite yes, well worth the money. Ask your parents to buy it for your birthday if you can’t afford it.”

Know the Law:

Turner recommended that students research their state’s Department of Community Affairs and landlord tenant laws in order to be aware of their rights and to ensure there is nothing suspicious written in a lease.

“Most leases are pretty standard,” Turner said, but look out for, “penalties that don’t make sense, like random cleaning or maintenance fees.”

Allison Caso is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.

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