You know how your mom, dad, older sibling, creepy cousin, or memaw always told you to be careful before you experienced something new or did something risky because they loved you? I know. Super annoying after the umtienth time. Well, I want you to picture that person right now. Do it. Close your eyes – wait no. Leave them open so you can keep reading. I forgot you’re a college student so you’ve already mastered multitasking. You go Glen Coco.
Anyway, picture that person. Now, instead of them saying “be careful,” they are saying “get it in writing.” If there is one thing you take from this blog, make damn sure that when you enter into an agreement with another person, especially one that involves money, you put that agreement in writing, get it looked over by someone you trust (preferably someone with a law degree), and sign that beautiful piece of paper.
Start with the lease
A verbal agreement is technically sound as long as all of the elements of a contract are satisfied. It’s amazing, though, how a person’s memory can suddenly fail them when disputes arise. Commence the proverbial he said/she said shit-show. You will see either through your own experiences or through your friends’ that this especially true when it comes to renting.
The backbone of your rental experience will be your lease (more in-depth post on the lease coming soon). It is a legal document that should lay out everything from your rent payment, to maintenance requests, even to when you can and cannot shower (In all seriousness I know someone who’s lease says they cannot shower after 10:00pm.) General rule of thumb: if you see anything like this in your lease before you sign it, run! Run as far away as possible because if you have a landlord who stresses over your late-night shower habits, imagine how they deal with actual issues, like repairs, pets, and cleaning. Tell them a polite “no thank-you,” throw up the deuces, and run.
Get a folder and put stuff in it
Now the lease is not the first item that should be in your folder. Let me pause here for a quick second. As a fellow millennial, when I said folder you may have assumed I meant a metaphorical or virtual folder. Totally understandable. While it is a great idea to keep all of your records on your computer, we know that bad things can happen to our electronic friends. This is why in addition to electronic copies, you should also keep hard-copies in an actual folder. I know it’s old-school but you should always limit your risk when possible.
As I was saying, the lease is not the first item that should be in your folder. You should also have all written correspondence between the landlords and/or salespeople who pitch you and take you on showings to various properties. Of course, you won’t need to do this for properties that you know you aren’t interested in, but for the the ones you are seriously considering this will come in handy.
The college rental market can be extremely competitive, so in order to get your business, the various landlords and apartment companies are going to make you “promises” ranging from reduced rental rates to specific room locations (if in an apartment building/complex). It doesn’t matter if you and that other person agree to be best friends for life and pinky swear on it. That “promise” is only good if it is guaranteed in writing. If you are unsure about whether or not something is guaranteed, don’t be afraid to ask. Make him or her explicitly say it is in writing.
Break out the camera
Once you have your lease signed, you are ready to move in. The next thing you are going to want to document is the condition of the rental. Before you start moving your furniture and knick knacks in, walk through the apartment with your landlord and take pictures of any damages that you notice. Don’t be afraid to really get in there and explore. Open closets, look in the freezer, check for chips on the walls and floors, etc. Once you do the walk-though, send a follow-up email to your landlord with the pictures attached stating that these damages were there before you moved in and were not caused by you. Make sure your landlord acknowledges this email and then go ahead and hit the print button. This rule also applies to any and all maintenance issues that may arise while you are renting. In addition to documenting repairs, also document and notify your landlord of any damages that construction workers may cause from scuffmarks on walls to chips in the flooring.
Finally, document all other ancillary communication you have with your landlord including: inspection dates, new renter showings, utilities set-up, work being done not in your unit but under it, around it, or above it, complaints from neighbors, etc. When you are paying $500 to $2,000 a month, there really is no such thing as overkill.
Maybe there is such a thing as overkill, but if you get to that level, please leave a comment and share your experience. Also drop a line if you found this post to be either helpful or totally useless.