If you rent your home, there are several things you need to do in order to get the best deal possible, and also to protect yourself in case anything goes wrong.
For example, on the financial side of things you may be surprised how much "wiggle room" there could be with rent and lease terms, even at large apartment complexes. And, did you know renters insurance protects a lot more than your possessions in your home? Here are a few things you need to know before signing your next lease.
You have more room to negotiate than you think
Even with big apartment complexes; it's not uncommon for the advertised rent price to be somewhat flexible. Obviously, in markets where apartments are tough to find you'll have less room to negotiate, but the worst they'll say is "no", so why not try?
Whether you're looking at an apartment or a house, do some research and find out what comparable homes rent for in the area. If another apartment complex is offering a special, print out the info and bring it in to help you negotiate.
Even if they won't bend on the rental rate, some landlords will give a discount for signing a longer lease term, such as 18 months or two years.
And, the lease terms themselves can be somewhat flexible. I know it's a pain, but read through the lease thoroughly for anything that seems excessive or unreasonable. For example, I have a friend who rented a three-bedroom apartment in order to be able to have relatives visit on weekends just to find out the hard way there was a clause in his lease that permitted a maximum of three overnight guests.
Get it in writing
If your landlord agrees to modify any lease terms, or offers any special arrangement, make sure you have a written copy. Don't accept something like "don't worry, we don't enforce the overnight guest policy" as an answer.
Another thing that needs to be in writing is the names of any roommates or other occupants who will be living with you. Even if their credit and income wasn't used to qualify for the lease, they still need to be listed as occupants of the home in order to protect you. If your landlord won't allow them to be on the actual lease, you should still get a written statement from the other occupants saying they agree to share the responsibility with you.
If you are the only person on the lease, expect to be held solely responsible for any damage caused by your roommates or for any other issues they cause.
Know your rights as a renter
If you know what your landlord is and isn't allowed to do, it can keep you from being taken advantage of. For example, during a fixed lease term, your landlord is not allowed to raise your rent for any reason. I've heard stories where a landlord says "my property taxes went up, so I'm going to need an extra $50 per month." This is not legal, and you need to be given notice before your lease expires (amount of time varies by state) if your rent will increase.
Every state and city is different, so it's a good idea to spend a few minutes reading up on tenants' rights in your area. The department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) maintains an excellent list of tenant rights by state.
Insurance is a must
Renters insurance is relatively cheap and covers a lot more than your personal possessions in the home. It does cover the replacement value of your possessions in the event of theft, loss, or other destructive events, but it has other benefits too.
For one thing, renters insurance comes with liability coverage to protect you if anyone is injured in your home. If your kitchen floor is wet, and your friend slips and breaks a leg, you could be found liable. However, with renters' insurance, the liability coverage can pay for their medical bills and other damages.
And, if your home is destroyed or damaged by a fire or other disaster, renters insurance can pay for your temporary living expenses, like a hotel, while your home is being repaired.
Most rental insurance policies are very cheap for the coverage they provide (usually less than $20 per month), and it's a wonder that more people don't take advantage of the coverage offered. In fact, according to one survey, only 31% of renters have renters insurance.
The bottom line
The best way to approach most situations in life is to become as knowledgeable as you can before jumping in, and renting a home is no exception. With a little preparation, you can do a much better job of protecting yourself, and may even save some money in the process.