Apartment Hunting 101 for College - Your Guide for Finding the Perfect "Pad"

For a student with little or no credit history, and low to no income, finding an apartment can be frustrating. Many landlords refuse to house undergraduate students, while most others require a co-signer for the lease. In any case, it pays to be savvy about apartment hunting, and websites like “craigslist” have made it easier than ever to find sublets and other students looking for roommates.

Evaluate your budget.

Whether your parents have agreed to pay for rent, or you’re going to foot the bill yourself, make sure you know what you can afford. Once you sign a lease, you are fully responsible for your monthly rent, and not doing so can greatly hurt your credit.

Timing is everything.

The rental market is competitive, and its best to start looking early while there are a variety of options open to you. Search everywhere, from online classifieds to rental offices in your area, and remember that great deals don’t last long- so if you see something you like it’s best to just go for it than pass-up the opportunity.

Full-fee vs. no-fee apartments.

It’s important that you take someone with you on your apartment search that knows the ins and outs of the rental process. At the very least, do your research before your go out and look at places. Many rental agents charge a fee (typically a full month’s rent) for helping you find your place, however, some rental agents also offer no-fee apartments in cases where the apartment owners have agreed to pay the agent a fee in return for help in finding a tenant. Remember- rent and fees can almost always be negotiated, so don’t settle for a price that seems unreasonable to you.

Requirements

Security deposits are almost always required, in addition to 1st month’s rent, before moving into an apartment. Deposit requirements vary depending on a variety of factors, and some management companies may ask for a fee, 1st month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit. This can add up to 4 months rent up front- not a light sum for a broke college student. So be wary of what is needed from you before singing the lease. Here are some questions to ask while searching for your apartment:

  • What is required, in terms of fees, before move-in.
  • If you are an undergraduate student, do you need a cosigner? If so- who will be willing to cosign the lease for you?
  • Which utilities, if any, are included in your rent? (typically heat and hot water are included, but be wary of apartments that have electric heat as it can end up costing you a pretty penny)
  • Is there a maintenance person who is available in case of problems or necessary repairs?
  • Is the apartment building safe? Have there been any break-ins over the past year? (this can be double-checked with a simple phone call to the police department)
  • What happens if you need to move out early (a.k.a. break the lease)?

As a student, finding an apartment through a sub-letter or owner is probably your best bet, since the process doesn’t involve any extra fees that a Realtor might charge. However, if convenience is your priority, a Realtor has a good idea of what’s available in the city, and can probably help you find something quickly.