One of the first decisions that will have to be made is the type of property to rent. Urban areas typically have dozens of apartment complexes from which to choose, as well as condominium units, townhomes and even single-family homes. Rural settings, on the other hand, may not offer many opportunities for apartment rentals, but will have more single-family homes or duplexes on the rental market. Once the ideal type of property has been chosen, other considerations will help narrow down the search for the perfect rental.

As discussed in the Benefits of Renting section of this guide, today's apartment complexes offer an impressive array of amenities – from 24-fitness centers to 24-hour concierge services. In general, the more high-end the amenities are, the higher the monthly rent is likely to be. Most rental communities, such as apartment complexes or townhome rental communities, have websites that describe the amenities, as these are often selling points for renters. These may be divided into "interior amenities," which refer to each of the individual rental units, and "community amenities," which describe the property-wide features.

Like homeowners, renters must consider the daily commute to work and/or school. Factors include the overall distance to work/school, proximity to highways and convenient access to public transportation. It might make financial sense to rent closer to work/school even if it demands a higher monthly rental rate because of the gas money and time that will be saved, particularly in urban areas with known rush hour traffic problems.

Aside from being a reasonable distance from work/school, renters may also want to consider proximity to conveniences such as grocery stores, shopping, dining, libraries, entertainment, doctors/hospitals and the like. Many urban properties will by default be close to all of these conveniences. The further the property is from the center of town, the greater the distance one might have to travel to access all of these services.

Some rental communities offer discounted rent for certain tenants including active and retired military and their families, senior citizens, employees of certain area businesses and long-term "preferred" renters. Each rental property has its own policy regarding discounts, and inquiries should be made before signing a lease.

Location and Neighborhood
The geographic location of the rental is a broad consideration, and one that may change during the search process. Renters may find, for example, that the desired location demands prohibitively high rents or proves to be too far away from conveniences. Once the general location has been decided upon – Charleston, SC, for example – the individual neighborhoods can be explored – such as James Island, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley and the Peninsula.

SEE: The 5 Factors Of A "Good" Location

Certain rental properties allow tenants to have domestic animals, such as cats and dogs, on the premises. The tenant may be required to pay a "pet deposit," which would be returned if there was no pet damage once the tenant moved out, or a non-refundable "pet fee". The fee is often used for mandatory defleaing, deodorizing and shampooing of the unit's flooring and/or upholstery. The tenant may also have to pay "pet rent," a monthly or yearly fee intended to cover expenses related to normal wear and tear from the animal(s).

Some properties have breed specific restrictions, usually to prevent certain "bully" breeds like pit bulls and bulldogs from entering the premises. Landlords may also limit the number of animals allowed in any one unit, and weight and height limitations may be enforced.

If a lease contains a no-pets clause and a tenant is in violation of the agreement, the landlord generally has a legal right to evict the tenant if he or she refuses to give up the animal. A landlord cannot, however, add a no-pets clause once a lease has been signed, or enforce the no pet clause if he or she has known about an animal for a significant period of time but has not made any objections.

Service animals have been specially trained to perform such tasks as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf and protecting a person who is having a seizure. Service animals are working animals and are not considered pets. A tenant with a service animal will be legally permitted to have the service animal with him or her even if the property has a no-pets clause in the lease.

Next: Renters' Guide: Living With Roommates »

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