Renters' Guide: The Rental Process
While there are times when people must rent a property sight-unseen, such as when they are relocating for a new job, it is usually preferable to view the property ahead of time to make sure it satisfies the tenant's expectations and requirements. Renters can contact a landlord, real estate agent, property manager or apartment complex office (depending on the type of property) to make an appointment to view the unit.
Attention should be given to the individual unit as well as the overall property. Does the property seem clean, well maintained and in good repair? Are many of the units occupied? Is there a well-lit parking area? Are common areas tidy and well lit? Is the unit free from any defects? Can the renter view more than one unit in the property to compare features? Are the amenities as advertised? Is the functionality of the unit and property acceptable? Is the appearance of the unit and property acceptable?
While it is easy to be in a hurry to sign a lease, it can be beneficial (if at all possible) to take the time to view different properties and find one that meets or exceeds one's expectations. This is particularly true for renters who expect to remain in the unit for an extended period of time.
Once the renter has decided on a unit, he or she will typically be asked to fill out a rental application. Each person who is renting will have to fill out a separate rental application. This helps the landlord determine each person's credibility as a potential renter. Applicants may have to submit a processing fee, application fee and security deposit along with the rental application. If the applicant is denied, the security deposit will be returned within a specified time frame, usually one month. The rental application typically includes information regarding the applicant's
- Current address
- Phone numbers
- Email address
- Driver's license number
- Previous address
- Pets, if applicable
- Employment and income information
- Emergency contacts
- Personal references
- Background information, including questions about criminal charges or previous bankruptcies
- Vehicle information
The rental application often requires the applicant to give consent (by signing and dating the application) to the landlord and its agents to obtain a consumer credit report, landlord/tenant credit record search, criminal records search and registered sex offender search. The credit and background checks help landlords determine if applicants would make suitable tenants, both in terms of character and financial responsibility. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to deny housing to a tenant on the grounds of race, color, gender, religion, disability, familial status or national origin.
If a person lacks sufficient personal credit, he or she may designate a willing person as a guarantor. By consigning a lease, the person agrees to share legal and financial responsibility for the terms of the lease. The cosigner, who is often a close friend or family member, will have to submit a co-signer application, sometimes called a guarantor application, and a cosigner agreement. The landlord typically requires the later to be legally notarized.
Once the rental application(s) have been submitted and approved, the landlord will prepare a lease or rental agreement. Typically, the tenant must sign and date the lease, and return it to the landlord with one full month's rent or with the first and last month's rent. All co-tenants will be required to sign the lease.
A lease is a legal contract between the landlord and tenant(s). Typically, a lease includes basics such as:
- The names of the landlord and tenant(s)
- The starting date and duration or end date of the agreement
- The address of the property being leased
- Options for lease renewal, if any
- Rent payments, including amounts and due dates
- Security deposits
- Applicable late charges
- Number of occupants and guests
- Right of entry and inspection
- Noise, and any "quiet" hours
- Property maintenance
- Attorney fees
- Lead notification requirement (for structures built prior to 1978)
- Assignment (and if it is acceptable for tenant to sublet the premises)
- Joint and several liability
The terms of the lease will specify which utilities the tenants are responsible for paying and which will be covered by the landlord. The tenant often has to apply independently for utilities through the appropriate company to receive electricity, cable, phone, water, internet, etc. Utility companies can often provide estimates of service charges if requested. This can be helpful to renters who can use the estimate to figure out what their total monthly expenses might be. The utility company may require a deposit that will be returned once the utility has been turned off if there are no outstanding payments due.
Paying the Rent
In a co-tenant situation, the lease terms will indicate if tenants must submit one check each month or more if multiple checks are acceptable. Typically, landlords want to keep the process simple and specify that rent must come from one check only. It is up to the co-tenants to decide who writes the check each month.
Certain landlords offer tenants the ability to pay rent online using a credit card, debit card or electronic check. A valuable feature of this convenient service is that tenants can sign up for automatically recurring payments, ensuring that rent is paid on time each month - a benefit to both the tenants and the landlord.
Renters' Guide: Renter's Insurance