Renters' Guide: Considerations When Finding a Rental
There are many factors to consider when finding a rental, but a good place to start is figuring out how much you can comfortably afford to spend on rent each month. Housing typically accounts for the single largest chunk of your budget, and you should aim to spend no more than 30% of your gross income on rent. If you make $4,000 a month, for example, you should keep rent under $1,200. If you’re servicing a lot of debt on top of rent – for student loans, car payments, outstanding credit card debt and the like – try to keep your combined housing costs and monthly debt payments under 43% of your take-home income. Other factors to consider include:
You can rent apartments, condominiums, townhomes, houses and other multi-family housing units – but your choices might be limited by where you’re looking. Urban areas (e.g., large cities) typically have dozens of apartment complexes to choose among, as well as condos, townhomes and even single-family homes. Rural settings, on the other hand, may not have many apartment rentals, but will have more single-family homes or duplexes on the rental market.
Many of today's rental communities offer an impressive range of amenities – from 24-fitness centers to 24-hour concierge services. In general, the more high-end the amenities, 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, so it’s easy to do some comparison shopping online.
Like homeowners, renters should 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 costs more since you’ll be able to save on gas and time – especially in urban areas with known rush-hour traffic problems. (For related reading, see Extreme Commuting: Is It for You?)
Aside from being a reasonable distance from work/school, you may also want to consider how close you’ll be to conveniences such as grocery stores, shopping, dining, libraries, entertainment, doctors/hospitals and the like. Many urban properties will be close to these conveniences by default. The farther the property is from the center of town, the longer you’ll have to travel to access these services.
Some rental communities offer discounted rent for certain tenants including active and retired military and their families, police officers, senior citizens, employees of certain area businesses and long-term "preferred" renters. Each rental property has its own policy regarding discounts; be sure to find out about any discounts that may apply to you before signing a lease.
Location and Neighborhood
Your ideal rental location may change during the search process. You may find, for example, that the area where you want to live has prohibitively high rents or proves to be too far away from conveniences. Once you decide the general location – Charleston, SC, for example – you can narrow down your search by exploring individual neighborhoods, such as James Island, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley and the Peninsula. (For more, see The 5 Factors of a ‘Good’ Location.)
Some rental properties allow you to have pets, such as cats and dogs, on the premises. You may have to pay a "pet deposit" that will be returned if there’s no pet damage when you move out, or a non-refundable "pet fee.” The fee is often used for mandatory defleaing, deodorizing and shampooing the unit's flooring and/or upholstery. You may also have to pay "pet rent," a monthly or yearly fee intended to cover expenses related to normal wear and tear from your furry friend. (For related reading, see Rent: The Hidden Cost of Owning a Pet.)
Keep in mind, some properties have breed-specific restrictions that prohibit certain "bully" breeds such as pit bulls and bulldogs. Landlords can also limit the number of pets you can have and enforce weight and height limitations.
If a lease contains a no-pets clause and you’re in violation of the agreement, the landlord generally has a legal right to evict you if you refuse to give up the animal. A landlord can’t, however, add a no-pets clause once you’ve signed a lease, or enforce the no-pet clause if they’ve known about your pet for a significant time without making any objections. (For more, see 8 Lease Clauses You Need to Know.)
A special note about service animals – specially trained dogs that 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 is legally permitted to have the service animal – even if there’s a no-pets clause in the lease.