First-Time Renters: Common Mistakes

Underestimating monthly expenses
When renting an apartment for the first time, it’s easy to forget to include rent in your monthly budget. (General rule of thumb is to allot one third of your monthly budget to rent.)

Depending on where you rent, gas and electricity, cable television, Internet access, and a phone line are standard items to include in your budget.

Also consider the cost to commute to the college via public transportation. If you drive factor bridge tolls, gas, and parking.

Remember to include food, entertainment, and school supply expenses, too.

Renting a great apartment in a less-than-desirable neighborhood
The quality or appearance of your apartment is far less important than feeling safe in your neighborhood. Hardwood floors, a great view, or even having extra space are rarely as meaningful as feeling safe when parking at night or walking to the nearest BART station or AC Transit stop.

Good rent often means having undesirable compensatory factors when apartment hunting. If you’re uncertain about a neighborhood, be sure to read the Is My Neighborhood Safe? section in the off-campus housing FAQ.

Bypassing the interview with new roommate(s)
A best friend is not always a best roommate. Think about your lifestyle and what you want and need in your living space. Before you commit to live with a potential roommate, identify your needs.

Then find someone who shares them:

  • Are you a night owl or early bird?
  • Are there any foods you prefer not cooked in the apartment?
  • Do you require peace and quiet to study effectively?
  • Will you have friends visit for extended stays?
  • Are you craving a busy social environment?
  • Do you require a smoke-free or drug and/or alcohol-free environment?

Many friendships have ended because of different expectations within the apartment regarding cleanliness, noise from guests, and judgments about acceptable drug/alcohol use.

Agreeing on what you want and need in your living space is not the only factor to take into consideration when thinking about moving in with a friend; you must also consider if the friend is reliable to pay rent and bills on time.

Ask yourself if your friend:

  • Attends class regularly?
  • Completes assignments on time?
  • Is often late for shared plans?
  • Has a job?
  • Ever been fired?
  • Drinks or uses drugs excessively?

The answers to such questions might determine if your friend is reliable enough to share living accommodations with you.

If you choose to live with someone who is unfamiliar to you, you must connect directly with the potential roommate/housemate before you sign a lease.

Talk about how you will share the utility costs, which areas will be shared, and identify mutual expectations regarding noise, guests, and alcohol/drugs.

Trust your instincts: If you are uncomfortable with a potential new roommate/housemate, or if you suspect dishonesty, move on to other situations that feel better. In the long run, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.

Signing a lease without understanding its full meaning
To sign a lease means you legally agree to all stated terms set forth in the document. So before you sign, ask if the lease:

  • Dictates the number of guests you may entertain?
  • Designates quiet hours?
  • Allows pets?
  • Permits you to repaint and hang things on walls?
  • Prohibits smoking?
  • Requires a security/cleaning and/or damage deposit ? (Is the policy clear?)
  • Outlines an eviction procedure? (i.e., warning versus three day’s notice to evict?)

Only by carefully reading the lease and asking questions can you prepare yourself as a tenant. No landlord ever accepts “I didn’t read the lease” as an excuse for a rental-agreement violation. Your signature is legally binding to uphold the lease exactly as it is written.

Read What Should I Do Before I Sign a Lease? in the off-campus housing FAQ.

Remember the “upfront” costs associated with moving
Finding a great deal on rent is important, but don’t forget that it will cost additional money just to move into your new place.

Most landlords ask for first and last month’s rent plus a cleaning and damage deposit before you move in.

Beyond that, you need to budget for moving expenses such as boxes, packing tape, and a truck or van, as well as necessary furniture that you don’t already own.

Finally, if you want cable television, internet access, or a phone line, you’ll have to pay extra installation charges in order to start service.

Needless to say, moving is expensive and the upfront costs adds up quickly!

Spending too much money on unnecessary items
Keep furniture to just what you need. Similarly, purchase only the electronics you require. Overspending in either area results in having less money for gas, food, class supplies, or even to simply go out with friends.

Think before you charge any item using your credit card. If you do make a large credit card purchase, factor a repayment schedule into your budget and stick to it.

Forgetting to submit a change-of-address with the post office.
To receive mail at your new apartment, alert the U.S. Post Office of your change of address.

You can submit a change-of-address form online or just go a local post office. While there pick up a free moving guide, full of helpful tips (e.g., how to establish utilities) and coupons that will allow you to save on moving-related services and products.