BBB: Advice for first-time property renters

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota

The school year is winding down quickly, and graduations are on the horizon. Many college students — and some high school students — will be searching for apartments or rental properties for the summer months and beyond. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers tips for first-time renters and reminds students of the importance of doing their homework to ensure online listings for rental properties are legitimate.

“Looking for that first apartment is exciting,” said Susan Adams Loyd, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “It’s a definite milestone. But it’s an involved process and it requires advance planning and careful consideration.” 

Usually, due to the expense involved, young people tend to look for roommates when renting their first apartment. This is a practical step. Still, it’s important for everyone involved to be clear on their responsibilities per the lease, which should include the names of all interested parties. This prevents you from being responsible for rent and any other expenses, should your roommate move out unexpectedly. Ideally, your roommate will be someone you know well and trust, but moving in with a close friend or friends isn’t always possible.

Before even looking at apartment listings, it’s important to talk about budget and price ranges. The rental market is pretty tight, so expect to pay a premium for whatever apartment or rental property you settle on — even with a roommate. Don’t forget to factor in other expenses, like utilities, trash collection and internet. When looking for a rental property, be sure to see if any of these costs are included with your monthly rent. 

In addition, renters should always take the following steps before signing a lease:

• Consider your commute to work or school and also your access to grocery stores, shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Location is key.

• Visit different rental units in person and be sure to research the track records of property management firms by visiting www.bbb.org. You can also access customer reviews through BBB and other online sites to get a sense of the experiences past tenants have had.

• Always read the lease carefully and ask any questions you have prior to signing the lease. You’ll also want to be clear on the length of the lease and the advance notice required to vacate the premises at the end of your lease. 30 to 60 days is fairly standard and such notice is usually required in writing.

• Request an inspection of the apartment prior to move-in and document any maintenance issues you see. Then maintain the property with an eye towards getting your damage deposit back upon move out. Damage deposits range from several hundred dollars or the equivalent of one month’s rent. Units left in poor condition may lead to the forfeiture of some or all of these funds.

• Never pay rent in cash, and either divide utility bills equitably or make sure all renters are listed on the accounts. 

Renters should also be aware that before renting an apartment they will likely have to pay a fee for a background check — generally around $50. This fee is usually nonrefundable.

 

Prospective renters should be wary if:

• The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. 

• The landlord claims to be located elsewhere and communicates solely via email. 

• You’re asked to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, or if you’re told the deposit or rent needs to be paid with a prepaid debit card. Any money sent via these means is difficult to trace, and there is little chance of getting your money back.

• The rental requires a security deposit or first month payment without meeting the landlord, inspecting the property or signing a lease. Never wire money to someone you don’t know. 

 

— The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222

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