Ask LH: What Should I Know As A First-Time Renter?

Hi Lifehacker, I’m about to move out of my parent’s house and start renting my first property by myself. Is there anything I should know about renting before I move in? Thanks, New Renter

Beautiful renter picture from Shutterstock

Dear New Renter,

Moving into a new house or apartment is always a bit of a gamble. There are some things a property inspection won’t reveal. Is the property sufficiently insulated from the heat and cold? Is the rent reasonable when compared to similar properties in the area? Are the neighbours overly rowdy? These are all questions that are best answered before you move in.

Your decision to live by yourself is a good one. Most rental horror stories come down to incompatible and/or awful housemates. I had a friend whose housemate was such a deranged control-freak that he was forced to pack up his boxes and flee in the middle of the night. So well done on that score.

Checking the median rent for your area should be easy enough: simply peruse the local rental listings to see if the property you have your eye on is reasonably priced. Bear in mind that the age and size of the property, the condition of its facilities and its proximity to the nearest city centre will all factor into the asking price.

There are plenty of review sites and mobile apps available which are designed to assist rental property hunters. For example, Dontwakeme is an anonymous crowdsourcing website that collects noise complaint data from the general public. Type in the area code for the property you’re interest in and the site will give you a noise rating, complete with individual reviews.

If you’re dealing directly with a landlord (rather than through a real estate agent) make sure you’ve had extensive talks with them and come prepared with plenty of questions: the more you know about their expectations in a tenant, the less likely that strife will occur in the future.

Other things to be mindful of are long term leases (it’s best to avoid these to begin with just in case everything doesn’t work out), mobile reception (how reliable is it the the area?) and working out an internet and phone line connection.

Once you’ve decided on a property, the first thing to do is document the state of absolutely everything. Landlords can be extremely picky about the smallest of details when you move out and may attempt to withhold a portion of your bond. As soon as you move in, make a list of everything that isn’t perfect — including minor stains, cracks and rust marks. Also be sure to take photos with a digital camera so you have supporting evidence. (This is doubly important if you’re renting a furnished property.)

If you identify any serious problems, such as a jammed window or non-working oven, report the issue immediately and ask for it to be fixed. The costs of essential repairs will be a tax deduction for the owner, so don’t feel like you need to live with faulty issues just to keep the peace.

It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the tenants’ service in your area in case anything goes wrong. These organisations can help during disputes with landlords and inform you of your legal rights, which vary from state to state.

You can find links to the relevant departments in each state, as well as the tenants’ unions organisations below:

It’s also worth noting that making alterations to a rental property is usually forbidden without the express consent of the landlord. This means you’re stuck with the wallpaper and fixtures that are already in place.

That said, if you’re desperate to spruce up your new home’s aesthetics, there are various DIY hacks you can employ that wont void your tenancy agreement. You can read a bunch of suggestions in our rental property customisation guide which covers everything from standing shelves to vinyl wall stickers.

The main thing is to be 100 per cent sure you want to move in before you sign the lease. As with most things in life, it pays to do as much research as possible before you commit. Remember — once the lease has been signed by both parties, everything that was on it becomes a legally binding contract, so choose wisely!


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