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YOUR FIRST APARTMENT!

By MARY ELLEN KALUZA

It’s that time of year – moving vans are everywhere. Eighty percent of moves happen between April and September. A significant number of those moves are young people leaving the nest for the first time. Many life lessons await them! Some lessons will be painful. Avoid the pain with a little bit of knowledge.

CHOOSE YOUR ROOMMATES WELL

  • Everyone will be equally liable for the whole rent, not just their portion. Are the roommates dependable?
  • Do you share a similar lifestyle?
  • What about smoking or drinking?    
  • Frequent guests?
  • How will you resolve conflicts?    

IS IT AFFORDABLE?

The rule of thumb is to keep housing expenses at 30 percent of your income. But, this is just a guideline and not necessarily the best measure of affordability. If you have a decent income, the remaining 70 percent of your income can be substantial. If you are earning minimum wage, the remaining 70 percent isn’t much. Spend some time on your budget. Know your monthly net income and recurring expenses (phone, transportation, insurance, etc.). Track spending on food and entertainment. Can you cut some expenses to afford rent? Consider a different neighborhood? More roommates?

CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Most landlords use a screening service for prospective tenants, which includes your credit, your rental history, and your criminal background. They may have credit score thresholds to be considered for a rental. Be proactive by getting your free credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com, to check for errors and other issues that drag your score down, before you pay the application fee to the landlord. If your rental application is denied based on what is in your screening report, you have a right to a free copy of the report.

FIND THE RIGHT PLACE

  • Is the apartment convenient for work, school, public transportation?
  • What is the parking situation?
  • What are the utility costs?
  • Is the building secure? Can you safely lock up your bike?
  • Want houseplants? How is the natural light?

KNOW YOUR LEASE

A lease is a contract you are legally obligated to fulfill. Breaking a lease can end up on your rental record, and make it very difficult to rent in the future. Any unpaid rent may be reported to the credit bureaus, ruining your credit. You can also be sued for the unpaid rent, which could lead to wage garnishment and much misery.

It is wise to inspect the apartment thoroughly before signing a lease. Make a list of any issues. Take photographs, too. Have the landlord sign the list and keep a copy for yourself to avoid disputes later on.

BEWARE OF RENTAL SCAMS

Look for red flags:

  • Remarkably low rent    
  • Pressure to act quickly
  • Request to wire money or use reloadable card

ON YOUR OWN!

Some of this advice comes from the Minnesota Attorney General’s website where you’ll find much more: www.ag.state.mn.us, under Topics – Housing – Landlords & Tenants

Oh, and invite your mother to dinner!

Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling which offers free counseling for budgeting, debt, credit, student loans, and housing. Website: www.lssfinancialcounseling.org. Call: 888-577-2227.

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