Guide to Renting Your First Apartment: How to navigate the application process and more helpful tips.

Before you Rent an Apartment for the First Time

Moving out in to your first apartment is an exciting experience. With that independence comes a lot of responsibility. Keep Reading to find out some helpful tips for Renting an apartment for the first time.

Determine your Budget for Rent

Before beginning your apartment search, you need to determine how much apartment you can afford. The general recommendation is not to spend more than 1/3rd of your monthly income on rent. So, if your monthly income is $3000, the recommendation is to spend no more than $1000 on rent. The real estate website   Zillow has an affordability calculator to help you determine how much rent you can afford.

Start Searching about 30 days before your anticipated Move-In Date

Thirty days before you are ready to move-in is a good time to start searching for apartments. Most rental companies require tenants to give notice at least 30 days prior to vacating an apartment.  Property managers know 30 days in advance when an apartment will be available. You will likely have to wait until the current tenant vacates the apartment before you schedule a showing.  Prior to the showing you can gather information such as application requirements & Security deposit amounts.

Schedule Apartment Showings

Once you’ve found a few apartments, that are available for your move in date & meet your budget, you want to give the property manager a call to schedule a visit.  A lot of apartments have pictures available online, but it is important to see the apartment in person.  The photographs are taken to show the best features of the apartment. You need to physically visit the apartment to see what condition the apartment is actually in.  Also, it is good to explore common areas of the building as well as the surrounding area.

Look Around the Apartment & Take Note of any thing that needs to be Fixed

Always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, visit an apartment prior to signing a rental agreement and leaving a security deposit.  You need to engage all your sense of sight, sound, feel, and smell to make sure this is the place you would like to call home before signing a lease.  Look around and take note of the overall condition of the apartment.  Open the fridge and oven and make sure they are clean. Look in the kitchen cabinet for any signs of rodents. Run the faucets in the sinks and bath tubs make sure there is hot water, peek under sinks to make sure there are no leaks. You want to note any issues with the apartment and be sure that they will be addressed prior to signing the lease.

Check out common areas such as parking lots, laundry rooms, lobby, & mail room.  You want to ensure that these areas are well kept & secure.

Listen & Sniff to determine if you can make this apartment a home

Take a deep breath in to see what the apartment smells like. Are there any pet odors seeping in to the apartment from a neighbor’s apartment or left behind from a previous tenant?  Is there a restaurant near by and the smell of food seeps into the apartment?  You may be able to remedy any of these situations with some air freshener. Just consider if you can be comfortable calling this place home if there are weird odors that cannot be eliminated with air freshener.

 Visit when neighbors are home, usually in the evening ,to gauge the noise level.  Listen for babies crying, dogs barking, couples arguing, loud music and the sound of passing traffic. These are some of the sounds that come with apartment living. Gauge the overall level to determine if it is something you could live with.

Four things you will need in order to Submit a Rental Application for the First Time

Check list for applying for an apartment
Apartment Application Checklist

Property management companies require applications to ensure that potential tenants are a good fit for their property.  They want to ensure that tenants can afford the apartment and will not damage the apartment.

Proof of Income

Property Managers want to ensure that you are able to consistently pay the rent. When I rented my first apartment, I had to show my property manager two months of pay stubs before I was able to move in. If you work on commission, or have other irregular income. Showing proof of income can be more of a challenge.  In this case you may need to show tax statements and bank statements as proof of income.


Two friends provided references for my first apartment application.  The management company requested their name, telephone numbers & addresses. My friends confirmed that the management company followed up with them for additional information.  For my first apartment rental, my income and credit score exceeded the minimum applications requirements.  So using friends as a reference was not an issue, but there are some situations where it may make sense to use different references.

In situations where your credit score has taken a hit, or your income is on the lower side required for the apartment use professional references.  Professional references from your current or previous employer improve your credibility.  References from community, religious, or academic settings can also help prove your credibility and help secure your first apartment.  

Credit Score

Your credit score is important to management companies because it demonstrates that you are responsible with your payments. Before I submitted my application for my first apartment, I asked what type of things would disqualify me from renting the apartment. The management company mentioned that bankruptcies & foreclosures were the two things that disqualified renters.

Different property managers will have different requirements. If you know you have blemishes on your credit report, discuss these with the property managers. There may be options available for you to rent the property despite your credit history.  These could be additional references or paying a higher security deposit.

Application Fee

It costs money to perform a credit check, some management agencies may also run a background check so they may charge a fee to rent the apartment. Paying an application fee also shows landlords that you are seriously considering renting their property.  For my first apartment, I paid an application fee of $50. In my apartment search application fees ranged from $25 to $100.

5 Things to Do Before you sign your first Rental Agreement

Verify the Basics

The Rental Agreement should clearly identify the amount of rent and the due date of each month. Review the Rental agreement to verify it accurately reflects the terms that you agreed to with the property manager.

Also review the agreement for information about utilities.  The Rental Agreement should state which utilities are included as part of the rent.

Get any Promised Repairs or Exclusions in Writing

Property managers are eager to rent the apartment and might want you to sign the rental agreement before the apartment is completely ready. The apartment may need a fresh coat of paint, a new fridge or stove. If the landlord promises to make those repairs before you move in, those should be included in the rental agreement.  

When and How to Renew your Rental

For my first apartment I had to live there for at least a year, after that my lease automatically renewed on a monthly basis and I could terminate it with 60-day notice. Review the Rental Agreement carefully, even if you are on a “month to month” lease, you still may need to give the property manager more than 30 days’ notice before you move out of your apartment.

Discuss the Terms of Breaking Your Lease

Sign a lease for a term you are committed to staying in your apartment. Life happens you may find an awesome career opportunity that requires you to move.  You should know in advance what happens if you decide to break your lease. Are you responsible for paying rent for the remaining months on the lease? Are you responsible for paying the rent until the property manager finds a new tenant?

Review the Apartment Rules

Plan on getting a pet to keep you company in your new apartment? Read the lease to make sure they are allowed, and budget for any pet fees that may be added to your rent.  If the landlord is making an exception for your beloved Chihuahua be sure to get that information in writing.

Before you spend your first night in your first Apartment

 Congratulations you made it to your first night in your new apartment!  At a minimum you will need somewhere to sleep. Make arrangements to have your bed frame or box spring delivered before you plan to spend your first night in your apartment. One or two wash cloths and towels per person. Toilet paper, paper towel, tooth brush, other essential toiletries are also good to have prior to spending your first night in your new apartment.   

Activate your utilities before spending your first night in your new apartment. If electricity, heat & water are not included as part of your rent you transfer it to your name before spending your first night in your new apartment. At the very least you will want to be able to charge your phone, brush your teeth and enjoy a bath.

Mimi D.

Mimi D is the creator of Dream Plan Smile. An NYC native, she is a wife and mom with a passion for crafting. She holds a Bachelor's in Engineering and a Master's in Project Management. In her current role as a working wife and mom, she is getting a crash course in budgeting, planning, & organization.

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