First Time Renter MyLife Guide

Here are some things to consider as you prepare to become a first-time renter.

Understand the lease

A lease is a legally binding contract between the tenant and the landlord stating the rights and rules while residing on the property. While this agreement is spelled out in complex legal jargon, it’s important not to skim through it. You should never feel rushed into signing a lease.

Carefully read through the entire document and don’t be afraid to address questions and concerns to the landlord. Failure to understand all of the terms can blindside you from restrictions, penalties and other unexpected expenses. So make sure you know what you’re signing into.

Start-up expenses

You already know you’ll be responsible for monthly rent and utilities – but don’t forget about the up-front costs that come with renting an apartment. Be prepared to pay application fees, first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. Some landlords might even require a pet deposit to cover any additional damages to the property. You’ll need to cover these costs before even moving in, so be prepared.

Will you need a co-signer?

As a first-time renter, the answer is most likely yes. Landlords want to ensure renters are financially stable. To determine financial responsibility, landlords look into your income, credit and rental history – all of which aren’t all that impressive as a first-time renter. To be sure rent comes in on time, landlords insist on co-signer agreements. A co-signer assumes all legal responsibilities if the tenant fails to pay. Many first-time renters choose a parent or close friend to vouch for them as their co-signer.

Renter’s Insurance

Don’t think it’s a scheme. Renter’s insurance is very important as it provides protection for both yourself and personal belongings. The insurance policy can help replace your items in the case of damage, theft and disaster in your apartment. Your landlord might require tenants to have an insurance policy but you should have one whether it’s mandated or not. Unlike car or homeowners insurance, coverage for a rental’s insurance plan is quite reasonable. Securing an affordable safety net into your monthly budget should be a no-brainer.


Once you’ve established your rental budget, you should decide whether you need a roommate. Keep in mind that you will be paying for rent, utilities and groceries all by yourself. The monthly costs may be more than you realize. If you have limited funds, you may want to consider getting a roommate to share expenses. Make sure to discuss living arrangements and house rules prior to moving in together. In addition to splitting rental costs, you should also decide how you’ll divvy up chores and the cost of household items. Having a plan beforehand will help simplify both your living situations.

Schedule a walk-through

Before settling into your new apartment, make sure you inspect the property. Document any defects or necessary repairs with timestamped photos. This way you can immediately notify the landlord and won’t be at fault for any pre-existing damages once your lease ends. Once you’ve tested all the appliances and inspected each room, you’re ready to move in!

Know your rights

Have you wondered what your landlord can and cannot do? Make sure you know your rights as a renter. The Department of Consumer Affairs outlines landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities in an informational guide to help avoid problems and resolve any rental disagreements. The booklet focuses on California laws that govern the landlord and tenant relationship. The handbook is written from the tenant’s point of view and is available for free download here.

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Good luck!