The renting process

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I’m graduating this year and, if all goes well, moving to a new city to work. I’ll have to a rent an apartment there on my own, and I’m feeling a little unprepared about that. I know there are fees and things to worry about when you rent, but I don’t know which fees to expect, and I don’t want to end up getting scammed by someone who takes advantage of my ignorance. What can the experts tell me about what to expect in the rental process?

Renting an apartment is a pretty straightforward process, but it can sometimes feel complicated as you weigh different options and deal with different fees. Let’s take a look at what sorts of fees you should expect to pay when you begin the rental process.

Let’s start with the one fee that nobody likes to pay–one to simply view an available apartment.

Oftentimes if the apartment is in a busy market (such as a major city like NYC), landlords will request a fee as a screening check of sorts. This will ensure that you are a qualified renter, and that you are not wasting their time to show an apartment that you would not be approved for anyway. Although it’s not ideal to have to pay a pre-screening fee, keep in mind that this is fairly normal in the current market.

When you are ready to apply for a place, you’ll also have a few fees coming your way. Landlords want to make sure that you’re a reliable tenant and can afford the place, of course (and this also helps tenants–you wouldn’t want to live in the apartment next to a shady character!). So you’ll most likely have to pay for a credit check and perhaps a background check. Sometimes these fees are rolled together into a single “application fee.” This fee can vary from situation to situation, especially if the landlord in question is using free tenant screening.

If you land the apartment, you’ll have a couple more expenses to worry about. For starters, if you used a realtor to find your place, now is when you’ll have to pay them for their trouble. In high-end, competitive markets like New York City, this fee can be as high as a month’s rent or more. In other areas, it might be half a month’s rent–it will vary widely depending on where you are. In fact, in some areas, they don’t exist at all!

The next fee at this stage in the process will be the security deposit, which sometimes takes the form of paying the final month’s rent (though, in other cases, you might be asked to pay both a security deposit and the final month’s rent). Things are getting pricey here, so remember: get everything in writing to protect yourself! Don’t pay if you aren’t signing the lease.

And that’s about it! If you are asked for fees besides the ones listed here, be wary. While you’re unlikely to be victimized by any scams, hopefully the knowledge here will help protect you and make you feel more secure.

“No day but today.” — Jonathan Larson, Rent

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