Bring your paperwork.
Make the right first impression when you meet the landlord by bringing 1) a completed rental application; 2) written references from other landlords and employers, and 3) your latest credit report from one of the major credit bureaus: Equifax (www.equifax.com), Experian (www.experian.com), or TransUnion (www.transunion.com). (You're entitled to one free copy of your credit report every year. Check www.annualcreditreport.com for more information.)
Review the lease.
The lease spells out your rights and obligations, as well as the landlord's, so be sure you read and understand the entire lease before signing it. For example, do you know under what conditions the lease can be terminated or renewed? Do you know who pays the utilities? Does the lease let you have pets, guests, or run a home business? Is there parking, a pool, fitness center or other amenities (and are there charges for their use)? Do you understand your rights to privacy and how much advanced notice in writing – if any — the landlord has to give you before she can enter?
Prepare for upfront fees.
Landlords may charge non–refundable application fees, non–refundable move–in fees, and, if pets are allowed, pet fees. You may also be required to pay a broker fee if you used a for–fee broker to find your rental.
Guard your security deposit.
Landlords typically require a security deposit equal to one or two months' rent when the lease is signed. Before signing your lease, make sure you understand what it says about the landlord refunding your security deposit or using it (for example, to cover repairs) when you move. This is one reason you should inspect the unit with the landlord and record existing damage on a statement or checklist before you move in and why you should be present when the apartment is inspected prior to moving out of the unit.
Get everything in writing.
Follow up oral agreements by sending your landlord a letter that sets out your understanding. Keep copies of all your correspondence about the rental. It will help avoid potential disputes.
If you need additional assistance, there are community resources that can assist you before you sign. You can also find more information on renting a home at My Home by Freddie Mac.
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