Your First Apartment: The Basics

Image by Jeff Croft, Flickr

Image by Jeff Croft, Flickr

Everyone has their “first apartment” story, usually embellished with cockroaches, mice, nasty landlords, or other foul creatures. Avoid the typical mistakes students make with their first apartment by observing these tips:

1. Scout out multiple places

Even though the first apartment you see seems wonderful, and it seems like nothing could be better, give yourself options. View at least three places. While you’re hunting, be wary of irritable landlords. If the landlord shows you the apartment and is aggressive, irritable, or unpleasant while doing so, you would have to deal with the same attitude throughout your entire stay.

2. Don’t sign on the spot

Even after looking at multiple locations and narrowing it down to one, do not sign anything on the spot. Ask for the paperwork and read it over on your own time. Envision yourself living in the apartment and compose a list of questions to ask your landlord based on what you might need, or be concerned about. Even if it wounds your independence, show the contract to your parents along with pictures of the apartment. They could know something about old, leaky radiators that you don’t, or could catch something in the contract that could have ripped you off.

3. Protect yourself with paperwork

Congrats! You were meticulous about the apartment, the landlord, and the paperwork. Now you have to protect yourself by keeping copies of everything you sign, and making sure the copies are signed and dated by the landlord as well. This way, if the landlord claims you owe them money, or some other recompense, you can back up your protests with documentation and the exact date on which it was made legitimate by your signature.

4. Avoid infestation

Apartments, especially when it comes to student housing, are notorious for insect and rodent infestations. Protect yourself by buying a can of Raid and spraying the apartment before you move in. By spraying before you move in, you can get into all those tricky corners, and none of your stuff comes into contact with the poison. Spraying for bugs is especially crucial during or directly after the summer months.

5. Remember to pay rent

Forgetting to pay rent is a lot easier to do than it seems. The next month can sneak up on you. Set an alarm on your phone for the last day of each month to remind yourself. You can also give your landlord post-dated cheques to save yourself multiple trips to their office.

6. Know your rights

Sometimes you do all the right things, and sign on to what seems like a good, clean apartment with a reasonable landlord, and it still goes wrong. If you’re stuck with a year’s lease and a bad situation – your landlord could be refusing to help you deal with an infestation, which you don’t have enough money to take care of yourself – don’t be afraid to wield the appropriate paperwork and force them to help.

There are laws that require a landlord to provide a safe, clean space for their tenants. A lot of the laws that ensure tenant rights are available online, as are the processes and accompanying documents to enforce observation of these laws. Google “rental tenant’s laws,” and your area, to find out what laws apply to rentals in your region. You can even try asking a student housing advisor at your school for help if you’re having real trouble.

7. Move out properly

Some year-long leases turn over automatically unless you give your landlord proper notification that you are moving out. Go to your landlord and ask for the proper documentation for notification of termination of lease. In Ontario, this form is called an N9 form, and can be found on the Landlord and Tenant Board’s site.

Usually the tenant is supposed to give two months (60 days) notice before they move out, even if their lease is only for a year (remember, automatic turnover). If you do not give proper notice that you are moving out, the landlord might hold you responsible for rent until you do. This means you might have to pay three full months of extra rent! Again, be sure to date your documents when you sign them.

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