Looking out for your finances as a renter

Landlords and property owners have their fair share of problems: They have to manage, accommodate, repair, etc., their property. It's a lot of responsibility, and with great responsibility comes great headache.

But it ain't all roses for renters, either. We've got rent increases, security deposits, and unannounced, inescapable construction. Last Saturday, I woke up to the sound of drilling on the wall next to which I sleep. It was 7:30 in the ever-loving morning!

As a renter, there are a handful of important laws and considerations that many of us overlook. At least, I know I've overlooked them. So I figured they were worth sharing. Here are some money-related things to keep in mind if you are a renter.

There's a High And Low Season For Renting

I never really thought about this, but it makes sense. There's a busy season for renting, and, according to Apartment Guide, it's between May and September.

“If you've got the flexibility, winter could be the best time of year for a move. Following the busy holiday season when most people are tuckered out (and their bank accounts are running low), fewer renters make a move. Because demand for apartments is lower, you may find a hot deal on rent during the cooler months.”

Rental site RentHop studied some data and found that November, specifically, was the best time to look for an apartment. They also found that morning was the best time to hunt online for apartments, as most brokers post between 9 and 10 a.m.

Renter's Insurance Is Worth It

For the coverage you get, renter's insurance is a pretty good deal. Depending on your policy, you're covered for personal property theft, damage from natural disaster, liability if someone hurts themselves in your place, relocation expenses — in some cases, you're even covered if someone steals something from your car.

And the average cost of a standard policy? Less than $15 a month. According to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America:

“…renters insurance policies cost as little as $10 per month. The average cost of renters insurance is $12 per month for about $30,000 of property coverage and $100,000 of liability coverage.”

Not bad. Yet, in their recent poll, they found that two-thirds of renters don't have it. Another perk of renter's insurance? You might qualify for a multi-policy discount if you go through your auto insurance carrier. That makes that low premium even lower.

Your Security Deposit Might Have a Limit

Depending on your state, your landlord is only allowed to charge you a certain amount for your security deposit. This might seem obvious, but it helps to know what the limits are in your state. You can find them here.

Document Everything

Document repairs, broken appliances and fixtures — everything. Take pictures. Send emails. Save receipts. Should an issue arise, this will make the process of finding a solution a lot smoother. For example, let's say your apartment management company charges you for a damaged tub that you complained about repeatedly but they never bothered to fix (ahem). Well, if you have photos and email evidence, it makes it a lot easier to prove your case and get your deposit back.

I always feel more motivated to document everything when I rent from a company rather than an individual. It's easy for a company to hide behind clerical errors or miscommunication. Having proof can help get the issue resolved quicker.

You Can Negotiate Your Rent

I haven't tried this, but I really, really want to. I can't imagine a world in which you ask for cheaper rent and your wish is granted. But apparently it happens.

I've read about how to negotiate rent and, when people tell me they've actually done it in real life, I'm always impressed. Here are a few tips for doing it effectively:

  • Offer to pay months' worth of rent up front

  • Sign a longer lease

  • Offer referrals

Security Deposit Interest

Depending on your area, you might be able to get a return on interest earned on your security deposit. For example, in Los Angeles:

“Since 2004, interest payable to tenants may be determined in two ways: 1) use the simple interest rate established by the Rent Adjustment Commission; or 2) pay the tenant the actual amount earned on the security deposit. If the second method is used, the landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of a bank statement indicating the interest earned on their deposit for the year.”

The amount might not be much, but it could be worth looking into. In Los Angeles, our apartment company is allowed to pass along a small fee from the city to the renters each year. It's something like $5, but I balk at it every time.

If that's worth balking at, perhaps my interest is worth asking about too.

When you're a renter, it might seem you're at the mercy of your property owners. And many times, you are. But you may have more tenant rights than you think. And, in general, there are at least a few simple ways to look out for your finances.

More about...Home & Garden, Insurance, Planning

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RockySense
RockySense
6 years ago

Is there a website that lists in what areas landlords are obligated to return interest earned on security deposits?

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago
Reply to  RockySense

Should’ve linked in the article but hopefully this helps:

http://www.rentlaw.com/securitydeposit.htm

Millionaires Giving Money
Millionaires Giving Money
6 years ago

Great post especially for a renter. Most posts on the internet are designed for landlords however. I agree about the deposit and rent commentary as there is always a possibility to negotiate.

Taylor Lee
Taylor Lee
6 years ago

This reminds me I still need to buy renter’s insurance.

Also, not sure how much you can really negotiate your rent. Depends on the market I guess, but here if you sit on a rental for even a day, it’ll be snatched out from under you. So not much leverage for rentals. Then again I’m in an overpopulated city in the Northeast so there’s that.

Lis
Lis
6 years ago
Reply to  Taylor Lee

My boyfriend just negotiated his rent, though I think he partially got lucky. The unit was out for only a few days, but his landlords (a couple with two young children) were eager to rent it out to a stable person. They told their agent to make sure she only brought “non scary people.” I’m fairly certain my boyfriend was the first, and perhaps only, potential tenant to see that apartment. He asked that $50 be knocked off since there was no washer/dryer and he’d have to provide his own internet. They jumped on it right away. Had they been… Read more »

Josh
Josh
6 years ago
Reply to  Taylor Lee

I have been able to negotiate rent a few times, just by viewing multiple offerings in the area. I have actually been renting at the same place for several years now, but, have often been able to get some better deals just by asking when the annual lease comes up for renewal (unfortunately the one thing they won’t budge on is going month-to-month but I like it enough at my current place I’m willing to stay). Also, I have run the numbers and I am better off financially by renting rather than buying for my current situation. However, here are… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

Thinking on it, we’ve never had a bad rental experience. That could be because we’ve only rented in cities that are expensive and have strong laws protecting renters, with lots of lawyers willing to enforce those laws. We’ve also often rented places that our friends have recommended as being good places to rent, which helps. We have successfully asked for our rent to not be increased and we’ve negotiated our rent down. And once we negotiated bringing our pets. It helps that we’ve been “good risks”– married professionals with steady employment, or at least enough of an income to make… Read more »

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
6 years ago

I’m determined to negotiate down our next rent increase. Were you living in a big city when you did it? I just wonder if negotiating is less effective in LA, where there are a high number of renters. That’s what I’ve always assumed, but so many people have such luck with negotiating!

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

I have done it in two big cities, including LA. Armed with knowledge about how much rents had increased on average over the year for the negotiating away a rent increase. With the negotiating lower rent, we just couldn’t afford the rent they were asking and needed to bring our cats (who we claw-capped at the landlord’s request), so we would have had to look elsewhere if they hadn’t gone for it. But we looked like good risks, I guess.

Fredrik von Oberhausen
Fredrik von Oberhausen
6 years ago

It is definitely good to know ones rights. The problem is often that the owner does not know or… forget it… and then the only option is via a lawyer giving everyone, besides from the lawyer, a financial loss.

What happened to an honest handshake and people actually signing up and accepting certain rules when they decided to start a renting business?

Personally I prefer to rent with the bigger organizations since they tend more frequently (in my opinion) to follow the rules in comparison to smaller private people that thought they could make a quick fortune without any effort.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Personally I prefer to rent with the bigger organizations since they tend more frequently (in my opinion) to follow the rules in comparison to smaller private people that thought they could make a quick fortune without any effort. Yes! A million times yes. I’ve had a private landlord (an elderly couple) who was an outstanding exception to this trend–they were really great people . But generally speaking, you’re absolutely correct. While on this subject, beware of property management companies fronting for underfunded absentee landlords. Their apparent large size obscures their very shallow pockets. My worst rental experience was with one… Read more »

superbien
superbien
6 years ago

That’s funny that you said companies are more inclined to gouge you – my experience is so the opposite. I have been screwed utterly by 3 private landlords – 1 who took advantage of college students, and then years later, 2 owners who both decided to sell and let greed take over their ethics (made up false or inflated charges – 1 even forged a document in court). I have lost $5k in security deposits all told (though I’m still fighting the last $2500). The good news is that small claims court in the US is cheap and easy. You… Read more »

Aldo@MDN
6 years ago

I’ve also heard people negotiating rent, but I’ve never tried it myself. Maybe if they try to raise my rent I will try to negotiate that.

I did know about the interest earned on security deposit because one of my previous landlords was an honest man. Most landlords don’t do this so make sure you let them know this is the law (if it is in your state).

Curtis@PayOffMyRentals
6 years ago

I’ve lived both sides of the equation.
Sadly, as a Landlord I put out far more money for damages than I could ever collect from bad tenants (all of whom pass background and credit checks).

I’m one of those who treats people the way I would like to be treated if I were a renter. It’s too bad not everyone lives by the Golden Rule 🙁

KBishop
KBishop
6 years ago

Are you kidding me?? We used to rent out a darling little studio behind our house. The renter,one the day shemoved in, let us know she hates dogs and literally would let our dogs out of the backyard. One got hit. We could then hear her screaming at herself and breaking glass. She never paid rent past the first month. We had to sue to get her removed. She lived RENT FREE for 4 months while we paid her utilities. So you may want to re-think your perception of this.

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  KBishop

What does your story have to do with the article? This is for renters, not landlords.

alohabear
alohabear
6 years ago

Several years ago when we still rented, I was able to successfully negotiate a lower rent. We had lived in the apartment for two years and our lease was coming due. Management notified us they were going to increase our rent by $50. I went online and saw they were advertising the same apartment type for $50 less than what we were currently paying (without the increase). So I took the information to management and played the “we’re such great renters for you” tune. They gave us the advertised price, so we ended up saving $100/month.

PawPrint
PawPrint
6 years ago

We were due for a rent increase when our lease was up, but negotiated for the same rent as the previous year (Seattle). When my stepdaughter’s roommate moved out, she was able to renegotiate the rent to one she could afford on her own (Los Angeles). As a landlord, I wanted to increase the rent for our townhome by $50 because the expenses had increased. However, because we had great tenants, and we are planning to move into the rental home in a year, I told them if they’d sign a year’s lease (they wanted to do a 9-month), I… Read more »

DiverGC
DiverGC
6 years ago

I was able to negotiate rent once in Phoenix, when I was renting from a private owner that used a property management company. I just asked the management company if the owner would let our rent stay the same, and she agreed. I know people who have gotten great deals through private owners. It may be regional, though, since all apartment complexes I looked at offered move in specials if you signed same day in Phoenix. I recently moved to the SF Bay Area. I had one day to decide where to live. None offered move in specials. The attitude… Read more »

Ben @ The Wealth Gospel
Ben @ The Wealth Gospel
6 years ago

I’ll add to the renter’s insurance to make sure to itemize everything you have, otherwise the insurance company isn’t going to be much help if you end up having a claim.

Teinegurl
Teinegurl
6 years ago

i agree as ive lived in rentals all my life that it’s way easier, faster to get repairs done with a management company or a bigger company then a small landlord. I’ve never haggled on the rent though because i usually view several apartments in the area before picking one so i know if im getting a good price for the location, neighborhood and size of the apartments.

Laura
Laura
6 years ago

The only time we “negotiated” on the rent was when we were in fierce competition with another couple to gain a desirable apartment. The rent was advertised at $800 (in Boston, about 25 years ago). The other couple offered $850 but the landlord would mow the lawn and shovel snow in the winter; we stuck with $800 but offered to do the lawn maintenance and snow shoveling. That was worth more than $50/month to the landlady and she went with us. I don’t think this is quite what Kristin had in mind when she wrote about negotiating rent. 😀 But… Read more »

Lonnie
Lonnie
6 years ago

I’ve successfully negotiated my rent down by pointing out that the difference in rent I was asking for totaled over 12 months was less then one months rent. The landlord wasn’t willing to risk me leaving and facing the possibility that the apartment would remain vacant for any period of time. You have to be willing to be ready to move to make this tactic work.

BD
BD
6 years ago

I’ve lived in rented apartments my entire adult life (and I’m middle-aged now). Almost all of the apartments I’ve stayed in have been large complexes owned by large rental companies. “Signing a longer lease” is always the way to get lower rent with these big complexes. The lowest rents are on leases for over a year. I’ve never had a problem signing a longer lease, and the difference in rent can be amazing. My current place is a 2 bedroom 1 bath that rents for around $1,100 month to month. Around the 6-month lease point, the price lowers. My lease… Read more »

30 Something Dude
30 Something Dude
6 years ago

As a renter I’ve had a great relationship with my landlord over the last 7 years: only one rent increase, timely repairs, left alone to enjoy my apartment. In return I’ve been a great tenant and kept the apartment in good condition. Its a give and take relationship; the golden rule definitely applies in terms of treating my landlord with the same respect they’ve shown me.

Tony Herman
Tony Herman
5 years ago

The world we live in is based on give and take criteria. Similarly when it comes to landlords they should have a compatible relationship with the tenant so that it works both ways. Trust me a little negotiation never hurt, there was a certain repair in the bathroom and he attended to it quickly and we settled at a fair price. It is hard earned money and everyone should get his penny’s share of worth.

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