The First Apartment: Think and Plan Before You Sign the Lease

By Kate Young ‘14/ Champlain News

It’s time. It’s time to say goodbye to dorms, dining halls and RAs. It’s time to drop cable because it’s just not worth it and it’s time to learn to cook. You’ve decided that it is time to get your first apartment.

Our very first move in day did not go exactly how we imagined. We certainly weren't planning on fire trucks.

Our very first move in day did not go exactly how we imagined. We certainly weren’t planning on fire trucks.

For many college students, it is after your sophomore year when you feel the urge to have a place of your own.  Seems simple – grab a couple friends, and rent an apartment. If only it was as simple as that.

Renting an apartment is one of the first steps to join “the real world.” It is also a time when overlooking the pitfalls and mistakes can cost you – big. From security deposits, cable and internet bills to electric and heating bills, broken appliances and everything in between, the your first apartment can be a huge undertaking with plenty of challenges.

After my first apartment move-in day was filled with fire trucks, water-soaked floors, red damage tags and an impossible landlord, I realized that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. But the crisis passed, and three weeks later and after a whole slew of movers, plumbers, electricians and code inspection officers, I have calmed down a bit and settled in.

Our red tag from our condemmed oven got put on our fridge as a token that we made it through!

Our red tag from our condemmed oven got put on our fridge as a token that we made it through!

Everyone has stories from their first place, so talk with your parents, older siblings and friends, and especially financial literacy counselors at Champlain for advice.

Mike Fife, the coordinator of LEAD Financial Sophistication, says many novice renters rush into leasing an apartment without understanding all of their rights and responsibilities that come along with signing a legal document like a lease.

“Students should be careful and intentional before moving in with friends and really consider the number of roommates they will have and the lifestyle of those roommates,” Fife notes.  It also might be a good idea to sit down and discuss a roommate agreement to discuss what you want and don’t want, and  avoid confusion down the road. He urges students factor in the cost of furnishing the apartment, and outfitting it with household items and supplies.

There are also workshops and other resources on this topic offered by Champlain. To find out more of these contact Fife at mfife@champlain.edu.

Experienced renters say it is important to think about what your landlord might not be telling you. Sure, there are plenty of kindhearted landlords out there looking to get you in a nice comfortable space, but there are others who know that you are first-time renter and will squeeze every penny out of you that they can, especially when it comes to getting your security deposit back or paying for repairs.

So, while they might not always tell you everything, they can’t hide pertinent information from you either. Know your rights, Fife suggests, and look over the Vermont Tenants Rights Handbook, which is available online here.

It includes useful information such as your deposit must be returned with an itemized list of deductions within 14 days of moving out.

As a college student on a tight budget, money and making the rent is something that is always on your mind. Is the rent affordable? What happens if one of my roommates moves out or can’t come up with their share of the rent?

Fife can help with some tips, there as well. “Really map out some goals to motivate yourself. Once you know what you’re saving for and how much you need, it is much easier,” he suggests. He added it helps to put money earmarked for rent in a separate account. That way you don’t have to worry if you’ll have enough when the rent is due, and you’ll know how much you can spend on your own.

My roommates and I all talked about what we had to do together to really make our first apartment feel like home.

My roommates and I all talked about what we had to do together to really make our first apartment feel like home.

Ultimately, getting your first apartment is fun. It can be scary and difficult at times, but budgeting and living independently is a good step to take on that long journey to the real world. Figure out your finances and sit in on some LEAD sessions at Champlain, and you will be ready to take the plunge, Fife said.

Besides, once you are settled, you get to have sleepovers with your best friends daily, have a place to call your own, and become a “responsible” adult who takes care of yourself.

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