Before you begin looking for a place to live, you should become familiar with terminology used by many apartment managers.
Federal and State Fair Housing Laws require that any decision by a property provider to rent or not to rent be based on the qualifications of an individual applicant, not on any categorical judgment of an identifiable group of people. Equal Access is the key principle in all Fair Housing Law and protects prospective tenants from discriminatory practices. Equal Access Tenants’ Rights The Equal Access principle prohibits discrimination based on color, religion, national origin, age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation or disability.
Property Provider Rights do have a right to require certain information about prospective tenants. They use this information to evaluate applicants and choose among them. If a tenant does not meet the established income criteria, a property provider is legally allowed to charge a higher security deposit to that tenant.
Websites that provide information to help you understand your rights are listed below.
Renters’ & Tenants’ Rights. Information from Nolo, a source to help consumers find answers to everyday legal and business questions. Most contributors to Nolo are attorneys.
California Tenants. A guide from the California Department of Consumer Affairs to residential tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities.
Fair Housing of Sonoma County. They can counsel you on your rights, investigate discrimination, provide mediation, and make referrals to attorneys for legal help. Their services are completely free.
If the above resources are not helpful, you may also contact the following SRJC individual for assistance.
A lease agreement is a binding legal contract between you (the tenant) and a landlord stating the duration of residence, rent rate, amount of refundable security deposit and apartment rules.
When you sign a lease agreement or a contract, you are signing a legally enforceable document, obligating yourself to observe all of its terms. Make sure that you understand every element of the document to avoid unhappy consequences.
There are two types of leases: Fixed Term (usually 6, 9, or 12 months) and Month to Month.
Signing a Fixed Term lease means that you will be responsible for paying the rent and living in the apartment for a certain amount of time. Occasionally, an apartment building will offer lower rent or a lower deposit in exchange for you signing a 6, 9, or 12 month lease. The advantage to a Fixed Term lease is that you can't be asked to move and your rent cannot be increased during the span of your lease. The disadvantage is that you cannot move should you find something better or decide to leave the area unless you and your landlord agree in writing to terminate your lease earlier. Any changes to a lease or contract for housing should be in writing and signed by you (the tenant) and he landlord or property manager.
Month to Month
A Month-to-Month lease is just that; it is in effect from one month to the next. The advantage to this type of lease is that you can move out at any time, after you have given 30 days' written notice to the landlord or property manager. The disadvantage of a month to month lease is that rent can be increased at any time and the landlord only has to give you 30 days written notice to move out of the premises.
- Read the lease. Read through the lease thoroughly before signing it. Make sure you understand ALL of it. If there is something in it that you don't like, discuss it with the manager.
- Don't be rushed. Never feel rushed into signing anything.
- Check the names. Make sure that the name of every tenant is on the lease. When students move out or move in, it is vital that the new tenant's name be added to the lease. THIS IS IMPORTANT…if your roommates can't make the rent or causes a lot of damage, you and the other roommates may be held accountable or the landlord may evict you.
- Get a copy. Do not leave the manager's office without a copy of your lease. File it away in a safe place as you will definitely refer to it again in the future.
In addition to paying the monthly rent you may be asked to pay a security deposit.
Renter’s insurance covers a tenant's possessions that may be damaged, destroyed, or stolen due to fire, water damage, theft, etc. Note that renter’s insurance only covers theft due to forced-entry, not unlocked doors or strangers visiting.
There are many companies that sell renter’s insurance. When comparing policies, pay attention to coverage as well as to cost. Be sure to ask what documentation you’ll need to produce in order to get reimbursed in the event that you need to make a claim. Usually renter’s insurance only covers the policyholder and not roommates, so make sure you ask about this if you have roommates.
A security deposit is any money a landlord takes from a tenant other than the advance payment of rent. The security deposit serves to protect the landlord if the tenant breaks or violates the terms of the lease or rental agreement. It may be used to cover damage to the property, cleaning, key replacement, or back rent.
Expect to pay a security deposit of at least one month’s rent though it can be even more.
All of your security deposit can be fully refundable. A property provider may not specify in advance that a portion will be withheld for cleaning, repairs, etc. (Civil Code Section 1950.5). If a property provider requires a cosigner and the tenant is unable to find one (this is common with international students), the property provider can ask for a higher security deposit. Property providers can legally ask for a higher deposit for pets, as well.
There are two types of rentals: furnished and unfurnished.
What is a furnished versus unfurnished apartment?
Unlike an unfurnished apartment, when you rent a furnished place, you're not just renting empty rooms – you're renting all the furniture and necessities that are in them.
- You won’t have to move heavy furniture
- You won’t have to buy too much
- You can still decorate to make the place feel like your own home
- Rent is higher
- You don’t get to choose your furniture
If you choose an unfurnished rental you don’t need to buy furniture – you can rent furniture. You can also rent kitchen appliances. Here are some local rental stores.
Other Factors to Keep in Mind
- Some apartments charge tenants for water and garbage. Find out if these services are included in your monthly rent.
- You will most likely need to secure your own internet service and cable (TV) service. Your apartment manager can assist you with recommendations.
Some examples of internet providers are
- Most apartments have laundry facilities on-site, but not necessarily in each apartment complex. If your residence does not have laundry facilities, you may use neighborhood self-service laundry facilities. These facilities provide washers and dryers for use for a small fee.
- Very few apartments in the county accept pets. You must start looking far in advance and expect to pay a pet deposit or even higher rent if you choose to have a pet.