Things to Consider

Before You Start

Before you embark on the process of searching for off-campus housing, here are a few tips that may help you and make your searching more effective:

  • Give yourself enough time and start your search 4-6 weeks prior to your move-in date.
  • The process of landing a place that fits you can be time-consuming, so be patient and stay positive.
  • Avoid paying deposit or rent before you actually visit and check the place if possible.
  • Walk or drive through neighborhoods looking for "For Rent" signs, as some landlords will use that as their only means of advertising

Budget and Costs

The 28% Rule

Many landlords recommend that tenants budget 25-30% of their gross income for rent. As an example, if your monthly income is $3,000, you should budget at least $750 - $900 for rent. 

Security Deposits, Utilities, Etc.

Most landlords require one month's rent plus a security deposit (usually equal to one month's rent) upon signing the lease. Moreover, you will likely need additional cash to cover moving expenses and utilities (power, telephone, etc.). For customers who have no credit or poor credit, utility companies like SDG&E often require a deposit in order to start service. You should plan on having enough cash to cover all of these expenses as well as a reserve amount for unforeseen expenses.

Discuss cable and internet providers, all utilities including water and sewer with your landlord to understand any requirements and expectations before signing a rental agreement. Understand how much flexibility you may or may not have in choosing some of these providers.

Credit Reports and Credit Scores

A credit report is a document that lists a person's debts and history of borrowing and repayment. A credit score is a measure of the person's overall creditworthiness. A credit report and/or score are used by a landlord to judge a tenant's financial reliability in making monthly payments. Therefore, having a good credit report and score is very important in securing a rental property.

Landlords will often want to view your credit report and/or credit score as part of the application process.  By federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. A good strategy is to bring copies of that free credit report when viewing properties, so that you are prepared to give it to landlord with the rental application. For more information on free credit reports, go to www.ftc.gov or www.annualcreditreport.com.

Some landlords prefer to collect a fee from you for the purchase of the credit report. California law stipulates that landlords can collect a maximum fee of $30 for a credit report. The landlord must also provide a receipt that itemizes how the money is spent on the report, give the applicant a copy of the credit report if requested, refund any unspent portion of the fee, and return the entire fee if a credit check is not performed.

Renters Insurance

Renters insurance protects against property losses such as losses from theft, fire, vandalism, or water damage. In addition to property coverage, renters policies may offer protection against personal liability, guest medical benefits, additional emergency living expenses, and credit card protection. Contact your insurance agent for more information.

Note to International Students

Without a U.S. Social Security Number it is impossible to obtain a credit report from a U.S. credit bureau. Many landlords may be adverse to accepting tenants who cannot provide a U.S. credit report. Therefore, international students are advised to prepare additional documentation of financial resources (scholarships, bank account funds, etc.) as part of a supplemental packet of information that can be provided to landlords.

Inspect the Lease

Remember that your lease is a legal contract. Do not sign anything that you do not understand!

Here is a list of things to keep in mind when going through the lease:

  • Make sure the name of the landlord, the address of the rental property and total amount of the rent is included
  • Rent: What’s the amount and due date? Are utilities included? Penalty for late payment?
  • Length of lease: Month-to-month, six months, one year or other terms?
  • Deposit: The amount and purpose of the security deposit? What’s the refund policy?
  • Damages: What is the policy for paying for damages beyond normal wear and tear- individuals or all tenants?
  • Subletting: Is it allowed? What is the procedure?
  • Roommates: Should all roommates sign the lease? Are roommates responsible for only a portion of the rent? In case someone moves out, are the remaining roommates responsible for making up the difference? What is the total number of tenants allowed in the property?
  • Alterations: To what extent can tenants alter the property?  Hang pictures on the wall?
  • Landlord belongings: What belongings are given by the landlord at the time of signing the lease such as keys and parking permit? Are all the items listed on the lease?
  • Parking: Is it available?  Is it included in the rent?
  • Pets/Smoking: Are pets allowed? Is smoking permitted?
  • Utilities: What utilities are included in the rent?
  • Early termination of the lease: What’s the policy for terminating the lease earlier? What’s the procedure?
  • Get a copy of the lease: Always request a copy of the completed signed lease. 
 

 Inspect the Property

Tips:

  • Be polite, honest and accommodating when interact with potential landlords/apartment managers; bring up your special needs early, if you have any, such as smoking and pet, to save time for both parties
  • Bring a copy of credit score report when inspecting the property
  • Bring your check for application fee, deposit and rent, in case you decide to take the place on the spot. If you pay by cash, don’t forget to ask for receipt
  • Landlord may ask for a holding deposit if you want to secure the place until you pay the first month’s rent and security deposit. Confirm with the landlord if the holding deposit will be counted towards first month’s rent
  • Ask your potential roommate(s) lifestyle questions, if anyone else is living in the place
  • Inform your landlord if any part of the property is in poor condition

Things to consider when inspecting a property:

Is the property clean and in good working order?

  • Watch for any signs of cracks, leaks, insects, rodents, rust, mildew, and water damage
  • Check the cleanliness of the hallways, windows, furnishings, walls, ceiling, cabinets, carpet or floors
  • Be sure that all electrical appliances and heating and cooling systems are in good condition and functioning properly
  • Make sure hot water is available
  • Note if there is smoke detector in the property

Is the property secured?

Check for safety features, such as:

  • An entry door with deadbolt and hinges on the inside
  • A well-lit stairways, sidewalks, and parking areas
  • Curtains and shades provided
  • Fire exits and security system

Note: It's a good idea to walk or drive around the neighborhood during the day and again in the evening, and make sure you feel comfortable living there.

Rental Checklist:

When viewing a property, expect to check for problems or damage. Completion of a rental condition checklist form may serve as proof of the condition of the property at the time of rental, in case there is a dispute about damage. Have your landlord sign the rental condition checklist when you have it filled out, and make copies both for your landlord and yourself. 

Deposit

The total amount charged for security deposit can't be more than the amount of 2 months' rent for an unfurnished rental unit or 3 months' rent for a furnished unit.

In California, it is unlawful for a security deposit to be "non-refundable." However, the law allows landlords to retain part or all of your deposit under certain circumstances, such as if you move out and still owe rent, or if you leave the rental property in damaged condition.

Within 21 days after you move out, your landlord must send you a full refund of the security deposit with itemized lists of reasons and amounts of any withheld amount.

Make sure your lease clearly states that the amount of the security deposit and the date you paid it. If you paid by check, you may also want to note the check number on the rental agreement. 

The law allows landlords to retain all or part of your deposit under certain circumstances such as:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Cleaning fee for the property after you move out, if the property was not left as clean as when you moved in
  • Replacing or restoring furniture, appliance or other items that belongs to your landlord
  • Any damage beyond normal wear and tear that are caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests

Landlords do not have to return the security deposit to anyone other than the person who originally paid that deposit on the lease. For roommates living together, it is important to understand the best way to deal with the security deposit. If the tenant who paid the deposit moves out while the other tenant stays, it is a good idea to have the landlord pay the security deposit back to the person leaving and then have the remaining tenant pay a new deposit on the lease. This will ensure that the new tenant will be able to get the security deposit back when they choose to move out.