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Rental Report: Tips for Apartment Hunting With a Roommate

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Now that spring is finally here, the rental business is ramping up as well. This time of year, we get a lot of renters looking for units with one or more roommates. Looking for a place to rent can be tough whether it is for just you, or for you and 3 others. Here are a few tips to help you get through the apartment search and into a great home with your group.

Discuss the basics before you start looking. Make sure you are on the same page with what you want. Knowing what you all collectively want will save everyone wasted efforts. Be sure to discuss: what areas work best for all parties, what type of unit you are hoping to find, and what you can each afford.

Discover any pitfalls. The last thing you want to happen is to find the perfect place, take the time to apply and pay the application fees, only to find out the landlord denied the applications because your roommate has terrible credit. It isn’t the easiest discussion to have, as it is deeply personal. Just remember, you are entering in to a legal agreement with this person, so you need to know that you won’t be stuck either homeless because you can’t qualify, or in a place you can’t afford because your roommate can’t or won’t pay.

Know the legal ramifications. That brings us to these four little words: jointly and severally liable. This means that all parties on the lease are responsible for the entire lease. If someone leaves, the remaining renters are responsible for that portion of the lease as well. Co-signers, too, are not just responsible for one person, but for all those on the lease. And this isn’t just the financial issue — does your roommate have a pet? Guess what? That baseboard the dog just chewed up is your responsibility, too.

Now that we have the legal stuff out of the way, what about the actual search?

Coordination is key. Work out a time where you can both view apartments together. It isn’t always easy, but this way, if there is a great place out there, you don’t risk losing it because someone can’t get there for a few days. Also, remember it isn’t just your time that is valuable, but the time of the property manager, on-site leasing agent, or real estate agent as well.

Sometimes looking together isn’t always possible. If everyone is on board with needs and wants, assign one person the ability to make a decision quickly if necessary.

Have one contact person. This is especially helpful with groups working with agents. This person can coordinate with the other roommates, the agent, and the property manager/landlord.

Be ready to apply. This is particularly important with larger groups. Make sure everyone is ready with application fees, security deposit (in Virginia can be up to two months’ rent) and the first month’s rent. Most likely, the payments will need to be in certified funds.  Everyone will need to fill out an application and provide proof of income which can be two most recent pay stubs, an offer letter from a new employer, or tax documents.  That reasonably-priced four bedroom house with Metro access won’t be on the market long. Having all your ducks in a row will ensure you will get the place and will be ready for a much-deserved housewarming party in July.

Having a roommate or two can certainly help you afford a better place in a better location. (See: Is it Better to Have a Roommate?) But remember, this is a long-term and legal commitment. Be sure everyone has the same expectations, so that from the beginning of your search to the end of your lease, you can have less worry and more fun in your new home.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

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