Over the last 5 years I have lived in 10 different apartments in 4 different cities…
If you’re looking for advice from an apartment hunting expert, search no further… I have done over a hundred apartment visits, read dozens of rental agreements and have dealt with some of the worst and best landlords out there. I’ve had both, success and IMMENSE failure in finding the perfect apartment and I want to share my top 5 tips to finding the perfect apartment in hopes of helping others to avoid the big mistakes I’ve made!
Tip 1 : What websites can I used to find the perfect apartment rental listing?
As a student and overall bargain hunter, I find free apartment rental websites the most effective. In Canada, I have always used the online classified advertising service : kijiji.ca. When I am in apartment hunting mode, I check the roommate and rental adds twice a day. I respond to every add possible that is within my price range and geographical location – its best to see everything out there that is available to you before making a final decision.
Abroad in France, I repeat the exact same strategy through the french classified advertising service : leboncoin.fr. Another website that I will use (although, not as often) is appartager.com. The problem with appartager is that between you and the person you message, one person has to pay for a membership in order to communicate with one another. If you have not paid for the membership, and the person with the apartment you are seeking to rent has not paid for the membership, you have no way to communicate with each other.
A final fantastic resource for apartment hunting in any country, is FACEBOOK! Facebook Marketplace offers rental listings at the tip of your finger and provides a really easy way to contact the poster. But the best way to find an apartment on Facebook is to join apartment rental and apartment sharing groups in the city you will be living in. Personally, in Aix-en-Provence I joined Colocations sur Aix En Provence and Location appart à Aix-en-Provence. In these groups you will not only find posting from landlords seeking to rent out apartments or rooms in a house, but also from other students seeking a new roommate!
Tip 2 : Clarify everything up front
When you are visiting the apartments, make sure you talk in depth with the landlord in orde to receive all relevant information about the rental.
I always start by asking, what amenities are covered in the rental price? For example: water, heating, air conditioning, gas, electricity, internet. This is important to know not only for you budget but for your planning. For example, if internet is not included, you will have to sign up for your own internet contract and have the service provider come and instal the internet equipment in your home. Sometimes during peak move-in seasons there is limited availability, so it is best to book an appointment as soon as possible so you dont have to wait too long for a service to be installed.
I would also suggest clarifying who is responsible for covering repairs in the apartment when and if necessary. If the apartment if furnished, I would also ask what happens if an appliance breaks. Will the landlord replace it?
Finally, I always ask about the landlord’s policy on subletting. Life happens, plans change and you might find yourself seeking to move out of your apartment earlier than expected at the time you signed the rental agreement. In this case, subletting your rental to another tenant allows you to move out without loosing money on a rental you won’t occupy. However, subletting is often done at the landlord’s discretion : if they don’t allow subletting, then you may end up stuck paying the rent for an apartment you can no longer occupy but are financially and legally responsible for. That being said, subletting posses its own issues. If you chose to sublet I would strongly suggest conducting a thorough interview and background check process by asking for references from the applicants. At the end of the day, if anything happens to the rental, the landlord will hold you responsible for the sub-tenant. For my personal experience, I once rented my room to a sub-tenant without doing a background check. This sub-tenant ended up being very irresponsible and broke the balcony. When the sub-tenant wouldn’t pay for the repairs the landlord pointed the finger at me, the tenant.
Tip 3 : READ. THE. LEASE.
I cannot stress this point enough. I know, leases are long and they are boring… But it is so important to know what you are legally binding yourself to in signing a contract. I always read the lease and send it to my parents to read as well so that I have 2 other sets of eyes looking out for me.
If you dont understand something in the contract, ask for a clarification.
If you read something in the lease that is different from what you discussed with the landlord, as for an explanation.
If something is wrong in the contract, even the most minor detail, ask to have it corrected before you sign.
Don’t sign something that you dont trust or understand!
Tip 4 : Avoid contracts with a solidarity clause
This is possibly the greatest mistake I have made throughout my rental escapades. This year, I signed a rental agreement with two other roommates under a solidarity clause which bound us together in all decision making surrounding the lease and the apartment. The solidarity clause made us mutually financially responsible for the apartment. Most importantly, the solidarity clause also ensured that we could not make a decision without the agreement of the other roommates. In my case, I wanted to go back home for the summer and end the lease after my studies so that I would not financially be responsible for my room over the summer when I was not occupying it. My roommates however, wanted to stay in the apartment. Because we did not all agree, we had to keep the apartment and I remained financially responsible for my room.
From my experience, the solidarity clause can be a very scary limitation because you become financially responsible for the behaviour, damages and decisions of other people. I deeply regret signing a lease with a solidarity contract because the financial burden of having to pay for my room while I am not using it is simply unmanageable.
Tip 5 : Chose a good landlord
Finally, my last tip is to chose a good landlord. For too often, in my experience, landlords are in it for the $$$ ; putting the mental and physical well-being of their tenants second to cash. In my last rental, a tenant on a lower floor infected the apartment complex with bedbugs. The landlord initially denied the claims that there were bedbugs in the apartment in order to avoid the cost of extermination. This negligence allowed the bed bugs to multiply at an astounding rate, spreading to the top floor where my room was located. When the infestation became undeniable, the landlord chose the cheapest, most ineffective and toxic solution to attempt to treat the infestation. Not only did the treatment not work but it endangered the health of the tenants who were in close proximity to the toxic chemicals.
For my experience, constant disturbances and disputes with the landlord are simply mentally exhausting and infuriating. Best to go without by picking an apartment managed by a responsible landlord that care for bother, their property and their tenants.
I hope you found these tips useful!
I have made some horrible rental mistakes so I hope this helps you avoid similar hiccups while apartment hunting. Feel free to leave a comment with your own tips or experiences!