How to be a Smart Renter

Starting your search

When looking for a place to live, be sure to look at the area around the apartment or the property. See what is in the area within comfortable walking distance. This is important especially if you do not have your own car. Find out what food markets are in the area, public transportation stops, places of worship, and other shops that are important to you.

Please be sure to read through our page “Questions to ask as a renter and other facts”. You will see more information about what to look for in housing and what to ask about during your search and application process.


Application Process

Before you sign anything you need to be sure of the choice you are making. Once you sign the lease agreement or rental agreement you are now locked into a legal contract. If you try to get out of the agreement early you, or the person who cosigned with you, may have to pay penalties for breaking the agreement.

The start of the application process will usually begin with contacting the leasing manager or the landlord. This is the best time to ask any questions about the property like:

  • How the rent is broken down?
  • Are there other fees or costs that are added onto the rent automatically?

    You may not be billed separately for gas, water, sewer, or garbage removal. These may show up as added fees on your rent bill.

  • Questions to ask as a renter 


Get it in Writing

The relationship between you and your leasing manager or landlord is a business relationship. You two can have a very friendly relationship but it is still a business relationship. If you two speak and agree to something about the apartment, or a change to your agreement, get it in writing.

  • If you and the property manager agree to something before you sign any lease or rental agreement
  • Make sure you have it in writing and connect it with your lease once you sign.
    • For example, if you were offered a special deal that said you did not have to pay any move in fees or if first month’s rent is discounted.


Make sure that everyone’s name is on the agreement. It would be ideal that whoever is representing the property is on the lease, whether it is the landlord or the property manager. A property management company may be listed as the landlord for some apartment complexes. The company name will be listed as the landlord. At least make sure that the person who is working with you has their name and title somewhere on the agreement and that they are authorized to make the deal with you. This will help protect you when you decide to move out.

In the end, any deal you workout you should ask for it in writing and keep all emails between you and your landlord or property manager.


Know what you are signing

A lease and a rental agreement are two different things.

A lease is a contractual agreement for a set period of time, typically 12 months.

  • The lease agreement will need to be renewed at the end of the lease term.
    • With a 12 month lease, when the 12 months are coming to an end you will need to notify your leasing manager or landlord that you are either renewing or leaving the property.
    • Your lease will tell you how much advanced notice you will need to give.


A rental agreement is for a shorter term.

  • A rental agreement goes from month to month
  • The agreement automatically renewed unless the tenant gives notice that they are moving out. (Usually it will be 30 days advanced notice.)
  • The landlord can change the terms of the rental agreement, with advanced notice.


Another part of either agreement type, is if the agreement is individual or if it is a group agreement.

A group agreement is normally what many property leasing managers and landlords will use.

  • This means that the financial responsibility is divided among all the tenants living in the apartment.
  • If someone does not pay or if someone moves out, the other tenants who are still in the apartment will need to cover the rent of anyone who moved out.
  • It is typical in lease and rental agreements for every adult living in the apartment to be on the lease, even if only one person is paying the rent.


An individual agreement sets financial responsibility for each individual tenant.

  • Even if there are four tenants in the apartment or rental property,
  • Each tenant has his or her own agreement with the property manager or landlord.
  • If someone leaves the apartment, the other tenants do not have to be responsible for that person's rent payment.


Checking the Apartment

Before moving anything into the apartment or property, do a walk through room by room. Make sure there are no damages or defects in any of the spaces. Take pictures of everything if needed, any pictures will need to be somehow time and date stamped. You need to mention any problems you see and document them for yourself and the landlord/property manager. Usually you will do the walk through with the landlord or property manager.

Anything not documented can be charged to you off your security deposit when you move out. Many landlords/property managers will want to know about the condition of the property to make any repairs.


Repairs/Maintenance

Before, or at the latest the day you move in, get the information on how to report repairs. Also, you will need to know who to contact about any maintenance or repairs for the apartment, this is more important if the property does not have on site maintenance staff. Some apartments will have the ability to schedule repairs by a website. At least a phone number should be requested.

If anything needs to be repaired in your apartment or rental property report it right away. Keep any information about any repairs for yourself.

Be prompt with repairs. If something gets worn while you are the tenant, then the landlord or property manager can charge repairs to you off your security deposit after you move out.


Security Deposits

The security deposit is an additional payment made to the landlord or property manager to pay for any damages or if the tenant fails to make rental or lease payments. It is also used if the tenant(s) do not pay utilities.

You are able to get this money back at the end of your least or rental term. Along with following the information above, here are some things to work through when you are getting ready to move out.


  • CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN! Every corner, every surface, clean your apartment like you have never cleaned it before. You don't want to have a smaller security deposit refund because of a removable stain on the carpet you forgot to clean.
  • This is the last chance to get any repair work done, if you wait too long then there may be a penalty to you security deposit return.
  • Have the original damage walk through (with your pictures) with you as you and your landlord walk through the apartment. It would be good to have all your repair records too.
  • Take pictures before you hand the keys over to the property manager or landlord.
  • This is another reason to make sure you read your lease agreement because it may be required to get certain work done on the apartment which will be paid out of the security deposit


After you move out and hand over the keys to the property manager or landlord, wait up to 30 days for their response. If you have any questions about the security deposit, like how it will be paid back to you, when you hand the keys over will be the best time.


Dan Kim, the Off Campus Housing Coordinator is available to answer any questions on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from noon until 5:00pm. Any messages left after 5:00pm on Friday will be returned the following Wednesday.

If you need assistance on Monday or Tuesday please contact Tracy Reed, the Assistant Director of Student Life, at tmreed@psu.edu or call 215-881-7508.