Here’s Your No-Nonsense Guide to Renting an Apartment

published Aug 28, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Solis Images/Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

There’s no doubt that renting your first apartment feels super exciting, but it can also be incredibly stressful. As I write this, I can see myself staring at my first signed lease a little short of breath and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Spoiler alert: I was fine!

Getting your first apartment is a big step, and I’m here to walk you through the process of finding an apartment, budgeting for the move, and moving in. Ready? Let’s go.

Credit: Brian Goodman/Shutterstock

The Hunt

Determine your budget.

The common rule of thumb when determining your rental budget is to pay approximately 30 percent of your monthly salary. There is some wiggle room, and only you know what you can afford, so make sure you do some calculations before falling in love with a place that’s outside of your budget.

Check rental laws in your city.

Rental laws vary from city to city and can dictate how much landlords can charge for a security deposit and application fees. These laws also determine what landlords are required to disclose about a property. The only federal disclosure requirement is that landlords have to provide information about lead-based paint for buildings built before 1978. Beyond that, all other disclosures are regulated at the state and local level.

Find the perfect place.

To find the perfect apartment, enter your criteria into an apartment search site like or Zillow. You can also look on Facebook Marketplace or check with apartment buildings or property management companies directly to find available units.

Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a few places, set up an appointment to check them out. When you’re touring a new place, check for any repairs that may need to be made, turn on the faucets, flush the toilets, ask about amenities — and check those out, too. Most importantly, decide if you can see yourself living there.

Check the utility costs.

The landlord should be able to give you a good idea of the cost of utilities, but you can also call the utility companies and ask what the tenants at the property typically pay.

Fill out the application.

Once you find the place you want to rent, you’ll fill out the rental application. It will ask for things like your credit score, references, income, past addresses, and rental history. Don’t freak out if you haven’t rented before — everyone has to start somewhere. But work with the landlord or management company to see if there are any added requirements for first-time renters. 

The Cost

Pay fees and deposits.

Application fees vary depending on your location and the actual apartment. Make sure to include these in your budget. You may also have to pay utility deposits to have the utilities turned on and switched into your name.

You’ll have to pay your first month’s rent and likely a security deposit to your landlord or rental company, so make sure you have the money to cover this upfront cost.

Budget for the move.

Moving doesn’t have to break the bank (we’ll give some tips in the next section), but you will have to spend some money moving and setting up your new place. Make sure you’re ready!

Credit: Lauren Volo

The Move

Get your boxes — or bags, or bins, or baskets.

This isn’t a moving company commercial — you don’t have to have all of your things perfectly packed in matching moving company boxes. While you can always buy boxes, you can also ask at a local grocery store to see if they can save boxes for you. (By the way, here are 15 places to find free moving boxes.) There’s also the option to pack your things in storage containers, bags, and baskets you already have. 

Pro tip: Leave your clothes on hangers and drop them into a trash bag with the hooks up. Tie the handles around the hangers. When you get to your new place, all you have to do is hang them up and remove the trash bag!

Rent a truck or round up some friends (maybe both).

You may need to rent a truck in order to move all of your things. Or you can enlist the help of your friends and their vehicles. But any way you shake it, you need to get your things from point A to point B.

Set up your bed FIRST.

As someone who has moved a lot, this is the best moving tip I have. When you’re packing up your old place, pack your bed and bedding last. This way it will be the first thing that you unpack in your new place. 

Here’s the thing, at the end of a long day of moving, the last thing you want to do is realize that you still have to put sheets on your bed. Put the bed frame together and make the bed first, that way you can collapse into it when you’re exhausted from a day of moving!

Take a deep breath and settle in.

You did it! After the big move, it’s time to take a deep breath, settle in, and make the place your own.