7 Need-to-Know Tips for Renting a House

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Updated March 2, 2022
Father and daughter outside house
Photo: DigitalVision / Getty Images

You need a keen house-hunting strategy and tried-and-true tips to find the perfect rental home

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Rental houses are great—tenants love the flexibility and stability a rental offers. Plus, who doesn’t love calling someone else to fix a leaky toilet or manage the lawn care

But it can be challenging to find a worthwhile rental and dependable landlord, especially during the peak moving season. We’re here to help you find your best rental home yet, with seven tips that everyone can use. 

1. Identify Your Housing Priorities

You won’t find a one-size-fits-all property during your rental house hunt, so it's up to you to rank your most important features. It can be tricky to narrow your must-haves, so give yourself time to think about the options that match your lifestyle.

Most renters consider these factors before they start their search:

  • Type of property: apartment, single-family, duplex, condo, townhouse

  • Local crime statistics

  • Monthly and total budget

  • Square footage

  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms

  • Commute to friends, family, and work

  • Public transportation

  • Nearby schools 

  • Access to amenities: shopping, dining, and entertainment

  • Home features: garage, outdoor space, storage 

2. How to Find a Rental Home

Savvy renters snap up the best houses lighting fast. You’ll probably compete with multiple applicants, so it's a good idea to put the word out to your network that you're looking for a new rental two to three months in advance. Personal recommendations for rental properties and dependable landlords are the gold standard, so keep digging for leads. 

You can also start your house hunt with these resources: 

  • National real estate advertising platforms like Zillow, Realtor.com, and Trulia 

  • The Multiple Listing Service (MLS)

  • Local outlets like Nextdoor and Craigslist

  • Local real estate agents who work with rental properties

  • Your personal social accounts 

3. Prepare Yourself and Your Finances for Screening

Landlords want tenants who are easy to work with—reliable, trustworthy tenants who can afford the monthly rent payment. So before you submit your rental application, take a look at the information that your potential landlord will see when they dig into your background, and take the time to correct issues.

You should note that every landlord has their preferred ways to screen tenants. They may ask you to pay an application fee to cover the background check. 

Your landlord could look at all or some of these resources:

  • Criminal record 

  • Credit history

  • Employment verification

  • Personal references 

4. Get to Know Your Local and State Tenant-Landlord Laws

The catch-all phrase, “every state is different,” is especially true for the landlord and tenant relationship. As a renter, it's important to know your rights and responsibilities. 

Check online for information from local legal aid societies and city housing departments. They could have free landlord-tenant handbooks on their websites. You can also read more about tenant’s rights at: 

5. Keep a Keen Eye During a Walk Through

After a long housing search, you’re probably excited to check out your carefully chosen place and call it your own, but hold up for a minute—don’t let fresh paint and curb appeal keep you from checking out the details that could change your mind. 

Here are key points to look for when touring a rental property:

  • Your neighbor’s habits including house upkeep, pets in the yard, and parking

  • Odors and stains from food, pets, mold, or mildew 

  • Door frame sizes

  • General property and yard maintenance

  • Pre-existing damage to walls and floors

  • Storage space

  • Ample water flow in showers, toilets, and sinks

  • Adequate lighting 

  • Age of appliances

  • Working windows

6. Read Your Lease and Ask Questions About the Details

If the rental unit passes your visual inspection, it's time to dig into the details of the lease.. A lease is highly customizable, and your landlord has probably written lease terms that protect their property. It's up to you to read the details, ask questions, and push back if you have concerns. 

These are common topics addressed in a rental agreement:

  • Security deposit, monthly rental fees, due date, late payment charges

  • Possibility of roommates

  • Pet rent, fees, and deposits

  • Amount of landlord access

  • Reasons to break a lease and penalties 

  • Whether or not you can operate a work-from-home business

  • Lawn care and home maintenance schedule 

  • Decor and design updates and changes 

7. Trust Your Instincts 

Handing keys to renter
Photo: kerkezz / Adobe Stock

Trust your gut and start looking for another rental if you get a not-so-great vibe from the house or the landlord. You’ll save yourself time, peace of mind, and possibly money. 

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Uncommunicative landlord during the advertising phase

  • A landlord who doesn’t put the lease or promised fixes in writing 

  • Unkempt property

  • Evidence of water and pest damage

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