Countdown to Your First Apartment: Final 3 Steps – Lease, Utilities and Walk-Through

So you’ve just got the great news: you’ve been approved for your dream apartment! Which means you’re finally done, right? Well … almost. You’re very close, but there are still a few more steps. We’ve already covered what to do before you search for an apartment, as well as how to search for an apartment. Now, in part three in our series, we’ll cover what to do once you’re approved.


1.) Sign the Lease. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s more to it than scrawling your John Hancock and forking over your security deposit and first month’s rent. Your lease is a contract, so you need to make sure you understand it before you sign. Often, if you have quibbles with certain points on the lease, you can alter or discuss them with the management company before signing – but once you sign, what’s done is done.

Plus, you might learn things about your place after reading the lease. For example, I once had a place where the lease specifically stated that tenants are responsible for changing the filter in the furnace in the basement of the building. This sounds boring, right? Well, it is. But, because I read that, I knew to change the filter every two months– thus saving myself money on my heating bill, and ensuring that the air in the apartment was clean. At another place I lived, the tenant was responsible for changing all the light bulbs … except for one fluorescent light (that was expensive) in the bathroom, which the management company would take care of. Knowing that saved me $15 when the bulb burned out.

So, when you get the lease, review it carefully. Here are just a few things to look for:

  • How long is the term of the lease?
  • What are the penalties/rules if you break the lease early?
  • Does the management company allow subletters?
  • How much notice must you give if you want to renew?
  • Who do you call if something goes wrong? – and what is their response time?
  • Is there any significant damage that the management company has promised to repair? If so, make sure this is spelled out in the lease.
  • Who’s responsible for the exterior lighting of the building?
  • What are the policies on pets?
  • Can you paint the walls of your new place?
  • Are there any unusual rules about your place?
  • If there’s a common area, what are the rules governing its use?
  • Is there a provision for a walk-through of the place before you move in?
  • What are the rules for getting your security deposit back?
  • Anything unusual or strange, or that you don’t understand?

2.) Transfer Utilities. When you get a new place, you’ll need to start paying for the electricity, heat and cable. What’s less obvious is that you personally need to set up your accounts before you move – otherwise, you may show up at an apartment with no electricity. (I’m serious.) Try calling the utility companies at least a week in advance – sometimes they need to make an appointment to read the meter, which they often can’t schedule for a few days, or, in the case of cable, a technician may need to come out, which requires some lead-time. The actual process of setting up the account is easy, and someone will walk you through it over the phone – just be prepared to wait on hold before you speak to a representative. Also, we recently ran an article on the cost of utilities if you have questions on that front.

Other things to think about: you should get renter’s insurance before you move in – as our blogger Alissa told us, renter’s insurance works. And it’s cheap – so do yourself a favor and purchase it.  Depending on where you’re moving, you may also need to register for parking stickers, change your driver’s license (if you’re changing states), and get a local library card. None of these things are quite as urgent, but they are worth thinking about within a week of moving in.

3.) Conduct a Walk-Through. A walk-through simply means that you and the landlord go through the apartment (after the previous tenant has moved out) and note any pre-existing damage.  Depending on the severity of the damage, the landlord will either need to fix it before you move in, or it’ll be acknowledged prior to your moving in, so you won’t lose your security deposit on the basis of the damage.

Some people will say that you need to do the walk-through before you sign the lease. I feel this is unrealistic – often, you’ll need to sign the lease one or two months before you move in … and someone else will still be living in the place. That said, if there’s something major that’s wrong prior to your accepting the place, such as, say, a broken window due to hail damage, or an uninstalled dishwasher sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, and management has promised to fix it, this should be added to your lease prior to your signing. (See above.)

Additionally, even if there are seemingly no major problems with the place, make sure there’s a clause in your lease that states you’ll have a walk-through, and that the lease is contingent upon no major problems being discovered – or that management will fix the problems immediately. Usually the walk-through takes place a day or two before you move in, or even an hour before.

During the walk-through, you need to document everything. Our guest blogger Russell describes the mechanics of a walk-through, from testing the burners on the stove, to checking the quality of the carpet and the functioning of the refrigerator. Another guest blogger, Dale Y the Maintenance Guy has his 10 step pre-move checklist.  The bottom line: if anything’s off, document it. If the landlord needs to fix something, get it in writing. This is the best way to protect yourself, your future home, and your security deposit.

Once all this is done, you’re ready to move in!

P.S. One more thing – change your address!

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Author My First Apartment

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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Comments (1)

  1. Avatar LaTrice

    These are some really great tips, since my sister and I are moving into our new apartment in less than five days.