16 Apartment Vocabulary Terms for First Time Renters

So you thought vocabulary terms were just for school? It turns out that there are many apartment vocabulary terms you need to know before you sign a lease. Learning these 16 terms will help come across as a knowledgeable renter and ensure you sign a lease that you understand, know all of the fees you may have to pay, and are aware of your responsibilities.

Read the Fine PrintLease (or Rental Agreement): A legally binding contract between a landlord and a renter that outlines the terms and conditions both parties (the renter and the landlord) agree to. A lease guarantees both parties are protected. For example: a lease provides agreement for the price of rent. A lease protects the renter because the landlord can’t raise rent unless the lease is amended, and a lease protects the landlord because the renter must pay the specified amount of rent. A lease should include, but is not limited to, the following agreements: rental price, deposit information, late fees, length of agreement, reasons for eviction, repair responsibilities, and visitor policies.

Rent: The payment made to a landlord from a renter for use of property, which is usually paid on a month-to-month basis.

Length of Agreement: The period of time for which you will rent an apartment. Popular rental terms are 12-month or 6-month rentals. Sometimes you may agree to a flexible rental term where you may rent by the month.

Application Fee: This fee covers the cost for the landlord to obtain a background check, and it usually costs less than $100. Remember to ask if this fee can be applied toward a security deposit.

Security Deposit: This fee covers any cost a landlord would face if you cause any damage to an apartment, including broken windows, stained carpet, holes in a wall, etc. Most landlords require you pay the price of one or two months’ rent as a security deposit. If there is no damage to the apartment when you move out, this deposit should be fully refunded.

Broker’s Fee: The fee you must pay to a broker who helps find you an apartment. The amount can be as much as 15% of your first year’s rent. If you deal directly with a landlord, you will not have to pay a broker’s fee.

Prorate: To divide a fee and charge only for the time used. Prorated rent would be equal to only the portion of the month in which you lived in the apartment. If you move into an apartment in the middle of a month and the rent is prorated, you would only pay for half a month’s rent.

Damages: Any damages to an apartment that were caused by you or a visitor. Damages may consist of broken cabinets, missing cabinet drawers, stained carpet, broken windows, damaged electrical outlets, holes in walls, etc. If you don’t fix any damages, the cost to repair the damages will be subtracted from your security deposit.

Pre-existing Damages: Any damages to an apartment that occurred prior to you moving in. If there are any damages to an apartment you rent, you should always photograph and document the damages upon signing the lease. You should include any of these damages in your lease, and ensure the landlord signs off on these damages. If you do not document pre-existing damages, you may be responsible for the cost of repairs.

Renter’s Insurance: A policy that provides coverage for your belongings and liability risks. It usually covers your belongings in case of fire, water damage, weather damage, and theft, and it usually covers you if someone hurts them self inside of your apartment. Renter’s insurance is not always required by a landlord, but it is recommended and is typically affordable.

rental agentLandlord: A person who owns and rent apartments to others. The landlord is typically the person with whom you discuss your lease and rent, who signs your lease, and to whom you pay rent. If you are looking for a place in a large rental building or complex, you’ll probably have all your direct dealings with the landlord’s agent.

Facility Fees: The fees you may be required to pay for additional services or amenities. Such services may include, but are not limited to, the following: parking space, garage, laundry facility, fitness center, security, private outdoor space, or in-unit laundry.

Utilities: Services you choose to use in your apartment. These may include heating and air conditioning, electricity, water, garbage, internet, telephone, and cable. Some utilities may be included in your rent, while you will have to obtain and pay for others.

New York City Addendum:

Rent Controlled Apartment: In some markets, for example in New York City, rents are regulated by the local government. In NYC, rent controlled apartments are the mythical six room apartments renting for under $1,000. The only way you could ever get one is if you move in with your grandparents who have lived in one of those apartments since they got married.

Check here to see if your community has rent control regulations.

Rent Stabilized Apartment: These apartments are somewhat easier to find in NYC, usually in older buildings. The annual rent increases are limited to a percentage (usually small) determined by a local rent control board. There are also special rules that dictate when an apartment becomes deregulated. You need a great local network of connections to have any chance of getting one of these gems.

Market Rate Apartment: Landlords can charge you what the market will bear and increase your rent as much as they want. Unfortunately, these are the type of apartments first time renters usually end up with in NYC. These are also the rentals you’ll find in most parts of the country.

Also check our Rental Adspeak Translator if you want to learn the difference between d/w and d-w, learn what’s a railroad apartment and decipher many other abbreviation you see in rental ads.

And read the complete list of paperwork you’ll need for your rental application.

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Kalee Cowan is a graduate of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Rural Studies: Writing and Communication. She is a writer, a baker, and a customer service representative for an insurance agency in her South Georgia hometown. When she is not working, she is attending concerts, reading an always growing list of books, and spending time with her family. You can find her on Instagram and Pinterest.

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