Should Your First Apartment be a Rented Condo?

In your search for an apartment, you might come across a condo for rent. This can be a good option, but it does differ from renting in a traditional apartment building. When you rent a condo, you’re renting from one person, who likely owns only that unit within the building.

You’ll probably notice immediately that the finishes are much nicer than a comparable apartment. The person you’re renting from may have had the means and desire for marble counters, stainless steel appliances and top-notch low-flow toilets. In contrast, landlords of large buildings usually buy inexpensive options at bulk, since they’re worried about overhead, not their own comfort.

When looking at a condo, realize that your potential landlord may have never been a landlord before. Say your heat goes out in January and your landlord happens to be in the Bahamas. Would there be a system in place for necessary repairs? Or, maybe the landlord thinks they’ll be fine with a stranger living in their place … but then they get awfully nosy. This isn’t to say the landlord wouldn’t do an excellent job – they very well might – but know that their likely as new to the process as you are.

Make sure the homeowners’ association (HOA) allows renters. A condo owner can’t do whatever they want with their unit. Because they live in a building with many other owners, they have to follow a set of rules set up by the HOA, which is comprised of all owners in the building. Many HOAs limit the number of units in the building that can be rented, or prohibit rentals. So, make sure everything is above board.

Renting from a condo owner can be less stable. It can be tempting to do a handshake deal since you basically have a personal landlord, but it’s best to get the terms of your lease in writing. If the condo owner decides to sell the unit, you need some assurance that you can stay for the duration of your lease. Or, at the very least, you need a remedy should the place be sold out from under you five months after you move in. While that doesn’t happen often, it is a possibility.

Also, your neighbors will likely be older and more established in their career than you, since they’ll be property owners. This can be a good thing, if you like a quieter, more responsible vibe. But, beware that in condo buildings renters are often seen as transient, less invested in the maintenance of the building and the first step in the reduction of property values. If you’re getting a cold shoulder at the mailbox, that may be why. It’s not fair to you, but it may be worth building some goodwill when you move in.

Also, who repairs what can get tricky. Your landlord only owns what’s within the walls of the unit. Everything else gets taken care of by the HOA. So, let’s say you notice a broken step in the main stairwell, or you’re upset because the sidewalk is never shoveled in a timely fashion. Ideally, your landlord will raise these issues with the HOA on your behalf, but know that there’s often a process for getting these issues remedied that isn’t as immediate as it may be in a straight rental unit.

Overall, renting out a condo unit can be a great thing. You get a personalized landlord, a nicer unit and more mature neighbors. As long as you’re aware of how it differs from renting in an apartment building, there’s no reason you shouldn’t consider condos-for-rent in your search.

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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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