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Finding a place to live


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000

[Times art: Teresanne Cossetta]
Welcome to the St. Petersburg Times' Newspaper in Education page! This year's series is about something we all love and wish we had more of: money. Throughout the school year in this space you will find fun and informational stories about how to earn, keep and save money. Developed by the Florida Council on Economic Education, the series will explore such topics as personal finance, business etiquette and ethics, making decisions, managing your time and money and more, all geared toward you, not just your parents! We hope you enjoy this economic adventure.

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Jason is 19 and has been living at home since he graduated from high school a year and a half ago. It's not such a bad deal. He's making decent money as an auto mechanic, and he only needs to contribute $50 a week to the household expenses. Still, he'd like his own place. And he's been talking to a friend about maybe getting an apartment together. In fact, his friend found a place he wants Jason to look at this weekend. He's really thinking seriously about making this change.

Off on your own

Just you and a couple of friends with your own place -- a garage apartment, that house you saw for rent the other day, a mobile home that's close to work. Having your own place to live offers more independence and responsibility than you've had before. There's a lot to consider when thinking of being off on your own. Some of the most important things are:

• How to determine the best kind of housing you can afford

• How to fill out rental applications and apartment leases

• How to avoid rental pitfalls

Before you begin

It's easy to get so excited about finding your own place that you give a deposit and sign a lease before

Click for larger chart

you've settled all the details. But what if you've signed the lease and your friend who said he wanted to move in with you decides he can't really afford it? Or what if you didn't realize how much the deposits for electric and telephone service would cost? Or what if you didn't know that slightly musty smell you noticed was caused by a badly leaking roof -- and the landlord isn't returning your calls?

Before you start looking for a place to live, there's a lot to think about. For starters, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

Have you been saving money regularly to prepare for having your own place? Moving off on your own for the first time can be expensive. Most places will require you to make a deposit for two months' rent (first and last) when you sign the lease. You'll also have to make a security deposit that won't be returned until the end of the lease, when the landlord is certain there was no damage to the property while you were living there. Don't forget, you'll need enough money to make deposits for your electric and telephone service. All of this is before you've even thought about furniture, dishes, sheets and towels.

Have you been paying bills on a regular basis? It helps to have experience being responsible for some regular bills every month. One of the real challenges of being on your own is accepting responsibility for paying your monthly bills on a timely basis. And most rental applications require credit references.

How long do you want to live in the place you rent? This is an important question because once you've signed a lease, you can't just move out because you decide you want to live with someone else or live somewhere else. The lease is a legal obligation, and you must live up to the agreement you have signed.

How much can you afford? Before you even look at a place to live, consider your budget and decide how much you can afford. If you look only at places in your price range, the process will be much easier. When you budget for your housing expenses, remember to include the estimated cost of utilities in your plans.

There are a number of different ways to find out about the availability of a rental properties. One of the best is to ask friends and relatives if they have any suggestions or recommendations. You can also look in the newspaper classified advertisements for rentals. In some places -- especially locations with a college or university -- there are apartment locator services through which a real estate agent helps locate an apartment. You can also look at bulletin boards at school or work for leads on places to live.

Completing the rental application

When you rent an apartment or house, you are usually asked to complete an application form. The form will ask you for basic information about your employment and credit history as well previous leases you have had.

If you are leasing an apartment for the first time, the leasing agent may require someone with an established credit and work record to co-sign the lease with you. This means you may need a parent willing to say that he or she will be responsible for the lease should you be unable to fulfill your obligations. When you complete a rental application, be sure to have the following information with you:

• Driver's license number and auto registration information

• Previous addresses

• Current and previous employment information

• Banking information such as checking account and savings account numbers and loan balances

Keep in mind that a lease is a legal agreement. Once you've signed it, you are responsible for completing the full term of the lease agreement.

Jason and his friend looked at the apartment over the weekend, and he liked what he saw. He still needs to think about it, though. The rent is reasonable, and the location is good. There are a couple of things that he will need -- such as furniture. Actually, his mom said he could take his bed, and his friend has a kitchen table and chairs they could use. His aunt said she thinks there's a dresser in her attic.

Jason still has to do some financial planning before he makes the final decision. He has just enough savings to make the security deposit and get the electricity turned on, but he'll have to be very careful with his spending for the first few months. He hasn't completely made his decision, but he's thinking it's going to work.

When the landlord can enter your rental unit

Money Stuff: Get it! Spend it! Keep It!

Introduction and previous chapters

Florida law states that the landlord may not abuse the right of access or use it to harass the tenant, but there are situations in which the landlord has the right to enter your residence. By Florida law, your landlord may enter your rental unit to protect or preserve the premises under the following conditions:

• With the tenant's consent

• In the case of an emergency

• If consent has been unreasonably withheld by the tenant

• If the legal presumption of abandonment has occurred

Avoid these rental pitfalls and missteps

• Do not rent without signing a lease.

• Do not sign a lease with blank space.

• Always read the small print in the lease.

• If you do not understand some of the wording, ask for clarification.

• Be wary of signing a lease with "waiver provisions" that would allow your landlord to evict you before your lease is finished.

• Be wary of making property improvements that your landlord may have the right to keep.

• Do not sign an open-ended lease that allows the landlord to show the apartment while you are still living there.

• Know if there is a cancellation clause in the lease that would allow the property owner to sell the property you are leasing and cancel your lease.

• Do not sign a lease that makes you responsible for repairs and maintenance to the apartment.

• Be wary of subletting an apartment -- even if permitted in your lease.

• Do not rent property that is damaged (appliances that don't work, plumbing or roof leaks).

-- Sharon Hodges and Barry Friedman are authors of Financial Freedom, a booklet on personal finance available free through the Florida Council on Economic Education.

About the Florida Council on Economic Education

Money Stuff was developed by the Florida Council on Economic Education and project director Fonda Anderson. The council is a statewide non-profit organization founded in 1975 to educate K-12 teachers and students about the free enterprise system and to instill in them an appreciation for a market economy. For information on the Council's programs for teachers and students, please call (813) 289-8489.

About Newspaper in Education

The St. Petersburg Times devotes news space to NIE features throughout the year, including this classroom series. The Times' NIE department works with local businesses and individuals to enrich the classroom experience by providing newspapers, supplemental guides and educational services to schools in the Tampa Bay area. To find out how you can become involved in NIE, please call (727) 893-8969 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 8969.

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