First-Time Apartment Renter’s Guide

If you’ve never rented an apartment before, the process can seem daunting. Here at HILLS Properties, we’ve got the lowdown on how to do it.
SW By Sara Woods on August 18, 2022
A man welcoming you into his new apartment

Renting an apartment for the first time can be an exciting experience. While you’re happily opening a new chapter, you’re also taking on new responsibilities.

Even so, with a bit of planning and preparation, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process—that’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you in your apartment search process. 

How to prepare for renting an apartment

Searching for apartments is a fun process full of possibilities. That said, if you are renting for the first time, you’ll have to practically consider what you can afford and your living needs.


According to the U.S. Department of Housing,you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your income on monthly rent. You will also need to consider your credit score while looking for an apartment—the more upscale the apartment, generally the higher credit score required.

While this may be difficult depending on your city and your income, figuring out this number can help establish the baseline of what you can afford. It may also help you decide whether or not you would like to look into splitting rent with one or more roommates.


As you’re looking for an apartment, rank what your needs and wants are against the rent price. For example, you may want AC in a warmer climate, but you may need more than a studio if you’re working from home. 


Though the location isn’t everything, it does matter. You’ll want to consider the apartment’s proximity to your work or school, access to transportation, or local amenities. 

How do I choose an apartment? 

Now that you’ve found a few prospects, it’s important to understand what the next steps are. 

Request an apartment tour

A realtor showing an apartment to a married couple

Once you’ve found an apartment that seems like a good option, contact the leasing team or realty company for a tour of the property. On your tour, note the things that won’t come up in an online description, like neighborhood or building noise levels, natural light, etc. 

During your tour, be sure to ask any questions you have. Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • Would I be responsible for utilities? What utilities does this include?
  • How is parking handled?
  • What is the pet policy?
  • How do I apply for this apartment? What specific documents are expected?
  • What documents and fees are necessary for the application?
  • If accepted, what is the expected deposit?

Submitting an application

A property management company can use a multitude of documents to determine whether or not you are qualified to rent an apartment with them. This doesn’t have to be a tedious process if you are prepare with a combination of the following documents:

  • Valid government photo ID (driver’s license or passport)
  • Verification of current employment and salary
  • Copies of your last two pay stubs
  • Copies of your last three bank statements
  • Copies of your last two tax returns
  • Copies of your last two W-2 forms
  • Contact information (social security number, email, and current addresses
  • Personal or professional references
  • Co-signer application (if applicable)

You can expect the application itself to include questions about your background, current job, and co-signer. You may also need to consent to a background check or pay processing fees. The property management team should communicate what you are responsible for, but you can always kindly ask if they’ve not mentioned something.

If you’re applying for housing in competitive markets, try to turn in your application quickly after requesting it. There may be others who want that apartment, and it’s helpful to get your foot in the door early. 

What should I look for when signing a lease?

A lease is a signed agreement between the renter(s) and the property management company. It will include provisions for different circumstances like monthly rent, when the lease expires, and renewal terms. 

Upfront costs

While you might be able to afford an apartment’s monthly rent, it’s important to consider the upfront costs of moving into an apartment. Oftentimes, properties will require a security deposit, community’s fees, and an application fee. You may also need to pay renter’s insurance, moving costs, storage, or pet fees. 

Rules and provisions

Your lease will include a lot of clerical details about living and paying for that apartment. Look for rules about the following to make sure the lease aligns with your lifestyle: 

  • Overnight guests
  • Smoking guidelines
  • Apartment modifications
  • Subletting

Looking for a space of your own? Look at HILLS Properties. 

Here at HILLS Properties, we’ve helped first-time renters find excellent properties that exceed their needs for decades. With desirable locations across Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, we take pride in creating communities that our residents happily call home. 

As you’re looking for your first place, let our expert team take the guesswork out of the process and find the apartment of your dreams today—contact us online or over the phone and find your home with HILLS Properties today.

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