Renting 101: What you need to know

There are many rental properties in downtown Madison advertising availability.

Chloe Lemmer and Grant Nelson, Contributors

First-time renters should navigate and know the basics about renting – all the money that needs to be put away, all the applications that need to be turned in, all the apartment showings that are needed to land just the right apartment.

When starting to look for a place, you can save a lot of time and potentially money by starting with resources provided by the Tenant Resource Center. The website ( can help renters start a checklist and learn the basics about renting and signing a lease.

The first thing renters need to know is their budget. You need to think about how much the security deposit is, how much the utilities will add and what ones you will pay for. You need to keep in mind the additional costs around moving time, from moving truck rental to items you might need in your new apartment.

When looking for a place you will have to also fill out an application and those come with an application fee. According to the Tenant Resource Center, fees range from $30-$100. Landlords may check your credit score and do a background check. They will also ask for any rental history, and they will sometimes even call the other places you lived to make sure you paid your rent on time and were a good tenant. Sometimes they will make you get a co-signer if you don’t have a good enough credit score or any rental history. They may also ask for character references.

Once you are accepted you will have to provide a security deposit that is often equivalent to your first month’s rent. You need to make sure you have the money when looking for a place so you can put down the deposit right away. The Tenant Resource Center recommends having a credit score of 620 or more. Your yearly income also needs to be more than four times the monthly rent. While this isn’t a set rule, a lot of landlords will use this formula to make sure their tenants can pay their bills. If you don’t have an income, like most college students you will need a co-signer.

Utilities are an added expense in most rental cases and range from water to sewer, gas, trash and electricity. If you get a parking spot you may have to pay for that too.

Keep in mind that if you own a pet you might have to put a little extra down with the security deposit. Some pet breeds and species are also prohibited by some landlords or city ordinances. Lots of places are very lenient with cats, some places even allow you to have a cat with little to no fee. But with dogs, landlords are more strict, and many have breed restrictions or weight restrictions. A security deposit for a dog can range from $250 to $500. 

When it’s time to move, you need to know the exact date you have to move out. Lots of rental units in Madison make you move out on Aug. 14, but don’t allow you to move into a new place until Aug. 16 to allow the landlord time to clean and make repairs.

Finding, securing and then moving into an apartment is a lot of work. But with some advance planning, finding your next home can be easier and less expensive.