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RENTAL SAVVY

First apartment: An intro to adulthood

April 15, 2007|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Question: My college-age son is moving into his first apartment. Any suggestions to ease the transition?

Answer: Leaving home to become a tenant in one's own unit is a huge step toward adulthood. For many, it's the first time their behavior permanently affects their future -- if they trip up, they could hurt their credit and personal reference history.

What do landlords who rent to young adults on their own for the first time look for?

"I like to meet the parents," said Jim Stilton, who manages more than 500 units in Los Angeles. "Meeting the parents gives me a sense of their involvement and responsibility."

It's a good idea for parents who are planning to co-sign on a rental lease to set ground rules for personal and financial responsibility. Will your son be working and contributing to the rent or going to school or both? Based on that, decide who pays for what percentage of the rent, making clear that being a responsible tenant is 100% his responsibility.

Of course, there's more to the equation than rent. Once you've established the ground rules for paying the rent, dig out your calculator and write up a budget. Monthly costs include both fixed, such as utilities, and variable expenses.

Utilities are more than merely electrical costs. Add in possible water, gas, trash or waste removal, telephone, cable and Internet service. Living in master-metered buildings tends to be less expensive than individually metered properties, especially if water usage is on the landlord's tab.

One-time expenses, such as appliances and furniture purchases, can add to the bottom line. Does the place include a refrigerator? If not, pencil in the expense of purchasing or renting one. Although most units include a stove, be sure it's included as well. Don't overlook the cost of window coverings, because some places do not provide them.

There's also the security deposit. Consider having your son use his own funds for the security deposit. It will invest him more deeply in being responsible for the upkeep of his apartment.

Going over the language and terms of the lease is a good way to launch kids' education on the subject of landlord expectations and obligations. Some rental agreements include rules about loud noise after a certain hour, parties, how balconies can be used and where bicycles can be stored. Remind your new renter that the adage "rules were meant to be broken" won't wash anymore, and ignoring them could get him soaked both financially and legally.

Almost everyone has been a first-time renter once, and with the right tools in hand you can equip your son to meet the challenges before him.

Reader comments may be sent to hmayspitz@aol.com.

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