Finding a good, affordable rental unit requires a lot of effort and legwork. This Austin Tenants Council publication is intended to demystify the process of renting a place to live. Although it is not a comprehensive guide to rental issues, this brochure provides essential information about finding and living in a rental unit for the first time. There is no secret or magic way to find a place to rent that will make the process easy. But armed with information about your rights, you can be an aware consumer in what is a very tough rental market.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are summarized and reproduced from the website of the Austin Tenants Council. The Austin Tenants Council serves the Austin, Texas, area, but its website has useful information for all Texas residents.
Choosing a Roommate
Careful roommate selection is important in Texas. Roommate conflicts can arise from poor selection or different expectations. Decide on household responsibilities and create a roommate contract to clarify rights and responsibilities to avoid conflicts. Roommates are jointly and individually liable for the lease and rent payment. A roommate contract helps hold a roommate accountable in case of issues during the lease term.
The Austin Tenants' Council offers a free Renting Together Contract.
Choosing an Affordable Rent
After determining how many roommates there will be, consider how much rent each person can afford. Generally, 30 percent of a person’s income is considered an affordable housing cost. Other expenses such as utility bills, phone bills, and cable TV bills should be included in calculating what can be afforded. There are many up-front costs when renting such as security deposits, pet deposits, utility deposits, and installation charges. Except in an “all bills paid” unit, these items are extra.
Ensuring that all roommates can afford to pay the rent and other expenses is the best way to avoid problems. Careful preparation and assessment of financial resources will prevent any roommates from getting in over his head and jeopardizing the other roommates’ credit and rental histories.
One of the biggest mistakes tenants make is moving to an area of town that they do not like. This dissatisfaction may result from being too far from bus routes, shopping areas, family, work, or school; but most often, it is because of crime. Crime is usually not a landlord’s responsibility nor will it give a legal reason to break a lease once it is signed. Only if a landlord specifically misrepresents the neighborhood, and it can be proven, will the tenant have any chance of terminating the lease because of crime. Be wary of what the people trying to rent the unit have to say about the area. There are several other, better ways to find out about crime.
Checking the crime records is a straightforward way to determine the safety of a neighborhood. The Austin Police Department records the incidence of crime by sectors throughout the city and has the latest crime statistics available. Outside of Austin, other local law enforcement agencies may be able to provide similar information.
One of the easiest and best ways to find out about crime is to ask people in the neighborhood. They are a tremendous resource because they actually live there. If crime is a problem, they will probably provide you with more than enough information about it. Another useful technique is visiting the area at night. Seeing the neighborhood at night may give a completely different perspective on the safety of a neighborhood than being there in the middle of the day.
Other possible needs to consider: storage, on-site laundry facilities, security gates, security guards, adequate nighttime lighting, pets, and parking. Courtesy patrols are not the same as security guards. A courtesy patrol will typically secure the owner’s property but not the tenant’s.
Applying for and Renting a Unit
With roommates, the amount of rent, and the area of town determined, a tenant has the background information necessary to begin looking for available rental units.
One of the most important things a tenant should remember is that the landlord and leasing agent are salespeople selling a product. They work for the owner, and their job is to rent all of the empty units. Many landlords are very nice, at least until the lease is signed. Most people in the rental housing industry are reputable, but there are plenty who are not. Tenants should always use caution in trusting what they are told. Being an aware consumer is extremely important in finding a good rental unit.
Three common resources for finding a rental unit are newspaper ads, apartment guide booklets, and locator services. Rental units are also advertised on bulletin boards and by word of mouth. In areas where there is a high demand for housing such as near college campuses, many landlords advertise by simply putting a sign in the yard of the rental unit. Visiting the neighborhood can also be effective if one particular area of town is desirable. When demand is high, landlords receive more than enough interest from people passing by.
A tenant can do several things to determine whether he wants to rent from a particular owner or management company. The tenant can ask the current occupants about any problems they might have had with the landlord, such as not making repairs. A tenant can also contact the Better Business Bureau or the Texas Attorney General’s Office to see if any complaints have been filed. Keep in mind, though, that just because one tenant had a problem with a landlord does not mean that everyone will.
Proper preparation and planning is important before applying for a rental unit.
How, when, and where the rent must be paid.
What to do before you move out
This article answers some common questions about subleasing and each party's rights in a sublease agreement.
This article explains what can happen when there is no formal residential lease agreement in a roommate, family, or similar situation.
This article has information about roommate tenant situations.