Below we take you through the steps of finding an apartment or house, navigating the legalese of the lease agreement, as well as managing your rights as a tenant. Let’s do this.
Finding an Apartment or house for rent
Figure out how much you can afford. Take a look at your monthly income. Experts recommend only spending between 25%-35% of your income on rent and housing. So let’s say your pay is $1,500 a month. Ideally, you shouldn’t pay more than $525 a month on rent.
You also need to take into account that you will be responsible for the utility costs of your rental. So you’ll need to figure in another $100+ to cover those costs.
Create criteria for your ideal apartment.
What are you looking for in a property? Do you want a single bedroom or more bedrooms? Maybe you want to rent a house? Do you need the property to come with appliances, including washer and dryer? Do want it to be close to school or your work? Do want it to be within walking distance of retail, like groceries or coffee shops? Are you willing to live in a high end neighborhood?
Write down whatever comes to your mind. While you might not be able to get everything on your apartment wish list, it will definitely help in narrowing down the possibilities.
Identify potential properties.
With your list of criteria in hand, hop online and start searching for properties. When looking for an apartment or house here in Skopje, simply began the search by Googling: “Find real estate in Skopje for rent.” Google actually brings up many agencies to choose from. Let’s face it… It’s always in your best interest to be professionally represented whether you’re buying or renting. That makes your job lot easier.
Some of the reasons for using a Real Estate Agent
– Agents have access to the list of rentals
– Agents save you time by sifting through available properties and setting showings for you
– Agents should protect you from signing a bad lease agreement
– Agents typically have more experience at negotiating than you
– Agents typically earn only ½ month’s rent as commission
So, Contact the agency and an agent will be assigned to you. He will be your advocate and guide you through the home-renting process and represent you best.
To help someone find a house or apartment, the agent first must find out what type of property the client wants, the price of the property you can afford as well as all of the locations that would be acceptable. Then, usually using a networking system, the agent identifies for-rent or sale properties that fit the necessary criteria. He will take the client to many sites for first-hand looks at the properties, explain the positive and negative features of each, give estimates of fair values for the properties and answer any questions the you might have. If the buyer decides to make an offer on a property, the agent helps choose an offer price and makes the offer to the landlord. The agent then arranges a meeting where the clients will sign all of the paperwork and receive the keys to his or her new home.
Visiting Prospective Rentals
Set aside a day to visit your potentials. You’ll want to visit your potential rental units in person to see their condition. Make this process as efficient as possible by visiting as many of your potentials as you can in a single day. Saturdays are the busiest days for landlords showing apartments, so try to go sometime during the week. Your agent will set aside about 30 minutes for each visit, so you can plan your day accordingly.
Make a good first impression. When you visit a potential apartment, the landlord or apartment manager will be evaluating you just like you’re evaluating them. They want to make sure the people they rent to are reliable, courteous, and easy to get along with.
As you look at the rental unit, keep your comments positive and your possible complaints close to your vest. No need to spout off a list of upgrades and requests before you’re even offered the place. That will just scare landlords away from you. Wait to bring up your concerns until after you’ve been accepted as a renter.
Ask questions. While you should keep small concerns to yourself about the unit while looking at it, feel free to ask the landlord or agent any questions you might have that will help in your decision.
Signing the Lease (or Rental Agreement)
When you find a place you like, the agent will ask you and the landlord to come to the office and sign a lease.
Have enough money in your checking account to cover the security deposit and first month’s rent. When you sign your lease, the landlord will usually ask that you pay a security deposit as well as the first month’s rent. Make sure you have enough money in available (they may only take cash) to cover both amounts. If you terminate the lease early or leave the apartment in disrepair, the landlord will use the security deposit to cover those costs. If you leave the apartment in the same condition as you got it, you can get your security deposit back.
Read the lease before signing! Don’t sign anything until you’ve read through the lease line-by-line. You want to know exactly what you’re getting into when you agree to rent from a landlord. Make note of anything you find disagreeable, and ask questions about what you don’t understand. As you read through the rent, look for the provisions that answer the following questions:
How much is rent? Duh.
How much is the security deposit and how can you get it back? Understand what sort of condition you’ll need to leave the apartment in if you want to get your security deposit back.
What’s the term of the tenancy? One year? Two years?
What happens if you terminate your lease early? This an important provision to check. Sure, you may plan to stay in your apartment for a year, but plans can change and you’ll have to terminate your lease early. Most apartments will ask for 30 to 60 days notice if you plan on terminating the lease early. Pay attention to see if there are any termination fees. It is usually agreed that if you terminate your lease before the first 3-6 months the deposit will stay with the landlord to cover his loss in rent.
Forfeiting your security deposit is usually a reasonable termination fee.
Where, how, and when is rent paid and what happens if you’re late on rent? You’d be surprised, but some landlords are really particular about how rent is paid. They want it in a certain form (cash, bank transfer, etc.) and deposited in a certain place. Make sure you know where and how this is to take place.
Which utilities are you responsible for? Sometimes landlords cover the costs of all utilities, while others cover none.
Is subletting allowed? Let’s say you take a three-month trip during the summer. You have a friend who needs a place to stay during that same three-month period. Instead of leaving your apartment vacant for three months, you offer to let your friend stay in your place as long as he pays you the amount of monthly rent so that you can pay the landlord. You just sublet. Most landlords prohibit subletting, but some allow it. If you think you’ll need to be able to sublet to someone else, make sure the lease allows you to.
Are you allowed to make alterations to the dwelling? You’re not the owner of the property, so you can’t replace counters or paint the walls without the landlord’s permission. Most places I’ve rented from allow you to paint the walls, as long as you paint them back to the original color before you move out.
Are you responsible for minor repairs or is your landlord? While landlords are required by law to make repairs that ensure the dwelling is habitable, they’re not required to take care of minor repairs, and may leave that to you to take care of. In leases with individual landlords you’ll often see clauses stating that the renter is responsible for minor repairs.
Are pets allowed, and if so, do you have to pay an extra fee for having one? Some apartments allow pets (often with size restrictions); some don’t. The ones that do, often charge an extra monthly fee.
Get any oral promises in writing. If the landlord made any oral promises to you while you were looking at the apartment, get those promises written in the lease.
Feel free to negotiate any of these terms. If you see any terms you don’t like, ask your agent to have them modified. Also, feel free to negotiate the rent amount or security deposit. Before you and the landlord sign the lease, anything is fair game to change in the contract.
Inspect the Apartment Before Taking Possession
Before you take possession of the apartment, make Landlord-Tenant Checklist that lists all the rooms, fixtures, and appliances in the apartment. Inspect the apartment and make note of the condition of the various items on the list. If you notice any damage, make sure to photograph it, and point it out to the landlord or manager. Be as thorough as possible during this inspection. This will protect you from forfeiting your security deposit for damage that already existed before you took possession.
Get Renter’s Insurance
Renter’s insurance covers any loss to your personal property due to robbery or accidents. It also covers any damage you might cause to other tenant’s property. For example, let’s say your washing machine springs a leak and water seeps through the floor and ruins your neighbor’s antique dresser. Renter’s insurance would cover that.
When you sign your lease, your landlord may strongly suggest and even hint that you’re legally required to get renter’s insurance. Their concern isn’t for your benefit. The landlord wants your insurance policy to pay for any damage or injury that your negligence causes instead of the aggrieved party suing the landlord. While you’re not required to have renter’s insurance in Macedonia, it’s a good idea to get it anyway.
Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Renter
Court cases and state statutes have established rights and responsibilities that you have as a renter. If your landlord violates any of these rights, you’re entitled to recourse.
You have the right to a habitable premise. If your apartment ever suffers any defects that make your place inhabitable (like sewage backing up in your bathtub), your landlord has a duty to fix it. While some apartments provide a phone number for “emergencies,” always make sure you document your request in some way. The landlord will then have a certain amount of time to make those repairs. If they don’t, you have several re-courses, such as paying someone to fix the problem and then deducting the cost of repair from your rent. It’s when you decide to go those routes, that having your communications with your landlord well documented becomes so important.
You have the right to privacy. While the landlord owns the property, they can’t barge in anytime they want. Macedonia has laws stating renters have a right to privacy while renting. Pretty much the only time the landlord can come into your rental without permission or notice is when they’re responding to an emergency that threatens injury or property damage.
Any other time the landlord wants to enter the property, they need to have your permission and in some cases give you 24-hours notice before entering.
Keep the premise clean, safe, and in good repair. This is the most common responsibility you’ll see listed in statutes. Basically, you’re required by law to take care of the apartment while you’re a tenant there. Not too hard.
Reimburse the landlord for any damages you may cause. If you don’t keep the apartment clean, safe, and in good repair, you have the responsibility of reimbursing the landlord to make the apartment clean, safe and in good repair again.
Getting Your Safety Deposit Back When You Move Out
So your lease is up and you’re ready to move on to greener pastures. How do you get that security deposit back?
First, clean your apartment as well as you can, including carpet cleaning, if possible (landlords will often clip you on this). Second, get your Tenant-Landlord Checklist that you filled out when you first moved in and run an inspection again with your landlord. You can’t be charged for ordinary wear and tear that comes with living in an apartment, but you can be for damage and excessive filth. Check out this chart of what sort of wear and tear a landlord should pay for and what sort of damage they can deduct from your security deposit.
If they try to charge you to replace something when a repair would be sufficient, object. Also, if you paid a cleaning fee before moving in, your landlord can’t deduct your security deposit for any cleaning.
If the landlord does have to deduct from your security deposit to replace and clean the property, you’re entitled to an itemized statement that explains the purpose of each deduction.
Any other tips and advice for a first time renter? Share them with us in the comments!