If you are new to the market of finding your own place, and especially if you are considering moving into a property management firm-controlled building, there are some things you need to know before you even start looking at the vacancy ads. Chief among the things you need to study are how a lease works, what your legal rights are as a tenant and a contingency plan in the event your income is interrupted or you have some kind of personal emergency that requires you to move out before your lease is up.

Avoid Eviction
An eviction will destroy your life. It is worse than any other kind of adverse credit event because apartment buildings will bar you from renting even if it is no longer on your credit report. While certain private landlords will still work with you, the big property management companies keep permanent records of anyone who has ever been evicted and share them with each other.

Essentially, if you are legally and forcibly removed from an apartment, you’ll never rent from a major property management company again. This is why you must avoid being evicted no matter what. Even if you have to retain legal representation to avoid an eviction judgment, it will be worth it if you plan to rent again.

Understand Your Lease

The document that will govern your stay at your new apartment is your lease. Read it and then hire someone knowledgeable to read it to you and explain it to you. Do not rely on your future landlord for advice. Get someone who is not a party to the agreement to explain what is going on.

One additional piece of advice if you are handed a document to sign is to wait at least 24 hours before you make any decisions. Preferably you should be reading and evaluating the lease during that time and highlighting any sections that you might not agree with. Only sign after you have a full understanding of the document and not a moment before. If the landlord tries to pressure you to sign saying someone else will return theirs in that allotted time, then it tells you about their management style and you probably are better off signing a lease elsewhere.

Know Your Amenities
Make sure you ask every single question that pops into your head when you are taking a tour. Many times you’ll see amenities or a club house, but some landlords will charge you on top of an HOA fee for using that theater room, exercise room, or any other hook they try to sell you. Some don’t. It’s all a matter of communication. Ask how many skip bin hire they have for each apartment. You don’t want to end up in a complex where you share one skip bin for every couple of buildings.

Limit the Term

Generally speaking, for a new renter the shorter the lease term the better. Your objective is to get out of the lease financially intact. Your secondary objective is to get a better place as soon as possible. Both of these objectives require you to have the flexibility to move out before you turn 48, so look for a month-to-month or a yearly lease. Whatever you choose, make sure you plan ahead.

These pieces of advice will help you avoid the most obvious and destructive problems. Protect yourself first. You can be sure your landlord has already dug in his or her defenses and reinforced them with lawyers and cash in the event you so much as misplace a cabinet fixture. Do likewise.