About that first apartment?

About that first apartment?

It’s wicked exciting getting your first apartment – your own space, a possible roommate, freedom and a start to your career. Before you pop the cork, though, remember that an apartment comes with a contract, obligations, utilities and choices. What should you know about renting, choosing a roommate and checking out the landlord?

Vetting Roommates

“Hey, how about we get an apartment?” suggests the friend from work. Don’t jump before you know the basics of someone who will share your obligations for rent, utilities, food and other living expenses. My first roommate was a waiter who served up a series of low-cal excuses about why his contribution to the rent never materialized. I actually had to call his parents to take him home. My bad. I didn’t really check him out ahead of time.

It gets even more complicated when your love interest is your roommate. Sometimes the heart and the wallet are in conflict which doesn’t help pay the bills or lead to a happy relationship. What to do?

First, look at their lifestyle – is it the one you want to share? Are the prospective roomies “Mr. or Ms. Party-Hearty”, relatively “normal” or are they “cellar dwellers.”

Is there a reasonable chance they will stay in their job for the foreseeable future with a paycheck that can cover their portion of the rent and expenses? Do you like their friends? Are they big spenders or prudent savers?

Whatever your conclusions, cover the basics before you commit.

  • Who’s signing the lease?
  • What day of the month are you going to pay the bills?
  • Does everyone have their own renter’s insurance coverage?
  • What are the arrangements for buying food and making meals?
  • Basic cable or fully loaded with premium channels? In whose name is the account?
  • Same for heating – whose name is on the account and what’s a reasonable temperature during the heating season?
  • What are the standards of cleanliness for the common areas: kitchen, bathroom and living room?
  • How will you divvy up housework and how often will you clean?

As in most of life, if you communicate early and often, you avoid misunderstandings and animosity.

Buying Renter’s Insurance

Your landlord is not responsible for your personal property. Renter’s insurance generally covers loss or damage to your “stuff” whether it’s in your apartment, your vehicle or off-premise. It also pays for defense costs if you are sued for things that happen in your apartment. Should your apartment be uninhabitable, the policy normally will cover the costs for alternative housing for a period of time while your unit is being repaired. Be sure your policy covers electronics. Some don’t or have limitations.

Then there’s liability. Your roomie has her BFFs over and someone falls off the balcony. The injured person expects somebody to pay medical bills and damages for lost wages. Though the renter’s policy may pay if you were found negligent, the bigger expense could be the legal fees to defend you against a law suit. Sorting out liability is a lot easier when each roommate has their own renter’s insurance.

And just because you’re now an adult doesn’t mean you always act like one. One night you get wound up and start posting things you’ll later regret. The object of your nasty-grams sues for personal injury. Your renter’s insurance may cover your legal defense costs but, again, check with your agent.

Sharing cars

If one of you doesn’t have a car, it’s OK to borrow the roommate’s vehicle if permission has been granted. Should an accident occur, the vehicle owner’s car insurance will pay for liability claims up to the limits of the policy but there is no excess coverage. If the roommate is related to you as a member of your household, it’s a different story but, again, check with your agent.


Though there are laws (ME, NH, MA) to protect renters from unethical landlords, it never hurts to talk with others in the apartment building before signing a lease. Does the landlord or a management company respond quickly to maintenance and repair issues? Has the rent gone up by much over the last few years? Who is responsible for shoveling driveways and sidewalks? You’ll also want to check for mold in the basement and bathrooms, leaks in the ceilings, estimated heating costs, storm windows, storage and circuit breakers. Most important, be sure there are two clear means of egress and that the fire alarms are installed and working.

Life is complicated. Ask good questions. Make good choices. Get insurance.

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