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Dazzle Your Alumni

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When looking for an apartment, know the lingo. Before you choose a place, get your finances in order. And once you commit, make sure everything is clearly spelled out in the lease.

The Hunt

Tell everyone you know that you're looking for an apartment. You'll never know if your best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend knows this one guy who knows this one kid who might be renting out an apartment in Tulsa next month.

Bathrooms and kitchens are usually the most expensive rooms to build, so when you get a roommate you're saving a lot of money by splitting the cost of these rooms. (Unless, of course, you each have a kitchen and a bathroom.)

When looking for a place, know some of the terms like duplex (two-unit building), alcove (partly enclosed area connected to a room), and junior one-bedroom (a studio with enough space to make a partition for a bedroom).

Some newspaper abbreviations include: DW (dishwasher), DM (doorman building), h/w (hardwood floors), F/P (fireplace), EIK (eat-in kitchen), RRRTK (really, really, really tiny kitchen), WIC (walk-in closet), W/D (washer and dryer), and wd/hkup (washer/dryer hookup).

Just like the personal ads, you'll need to "read between lines" to decipher an apartment ad's true meaning. For example:

Check smaller newspapers, work listings, local laundromats, fliers on telephone poles, and alumni groups for apartment listings with less competition. (But never look for listings on bathroom walls.)


Try to visit the neighborhood in the day and at night. The place might be quiet by day, but at night it may turn into the Moulin Rouge.

Make a list of items to check before you arrive at your dream apartment (light switches, elevator, air conditioner, heat, appliances, noise level, parking, hot water, windows, etc.).

Ask the current tenant or a neighbor a few questions for unbiased feedback. Is the apartment loud? Does the super (superintendent) own a wrench? If she answers, "I don't mind the bugs - they keep to themselves if you don't show fear," then move on.

Signing The Lease

Most new apartments require at least one month's rent up front. In big cities, expect to pay the first month, last month, and security deposit up front.

Your landlord will check your credit before he or she gives you the keys. (Every single credit card bill you've ever paid is recorded by a credit agency.)

Your landlord likely won't accept an out-of-state check (or the autograph of Cinderella that you got as a kid). He or she will require a cash equivalent, like a money order or cashier's check. (Most banks and grocery stores sell these.)

Make sure you have everything in writing. You don't want to get involved in a he-said, she-said argument when your landlord claims that you agreed to let your living room be used for guest parking.

Make sure the length of the lease is expressly written in your lease contract. Do not accept a month-to-month contract unless you enjoy living out of a suitcase.

Confirm that your security deposit is going into an interest-bearing account. Most state laws mandate that you receive back interest on your deposit.

Determine your future rent increases. Some states (New York, Maryland, California, New Jersey, and DC) have rent control laws.

Make sure your privacy rights are spelled out in your lease. You don't want the handyman coming in to fix the shower ... while you're in the shower.

Story Time

When Bert moved to NYC, his landlord required a reference letter (common in many big cities). If you're asked for one, use our easy template:

Dear [new landlord],

It is with pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for [name]. He/she was an excellent tenant for [X] years.

Whenever it snowed, he/she made hot cocoa for all the children and purchased groceries for our older residents.

I will surely miss the smell of [name]'s apple pies filling the hallways and the way he/she sang with the robin on sunny mornings.

I am not a spiritual person by nature, but I do believe that if angels live among us, [name] surely walks among them.


[Previous landlord]