Moving In

By Alan Pentico, CAE, San Diego County Apartment Association

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding an apartment and moving in, especially for first-time renters.

There are certain steps, however, that you should take before signing on the dotted line and handing over a security deposit as well as first and last month’s rent. There are additional steps you should take once you’ve signed a lease.

Make sure you know if you are paying first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit, or all three. Indicate on the memo line of the check what you are paying for and get a receipt from the landlord.

You should carefully inspect the apartment with the landlord. Make sure the apartment has been well-maintained. Ask the landlord to use a written checklist so you both agree on the condition of the apartment before you move in.

Take this seriously, recording the smallest of problems like nail holes and taking pictures of significant damage. Look for the following problems:

  • Cracks or holes in the floor, walls or ceiling
  • Signs of leaking water or water damage in the floor, walls, or ceiling
  • Leaks in bathroom or kitchen fixtures
  • Any signs of mold or pests
  • Lack of hot water
  • Inadequate heating or air conditioning
  • Damaged flooring

If something is not to your liking asked to have it fixed before moving in, and ask for a copy of the checklist. Save it and use it to resolve differences when moving out and claiming your security deposit.

If you sign a lease, the landlord is required to give you a signed copy within 30 days. Keep your records in a safe and secure place.

You should consider purchasing renters’ insurance. The landlord’s insurance will generally not cover your belongings. Make sure to ask. Renters’ insurance will protect you against loss of your property by fire or theft and often helps with temporary housing. It also will protect you against liability if someone claims you injured another person or damaged that person’s property. Coverage in California for a two-bedroom apartment can be as low as $15 a month.

“Renter’s Insurance has become less of an option and more of a necessity these days,” says Christine La Marca, Supervisor at The Kevane Company.  “A landlords’ or owners’ insurance will cover damage caused by disasters like fire or flood, but unless the damage is due to the owner’s negligence, it won’t help the tenant replace items damaged in such cases. It may also help protect you in an instance where you are found to be at fault for damage to the property and the owner’s insurance seeks reimbursement for the loss. Quite often renter’s insurance can be combined with a tenant’s auto insurance policy for an even lower rate.”

La Marca points to recent news stories about house fires and cars driving into homes when noting many insurance-related issues stem from a tenant’s negligence, such as a cooking fire or an overflowed toilet, but sometimes it is caused by a third party. In situations like these, the owner’s insurance will pay for the building repairs but it will not replace the tenant’s damaged property.

When you move, it is important to notify the U.S. Post Office of your new address so that your mail can find you. Forms are available at any post office branch. You also may file your change of address online at

At least one week before moving into your apartment, contact the local utilities (gas, electricity, water, cable, telephone, sewer, etc.) in order to turn on the utilities in your name. Your landlord should be able to provide you with a list or may be able to do it for you. In many instances, the utility company may charge a deposit.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Pay for professional movers or ask friends and family to help you
  • Collect boxes a few weeks before moving
  • Label boxes with a marker
  • Buy cleaning supplies and expect to do some cleaning
  • Before doing any painting or repairs, check with the landlord to see what is and isn’t allowed
  • Figure out where you want to put your furniture before moving in
  • Ask your landlord where you are allowed to store your belongings, where you are allowed to park and what the property rules are
  • Lastly, enjoy your new place. It’s your home.

Pentico is the executive director of the San Diego County Apartment Association, which serves 150,000 rental housing units and 2,200 members in San Diego County.

The article also appeared in February 2012 in the Union-Tribune Renter Section, Lilly Leung, Reporter

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