|How to Look for an Apartment
Southwestern Pennsylvania offers something for everyone when it comes to apartment living.
Whatever you seek, be it temporary housing or a “special” place to call home for years to come, you can find what you’re looking for here.
The region’s greatest charm, its neighborhood communities, is well reflected in its rental options.
The diversity of these neighborhood communities allows new residents to find the perfect match to suit their particular lifestyle.
High-rise complexes, garden apartments, duplexes, historic restorations and townhouses are just a few of the many types of apartments commonly found throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. Apartment styles vary from turn-of-the century historic landmarks to contemporary award-winning complexes.
Apartment living in the metropolitan area is affordable to everyone.While rental costs vary depending upon the location of the apartments, a comfortable margin for rent is 25 percent of your income.
Renters can also expect managed properties to be higher than owner-occupied properties. This is due, primarily, to maintenance costs, amenities and specialized service.
Remember to keep utility bills in mind when budgeting. Apartments differ when it comes to utility payments. While some units will include all utilities, others may only offer some or none. Gas, electric, water, sewage and trash removal must either be paid by tenant or property. If your future apartment does not cover utilities and you want to create a budget, contact the utility company and they can give you a breakdown of the previous year.
When looking for an apartment, it’s important to keep several basic factors in mind.
First, look at the proximity of the area you are considering compared to work, points of interest, social activities and any family you may have living in the area.
Consult maps for easy travel routes and test the routes during the time you would normally be driving to and from work.
Second, evaluate the space of your current living arrangements and future plans.
If your present apartment projects the feeling of a crowded space, or if you’re planning an addition to the family, you need to look for a larger floor plan. Obviously, the opposite also is true as well.
Common apartment offerings in the area include studio, one, two or three bedroom and townhouses.
Think about the time you’re planning to live in an apartment and find a place that you can enjoy. Make a wish list of amenities you want and prioritize them.
Then, seek out apartments that meet your needs. Remember, apartments offer the flexibility that enables making career and lifestyle changes quickly and easily.
Once you have reached these decisions, you are ready to begin looking for an apartment.
HOW TO LOOK
Drive around and look at buildings that you like.Call complexes that interest you and check to see if prices are within your range.Plan to spend a day looking at apartments in each area.
Make sure you call ahead to make reservations. Rental agencies are often closed on weekends and holidays.
After you have found an apartment that meets your needs, you are ready to begin the rental process. At this point, you will need to complete a rental application and lease and provide a security deposit as requested by the property manager.
Upon verification of the information, the apartment is yours. Spring and summer are the seasons that offer the most apartment selections
You must make plans and have a game plan ready to go before you start searching for you apartment.
How to make apartment living easier
That first apartment is like many other firsts in life — eagerly anticipated and yet a little concerning, too.
Here are a few tips on how to make your first apartment rental experience a positive one.
Know your roommate— This doesn’t mean that he has to be a great drinking buddy or she’s a great lunch companion, but you need to know something about this person. Does he pay his bills on time?
It’s also good to know if this person cleans up after themselves, plays their music loud or likes to have overnight guests.
Remember, you will be living with your roommate every day for probably at least one year depending on your lease.
Read the lease — And reread it. Then read it again. You should understand that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania you are “jointly and severable responsible” for the terms of the lease.
This means that if your roommate doesn’t come up with their share of the rent, you are equally responsible for the balance owed. It also means you are equally responsible for the damage done when your roommate’s lamp fell through the window...and well, you get the picture.
What does the lease say about early termination? Do you pay a fee? Can you get out of the lease? Plenty of changes can take place during a year’s lease.
Utility payments — Who pays them? Get estimates from utility companies or previous tenants if you are responsible for gas and/or electric. Then make sure you itemize these expenses in your budget.
If you pay for heat, be sure to look for items that will have an effect on your bill such as windows, insulation, thermostat or some other heat control and location of your apartment in the building.
Remember, heat rises, so top floor apartments will be warmer in the winter and hotter in the summer than lower floor apartments.
Make a budget — Mom and Dad won’t be buying the toilet paper, toothpaste and laundry detergent, so these household expenses will be coming out of your pocket. Be sure you have a clear understanding of the budget with your roommates.
Does your new apartment require a security deposit? If so, you should fully understand your responsibilities for the return of your deposit.
Make sure all deposit terms and conditions are outlined in the lease.
Check out the company — Who is managing your apartment?
Check out amenities such as 24-hour emergency maintenance service, lock out service, laundry rooms and clean public halls, too.
Is the office friendly? Remember, these are the folks you’ll need to deal with when you need service.
Location — Take a good look at the location of your future home. Is it near school or work? What about the grocery store? Where’s the hardware store and pizza place? Take a walk around the neighborhood and get to know the area before you sign the lease. If you take public transportation, find out where the bus stops are located.
If you like to run, bike or roller blade, make sure the area can accommodate you.
Take pleasure in the fact that Pittsburgh has many affordable, clean, well-managed and conveniently located apartment homes.
Look for a member of the Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh. Remember, you get an added bonus when you rent from a professional.
Answers to apartment living questions Apartment renters have plenty of concerns. The following is a list of frequently asked questions.
This information is offered as a service to provide information only and is not legal advice.
If you need legal advice or representation, contact an attorney.
DISCRIMINATION — Federal Fair Housing laws and Pennsylvania statutes prohibit housing discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, national origin, disability and families under 18.
Some Pennsylvania cities have local ordinances that include additional protected classes.
Landlords may decline rental applications based on policies regarding pets, employment, income, credit history, rental history, criminal background and references for other criteria applied to all applicants.
APPLICATION FEES/ DEPOSITS — It is common practice for landlords to require a fee along with your rental application. This fee covers the cost of running a credit check, eviction check, criminal history, etc.
A hold deposit also may be required to hold the apartment off the market for you until a lease is signed.
You may lose this deposit if your lease is approved, but you refuse or decide not to sign a lease.
Be sure to have a written agreement that explains how the deposit will be credited to your account and under what circumstances it is refundable or forfeited.
LEASES — It is always best to have a written lease rather than a verbal agreement. A lease is a binding, legal contract that defines the terms both parties are agreeing to regarding the rental unit.
Be sure to read the lease completely and don’t sign the lease unless you agree completely to all of its terms.
You may be evicted for violating terms of the lease.
The Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh (AAMP) encourages it members to use the AAMP-approved lease. Beware of homemade leases used by amateurs. They may be outdated, illegible and unenforceable as well as not based on current Pennsylvania law.
REPAIRS/MAINTENANCE — Under Pennsylvania law, unless the lease provides otherwise, repairs are the responsibility of the resident.
If the lease holds the landlord responsible for certain repairs, they should be done in a timely and careful manner after notice from the resident.
Most leases forbid deducting or withholding money from rent for repairs and doing so could make you subject to eviction for nonpayment of rent.
If no reasonable attempt to make repairs has been made by the landlord, after giving notice you may have the right to have repairs made and deposit the rent in escrow.
RIGHTS/RESPONSIBILITIES — Your lease defines your rights and responsibilities. Look there first if you have questions regarding such issues as subletting, repairs, noise, nuisances, visitors, late fees, pets, roommates, additional occupants, changing your own locks and ending a lease early.
SECURITY DEPOSITS — In Pennsylvania, a landlord shall return the full security deposit within 30 days after the termination of a lease of the surrender and acceptance of the premises, whichever occurs last.
The landlord may retain some or all of the deposit to cover damages beyond normal wear and tear or failure to pay rent, but must send a list of any changes made.
The tenant is responsible for giving a forwarding address.
Read your lease to see if you’re required to pay any carpet cleaning or other fees at move out.
EVICTIONS — You may be evicted for failing to pay all or a part of your rent, for violating other terms of your lease or violations of the law.
Under Pennsylvania law, specific steps must be followed by the landlord as due process in an eviction procedure.
If you are late with rent or have otherwise violated the lease, you should receive written notice informing you of the intention to sue if you have not waived the right in the lease.
If you ignore your obligations under the lease, the landlord must go to court to legally regain possession of the property unless you have made some other out of court agreement.
If the landlord does not follow due process, you may have a case of wrongful eviction and should seek legal counsel.
CRIME AND SAFETY — Take responsibility for your own safety and security.
Inspect the locks, latches and deadbolts on the windows and doors when you move in and ask for repairs and upgrades if necessary.
Report suspicious and criminal activity to the police and to your landlord.
PRIVACY — You have the right to peaceful and quiet enjoyment of your apartment or rental home.
The landlord may enter without your permission in the event of of an emergency or some perceived danger to the unit of the occupants.
Usually the lease describes when the landlord may enter the unit for maintenance, repairs, inspections or showing the property to other.
Do not change the locks without permission and without giving new keys to the landlord.
Condos, townhomes offer alternative For single, empty nester or first-time home buyers, multifamily housing offers a wide range of convenient home ownership opportunities.
The most common form of multifamily housing is rental apartments. But multifamily or attached housing is more than apartments.
“What is the difference between condominiums, cooperatives and townhouses?” This is a question housing professionals are often asked.
A condominium is a form of ownership, whereby you own your own living quarters — the interior space of your unit — and also share in the community property including the exterior walls, hallways, grounds, sidewalks, laundry facilities and recreational areas,
You are responsible for your living unit and participate in the condominium association, which makes decisions regarding the management and maintenance of the community.
Condominiums are sold in a wide variety of configurations, from attached townhouses to city rowhouses and high rises.
Cooperatives are non-profit corporations with shareholders, elected directors and officers.
If you live in a cooperative, you are simultaneously a resident, member and shareholder.
You buy a share of stock in the non-profit cooperative corporation and this gives you occupancy rights to a unit as well as the tax advantages of ownership.
Coop members own the whole community and participate in the policies and by-laws of the corporation.
The term townhouse is usually used to describe a row or cluster of houses with common side walls.
Traditional townhouses are usually arranged in a row pattern common in older cities, but also are constructed in duplexes, four plexes and sixplexes.
Some townhouses are sold in the form of condominiums, but most are sold like conventional houses: you buy your unit and the land upon which it stands, usually a small yard in the front and a back with a patio.
This form of ownership is called ownership in fee simple.
For more information on these housing options, call the Apartment Association at (412) 434-5690.
Proper insurance protects your investment
With the increasing costs of a home today, the average family is more likely to live in one home for a long period of time than they did in the past.
As a result, financial decisions must be made with a great deal of care and a great deal of thought.
Protecting yourself, your family and your home against disaster or tragedy is of the utmost importance.
A common mistake in analyzing homes for insurance is using information from real estate or market values.
Market value is often confused with replacement cost.
Market value appraisals are conducted to determine the average price a given home will bring on the market for a certain period of time.
Refinance or bank appraisals typically result in a conservative market value estimate.
Neither approach considers construction cost trends, specific construction design or quality of workmanship and building materials.
If market value data is used in determining a replacement cost estimate, there is a risk of insuring a home based on variables that have nothing to do with actually replacing a home.
The building industry has seen a consistent increase in material and labor costs in the past five years.
Construction cost data provided to the insurance industry to calculate replacement cost estimates for residential construction includes sources like the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), as well as local retail and wholesale material cost indexes.
If you’re building a new home or purchasing a previously-owned home, it’s important to check your insurance policy to make sure you’re carrying enough insurance to replace your home.
If you have any questions, contact your insurance agent to review your coverage.
You may also want to purchase ordinance coverage.
This type of coverage provides protection in the event reconstruction costs increase significantly because of new local ordinance building code changes.
Protecting your biggest investment against all possible problems is crucial.’
After all, your home is your biggest investment.
And protecting that investment is of the utmost importance.
Whether it be insurance coverage, fire, safety equipment, a home security system or contacting a contractor to check for possible construction problems (roofing, foundation weaknesses, structural trouble, etc.) there are plenty of positive approaches to help a homeowner avoid possible problems as well as financial loss. Taking a positive approach almost always assures a positive experience.