Alumni Column: My First Apartment



I was lucky. When I graduated from Colgate, the economy was strong. I was already accepted to law school, but I had the option to defer my admission and take a break from academ­ics. I accepted a job in sales with Prudential because I knew the skills were transferable and would be an asset to my even­tual career as a lawyer. However, I was not aware that I would move six times in three years.

My first move was a huge mistake. I rented a room in a lovely old house in rural New Jersey while training for my new job in Parsippany. The rent was perfect, the house was gorgeous and the commute was okay.

But my social life was terrible. Long Valley, a quaint subur­ban town, became known to me as “Death Valley.” I couldn’t wait to escape. Luckily, my grandparents offered me a room, for free, in their Brooklyn home. It was a much longer com­mute, but a much more convenient place for me to enjoy life outside work. Still, I was too young to be hanging out with Lucy and Irving. In the knick of time, I was transferred to Hartford, Connecticut, and nine months after graduation I was finally on my own.

I knew no one in Hartford but my boss told me that I should rent an apartment in a young community in Rocky Hills, a.k.a. “Sensuous Thrills.” Intrigued, I visited and dis­covered that I couldn’t afford the one bedroom apartment at $700 per month. However, a two-bedroom apartment was only $300 more. But that meant I needed a roommate. The apartment complex had a roommate listing and I interviewed a few different people over the next week, and signed a lease with a woman who became my closest friend. 18 months later, I was transferred to Boston, where my moves were more entertaining, and taught me invaluable lessons about lease negotiations and finding roommates.

The process will be easier for you. With the ability to net­work via the Internet, you can find roommates to help you share the cost and have a higher standard of living. You still have the concerns about sharing food, cleaning, loud music and compatibility. And you have the issue of signing the lease. Here’s a list of things to keep in mind before you sign your first lease.

-What is the rent and how much extra do I have to pay? Your rent should be clearly listed. You will typically pay monthly rent to the landlord and pay your utilities bills di­rectly to the utility provider. Make sure you know the form in which payments are to be made (e.g. by check, in cash or cer­tified check). Review the late fees and when they are charged. Make sure the landlord can’t kick you out for late payment without written notice. Finally, make sure you know the date upon which the first rental payment is due.

-Security Deposit. Confirm the amount you must pay and how and when you will get it back.

-Lease Term? If you don’t know where you will be in a year, sign a 1-year lease and add an option to renew, on a month-to-month basis or for another fixed term. You might be able to add a clause limiting the rent increase during the renewal period.

-This will help you budget in the event you decide to stay another year. If you are truly uncertain about the length of your commitment to a specific location, starting off with a month-to-month lease is also an option. However, the rent might be higher because the landlord has a greater risk that she will have to re-let the space in a shorter period of time. In addition, the landlord can often terminate your tenancy with no more than 30 days notice.

-Are there any termination rights? Most residential leases do not allow you to terminate the lease early. But what hap­pens if your apartment is uninhabitable? My first apartment by Boston College was perfect, until I turned the lights on in the middle of the night and saw dozens of cockroaches scrambling back into the dark crevices of the floorboards. My landlord attempted to rid the place of these awful demons, but within one month of my move-in, agreed to break my lease due to the health hazards that were outside my control. My second apartment was equally fabulous.

But, knowing I had to test the waters first, I signed a 6-month lease. Located behind Fenway Park in an old, up­dated warehouse, my studio loft was funky and cool, and in the heart of all things Boston.

But my next-door neighbor was not. Every morn­ing at 4:50 a.m., I was awakened by the sound of a min­ister preaching the gospel at 100 decibels. I’m a sup­porter of freedom of religion, but my tolerance is non-existent at four in the morning.

Realizing I was the victim of poor insulation and a neigh­bor unable to wake up at less than 100 Db, I left after six months of little sleep and moved to the suburbs, where better insulation and larger apartments were available for people my age at a much lower cost.

-Condition of Apartment and Maintenance Obligations. Make sure you do a “walk-through” before you sign the lease. You want to make sure that the apartment is clean, painted and that all systems are working, particularly the A/C and heat. You might also add this as a condition to your lease.

Alas, it might seem intimidating as you start out on your own. But keep in mind that your options are now unlimited and you are about to enter a new and exciting period of your life. Good luck and have fun!