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Avoid These Renter Rip-Offs

Man petting dog in new apartment with pet fees
Beware of charges to use the service elevator on move-in day, plus nine other fees you might not have considered before you signed the lease.

Even if you’re the perfect tenant and expect to receive your full deposit back after move-out, you’ll still need to have cash on hand before you sign the lease on that beautiful new apartment for rent in Chicago, IL, or a brownstone in Boston, MA. But while you’re ready to fork over first, last, and security, what might really surprise you is that it’s not always easy to spot the extra costs that moving to a new place brings.

The best way to fight hidden apartment fees is to know what to look for, so here’s a breakdown of what extras to consider before signing your next lease — and 10 ways to manage them.

1. Incremental moving costs

If you’ve asked your college buddies to help you move one too many times, or if you’re making a significant move, you’re probably already planning to hire a moving company. But there could be additional moving costs you haven’t considered. “Talk to your new landlord about truck accessibility to your unit,” says Ryan Carrigan, founder of moveBuddha, a moving-costs-comparison site. “If movers can’t pull the truck up within 75 feet of your front door, they will typically charge a ‘long carry’ fee,” he says. To fight other potential fees related to damage, be proactive and make sure your mover has general liability insurance, which covers damage to the apartment or building. “If the mover scrapes a wall or nicks a door frame and doesn’t have this coverage, your landlord may take it out of your security deposit.”

2. Storage unit rentals

What do you do with all your stuff when you need to move out before your new place is ready? Rent a storage unit, right? Maybe, but that’s not your only option. Storage units typically aren’t too expensive, but they do require you to move your belongings twice. “A better alternative is using a portable storage container, such as PODS or Zippy Shell,” says Carrigan. If there’s only one day between your move-out and move-in dates, it might be a better idea to leave all your stuff in a rental truck (lock it up!) and pay the overnight fee.

3. Application fees

Landlords often charge an application fee so they can run a background and credit check on you. They’re charged to do this, and they pass that cost on to you. Many landlords charge only what it costs them; others charge a minimal amount extra for their time. While some states regulate how much extra landlords can charge for application fees, landlords can charge as much as $200 per applicant in unregulated states, according to Christina Friscia, a New York, NY, real estate broker. If your landlord’s application practices seem shady, that could be a big clue that you’re dealing with an unscrupulous landlord.

4. Security deposits

About half the states have laws that spell out exactly how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit — usually one or two months’ rent. In states that don’t specify, your local jurisdiction might. Research the number beforehand and keep your potential landlord honest by knowing just how much they can charge. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot skip out on paying rent the last month and call this “living out the security deposit.” That money covers any damages you might make to the property beyond normal wear and tear, not your rent. Keep the place as nice as it was when you moved in, and you should get this money back when you move out.

5. Last month’s rent

Many landlords (probably ones who’ve been burned by tenants who consider a security deposit as an advance on last month’s rent) require renters to pay last month’s rent before they move in. If that’s the case with the place you want, expect to pay at least three times your monthly rent before you’ve spent even one night there: first month, last month, and a security deposit.

6. Elevator reservation fees

If you’re moving into an upper-level unit, you may need to pay a fee to reserve the building’s service elevator. “These fees vary wildly, from $500 to $1,000 refundable deposits to as high as $1,000 in nonrefundable move-in fees,” says Alin Zdroba, a Florida real estate broker. (If you think the fee is too high, this could be a good point of negotiation with your landlord.)

7. Parking passes and fees

Unless you can drive your car into your unit — or you take public transportation — you will probably need to pay parking fees. “Parking gate openers and parking permits/stickers can [cost tenants] between $20 and $100 each,” says Zdroba.

8. Broker fees

If you want those big-city lights to inspire you, you’ll probably need to pay a broker to help you find a place in cities like New York, where the standard broker fee is 15% of a year’s rent. You can go it alone, but having a broker will make the process much easier — especially if you’re trying to find an apartment in time to start a new job.

9. Renters insurance premiums

Many landlords require tenants to have renters insurance. That way, they won’t have to worry about you coming after them if your stuff is damaged in a fire or other disaster at the rental property. But even if your landlord doesn’t require it, renters insurance is an inexpensive way to protect your belongings. “It’s better to be safe than sorry, and it’s relatively inexpensive,” says Christina Friscia. Expect to pay less than $200 a year.

10. Pet fees

It’s wonderful when you find an apartment that allows pets. But you’ll probably have to pay extra for the privilege (unless your pet is a service animal). Landlords usually require a pet deposit in addition to the security deposit (legal in some states), a nonrefundable pet fee (legal in some states), and pet rent.

Have you been surprised by additional hidden apartment fees during your search? Share your tips in the comments below!