Thinking of living on your own or with roommates in a rented apartment or house?

Here are some things to know and consider before you sign a rental agreement:

1. What will be my rights and responsibilities as a renter?

Your rights and responsibilities as “tenant” (renter) – and the rights and responsibilities of the “landlord” (the person or company who owns or manages the apartment or house in which you are a tenant) – are governed by a set of state laws known as the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. An electronic version of this Act may be accessed here:

A summary of many of the most important rules and regulations under the Act may be accessed here:

ALWAYS READ AND REVIEW THE RENTAL AGREEMENT CAREFULLY (and/or ask trustworthy friends or family to read and review it) BEFORE YOU SIGN IT. Do not allow a landlord to pressure you into signing a rental agreement before you have had an opportunity to read and review it carefully. Why? Because a tenant is required to comply with whatever provisions the tenant agrees to in a rental agreement (as long as those provisions do not violate the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act or any other applicable laws). A rental agreement is a kind of contract, so it is very important to know in advance what you are agreeing to.

2. Where do I want to live?

Different neighborhoods offer different advantages and disadvantages. If you plan to rely on public transit in order to get around, for example, then the location and distance of bus stops or light rail stations will be critical. Proximity to school and/or work is helpful too. Your comfort and safety (both during the day and at night) are incredibly important as well. And nearby grocery stores and restaurants and coffee shops (and a laundry, if the building does not have washers and dryers) are very convenient.

3. What kind(s) of living arrangement am I looking for?

There are lots of possibilities for living arrangements. You may wish to live your own or with roommates. You may want to live in an apartment or in a house. It is wise to consider your preferences before you start looking.

4. What can I afford?

The cost of living in a rental unit is the single most important thing to consider before you move out on your own. You should think about not only the amount that you will pay each month in “rent” but also all the other costs involved in living on your own. By filling out the following chart you can get a good sense of the total amount of money that you will be required to spend every month:

Monthly Expense                                                                                           Cost

rent                                                                                                            $  _______

all basic utilities not included in rent                                            $  _______

(e.g. electric/air-conditioning/heat)                              

cable (internet and/or TV)                                                                $  _______

cell phone                                                                                               $  _______

groceries                                                                                                 $  _______

household items                                                                                   $  _______

laundry                                                                                                     $  _______

entertainment (including restaurants)                                        $  _______

transit pass (if applicable)                                                                $  _______

car (insurance/gas/maintenance/parking) (if applicable)  $  _______

miscellaneous                                                                                        $  _______

other (other expenses that you know you will have)               $  _______


TOTAL:                                                                                                       $  _______


5. What is a security deposit and how much can it be?

A security deposit is a separate amount of money that a landlord is permitted to charge a new tenant at the beginning of a rental agreement in order to ensure that if the tenant causes any damage to the rental unit beyond ordinary wear and tear or moves out without first paying all of the rent that the tenant owes, the landlord will have the money to cover those losses.

In Arizona, the most that a landlord may charge as a security deposit is an amount that is equal to 1 + ½ month’s rent. In Arizona, a landlord may not ask for more than this. (So, for example, if the monthly rent is $1,000, then the most that the landlord may charge as a security deposit is $1,500, which is one month’s rent ($1,000) plus one-half of one month’s rent ($500).)

A more detailed discussion of security deposits may be accessed here: [link to the article on security deposits

6. What should I look for the first time I visit a rental unit?

When you visit a rental unit for the first time, it is always a good idea to look for whether (among other things):

  1. you get a good “vibe” from the building and its surroundings
  2. you get a good “vibe” from the manager (or your potential roommate(s) or whoever else is showing you around)
  3. the unit looks and smells clean
  4. there are signs of mold or water leakage
  5. there are signs of pests (rats/bugs/etc.)
  6. the doors and windows have proper and working locks
  7. you can feel a draft coming through any windows or doors (and the windows open)
  8. the appliances are in good working order
  9. the hot and cold water run properly
  10. the unit contains operational and recently tested smoke detectors
  11. anything needs to be repaired or improved (This is very important: before you sign a rental agreement you will need to make sure that the landlord agrees in writing to make repairs or improvements)

7. What are the answers to the following questions?

The answers to each of the following questions should appear IN WRITING in the rental agreement. (If they do not, there is no guarantee that the landlord will not change his/her mind. Although oral agreements are enforceable in principle, in the event of a dispute, the terms of an oral agreement are much harder to prove.)

  1. How much is the rent?
  2. What is included in the rent? (List should be detailed)
  3. What is excluded from the rent? (List should be detailed)
  4. How is the rental unit air-conditioned? Are there any limits or conditions related to the air-conditioning about which I should be aware?
  5. Is parking available? If so, how much does it cost? (If applicable)
  6. Is there a place to store bicycles? If not, are they permitted inside the rental unit? (If applicable)
  7. On what dates does the rental agreement begin and end?
  8. When are rent payments due?
  9. How can/must rent payments be made?
  10. What happens if I pay rent late? Is there a penalty? If so, when (after how many days) does that penalty come into effect?
  11. Will I be held responsible if/when my roommate(s) fail to pay their rent? (If applicable)
  12. How much is the security deposit? Is it fully refundable?
  13. Who do I contact (and how do I contact them) if something needs to be repaired?
  14. Are pets allowed? If so, what kinds of pets? And are there size restrictions? Is there a pet fee?
  15. Are there any rules about overnight guests?
  16. How many names may be on the rental agreement? (If applicable)
  17. Will I be permitted to sublet or assign the rental unit?
  18. What items (if any) in the rental unit will the landlord commit to repairing and/or improving? (This list must be detailed and stated in writing before the rental agreement is signed)
  19. Are any there restrictions on how I can decorate? If so, what are they?
  20. What are the names and contact information of the landlord (owner or manager) or other person(s) authorized to accept notices and requests from me?
  21. Are there any issues (safety/neighbors/bugs/etc.) of which the landlord is aware that I probably would want to know about?

8. What should I do before I move in?

Even before you move in, it is helpful to:

  1. Schedule utility (electricity and cable) initiation/installation appointments (because appointment spaces get filled long in advance) and
  2. Complete a Change of Address form with the United States Postal Service (available online)

9. What should I do as soon as I move in?

Given that one of the major purposes of a security deposit is to ensure that a landlord has the money to cover the cost to repair any damage to the rental unit caused by a tenant, it is strongly recommended that every new tenant TAKE PHOTOS AND/OR VIDEO of the rental unit showing its condition (especially any pre-existing problems) both before you move in and when you move out.

10. What should I do to protect my rights as a tenant?

In order to protect yourself in case a dispute arises between you and your landlord, it is very important to:

  1. keep receipts or make copies (have proof) of all your payments to your landlord (including each month’s rent and your security deposit) and
  2. inform your landlord in a written letter – either delivered by hand or sent by registered or certified mail – of problems with the rental unit as soon as they arise (because delays often make problems worse)

11. What should I do to protect my personal property? 

In order to protect your personal property, it is always smart to keep your doors (and accessible windows) locked when you are out. You may also wish to consider purchasing renter’s insurance if you are concerned about a potential loss of valuable items in the case of theft or fire or other damage.


Keeping each of these things in mind – and doing as much of your own internet research as you can – when you look for and rent your first apartment (or room) will make it much more likely that the experience of moving out on your own will be a positive one – as it should be.

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