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Breaking down the housing process: a step-by-step guide

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MARCH 14, 2014

Step one: finding roommates

Perhaps the most important housing consideration is whether you’ll be living alone or with other people. Living alone can foster independence and save you from roommate conflicts but may result in loneliness or feelings of unsafety. If you value your own space and being in control, however, living alone might be a great option for you.

Living with your best friend can be the experience of a lifetime. If you know each other’s idiosyncrasies and grumpy sides, you’ll be better prepared when moods turn sour. When choosing whether to live with your best friend, make sure you both want the same type of living arrangement and communicate well with each other. Set ground rules, be ready to compromise on various issues and don’t be afraid to speak up if something is bothering you.

Choosing to live with strangers may seem daunting, but it can also turn into an unexpected friendship. And if it doesn’t, as long as you are both willing to communicate and make compromises, there’s no reason you can’t live together peacefully. There are also many folks looking for people to move into existing apartments, which may mean furniture and utilities will all already be sorted out.


Step two: hunting down the homestead

Start the hunt as soon as possible. At first, you’ll fantasize over endless Craigslist and PadMapper postings, but soon the reality will sink in — finding an affordable place in your desired sector of the city with all needed amenities can be a challenge. You may have to start sacrificing dreams of balconies, pet-friendly landlords and dishwashing machines.

In addition to the number of rooms and location, be sure to consider parking options, safety and laundry machine availability. During housing tours, be sure to ask which utilities are included in rent, what is required for an application, what you’ll need for a lease agreement and how much the deposit will be. While touring, ask current tenants and neighbors what they honestly think of the place and what complaints they might have. Be sure to bring your rental application and checkbook on the tour.


Step three: sealing the deal with documents

The co-signer agreement is a document signed by a financially secure third party who will be responsible for taking financial responsibility of the lease if the primary tenant can’t pay. Your co-signer can be anyone who is financially stable and able to cover rent if you are unable to do so. Usually, parents or guardians will act as co-signers. Some agreements may need to be notarized, and most ask for the co-signer’s social security number, employment information, bank details and salary. Students with a significant financial aid package may need to provide documentation of such if the aid will go toward rent.

The lease contract is another crucial document. Always read this agreement carefully. It contains important information about guest policies, pet regulations, rent collection and subletting rules. If you have any questions about the contract, ask your landlord before signing. If you suspect a red flag or a possible area of disagreement, contact the city’s rent stabilization board, which provides counseling to Berkeley tenants on their rights and responsibilities.

Most landlords require a security deposit — money you pay to move into a new apartment or house and will usually be due along with your first month’s rent. If all goes well, your deposit will be returned when you move out of the apartment after your lease is finished. In some circumstances, however, the landlord may hold it to pay for any damages or cover charges for any late rent payments. To avoid legal confusion with your landlord, make sure your lease agreement is clear regarding the limits and return policy on your deposit.

Step four: hammering out logistics

Your documents are signed, your roommates and parents are happy, your landlord is significantly richer — now what? Figure out when you’ll receive keys to your newfound kingdom and when you will be permitted to move in. As soon as you move in, you’ll need to set up utilities, change your official address on mailing lists and start decorating. Especially if you’re living with three or more people, it’s a good idea to set up a joint bank account for simple rent payments. Hammering out who does which chores when is never a pleasant task, but it will save you headache down the line.

Contact Jessie Lau at 


MARCH 14, 2014