Finding the Right Place to Live

Can you afford this apartment?

If you have not already determined what you can afford to spend on an apartment, go to the budget sheet and work up all your expenses, so that you know what you can spend. Then, figure out exactly how much this apartment will really cost, including all the details about the lease agreement.

Be sure to ask the following questions:

  • How much is the monthly rent?
  • Is there a security deposit or pet deposit you would also have to pay?
  • Do they require both first and last month's rent upfront?
  • Will there be a late charge is you do not may the rent payment on the specified day of the month?
  • Where, when, and how does the payment need to be made before a late charge is assessed?
  • How long is the term of the lease? (six months? one year?)
  • What will happen if you decide to leave before the lease is up?
  • Is subleasing allowed?
  • What are the procedures for terminating the lease?
  • How much advance notice do you have to give to terminate the lease?
  • Can the rent be increased at any time during the lease?
  • What are the requirements for a full refund of the security deposit?
  • How will they provide the refund? Can you pick it up or will it be mailed out from a home office?
  • Who pays for the water? Sewage? Garbage? Are there additional charges if you use more than a specified amount?
  • Who do you need to call for emergencies or repairs to the apartment?
  • Does the property have a list of rules and regulations concerning parking, painting, repairs, visitors, and/or parties?
  • Is there a limit to the number of occupants in the apartment?
  • Are pets allowed? If so, is there an extra fee? How can that be refunded?
  • Is there a cleaning fee that will be assessed upon departure?
  • How is the mail delivered and picked up?

Security Deposits/Advanced Rent

A security deposit is a one-time payment that you pay when you rent an apartment. The landlord or leasing manager may use his/her discretion to collect a security deposit and/or rent in advance. Make sure you have selected the place you would like to move into before you pay a deposit. If a deposit is non-refundable, it must be stated in the lease.

Most deposits are collected to cover damage to the residence at the end of the lease or any unpaid rent. The landlord keeps the deposit until you move out. If your rent has been fully paid and there are not damages to the apartment that you have done that require repair, you should get that money back. The landlord can keep the deposit for anything the lease sans that you have to pay - repairs for damages done while you had the lease, unpaid rent, or late fees.

Before moving in or signing a lease

You should inspect the apartment and write down anything that is already damaged and needs fixing - nail holes in walls, stains on floor, walls, etc. Date and sign the list and ask the landlord to sign it. Make a copy for the landlord and keep a copy for yourself. You might even take pictures to document damages already there before you moved in. Write the date on the back of the pictures and save with your damage list.

Ask your landlord to make any repairs before you move into the apartment and have the landlord sign the damage list to agree to fix those problems. If repairs will take longer and will not be completed until after you move in, have the landlord sign a date of anticipated completion of those repairs.

Once you are living in the apartment

Be sure to report any problems to the landlord right away. For example, tell the landlord if the roof or a plumbing fixture is leaking as soon as you notice it. If you don't tell, the leak will cause more stains and the landlord could say that that extra damage was your fault.

When you move out of the apartment

Iinspect the apartment again, preferably with the manger/landlord, and compare it to the list of damages made before you moved in. You should only have to pay for damages you caused. Make sure that the landlord has your new address when you leave so that your deposit may be returned.

The landlord cannot keep your deposit to pay for problems caused by normal wear and tear such as worn carpeting or paint. But if a visitor burned a hole in your carpet, you will have to pay for that damage to be repaired. If the landlord cannot inspect the apartment with you, then you may want to take pictures and date them to document the condition of the apartment when you left it.

If the landlord refuses to give your deposit back

Consult the Legal Aid Society pamphlet on Security Deposits that outlines the reasons and the procedures for suing the landlord for that deposit in court. Go to the Legal Aid Society website and click on Security Deposits for that document. Do not pay in cash the deposit, if at all possible. Open a checking account and pay with checks from that account. Maintain accurate balances so that you do not have a problem with any of your rent checks bouncing.

Once you have decided to sign the lease, check out the section on Signing a Lease . Make sure you receive and keep in a safe place a copy of the lease.


The state of Tennessee and federal law prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, familial status and religion. Various local laws add prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of age, pregnancy, martial status, sexual orientation and other factors. Check your local codes for details.

How do you recognize housing discrimination?

Based on the factors listed above, it is against the law to:

  • refuse to rent or sell you housing
  • tell you housing is unavailable when in fact it is available
  • show you apartments or homes in certain neighborhoods only
  • advertise housing to preferred groups of people only
  • deny you property insurance
  • refuse to make certain modifications or accommodations for persons with a mental or physical disability
  • harass, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising or assisting someone else with their fair housing rights

If you feel that you have been discriminated against, you may file a complaint with:

Tennessee Human Rights Commission, Housing Division
Central Office- Nashville
530 Church Street, Suite 305
Nashville, TN 37243-0745
Phone: (615) 741-5825
Phone: (800) 251-3589
Fax: (615) 253-1886