When Tiffani Hill-Patterson, 42, an Alabama mom, downsized from a two-bedroom to a one-bedroom apartment in June, she reluctantly paid more than $200 to transfer her utilities within the same building. “The utility transfer fee [for electricity] was $80,” she says. “The water transfer fee was $150. I was shocked, especially because I have been a customer of both for more than eight years.” She managed to negotiate with the management company, which originally wanted her to reapply and pay another security deposit, but the company relented and let her transfer units without paying more.
Experienced renters know they need to budget for a security deposit, moving costs and possibly a broker fee, but here’s a look at other recurring costs that are easily overlooked, along with ways to avoid or reduce them.
1. Increased energy costs. If you move from a small studio to a larger space with vaulted ceilings or floor-to-ceiling windows, the cost to heat and cool your pad may be higher. That’s why Jonathan Eppers, CEO of onradpad.com, an online and mobile rental marketplace, suggests asking the landlord or current tenants about utility bills. “Most landlords have a good idea of what the utilities cost, or lots of tenants will gladly share that with the future tenant,” he says. If you’ve already moved in, try to moderate your heat and electricity use to minimize bills. “Invest in a smart power strip, making sure that you unplug things when you’re not using them,” suggests Niccole Schreck, consumer insights and marketing manager at Rent.com and a U.S. News My Money blogger. “Watch your thermostat, too. You can save 3 percent on your heating bill for every degree you lower your thermostat.”
2. Cellphone issues. Nowadays, many people use their cellphone instead of a landline. But if your new apartment has spotty cellphone reception, that strategy may not work. Ideally, you’d check the number of bars during your showing. But if you’ve already signed a lease, Schreck has a smart alternative to switching providers or paying for a landline phone: a cellphone reception booster. For a few hundred dollars (or less), the booster is designed to reduce dropped calls and improve reception.
3. Parking. If you have a car, don’t assume your apartment comes with free parking, especially in an urban area. “Most cities require one parking spot per bedroom, but some landlords itemize this a little differently,” Eppers says. “Landlords will rent you an apartment and a parking spot under the building, but they don’t show that cost in the cost of the apartment. You need to factor that into rent costs.” If street parking isn’t an option and your landlord is charging a premium for parking, search online for nearby options or post on your building’s bulletin board to see if an owner will rent you a spot for less. A reserved underground spot may be more expensive, but it’s also more secure, reducing the likelihood of vandalism or theft and potentially lowering your auto insurance premium.
4. Backyard maintenance. If you’re renting a condo or apartment, you probably don’t have a lawn to mow. But if you’re renting a house, the landlord may expect you to maintain the yard, either by mowing and weeding yourself or hiring someone to do it. Failing to maintain the yard up to the landlord’s standards could ultimately come out of your security deposit. “Don’t sign a lease until you’ve spoken with your landlord and completely understand your landlord’s expectations,” Eppers says. “The condition that the exterior is in [when you view the apartment] should give you a sense of what the landlord wants.”
5. Longer commute. Moving further away from work may save you money on rent, but it could ultimately cost more in gas and aggravation. “The apartment may be perfect but if it’s far from where you work, it can quickly add up in gas or bus/subway fees,” Eppers says. “A lot of renters get excited and they sort of forget, ‘This is going take me an extra 15 to 20 minutes.'” His company offers a feature online where renters can plug in the addresses and estimate their commute time. Test driving the commute during rush hour can also give you a realistic time estimate.
6. Laundry. With an in-unit washer and dryer, you only pay for the water and power to run these appliances. But if you’re sharing a laundry room with other residents, that’s likely to be an added cost. “Check the cost of that, and look to see if they accept change or laundry cards that you fill up with money,” Eppers says. Also find out how many washers and dryers the laundry room has. If there’s only one for the entire building, then you may wind up paying to send out your laundry if the machines break or you can’t stomach a long wait. Or you could always befriend someone with in-unit laundry.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It’s always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.