Flying the Coop Without Landing in Poop

It’s graduation season.  Whether it is seniors in high school orcomputer on couch college, there is about to be a whole flock of newly graduated individuals looking to fly the coop and seek out their independence.  They want to be adults (or at least closer to adults) and be on their own.  They want to get out of rules and curfews and putting up with a shared bathroom.  Without some forethought and education, leaping from the coop could leave them feeling like they ended up under the coop rather than winging across the skies of freedom.

What reasons (or excuses) have you heard?  As soon as things get ugly, the words start flying.  “But, I didn’t know that was in the lease.”  “I didn’t know my roommate was like that.”  “I didn’t think the landlord was really serious about that.”  “It’s not my fault they don’t know how to clean stains out of the carpet.”  “But look at how cute and fuzzy my puppy is.  How could you say no to that face?”  As good as they all may sound in the moment, they aren’t going to cut it with most landlords.

If you or someone you know is looking to fly the coop into their own apartment, here are some things they need to know about BEFORE they sign the lease.  Remember – the lease is a legally binding agreement.  That means even the judge you end up in front of is going to hold you to the lease.  If the terms of the lease aren’t going to fit your style, DON’T SIGN IT.

So, here are some things you need to think about:

lease agreementLength of Lease – How long do you plan to be there?  If it ends up shorter than the length of the lease you sign, you may be responsible for the rest of the rent, even if you are paying rent somewhere else.  Yes, that independence you so badly want requires some planning ahead.

Rent Amount – Can you afford it?  What is included in your rent?  Do you have to cover utilities on top of it?  Is a parking spot extra?  Do you already have the income to cover it or are you just really really really hoping that job comes through?

Deposits – You are going to need extra cash up front to pay for an application fee, security deposit, damage deposit, or maybe a pet deposit to cover when that cute, fuzzy little puppy-face decides to play tug-of-war with the carpet.  In most cases, if you don’t have the deposit up front, you don’t have the keys either.

House Rules – Just like being at home with your parents, you aren’t really living in your own place when you rent.  Landlords can impose their own house rules and if you sign the lease, you agree to follow them.  There may be rules about quiet hours, no overnight guests, what can’t be in the yard or on the balcony, what you can’t hang on the walls, a ban on burning the incense you think smells sooooo good, or just about anything else they want to put in there.

Roommates – Sure, they can help share the cost of the rent and utilities.  But living with someone is totally different than hanging out on a Friday night.  Once you live with them you learn about all of their weird dietary tastes, disgusting personal hygiene habits, or a lack of any laundry skills whatsoever.  But hey, a little cologne or perfume can take care of all of that, right?  WRONG.  Then there may be weird schedules, personality quirks, or they decide to move in with that special someone 2 months into a year-long lease.  But you can cover the rent by yourself, right?  After all, who can deny young love!  Make sure you really know the person you are going to live with, ask the hard questions, and get the agreements in writing so there is no question as to who is doing what.

Communication Skills – Even if you don’t like your landlord, you are living in their property.  Don’t be afraid to ask for things to be repaired.  After all, they can’t fix it if they don’t know it’s broken.  But be decent in how you go about it.  Talk to them the way you would like to be addressed.  Give them a chance.

Poop Happens – Your landlord will carry insurance for the building, but your stuff in that building is your responsibility.  If there is a tornado, fire, or theft, renters’ insurance covers your losses.  It is typically very inexpensive and well worth the coverage.  Unless you have enough cash in the bank to cover replacing your comic books, baseball cards, celebrity-level thrift store wardrobe, or other priceless possessions, get a renters’ insurance policy.

Flying the Coop Again – If it is time to move on, know what you need to do to be done with that landlord.  Most places require you notify them in writing at least 30 days prior to your leaving, although I’ve heard of 60- and even 90-day notices being required.  Send your notice via certified mail so that you get a receipt and there is no question as to the date they received your notice.

Know Your Rights – Even though it is the landlord’s property, they are giving you certain rights by signing a lease with you.  Of course there are exceptions to these rights, but in general….

  • You get a copy of the lease, even (or especially) if you need to refer to it in the future.
  • They can’t walk into your apartment without prior notice, even if it is for a ‘safety inspection’.
  • The apartment, utilities, and appliances must be in good and safe working order.
  • Just as other tenants are entitled to be able to enjoy their apartment in relative peace and quiet, so are you.
  • One benefit to signing a lease that locks you into the apartment for a length of time is that it also locks the landlord into a set rent amount so that it isn’t going up every other month.

I understand recent graduates’ desire for the freedom of their own place, but that does come with a certain amount of responsibility.  Welcome to being an adult.  But if you handle it well and take care of your business, you are going to enjoy flying the coop.  You aren’t nearly as likely to feel like you simply fell down below the coop (and we all know what falls down below a bird coop).

If you need some help getting your finances or credit in order towards finding a place of your own, the Center for Financial Resources is here to help.  You can call us at 605-330-2700 or go online to schedule an appointment.


written by Breck Miller
images courtesy



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