Advice for First-Time Renters

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UT Extension Encourages Students, Others 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Classes are back in session at the University of Tennessee. Some students are moving into university residence halls, but for some, heading back to school means their first time living on their own. Whether it’s a house, an apartment, and with or without roommates, these important steps from UT Extension will help first-time renters succeed. 

“Heading back to school is an exciting time, but if students are renting their own residences for the first time, it’s important to do some homework,” says Ann Berry, UT Extension financial specialist. “Don’t get so caught up in the excitement of living independently that you lose sight of the responsibility it takes,” continues to expert.

Berry suggests that the first thing first-time renters do is check their credit report. Landlords are already checking credit reports, so first-time renter should know what’s in the report. Sometimes it will determine where someone can be approved to rent. Students and others can get their credit reports at This is the only authorized website for free credit reports from all three of the major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Once a credit report is pulled, check it carefully to make sure the information is correct. Poor credit or no credit history may mean a co-signer is needed for a new lease.

“When you rent a place to live, the lease agreement needs to be in writing, clearly stating the rights and duties of both the renter and the landlord,” states Berry. Some rights landlords have include the right to collect rent and prearranged late fees for overdue payment, the right to raise your rent according to your lease, the right to evict you, and the right to enter the dwelling without your consent in the event of an emergency. Landlords have many responsibilities as well, such as keeping the property safe and in good repair, including providing working smoke alarms. Tenants have the right to a quiet environment; functional air conditioning, heating, toilet and water heater; working locks on all exterior doors; working appliances supplied with the dwelling, like a refrigerator and stove; and a roof which does not leak. Tenants have the responsibility to pay rent on time, obey the terms of the lease agreement, maintain respectful noise levels so as not to disturb neighbors, and maintain the property in a clean and habitable condition.

Next, Berry recommends creating a repeating calendar event for when rent is due. Some larger apartment complexes even have the option of paying rent through an automatic payment from a bank account. “Not paying rent on time can mean late fees, or even eviction,” says Berry. “If extenuating circumstances are present, explain what’s going on to your landlord and ask for an extension prior to the rent due date. Or, negotiate modified payment arrangements, such as offering to pay some of the rent on time. Explain the circumstances involved and how you expect to resolve them so that your rent will be paid on time in the future.”

Berry states that it’s also important to watch out for scams. Scammers will sometimes place fake listings online, so before paying a deposit, visit the residence inside and out. If someone requests payment before physically visiting the location, it’s probably a scam. Never wire money or pay with a gift card.

Another way to protect yourself as a renter is through renter’s insurance, suggests Berry. Renter’s insurance should be purchased as soon as you move in to a new residence or possibly before with the effective date being the first day of residence. Most renter’s insurance is relatively inexpensive, with policies as low as $12 per month, but the protection should a natural disaster or burglary take place is priceless. Landlords will have insurance protecting the residence structure, but a renter’s belongings are their sole responsibility.

Overall, Berry encourages first-time renters and students to think long-term about their finances and make wise choices. “The financial decisions made in the first few years of adulthood can have long-lasting consequences,” says the expert.

For more financial resources, contact the family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office. You can also visit the UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences website at

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Ann A. Berry

Department of Family and Consumer Sciences



Ann A. Berry