Choosing A Rental

Renting a place for the first time can feel complicated. But we've helped thousands of students with that process, and we'll help you, too.

Residence Assessment

The Commuter Housing Guide is handy guide for making your decision. (see below)

Tenants' Legal Rights

As a tenant, you have basic legal rights and are protected by law to ensure that the landlord provides certain safety features in your rental.

A unit must meet habitability requirements established by the California Civil Code, and include:

  • Smoke detectors & fire extinguishers
  • Roofs & walls must not leak
  • Doors & windows must not be broken
  • Effective waterproofing & weather protection of roof/walls
  • Plumbing & gas must work
  • Hot/cold water must be provided
  • Sewer or septic system must be connected & operating
  • Working toilet, wash basin, & bathtub or shower
  • Smoke detectors & fire extinguishers
  • Roofs & walls must not leak
  • Doors & windows must not be broken
  • Effective waterproofing & weather protection of roof/walls
  • Plumbing & gas must work
  • Hot/cold water must be provided
  • Sewer or septic system must be connected & operating
  • Working toilet, wash basin, & bathtub or shower
  • Kitchen with sink
  • Heater must work and be safe
  • Lights & wiring must work & be safe
  • Floor, stairways & railings must be maintained & safe
  • Upon move in, the unit must be clean, with no trash, rodents or bugs
  • Unit must contain sufficient cans/bins for trash

Rental Agreements/Leases

As you begin to choose the unit you would like to rent, you will need to know critical terms for renting, including written agreements and leases. Most importantly, it is a must to carefully read each lease or agreement before signing, and to keep a copy of the agreement/lease!

Written Agreements:

A rental agreement is for an indefinite period of time (usually month-to-month) that specifies all the terms of the agreement between you and the landlord. The rental agreement may be terminated at any time with a thirty day notice by either you or the landlord. Included in written agreements, typically, are the rent amount, the length of time between rent payments, the landlord's and tenant's obligations, and clauses on things such as pets, late fees and length of notice. The length of time between rent payments determines the amount of notice the landlord must give before raising rent, changing terms of the tenancy, or ending the agreement. It also determines how much advanced notice you must give the landlord before you move out.


The lease is a legally binding contract between the tenant and landlord that spells out all conditions under which the unit is rented. A lease is for a fixed period of time and requires payment for the entirety of the lease. The lease will always state the total number of months that the agreement is in place. (If a lease is for longer than one year, it legally must be in writing.) Leases may only be changed, in writing, with the landlord, and both parties are required to initial any changes on the original lease. We've provided a sample lease below.

Before signing a lease, know the following:

  • If you have a lease, the landlord cannot raise your rent while the lease is in effect, unless the lease expressly allows it.
  • The landlord cannot evict you during the lease except for specific reasons (i.e., damage to property, failure to pay rent, etc).
  • In addition, the tenant may want to reject certain clauses, such as:

    1. Allowing the landlord to enter premise at any time
    2. Allowing the landlord to re-let without notice
    3. Being responsible for all attorney's fees arising from litigation
    4. Being responsible for all rules/regulations made subsequent to lease
    5. Allowing landlord to not be responsible for any injury
    6. Being responsible for all repairs to the premises

A lease should include the following information:

  • Name & address of Property Owner (or legal representative)
  • Description of the premises
  • Term of agreement (including exact beginning & ending dates)
  • Payment Information:
    1. Amount of rent
    2. When rent is due
    3. How to pay rent
    4. Penalties for late payment
    5. Requirement(s) of security deposit
  • 6. Rental escalation clause, with precise amounts and conditions
  • Utilities- who pays for what?
  • If subleasing/re-leasing is allowed and details
  • Number of tenants allowed
  • Information on pets
  • Responsibility of repairs and maintenance
  • All rules and regulations
  • Joint Liability Clause for all living in unit

Applying for a Rental Unit

Most landlords require credit checks or reports prior to signing a lease. Following is important information regarding payment of your rental fees. Although your landlord may ask about information that is pertinent to your ability to pay rent, under law the landlord cannot discriminate on arbitrary basis (race, gender, religion, color, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, or disability).

Rental Application:

Most landlords will require you to complete a rental application form, which is similar to an employment or credit application. A rental application form usually asks for the following information:

  • Name, address & telephone
  • Current & past landlords
  • Current & past employers & references
  • Social Security number
  • Driver's License number
  • Financial information
  • Names of people living in unit


An apartment complex may require a guarantor if you do not meet the financial expectations of the renter. A guarantor is someone, oftentimes a family member, who can support your claim that you are financially responsible and is equally responsible and liable for any remedies held against the renter. The guarantor is expected to provide the following information:

  • Name, address & telephone
  • Must be U.S. resident
  • Employer information
  • Credit history
  • Rental history

Security Deposit:

A landlord may require a maximum of two month's rent as a security deposit for an unfurnished rental unit (and three month's rent for furnished rental units). If the tenant has a lease of six months or longer, the landlord may charge a security deposit of up to six months' rent. The security deposit is intended to offset any damages or unpaid rent and is normally required as an initial payment. The renter's responsibilities and requirements for the return of the deposit need to be outlined in the lease, including the requirements for a fully refunded deposit at time of departure.

Contractual Lien:

If you fail to pay your rent, most leases allow the property owner to enter your apartment and seize any luxury items in your possession.

Renter's Insurance:

Renter's insurance protects tenants against property losses, such as losses from theft or fire. It also protects tenants against liability for many claims or lawsuits filed by the landlord or others, alleging that the tenant has negligently or carelessly injured another person or damaged the person's property. You should strongly consider signing up for renter's insurance as you should not assume that any insurance the landlord has will protect you or your possessions.

PDF icon Commuter Housing Guide9.45 KB
PDF icon Sample Lease31.81 KB