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A beginner's guide to renting in Philly

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Make yourself at home

An aerial view of the Philadelphia skyline. There are a variety of assorted city buildings.

Editor's note: This story was last published in 2017. It has been updated throughout to reflect the latest information.

If you’re new to Philly, then welcome to the City of Brotherly Love. Maybe you're a student, ready to break out of the dorms and out on your own. Maybe you're just starting out in a new job, just out of college or grad school, or a seasoned professional with two kids and a pug in tow. No matter your background, you’re probably looking to rent in Philly, and we’ve got you covered. From finding your digs, to insuring them (yes, you should get renter's insurance) to making yourself at home, this is the basic, beginner’s guide to finding the perfect (temporary) spot for you. Got anything to add? Hit up the comments, or our tipline.


Get to know Philly's neighborhoods

It is not an exaggeration to say that Philadelphians take where they live very, very seriously. We're an aggressively neighborhood-centric bunch, and choosing your neighborhood is right on par with choosing your actual apartment.

Whether you’re local or out of town, a good first step is to take our fun personality quiz to help determine what Philly neighborhood speaks to you. Then grab a bike or throw on your walking shoes and meander around a few blocks. Look for amenities like grocery stores, bus stops, liquor stores, and schools. What's within walking distance? Do the people sitting on their stoop look up and say hello, or stick their chin into their chests when you walk by? Could you see yourself walking these streets every single day on your commute? If not, keep searching.

Also, don't be discouraged if after a few months you've discovered that your neighborhood is too posh/grungy/hipster/yuppie for you. This is why you're renting. Finish up your lease and move on.

Know what your money rents

Philly’s real estate market is white hot and housing inventory is at a record low. Couple that with the residential building boom underway, and that can mean one thing: Increasingly high rental prices. Still, average monthly rents are all over place, depending on which rental site you use. For example, a one-bedroom can fetch anywhere from less than a grand to more than $3,000, depending on the neighborhood.

Spend a few days (or even weeks) browsing rental sites like the ones below to get your finger on the pulse of where the rental market is. Don't be afraid to ask friends what they are spending.

How to find your crib

Long gone are the days when a little yellow box at the corner of the street would deliver a comprehensive list of apartment pickings into your hands every Wednesday morning. Now you have a bevy of rental websites at your disposal, each promising the best of what Philly has to offer. The truth? Not one of them does—they all do, collectively. So browse a few to get the lay of the land and see which one has a user interface that works best for you.

Know your rights

From keeping the heat at a minimum of 68 degrees during winter months to making sure your toilet flushes, your landlord has a litany of items he or she needs to check off every month to make sure you're snug as a bug in a rug. Check out Curbed's post on legal requirements for rental properties here, and if you have an issue with your landlord, your first point of contact should be with the City's Department of Licenses and Inspections, whom you can reach here, or at their super-responsive Twitter handle, @Philly311.

Remember: Philly is an old city

And that means many of its rentals are aging. So you’ll definitely want to run through this check list when touring an apartment and receive official confirmation that the rental is free of lead paint.

On security deposits

Ah, the security deposit. That seemingly-astronomical sum you pay your landlord once you've signed your rental contract that compensates your landlord in case you decide to superglue your furniture to the ceiling or kick a giant hole in the wall. Save your pennies, because under Pennsylvania landlord-tenant law, a landlord may charge a tenant the equivalent of two months' rent for the security deposit for the first year of renting and the equivalent of one month's rent during all subsequent years of renting. But if you and your landlord both play by the books, you'll see that money returned to you when you end your lease.

Buy renter's insurance

While the list of things your landlord is responsible for is extensive, replacing your TV in case of a leaky roof or fire is not one of them. Do you have car insurance? Call your insurance company to have them tack on a renter's insurance policy, sometimes for as little as $10 or even less a month. Bundling is probably the most inexpensive and convenient way to give you peace of mind should something happen.

Old City

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