Q: My college-age son is moving into his first apartment. Any suggestions to ease the transition?

A: Leaving the nest and becoming a first-time renter? He’ll have lots of company. According to the 2005 U.S. Census Community Survey, more than 36 million rental units are rented out in the United States. That’s a lot of first-time renters who have found a place to call home.

Leaving home to become a tenant is a big step towards adult responsibility. For many, it’s the first time their behavior impacts permanently on the future — from credit and personal reference history to negative legal possibilities.

What do landlords look for? “I like to meet the parents,” explains Jim Stilton, who manages more than 500 units in Los Angeles. “Meeting the parents gives me a sense of their involvement and responsibility.”

Sufficient income and stability also top the list. Since affording the rent is vital, start by deciding who’s shelling out the funds. Parents planning to co-sign may want to sit down and set up certain ground rules for both personal and financial responsibility. Will the youngster be working and contributing to the rent or going to school, or both? Whichever combination works best, decide who pays for what percent of the rent, making clear that no matter what the financial contribution, being a responsible tenant is 100 percent their responsibility.

Tenant stability is often as simple as being enrolled in a local college, with some landlords requiring proof of enrollment or good grades. Other factors include a solid work or reference history.

What about the cost of rent? Some places rent for more than others due to location. The closer the place is to campus or work, the more expensive the rent will probably be. Time of year is also a factor, with “Back to School” being the highest time for demand and rental rates.

Of course, there’s more to the equation than rent. Once you’ve established the ground rules for paying the rent, dig out your calculator and write up a budget. Monthly costs include both fixed, such as utilities, and variable surprises, such as unexpected car repairs or medical costs.

Keep in mind that utilities are more than merely electrical costs. Add in possible water, gas, trash or waste removal, telephone, cable and Internet service. Living in master-metered buildings tends to be less expensive than individually metered properties, especially if water usage is on the landlord’s tab.

One-time expenses such as appliances and furniture can also add to the bottom line. Does the place include a refrigerator? If not, pencil in the expense of purchasing or renting one. While most units include a stove, be sure it’s included as well. Don’t overlook the cost of window coverings, since some places do not cover that expense.

There’s also the security deposit expense to dish out. Unsavory as it seems, consider having the youth set aside or use his or her own funds for the security deposit. Renters who earn the money themselves hopefully bring a sense of responsibility for their actions.

In California, for example, security deposits for unfurnished units cannot be “an amount or value in excess of an amount equal to two months’ rent.” In addition, furnished residential rentals can command an amount equal to three months’ rent. Keep in mind these amounts are the maximum allowed by California Civil Code, which can be accessed at www.leginfo.ca.gov. Minimum deposit amounts vary at the discretion of the landlord or manager of the property.

Going over the language and terms of the lease is a good way to launch kids’ education on the subject of landlord and tenant expectations and obligations. Is “House Rules” part of the package? Some rental agreements include House Rules that range from prohibiting loud noises or parties to how balconies can be used or how bicycles are stored. Remind your new renter that the adage “rules were meant to be broken” won’t wash anymore, and ignoring the rules could get them soaked both financially and legally.

Encourage your youngster to leave Fido or Fluffy at home. Finding a place is challenging enough, made even harder with a pet in tow. There’s also the potential damage to contend with, especially if the tenant is busy with studies or working all day. Sneaking in a pet is the worst idea. Not only can it lead to trouble, but it could unleash an eviction against the offending pet owner.

Almost everyone has been a first-time renter once, and with the right tools in hand you can send your youngster on his or her way to building a successful future.

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