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Renting: Apartments and More

Not quite ready to buy a home? Don't worry, Houston offers many alternatives, all detailed in "For Rent:   Apartments and More." In addition to information on apartments, corporate housing, condominiums or home rentals, the section provides helpful facts about signing a lease and renting or leasing in Texas.

Houston is the fourth-most populous city in the nation. So it should come as no surprise that Houston is the fourth-largest rental market in the nation with more than 2,450 total properties and more than 475,000 total units. An expansive rental market such as Houston's means newcomers and natives have at their disposal a wide array of living options, including apartments, townhomes, lofts, mid-rises, high-rises, condominiums and single-family homes.

Better yet, the area's low cost of living means that those who choose to rent will get better value for their rental dollar than in other parts of the country. In fact, of the 24 metropolitan areas with a population of more than 2 million, which participated in the first-quarter 2005 ACCRA Cost-of-Living Index , Houston's housing costs rank 44.2 percent below the average.

While many people aspire to home ownership, circumstances involving finances, lifestyle or professional obligations can make renting preferable to owning. Some factors to consider include overall cost, value for the money, freedom to quickly relocate, changing family situations, return on investment, maintenance obligations, tax advantages and, ultimately, what makes a person happy.

If renting is the best option, there are new questions to consider: Need a place with lots of space, good closets, close to work or school, or near to shopping or public transportation? Potential renters also need to consider important factors such as lifestyle, area of Houston, rental price range, amenities and neighborhood features.

Other important considerations are similar to those faced by homebuyers: number of bedrooms and bathrooms, school districts, commuting distance, and time and convenience of lifestyle options such as shopping centers, malls, restaurants and entertainment. Amenities to be considered include washer and dryer connections, a fireplace, fitness facilities and covered parking.

Prioritizing features and amenities on a checklist can help potential renters find the apartment home best suited to meet their needs and preferences. It also will help save time and effort as they move through the myriad of resources designed to help prospective tenants find a home.

Resources

Houston Apartment Association (HAA) — This professional trade association can provide information about renting and leasing resources ( www.haaonline.org ).

The Houston Chronicle — Houston's major daily and one of the 10-largest newspapers in the nation ( www.chron.com ).

Internet — A computer and an Internet connection can put the resources of more than 30 Web sites on the job of searching for the ideal rental or leased property. Most Web sites offer their services for free.

Apartment Locators — These are independent companies that have access to databases containing information on as many as 2,000 apartment communities. Apartment locators can help prospective renters focus their apartment search based on information such as preferred location, budget, size requirements, lifestyle preferences and desired amenities. In most cases, this service is free to prospective residents because apartment owners or management typically pay referral fees after leasing. The SBC Yellow Pages is a good source for apartment locator listings.

The Apartment Guide — This free publication features information on hundreds of apartment communities throughout the Houston area. It includes photographs, descriptions, features, rates, floor plans and maps. Copies are available at most grocery and convenience stores ( www.apartmentguide.com ).

For Rent Magazine — Another free publication, For Rent Magazine is the largest apartment rental publication in the nation. Published every two weeks, it provides up-to-date, comprehensive information on more than 250 apartments in the area. The magazine contains information on communities for senior citizens as well as employment opportunities within the industry. It is available at more than 2,000 locations, including most grocery and convenience stores. On its Web site, apartment hunters can search by location, price amenities or alphabetically ( www.forrent.com ).

The Greensheet — This free, weekly tabloid is primarily a vehicle for classified advertising, including apartments and other rental options. The Greensheet is available at hundreds of sites, including most convenience stores ( www.thegreensheet.com ).

Here Is Houston Advertisers — The pages of this book contain helpful information on many reliable and quality resources for renting or leasing in the Houston region ( www.houston.org ).

Apartment Market

CB Richard Ellis, a real estate services company, reported that occupancy rates in Houston's multi-housing market ended 2004 at 85.8 percent. The company listed average fourth-quarter of 2004 rental rates for a 1,000-square-foot apartment at about $886 in central Houston, $714 in the southwest, $728 in the northwest, $676 in the northeast and $728 in the southeast.

During 2004, 64 construction projects were completed, adding 15,037 new units to the Houston apartment scene.

Apartment Community Features And Amenities

Not only does the Houston market feature rental rates that compare favorably to the rest of the country, but amenities considered luxuries elsewhere are often standard fare in local apartment complexes. Most Houston area apartment communities feature a host of amenities such as disability access, some paid utilities, balconies or patios, cable-ready outlets, emergency maintenance, laundry facility, outdoor pools, hot tubs and spas. Many have tennis courts, basketball facilities, billiard rooms, playgrounds and fitness facilities outfitted to rival private gyms. Also available at many complexes are limited-access gates, dry cleaners, lush landscaping and basic cable television. Some apartments have luxurious clubhouses with big-screen televisions, executive business centers, parking garages, sundecks, gazebos, elevators and video-monitored limited entries.

Interior features considered standard for most apartments include heating, air conditioning, mini-blinds, ceiling fans, fully equipped kitchens with a dishwasher and multiple phone lines.

Other features might include nine-foot ceilings, crown molding, oval garden tubs, bay windows, fireplaces, or garages and/or covered parking. In addition, some communities have resident programs that include free and optional services such as maids, concierges, aerobic classes, guest suites for visitors, free shuttle services and car detail centers.

Garden-Style Communities

Often nestled within trees and located throughout the region, garden-style living is defined as apartments with three levels and less. Residents typically use staircases to access their apartments.

Mid-Rise Apartment Living

Typically a trend most noticed in urban settings, mid-rise living, four-to-six levels, is popular with the communities often built to allow parking access on the same floor as the residence.

High-Rise Apartments

Considered true luxury living, high-rise apartments cater to the busy executive with concierge services, dry cleaners and valet parking, among other amenities.  

Temporary/Corporate Housing

Temporary or corporate housing that provides fully furnished, comfortable lodging with flexible lease terms is an economical alternative to hotel living. Temporary housing is well-suited to people facing a variety of situations: homebuyers encountering various delays, homeowners who are renovating their homes, new residents or visitors searching for an apartment or house, tourists or business people on an extended stay, personnel who are relocating, visiting executives or corporate clients.

Today, temporary or corporate housing is available in many locations and varieties, from moderately priced compact efficiencies with all the basics to luxury, high-rise penthouse suites priced comparably to daily hotel rates. Telephone service usually is included, while other amenities can differ from one establishment to another.

Condominium And Townhome Living

Condominiums and townhomes often offer amenities similar in some ways to apartments but sometimes offer better construction and more interior luxury. They can be leased or purchased throughout the Houston region. A leasing agent at a property management company may be in charge of the community.

Single-Family Homes

The single-family home on the rental market can range from $800 for a two-bedroom home to $2,500 or significantly more for a larger home. A security deposit might equal a monthly payment. These properties often require residents to sign a one-year lease. Often renters of these properties pay all of the utility bills. Potential residents need to check their leases to ascertain who pays for electricity, gas, water, sewage, garbage and cable TV.

What To Expect

After finding a suitable place to live, prospective renters usually must complete a rental application. The application normally will ask for current and former addresses, current and past employment, credit references, criminal history and other information the property owner or manager needs to determine if a prospective resident can afford the rent and doesn't pose a security risk.

In most cases, prospective residents will be charged a nonrefundable application fee to cover the cost of processing your application: running credit checks, verifying rental histories, etc. Properties also might charge an application deposit, which usually becomes part of a security deposit if the application is approved. If the application is declined, the application deposit usually is refunded.

Most apartment communities use standard leases endorsed by the Texas Apartment Association ( 512-479-6252 ) and HAA. Most apartment communities will require a security deposit, which generally averages $200 to $400 depending on apartment size and other considerations. Standard leases cover six or 12 months, though some communities now offer seven and 13-month terms.

Many apartment communities have strict policies regarding pets, often limiting them to 20 pounds and requiring a pet deposit. When outside, a pet must be kept on a leash and walked only in designated areas.

Apartment communities employ full-time maintenance people to handle repairs and perform preventive maintenance, with some offering 24-hour emergency repair services. If leasing from an owner, be sure to establish responsibilities for repairs and maintenance.

Residents' Rights

— Right to Peace and Quiet

Residents have the right to "quiet enjoyment," meaning a landlord cannot evict a resident without cause or otherwise disturb a resident's right to live in peace and quiet. The landlord also has a duty to see that residents are protected from other residents' wrongful behavior. Except in specific conditions, a landlord may not interrupt utilities to a resident except for bona fide repairs, construction or an emergency.

— Right to Health and Safety

The landlord must repair any condition that materially affects a resident's health and safety. Under Texas law, by renting the property, the landlord guarantees a unit will be a fit place to live. The landlord does not have to pay for or make repairs due to a resident's negligence, carelessness, abuse or accident — unless resulting from "normal wear and tear." Also, the landlord must provide smoke detectors.

— Right to Security

Under Texas law, a dwelling must be equipped with security devices like window latches, keyed deadbolts on exterior doors, sliding door pin locks and sliding door handle latches or sliding door security bars, and door viewers. These devices must be installed at the landlord's expense. If such devices are missing or are defective, a resident can request their installation or repair.

 

For more information on your rights as a renter or the steps needed to exercise those rights, contact the HAA's Resident Relations Department at 281-933-2224 , or call the City of Houston Fair Housing Office at 713-868-8463 .

Whether new residents are looking for an apartment to call home or a short-term stay until they find their dream home Houston's apartment market offers an unlimited array of housing opportunities that meet every price range and personal taste.

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