If you’re looking for a place to rent in the Rockville and North Bethesda area –or anywhere in the DC metro – there’s a good chance you are considering both apartment buildings, as well as privately owned condos.
There’s also a good chance you may be confused about the differences between those two options.
That’s why I was excited to sit down with our property management specialist, Steve Moretti, and provide some answers to frequently asked questions.
Apartment vs. Condo
Before diving into the Q and A session with Steve, it’s important to understand the basic difference between a condo and an apartment.
Simply put, a condominium is a piece of real estate that is individually owned.
Access to specific common elements (such as hallways, heating systems, elevators, etc.) are executed under legal rights associated with the individual ownership.
These rights are controlled by the association of owners that jointly represent ownership of the whole piece.
Conversely, apartments within an apartment building are all owned by the same entity.
Think of it like this.
When you rent from an apartment building, you are renting one unit from a business that owns hundreds of units.
When you rent a condo, you are renting one unit from an individual.
Is that a 100% factually correct statement?
But for the purpose of this article, it should get the general point across.
Let’s move on to the Q and A with Steve…
What’s the difference between renting a condo and an apartment?
The rental process for an apartment is typically easier.
Most apartments are managed while most condos are individually owned (although many are managed by a property management company).
While the overall process is mostly the same, meeting qualifications is usually easier on the apartment side and a smaller security deposit is taken.
This is because in the case of a condo rental, the owner’s personal investment is at stake.
What are the advantages of renting a condo versus renting an apartment?
In most cases, a condo will have onsite management (oftentimes 24/7 concierge service), whereas an apartment’s service staff is gone after the workday.
Apartment lifestyle is typically much different than living at a condo.
The condo lifestyle can be generalized as “nicer” in many cases.
Or executive like.
As a general rule, people who migrate towards apartments are less likely to qualify for a condo rental.
What are things to be cautious of when renting a condo?
Be careful of online advertisements at sites like Craigslist, as many of these listings are copied and fraudulent.
Similarly, never pay any deposits without physically meeting someone at the property AND being able to see inside the unit (scam artists have been known to meet folks at a building and create an excuse for why the prospective tenant can’t get in that day).
Always buy renter’s insurance to protect your personal belongings, as neither the owner nor the condo association would be responsible for your losses in the case of a flood or fire.
Make sure you have a copy of the Montgomery County landlord tenant handbook.
What are some of the costs associated with renting a condo?
In addition to first month’s rent, the security deposit (most likely equal to one-month’s rent) is also due at the time of signing.
If you’re renting a condo for $2,000 a month, you’re going to have to come out of pocket with $4,000 off the bat.
Many high-rise condos will also charge a move-in fee between $150 and $300.
This will give you use of the elevator and loading doc.
It can also be refundable, depending on the building, but not always.
Some owners will require proof of renter’s insurance (typically costing just a few dollars per month) and you could also have a small repair deductible (meaning that up until a certain dollar amount – maybe $50 or $100 – you are responsible for any repairs to be made while living at the condo).
With regards to utilities, the owner’s payment arrangement with the condo is generally passed on to the tenant.
For example, if the utilities are included in the owner’s condo fees, those bills are covered by the normal monthly rent.
If the condo fees do not cover a particular utility (i.e. electricity), the tenant is asked to pay that bill, based on his/her usage.
Finally, there is generally a $40 to $50 application fee per applicant, with “applicant” defined as anyone over the age of 18 who will be living in the condo.
What is the law regarding security deposits?
Security deposits must be returned within 45 days of vacating the property (the deposit must in the tenant’s hands; not mailed).
A property is defined as vacated when the keys have been physically turned over to the landlord or property management company.
A maximum of two-month’s rent may be kept as a security deposit.
Any money taken as a security deposit – by an owner or a property management company – must sit in an escrow account and pay 1 ½% simple interest per year.
If a landlord is keeping any portion of the deposit for repair work, all work must be done by a licensed contractor and documentation should be available showing receipt of payment.
What’s the advantage of working with a realtor when looking for a condo rental?
Most importantly, a full-time professional realtor will be knowledgeable on renting procedures, and able to protect his or her client throughout the process.
If a renter deals directly with an owner or property management company, he or she has no personal representation and protection.
A good realtor will be able to utilize technology to not only streamline the process, but also monitor up-to-date listings.
Much of the data on national portals – especially rental data – is inaccurate, incomplete, and not removed in a timely fashion once a unit is no longer available for rent.
Finally, if a renter is dealing with a specific circumstance (pets, unusual financial situation, needs metro accessibility), a skilled realtor will be able to address these issues up front and without wasting the renter’s valuable time.
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