Know the rules, don’t get burned

When you rent an apartment, you enter into a contract with your landlord, so it’s important that you understand all the terms and conditions of that contract.

Your landlord or an agent of your landlord will likely go over your lease with you at the time of your signing or have you read it before you sign. This is the best time to ask for clarification if there’s anything you’re not sure about. But this should not be the last time you ever look at your lease.

security deposit, lease
Knowing the ins and outs of your lease is key to saving you money and aggravation if any issues should arise.

You will receive a copy of your lease that, of course, you should keep on file in a safe place. When you first receive that copy, you should look it over and refresh yourself on the important points:

  • The amount of your rent, when it’s due, and how you are to pay and where you should send/bring it
  • Late fees, fees for bad checks, and other charges you could incur
  • What utilities are included in rent and what you need to pay yourself
  • The duration of the lease, especially the exact end date
  • Rules about renewing your lease and when you can expect to receive a renewal notice
  • Rules about ending your lease early in the event of a job transfer or other situation
  • Parking regulations
  • How to report maintenance issues and other concerns
  • What, if anything, your are responsible for by way of repairs (most commonly, renters are responsible for changing light bulbs and batteries in smoke detectors)
  • Your landlord’s contact information
  • Your exact address
  • Stipulations regarding your security deposit (when will it be returned, and what do you have to do when you move out to ensure its return)

Yes, some of these points are basic, but you’d be surprised what can slip your mind amidst the chaos of moving. Plus, if you give everything a second look right away, you’ll be more likely to remember it later on when things like renewing your lease become a more immediate concern. When you come across phone numbers for maintenance and your landlord’s office, save them in your phone and also write them down in an address book or save them in some other secondary location.

If you have a question for your landlord about something, take a moment to pull your lease out of its safe spot and see if anything written in it answers your question. If not, call your landlord and ask. If you’re even the least bit unsure about what your lease states about a certain issue, such as under what conditions you would be allowed to end the lease early, call your landlord for clarification and write yourself a note to attach to the lease for future reference. When you’re done, remember to put the lease back in its safe spot.

Knowing your lease is the key to having a good experience renting, so if it’s been a while since you looked at yours and you’re fuzzy on the terms, pull it out and give it a read.

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Preventive treatments against mold

We’ve posted a lot in the past about natural ways to keep your home clean, and we just came across this article on natural mold treatment and prevention methods. As it warms up (and gets more humid) here in the Pittsburgh area, we’d like to highlight a few of these preventive measures.

natural cleaning
These natural mold prevention methods will help you keep your bathroom (and the rest of your home) mold free.

The most important thing to remember about mold is that it thrives in moist environments, so keeping your home dry and ventilated is key. Opening windows when it’s nice out, drying the shower with a rag or squeegee after each use, and keeping your shower curtain closed to let it dry are simple steps to make habitual. In basements, crawl spaces, or other areas without proper ventilation, a dehumidifier might be in order. But there are other factors to keep in mind as well.

If you have a ventilation fan in your bathroom, kitchen, or elsewhere in your home, it’s important to clean it regularly. A clean fan is a functional fan. The same goes for air conditioners and heating/cooling ducts. If you rent your home, familiarize yourself with your lease and know who (you or your landlord) is responsible for maintaining whatever heating/cooling system you have.

An air purifier can calm your concerns about airborne mold spores. While some models are pricier than others, a little research will help you find the right unit for your space. They’re great for allergy sufferers and most don’t require much electricity to run. They can even help deodorize your home when it’s too cold out to open a window.

Now, we’ve already told you about how great vinegar can be for cleaning mold, but did you know it can help prevent mold as well? It can! Just spray it onto susceptible areas such as the grout around your bathtub, your bathroom ceiling, particularly moist corners of your basement, wherever, and let it dry. You’ll just have to deal with the smell for a little while, but that will fade. If the smell is too much, try diluted citrus seed extract instead. Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to reapply regularly. Luckily both of these preventive substances are natural and nontoxic.

If you find that you have a persistent problem area resistant to your every attack, it’s time to contact your landlord, or if you’re a homeowner, a mold specialist.

Related Posts:

Battling Mildew

How to clean your acrylic bathtub

Spring cleaning the natural way

Spring cleaning to protect your security deposit

How to keep your acrylic bathtub sparkling (and protect your security deposit)

We’ve posted in the past about security deposits, spring cleaning, and other tips for renters. This week, we’re going hyper focused: how to maintain an acrylic bathtub. Why? Because a lot of tubs are acrylic now, and keeping acrylic clean requires slightly different methods from porcelain or enamel. Plus, the return of a renter’s full security deposit depends largely on how clean the rental is after they vacate it, and the bathroom (along with the kitchen) is one of the places renters tend to lose most of their security deposit.

bathtub cleaning
Bathtubs can be hard to keep clean, but giving your acrylic weekly attention will make your move-out process much easier.

Our main point is prevention: the cleaner you keep your tub for the duration of your lease, the easier it will be to get it downright squeaky upon move-out. This is especially important if your tub is acrylic, a porous material that stains more easily than others but also requires gentler cleaning methods.

Tub Maintenance

Deposits from hard water and soap scum are the main culprits of tub stains. To prevent these from building up, rinse your tub with warm water after each use and have a squeegee or rag handy for wiping it dry. Bonus: this keeps grout clean and mold free, too.

Weekly cleanings are paramount to protecting your acrylic tub, but you don’t need heavy duty products. You could use dish soap, a mixture of vinegar and water, or even shampoo. Don’t use abrasive scrubbing pads, as this will scratch the acrylic. A plain old sponge will do just fine for regular cleanings. The final step of your weekly clean should always be a rinse with warm water followed by a wipe down with a rag or squeegee.

Be sure to include your tub surround—be it tile or acrylic—with all of the above maintenance measures.

For the Tough Stains

Comet, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, OxyClean, Scrubbing Bubbles, Lime-A-Way, CLR Cleaner, and the list of products goes on. Sure, these work great. But you know what else works? Vinegar, baking soda, borax, hydrogen peroxide, cream of tartar. Whether you’re making a paste from Comet powder or baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, consistency and duration are key. Paste should be thick enough to stay put on a stain for an hour or more. Another method is to soak a clean white cloth in vinegar and lay it on top of the stain. You could also fill the tub with a mixture of hot water and vinegar until the stain is submerged, let it sit for several hours, then drain and scrub the tub.

A quick Google search will bring up all sorts of odd methods: dissolve laundry detergent powder, dishwasher detergent, or even denture cleaner in your tub filled with hot water. Scrub rust stains with toilet bowl cleaner. The lesson: think outside the box.

When it comes to soaking away stains, be patient. Find something else to do for the hour or more that the cleaner needs to soak. If the stain is still there, repeat the process. Make sure to follow the directions to the letter and soak for the maximum length suggested. If you have to re-soak, soak it longer the second time.

Once your stain has soaked and you’re ready to apply elbow grease, use a soft sponge, nothing abrasive.

When You Move Out

So you’ve been maintaining your tub meticulously for the duration of your lease, and now you’re moving. You take the time to clean everything thoroughly, including your tub. How do you make sure you’ve done everything right? How do you protect yourself? First, consult any pictures you may (should) have taken of the vacant apartment when you first signed the lease. Compare the picture of the tub before you started using it to the picture of how it is now. Do they look the same? Perfect! You’re all set to turn in your keys. If your tub has stains that weren’t there when you moved in, take a little more time to get rid of them. If you notice them, you can bet your landlord will too and take the cost of cleaning out of your security deposit.

Once you’re confident that everything is how it was when you first moved in, take pictures of everything all over again. These will serve as evidence in the event that you have a dispute over the return of your deposit. If, however, you’ve followed all your landlord’s instructions and left everything as clean as how you found it, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Where should I park? A guide to parking from the apartment hunt to coming home

Finding parking in the city can be challenging and expensive, and if you’re new in town, the old Pittsburgh trick of reserving your spot with a chair looks downright outlandish. So what’s an apartment hunter to do?

First things first, when you schedule an appointment to tour an apartment or house, ask where you should park when you get there. While large complexes with private parking lots might have “Future Resident” parking, plenty of places don’t have the space to offer that convenience. So unless you’re visiting a gated community, you’ll probably have to park on the street.

Be warned: rules for street parking vary from one municipality to the next. Mt. Lebanon, for example, has permit parking zones, and violators will be ticketed. In adjacent Castle Shannon, however, street parking tends to be less restricted. While all of Sleepy Hollow Road is no parking, Vermont Avenue and Greenridge Road are fair game.

Find a place to park before winter hits
Steel City will be covered in a blanket of white soon enough. Do you have covered parking?

So this is why you ask where to park when you schedule your tour, to let the local experts steer you in the right direction.

If you arrive at your destination and feel confused about how the parking works, read any signs carefully and follow your gut. If a curb is yellow or you see a hydrant,  don’t park there. If you read a sign that says “Permit Parking Only,” don’t park there. Don’t be afraid to ask when you meet up with your appointment, “I parked over there, is that OK?” That’s always a good question to ask.

Questions about parking are among the most important to ask when looking for a new home. You might be dazzled by low rent, but don’t forget to consider any additional costs for a parking permit or covered parking. Survey the area and ask how hard it is to find a spot on the street. Ask where your guests are allowed to park. You might find that comparing parking situations can help you choose between prospective apartments. It’s also a good idea at this time to ask where you’d be allowed to park a moving van and for how long. In Castle Shannon, for example, street parking of trailers is prohibited.

Once you’re officially a resident in your new home, your landlord will most likely give you instructions for where to park. If not, be sure to ask for clarification. Always remember to follow the parking guidelines set out by your landlord and municipality. Breaking the rules could lead to tickets, tow trucks, and angry neighbors. Here are a few no-no’s to keep in mind:

  • Never block a dumpster
  • Don’t let your guests park in permit only spots
  • Never take a neighbor’s assigned spot
  • Don’t block in another car
  • Don’t block a driveway or garage

Additionally, if your landlord issued you a parking permit—even if it was free—keep it up-to-date. If you replace your car, make sure your landlord updates their records and gives you a new permit if necessary. If you get an additional vehicle, get that on file and permitted as well. If your landlord only issues one permit per apartment, find alternate parking for your second vehicle to avoid inconveniencing your neighbors and getting ticketed, or worse, towed.

Healthy pet, happy home: flea treatment

Even if your pet never sets paw outdoors, it’s important to keep flea and tick medication up to date, just in case.

Why?

keeping flea and tick medication up to date
Keeping flea and tick medication up to date is especially important in a multi-pet home.
  1. No matter how vigilant you are, your pet could get out. If they get out, you’ll be relieved that at least they’re micro chipped, vaccinated, wearing their tags, and safe from flea and tick bites while you search the neighborhood.
  2. Fleas can hitch a ride on clothing, so if you visit a friend with pets, or a friend with pets visits you, your pets could get their fleas.
  3. A tick bite can transmit Lyme disease to you or your pet and requires antibiotics for treatment.
  4. Fleas can cause an allergic reaction that will lead to giving it a whole lot of money for allergy medicine, special shampoo, numerous trips to the vet, even steroid shots.
  5. Preventing fleas is a whole lot cheaper and easier than getting rid of an infestation. If you rent, your lease might entitle you to free extermination, but that might not apply to a flea infestation if you have a pet. If you own your home, you’re guaranteed a high bill from the exterminator, because fleas can lay their eggs in carpet.

Besides, for you renters out there, if you read the fine—or not so fine—print regarding pets kept in your rental, you might find that your landlord requires your pet’s flea and tick medication to be up to date.

Consider also that in a multi-pet home, your cat stay indoors, but your dog goes out. Both of them need to be treated to prevent fleas and ticks, not just your dog, because the fleas could hitch a ride on you or your dog and make themselves at home on your untreated cat.

While high quality flea and tick medication is expensive, you get what you pay for. Cheaper products often don’t last as long, and many off brands have gotten in trouble for causing epileptic seizures. So buy what your vet recommends, but shop around for a good price. 1-800 Pet Meds often has coupons, and many specialty pet stores such as Pet Supplies Plus and Petco sell the good stuff over the counter.

Looking for a pet friendly apartment? Contact Alvern Gardens Apartments at 412-561-4663 or alverngardens@yahoo.com for their current availability.

 

How to keep your cat from costing you your security deposit

A pet is a wonderful thing…. except for when they’re hyper and out of control. If you live in an apartment with a misbehaving cat (or two), you stand a risk of not getting your full security deposit back. To help you out, here are some tips for keeping your cat happy, healthy, and well behaved.

Maintaining the Litter Box: The Cornerstone of Saving your Carpet

No, you don’t have to take a cat outside to go potty, but you do have to maintain the litter box(es), and if you get a kitten, you have to teach it how to use the box. A dirty litter box could lead your cat to pick the carpet as its potty instead, so scoop daily and change litter weekly. A mixture of boiling water and vinegar is a cheap method for cleaning the box, just make sure you scrub all the nooks and crannies and let the mixture sit long enough to do its job. If your box is clean but your cat refuses to use it, it could mean the cat is sick and needs a visit to the vet. Nipping health issues in the bud is cheaper than paying to replace the carpet in your apartment. Sometimes, healthy cats are picky, or have behavioral problems. It’s still cheaper to try every kind of litter on the market, maintain multiple boxes, and replace kitten-sized boxes as your cat grows than to gamble on your security deposit. Finally, if you have multiple cats, you need multiple boxes: at least 1 box per cat.

goofy cat
Your cat might be a high energy goofball, but if you do your part as pet owner, you can make sure she doesn’t cost you your security deposit.

Keep Houseplants Safe from Felines

Vinegar is a powerful and versatile cleaning agent (you can even use it on carpets and upholstery), but its other super power is that cats hate the smell of it. Spraying vinegar on houseplants will keep cats from eating them. Also, don’t keep houseplants that are potentially toxic to felines. After all, eating something they shouldn’t can make cats vomit, and you don’t want that mess on your carpet. You can also distract your kitty from the plants it shouldn’t eat by giving it access to cat grass on another shelf. Find a way to secure potted plants and other objects so your cat doesn’t accidentally (or intentionally) knock them over. The fewer breakables and other knickknacks, the better (and the easier it is to dust).

How to Handle Scratching

First things first, never declaw a cat. Here’s why: declawing is equivalent to removing a human’s fingertip down to the first knuckle of each finger, cats naturally walk on tip-toes so when you remove the tips of their toes they walk differently and develop arthritis much more easily, and they can be in such excruciating pain that they stop using their litter boxes because it hurts too much to dig. Treating all the health issues related to declawing will empty your wallet much faster than humane methods of deterring scratching.

Obviously you need to provide your cat with a scratching post. A kitten needs to be taught to use it, and once they know how, you’ll find they routinely use it. Keeping a variety of posts—traditional vertical posts wrapped in twine, horizontal pads with refillable cardboard, soft wood, and variously angled posts and pads with all kinds of materials—will keep things as interesting as scratching trees and bushes in the great outdoors.

Sometimes even regular use of a scratching post can’t keep your cat’s claws short, and scratching can cause a lot of damage to your apartment and belongings. Claw trimmers come in a variety of styles and price ranges, and getting your cat used to this process early will make it an ordinary part of your routine. If you’re not comfortable trimming claws at home, ask your vet to do it or take your cat to a groomer.

If your cat insists on scratching your upholstery, you can give it the same vinegar spray treatment as your plants. You might also consider a pheromone plug-in as a last resort (they’re a bit expensive).

Groom, Groom, and Groom Some More

It’s certainly true that cats keep themselves quite clean with regular personal grooming sessions, but shedding + personal grooming = hairballs. The best way to prevent the hacking up of hairballs—and an excellent way to spend quality time with your pet—is to brush kitty regularly, daily if possible.

Get Kitty Some Exercise

Cats need exercise for their bodies as well as their brains. Use an interactive toy for 15-20 minutes of play each day during the times you find your cat is most active. To keep your cat busy while you’re out or asleep, have some toys for individual play laying around. Puzzle toys are especially stimulating and easy to make at home:

Cut some paw-sized holes into an empty box or or oatmeal container, stick a crinkle ball inside, tape the lid shut, and let kitty go at it.

Or: Cut some kibble-sized holes into a water bottle, fill it with a handful of dry food or a few treats, screw the cap back on, and see how long it takes kitty to get the goodies out.

Giving your cat vertical space to explore in the form of cat trees will offer more benefits than just mental and physical exercise. Cats like having a good vantage point from which to watch over their territory, and having that high outlook post will give your king of the apartment jungle added confidence and contentment. Also be sure your cat has a comfortable view out as many windows as possible with either store-bought or home-made shelves, if necessary.

 Looking for a cat-friendly apartment in the South Hills of Pittsburgh? Contact Alvern Gardens Apartments at alverngardens@yahoo.com or 412-561-4663.

Dog friendly apartments in Pittsburgh

Dog owners looking for a pet friendly apartment in Pittsburgh will be happy to know that dogs are now welcome at another Prudential Realty Community: Alvern Gardens Apartments in Castle Shannon.

Certain areas in the Alvern Gardens complex are opening their doors and ample green spaces to dogs 40 lbs and smaller. There are no breed restrictions (other than the limitation that the breed cannot exceed 40 lbs maximum size). Mixed breeds are also welcome as long as they are 40 lbs or smaller.

Dogs welcome at Alvern Gardens Apartments
Dogs 40 lbs and under are now welcome at Alvern Gardens Apartments in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.

Owners must provide paperwork from the vet indicating that the dog is spayed/neutered and all its vaccinations are up-to-date. The dog must also be properly licensed and wear its license at all times. Owners must also provide proof of liability insurance covering any injuries or damages that might be caused by the dog.

Residents are allowed to have up to 2 pets in their apartment: up to 2 cats or 1 cat and 1 dog. Only 1 dog is allowed per apartment.

The cost of keeping a pet at Alvern Gardens is more affordable than at many other apartment communities. The security deposit is $200 per pet, and the monthly fees are as follows: $15 per cat, $30 for a dog, and $45 for 1 cat and 1 dog.

Here are some of the additional guidelines of keeping a pet at Alvern Gardens:

  • Flea and tick medication must be kept up-to-date
  • Animals must be in a cage or on a leash and attended at all times that they are outside the owner’s apartment (in hallways, outside on the property)
  • Animals are not allowed in common areas of the building (laundry rooms and other basement spaces)
  • Owners must promptly clean up all their animal’s waste

Alvern Gardens is close to South Park, where there are walking trails as well as a dog park for pups (and their parents) to get their exercise.

Anyone interested in renting a dog friendly apartment in the South Hills of Pittsburgh may contact Alvern Gardens at alverngardens@yahoo.com or 412-561-4663.