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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 1, 2002

Renting realities

By Zenaida Serrano Espanol
Advertiser Staff Writer

Makoto Suzuki, a veteran apartment renter, is quite pleased with his new place in Palolo. And so is his cat, Imi.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Makoto Suzuki knows how to move.

The software engineer, 25, has practically become a pro at hopping from apartment to apartment.

Suzuki has been renting digs since he was 17, when he moved out of his parents' home to a two-bedroom house he shared with a friend. He has rented three more apartments since then.

Over the years, Suzuki experienced his fair share of rental hell, in the form of troubles both big and small — from enduring a klepto-roomie and a Felix Unger-like neighbor who monitored laundry room usage, to dealing with the hazards of on-street parking and repeatedly hunting down the perfect pad.

So when it comes to shelling out advice to prospective renters, Suzuki's words carry the weight of experience: "Just plan ahead," he said. "That's what you've got to do."

For many twenty- to thirtysomethings who crave the independence of living apart from Mom and Dad, renting an apartment is the quickest, if not most practical, road to freedom.

However, finding the right place will take time and effort.

What to know before you rent

A few things to remember in finding the right apartment:

• If you are interested in a specific building, call the resident manager to inquire about vacancies.

• When considering rental costs, be sure to verify whether utilities are included.

• Make sure there is adequate street parking if the apartment does not offer enough stalls for you and your roommate(s).

• Give roommate(s) adequate notice if you are moving out, so they can make arrangements. If you are on a month-to-month lease, give your landlord at least one month's notice.

• If you're on a fixed lease that is about to end, let your landlord know as soon as possible whether you plan to stay.

• Thoroughly clean the apartment when you move out. If you cannot do that, ask the landlord to hire a cleaning service and take the fees out of your deposit.

Source: Willis Choy, a property manager and principal broker at Norpac Group Inc.

Willis Choy, a property manager and principal broker at Norpac Group Inc., said apartment hunters can get started by searching daily classified ads, a more up-to-date resource than rental guide publications or the Internet. And while renters review their options, they need to take into account issues such as pets and roommates.

Among the most important considerations is your budget.

Renters "should be realistic about what they can afford," Choy said. "If they're already renters, they should have a pretty good idea of what their comfort level is financially."

Location is another big issue.

Prospective renters should ask landlords about the neighborhood noise level and how safe it is: for example, whether any of the units have been broken into, Choy said.

Security should be a priority for single women, he said, and they should expect to pay more for a building with some type of security system. "But I think in the long term, it's probably worthwhile."

The roommate issue

Good roommates are a major factor for Suzuki, who shared a Makiki apartment with a friend before moving to his Palolo home in August.

"If you're the one that's left behind ... you have to look at your budget," Choy said of the roommate issue. "If that roommate provided half the rent, you have to find somebody who's going to want to take their place, or you're going to have to move as well."

When his roommate moved to Seattle, Suzuki looked for nearly four months, extending his search to the Internet. "It's really hard to find a good roommate," he said, after being accustomed to living with friends.

Unable to find a replacement, Suzuki jumped on a vacancy he heard about with a friend of a friend. He moved into his three-bedroom, one-bathroom unit on the second floor of a Palolo home that he shares with two roommates. Suzuki is grateful the three of them get along well.

It's a far cry from the nightmare he endured years ago.

"I had one really, really horrible roommate," Suzuki recalled. "He just had no courtesy."

Money, food, soap and toothpaste would mysteriously disappear, he said.

Roommates can include the furry or feathered kind, so pet owners should make sure the units they're considering allow animals.

Lucky for Suzuki, his feline pal Imi was more than welcome to stay at the new home, and "my cat likes it," he said, conceding that Imi's approval is one reason he's pleased with the place.

'Make yourself stand out'

When prospective renters are ready to look at places and meet with landlords, Choy said, they should make a good impression.

"It's becoming a landlord's market now and less of a renter's market," he said. "The competition out there right now is tough, because we have a lot of good, qualified tenants to pick from, and sometimes it's hard to make a decision ... So you have to make yourself stand out."

Choy highly recommends getting letters of recommendation from present landlords to give to prospective ones.

"That would be real important for any landlord who just wants to know what their payment history has been, whether they've had any complaints about them as tenants," Choy said.

Those with no rental history will have a difficult time renting their first place, he said.

Emily Pugh, a 22-year-old student at the University of Hawai'i, discovered firsthand that many landlords are leery of renting to college students, especially those who have never rented before.

Pugh and two friends spent about three months during summer break looking at nearly 20 apartments, getting turned down each time.

"Every place that I went to, (the landlords) always asked, 'What do you do for a living?' And as soon as you say, 'I'm a student,' they're like, 'Ohhhhh, you're a student,' " she said.

"One of them even told us (he didn't) want students because of the whole stereotype of the partying all the time and not being responsible in taking care of the apartment."

Pugh said she couldn't understand why she and her friends — with good credit histories and very responsible — were having such a hard time.

"The landlord just wants to make sure the rent is paid and the people don't destroy the unit," Choy said. "It's hard to understand how people are going to pay for something if they're in school."

Reach Zenaida Serrano Espanol at zespanol@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8174.