Gimme Shelter: Chicago Weekly’s guide to Hyde Park housing

In the first part of this issue’s feature, we introduce some of the basics of apartment-hunting.

Finding an apartment in Hyde Park can be a tumultuous journey, full of pitfalls and unexpected turns. The best way to suit up for apartment hunting season is to plan ahead and familiarize yourself with the options available. High-rise or owner-occupied? Studio or five bedroom? Near to campus or far away? Tiny windowless box or large spacious sunroom?

Essentially, knowing yourself and your options is the best way of guaranteeing a happy living experience. Hyde Park apartments offer a plethora of different options, and having some idea about what will make you, the tenant, happy, is essential in figuring out where you should make your home.

A good way to start thinking about your future apartment is determining with whom you could live. While this may seem like an obvious first step, it could also be where your apartment search ends. If you have a friend or acceptable acquaintance with an extra room opening up in his or her apartment, getting on the lease in place of that former roommate is fairly easy, and generally requires less hassle in terms of figuring out the specifics of moving in and out. Also, if you move into an apartment that you already know well, you understand exactly what you’re getting into. Especially since the unpleasant surprises of Hyde Park apartments, like leaking sinks and questionable radiators, tend to show up long after the lease is signed and the deal is done, this can be a huge advantage in overall satisfaction.

If you can’t move into someone’s apartment, you can find a solid group of roommates or decide that you want to live alone. Finding out who you want to live with and getting an apartment with the appropriate number of bedrooms means you won’t sign a lease that will be a financial burden on you. But be cautious when rooming with good friends, as peoples’ household behaviors and possible lifestyle tensions between roommates often don’t emerge until later, and you don’t want to sour a friendship or a living situation. Just make sure everyone knows from the start what is expected of each roommate and the apartment situation in general.

Having a number of roommates on the lease that resembles the final composition of your apartment ensures that you don’t have to cough up too much for a security deposit (though some companies, like MAC Management, are doing away with the security deposit, which is usually equivalent to one month’s rent and is due at the lease signing). Upon signing a lease, you may also have to pay the first month’s rent. In order to expedite the process of renting, it is best to make sure you have access to these funds right away. Most landlords will also ask for references and run a credit check, so previous unpaid bills could interfere with your chance at getting an apartment you like.

Traditionally, many Hyde Park leases start on June 15, which this year is the day after Convocation. However, because of the number of different realtors in Hyde Park, lease start-dates vary. Some management companies begin showing apartments with June leases around the beginning of April, as soon as they’ve received word that tenants do not plan to renew leases on individual units. April is a good time to begin to make preliminary calls to the management companies. Some units, including those in owner-occupied buildings with less than six units (many Hyde Park apartments fall into this category), are exempt from the usual municipal code, so make sure to find out what the terms of your lease actually are before you sign it. Chicago municipal code states that the landlord must “Not force a tenant to renew an agreement more than 90 days before the existing agreement terminates,” and must give “at least 30 days of written notice of his intention not to renew a rental agreement.” This means that if pursuing a June 15 lease for an apartment that is currently occupied, the new tenants should make sure to have the lease signed in full by the middle of May (and those who have leases they would like to renew should make sure to do so before then). Never, ever, sign a lease that you haven’t read completely. If you disagree with any item on a lease, don’t sign it. Also, keep in mind that for real estate, oral contracts are considered binding.

Because of this time frame, some smaller realtors do not show apartments for June rental until the end of April or the beginning of May, and dealing with them earlier may result in leases that start in the middle of May. However, if you see an apartment that you like a lot, the earlier starting date can be worth the extra month of rent, and can make the moving process easier.

The best way to start the apartment search is to call management companies, ask when they are showing their apartments, and what they have available. Asking around and researching on the internet should supplement this hands-on search, rather than replace it. Keep in mind that during the spring, there are usually hundreds of people looking for apartments in the same area, so be prepared to sign a lease very quickly if you decide you really want a place.

Finally, remember that some of the best apartments in Hyde Park may not be the easiest to find. They may require visiting multiple management companies, making appointments during regular business hours (not over the weekend), and presenting yourself well to landlords. Small sacrifices of time and careful attention to detail while searching for an apartment will ensure that you can truly make a home, sweet home, rather than being imprisoned in a small box with no natural light–unless, of course, such a cell is what you desire. (Rose Schapiro)

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