Make some spare keys *right now.*
So, you’re on your own: Graduation is over and you’re packing the moving boxes for your first apartment, alone or with roommates. The hype that comes with moving out of college dorms or family homes is *real*, but so are the expenses — particularly the hidden ones that pop up after you realize you’ve screwed up (or someone screwed you over). To help prepare for your own first-time move — or to simply provide you with a handful of facepalm moments you’d never wish on anyone — we asked Elite Daily readers to share the biggest money mistakes they made in their first apartments, and let’s just say everyone can learn from these nightmare scenarios.
When it comes to getting an apartment, things like rent prices, location, and amenities are the usual suspects that can run up your costs. But once you’ve moved in, there are more than a few things you shouldn’t sleep on like renters insurance, monitoring electricity bills, or even setting aside an emergency fund for apartment repairs. If you do, you might end up regretting it and your bank account could be the one that suffers most. From a disastrous apartment fire to an unwelcome makeshift water park, these readers’ stories serve as cautionary tales of the first-apartment mistakes that you’ll want to avoid.
The following stories have been edited for length and clarity. Some names* have been changed to protect the innocent and … other roommates.
The Unfinished Apartment
Calena, 22, California — Lost $100
In June of 2021, I had just graduated, and I decided to get an apartment with two colleagues in downtown Los Angeles. We found an apartment within our budget: a three-bed, two-bath unit with a private yard for under $3,300 a month. We were told the apartment was in its final stages of construction and that we’d be the first tenants. We submitted an application for $35 each, and we were approved to move in on Aug. 6.
However, the last week of July rolled around and the apartment wasn’t ready. The agent and building manager told us, “We weren’t able to pass inspection, but we’re trying again next week.” We thought that if we waited another week, it'd be fine. The last week of August came around and the apartment still wasn’t ready. We called the agency, called the manager multiple times a day, we even called the city to check that the apartment was registered. And the city told us the apartment failed the initial July inspection and the building had never rescheduled. In September, the agency finally admitted they didn’t have an apartment for us and we’d have to look elsewhere.
We had to expedite our next apartment search. In total, we spent $100 each between the old application fee, the new application fee, and the expedited fee, and then I had to pre-pay $1,000 for next month’s rent and a $1,000 deposit in order to secure this apartment. I eventually got the deposit back because we paid rent on time.
Next time I rent an apartment, I’ll definitely have more questions to ask. I’ll want to see a record from the city confirming the apartment is livable, and records of the last time the apartment passed a water or electricity inspection. I'll also look online for reviews of other buildings the agency manages.
The Midnight Water Park
Jess, 27, New York — Lost $750
In 2018, I was post-grad and living in a four-bedroom basement unit that I shared with three roommates in New York. I was asleep and suddenly woke up at 2 a.m. from a feeling that my bed was wet: The pipe running across my ceiling had burst in the middle of the night and flooded my room. I was disoriented and freaked out. The water coming out from the pipes was brown and really gross. I still don’t know how the pipe burst, but it was probably because it was a super old building.
My room was the only one affected, but it didn’t take long to repair. I mostly had to wait for fans to dry out the place. I stayed with a friend for a few days while it was being fixed because my landlord refused to pay for a hotel. They also refused to give us a discount on rent while it was being fixed. Luckily, I had renters insurance that covered half of the damages, but I still had to pay the deductible. I probably had $1,500 in damages in total that included my bedding, rug, furniture, and clothes that were ruined. The one takeaway I had from this experience is to always have renters insurance!
The Litigious Roommate
Emma*, 24, New York — Lost $1,320
In early 2022, I was roommates with Sarah* and Alex*, when I began noticing Sarah going into my room without my permission. I didn’t think too much of it at first. Until one day, I came home to my door and windows wide open, and a bunch of my things moved around. I began locking my door, but Sarah removed the lock from my door and hid it.
She told Alex and I that she didn’t feel safe in her room, even though she specifically wanted that room when we moved in. She took it upon herself to move her belongings into our shared living room and locked it. It was technically illegal to lock us out of the living room because that’s where the fire escape was, so we called our landlord and the police, who brought a locksmith to unlock the door. When we got the door open, we found Sarah’s stuff piled in the living room and the door knobs had been sawed out and replaced with a knob with a lock over it. I looked around and saw a huge security camera pointed at me. I’ll never forget that moment.
We begged Sarah to leave but she refused, and even threatened to sue us if we ever spoke to her. (I even consulted a lawyer because she was threatening me with a lawsuit.) I was scared to live there because of her. Our landlord was kind enough to allow us to break the lease, but Sarah kept refusing to leave. Then one day, she suddenly changed her mind, which meant we could all go. We moved out shortly after but had to give up the security deposit of $3,200, which was a month of rent. My portion was $1,320, and the rest was split between Sarah and Alex. I had to scramble to find new housing after, but I’m living alone now.
The Apartment That Was (Literally) Fire
Jen, 25, Massachusetts — Lost $10,000
My entire apartment burned down in a seven-alarm fire in 2018. It was Halloweekend and my roommates and I were out of town. I lost everything I owned except for my passport, phone, laptop, and the two articles of clothing I had with me. One of my roommates was out celebrating Halloween, and she was only left with the Halloween costume she was wearing. Luckily, no one was killed, but it displaced around 100 people and injured 11.
The big mistake we made was sharing renters insurance between me and my two roommates. It was our first time renting an apartment and we had no idea what renters insurance was. Our broker told us we could share it to save money, so we did. After the fire, we were entitled to an insurance compensation of $15,000 among the three of us, because our renters insurance was under one person, myself. If we had each bought our own renters insurance, we could’ve gotten up to $15,000 each. The money wasn’t nearly enough to cover all the physical and emotional damage the fire caused. Thankfully, my roommates and I were able to stay in my parents’ apartment until we were back on our feet.
You never think that your apartment will burn down and you’d lose everything. The lesson I learned is to get renters insurance for each person, as long as you can afford it. Even if you’re sharing insurance, you should at least have everyone’s names on the plan, in case anything happens.
The Lockout Disaster
Kim, 26, New York — Lost $500
In 2019, I was living in a tiny studio apartment with my dog. There had been a few times when I had forgotten my keys and asked to borrow my landlord’s, and I guess I never returned the spare to him. One night, I went out to dinner with my friends — and immediately realized I locked myself out when my door automatically locked behind me. I had to go to dinner, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it the whole time.
When I got back, I called the landlord to see if he had a spare key, and he didn’t. He sent his dad to my apartment to try to “break in” and he couldn’t, which at least showed how safe it was. It was 10 p.m. and my dog was barking for all my neighbors to hear. I ended up having to call a locksmith, who put in a new door handle, then demanded $500 in cash. No checks or cards. Luckily, I had the money on me because my grandma had passed away and I got cash from her that she had saved for me. She was watching out for me as my guardian angel, because what else would I have done?
After that incident, I made so many spare sets of keys. I’ve since moved to a new apartment with a doorman, and he has two sets of keys, just in case.
Editor's Note: These stories are intended as lighthearted informational anecdotes. If you’re involved in a legal or housing dispute, check with an attorney or licensed professional about your rights.