While finding an apartment in Austin may be difficult actually securing it can be even harder. Once you’ve found the perfect apartment you’ll want to snatch it up. It’s a renter’s market here in Austin so taking a lot of time to haggle over price or look at renter’s insurance before signing a contract might be a huge mistake. Be prepared to take the next step by understanding Austin’s housing regulations renters insurance options and your rights as a tenant — before your hunt for the perfect apartment even starts.

Renter’s Insurance

All landlords are required by the city of Austin to have insurance for their building. This won’t however protect your personal items in the event that they are stolen or damaged. In Austin housing laws allow landlords to require tenants to get renters insurance and a landlord can specify a minimum limit for your policy. It’s a good idea to speak with an insurance agent before even beginning apartment hunting to speed up the renting process. Create a list of what you own and each item’s value  and make sure you buy enough to cover it all.

In addition to covering your personal property renters insurance can cover loss of use and personal liability. Loss of use insurance covers living expenses such as food and rent if you need to temporarily move out of your apartment. Personal liability insurance protects you against personal injury claims or lawsuits in the event that someone is injured in your apartment. Look closely at your policy however because it may list events or circumstances your policy doesn’t cover like flood damage for example. Policies that cover every type of loss (except what is specifically mentioned in the policy) are called “all-risk” policies. Policies that only cover specific events listed in the policy are called “named-perils” policies.

Some types of renter’s insurance also include pet liability insurance. Your landlord may require this type of insurance if you have a pet as well as specify a minimum liability limit. It’s a good idea to have this insurance when living in close quarters with other people and pets even if your landlord doesn’t require it. Read the fine print in your policy however because it may exclude “aggressive” breeds like pit bulls or rottweilers and only certain events may apply like dog bites.

Regulations Fire Codes and Grilling

Before signing a lease make sure you understand what you can do at your apartment and what you can’t. Austin fire code prevents residents from having charcoal or gas grills on their patios or balconies for example. Storing your grill (or even just propane tanks) on walkways is also a no-no because it can block fire escape routes and annoy neighbors. Breaking these rules can get you slapped with a hefty fine anywhere from $350 to $550 per offense.

Austinites love to barbeque though — even in temperatures over 100 degrees. So what do apartment-dwelling Austinites do? Some of them have electric grills because they don’t break fire code (unless they are used indoors —don’t grill in your apartment!) What if you just love that char-grilled taste and electric just won’t do it for you? Since the new barbeque laws were passed in 2003 many landlords have installed community grills on their properties to attract barbeque lovers. Many of Austin’s parks also have grills. Barbequing may not be as easy for Austin apartment dwellers as it is for home owners but it’s still possible. If you think you will want to grill at your apartment make sure to find a complex with available facilities. Other Austin fire codes regulate how long holiday lights can stay up (90 days) and proper installation of smoke detectors. Breaking codes can not only result in fines for tenants but you may also be risking your right to rent the apartment. Before signing a lease make sure you read it carefully. It covers the landlords rules and regulations and may also obligate you to obey fire codes and other restrictions.

Tenant Rights

While Austin may have strict fire and housing regulations the city also gives its residents their deserved housing rights. The Federal Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination in the areas of race color national origin sex disability religion and familial status. Austin’s Fair Housing Act goes even further protecting tenants from discrimination regarding marital status student status sexual orientation age and gender identity. The Austin Tenant’s Council is a non-profit organization that helps Austinites fight against landlords who do not acknowledge a tenant’s rights. If you feel discriminated against while apartment hunting or moving in they can help. Their motto is “Safe Decent Fair Housing for All” and that means being able to move two adults and a child into a one-bedroom apartment bringing your service pets and much more.The best way to fight for your rights as a tenant is to make sure you understand those rights and ask potential landlords a lot of questions — before signing a lease. While you may be tempted to skip reading the lease agreement to secure that perfect apartment don’t. Texas has no “buyer’s remorse” law for leasing agreements so once you’ve signed you are responsible for carrying out your side of the deal. Check the lease carefully for clauses regarding Landlord’s Entry (when a landlord can enter you apartment) Landlord’s Lien (a landlord’s right to seize some of your property as collateral until you pay back rent) and Evictions. Also make sure you understand any renters insurance requirements or additional pet owner responsibilities if you have or want a pet.

Renting an apartment can be an exciting time as you picture your future as a new Austinite. It can also be a stressful time because there is such high demand for apartments in Austin. It’s important to keep a level head and make sure you have all of your ducks (or dogs cats or fish) in a row before signing that lease and moving in.