Let's face it: Buying a house isn't for everyone. And maybe it's not for you right now. But you gotta live somewhere, so here are some tactics to help you survive and prosper in Renter's World:
Put it down on paper. Before you start spilling stuff on the carpet and sticking food to the ceiling, it's a good idea to carefully document any damage to your place that was already there when you moved in. This way you're more likely to get your deposit back. Ideally, you'll have the landlord sign something you both agree on after a walk-through, but you can also take matters into your own hands by taking pictures. When you pay rent, get a receipt or keep a copy of the check.
Demand repairs. Don't let anyone tell you they're renting a place for cheap because it needs a lot of work. That's a red flag right there. If you move in and then notice something is terribly wrong, make a complaint—in writing—and keep a copy. If the landlord doesn't respond or doesn't fix the problem, you have another option: call the City of Portland Development Services inspection office (823-7306). They'll probably frighten your landlord into showing up on your doorstep with a ladder and a toolbox the same day.
Motto: Better Safe Than Screwed. If you report a leak in your roof and your landlord doesn't fix it before the roof caves in and ruins your stereo, your landlord pays for the stereo. But if your upstairs neighbor leaves the bathtub running and it overflows, caves in your ceiling and ruins your stereo, that's coming out of your pocket. Crossing your fingers and hoping you don't fall prey to flood, fire or theft is a good idea, but it might be a better idea to shell out a couple hundred dollars a year to insure your stuff. (Renter's insurance might cost you a little more if you own a large dog or have a trampoline.)
Get Out and Stay Out. If you get evicted, you'll want to keep that off your record so you can find a new place to live without too much trouble. Even if you get out in the allotted 30 days without help from law enforcement, the eviction still shows up in a background check. The best thing to do is show up in court, because you can usually strike some kind of deal to keep the e-word off your record.