Things to Know Before Signing a Lease

How to rent: For first-time renters, signing on the dotted line is often thought of as just part of the rental process. The excitement that comes with a new home sometimes overshadows responsibilities associated with renting. Before signing that lease, it is important to read the fine print and be aware of what your landlord expects of you, as well as what you can expect of your landlord. Make sure you review the lease carefully for provisions relating to often overlooked polices such as guests, parking, pets, and painting. Here are some other things you might want to be aware of before moving in:

� Make sure the lease accurately reflects the terms and dates of the lease as agreed upon by you and your landlord. It is also helpful to know what happens once the lease is up. Do you have the option to renew, or does the lease change to a month-by-month agreement? Along the same lines, know what the lease says about termination. What events give the landlord the right to evict you, and what events might allow you to get out of your lease early if necessary?

âÂ?¢ The majority of landlords and rental agencies are going to charge what is called a security deposit. This deposit is usually equal to one or two month’s rent and is refundable if certain conditions are met upon moving out of the rented space. The purpose of the deposit is to ensure that rent is paid on time, and to cover unusual repairs that may be needed when a renter moves out due to damage caused by the renter. Some states limit the amount of security deposit that can be charged and some states even dictate that the landlord pay the tenant interest on the deposit. A quick search for your state’s requirements regarding security deposits on the Internet will help you know whether your landlord is charging you a reasonable amount. Deductions from your deposit amount should only be taken for unreasonable damages to the rental space, and not for typical or everyday wear-and-tear, unless otherwise stated in the lease and agreed-upon by both landlord and tenant. It is important to make a list and/or take pictures of any damage at the premises before moving in, so that you are not charged for damage you did not do.

� It is important to know which utilities you are expected to pay for, and to have those utility bills put in your name when you move into a new residence. Also verify with the utility department that you are only being required to pay for the charges associated with your particular unit. It is a bad idea to be on shared utility meters.

âÂ?¢ It may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure your lease states the monthly rent amount and what day the rent is due each month. It also important to have a clear understanding of what happens if you pay your rent late and if you are given a grace period for paying. Also, some landlords will put a provision in the lease that provides for automatic rent increases. Steer clear of stipulations that allow rent increases at the landlord’s discretion. Along the same lines, do not sign a lease in which you are required to follow any “future rules” the landlord may decide to implement.

� States differ on their view of unrestricted entry by landlords into rental properties. Protect your privacy by not signing leases that allow unrestricted and unreasonable entry into your apartment. Know under what conditions your landlord is allowed to enter your apartment.

âÂ?¢ Some leases require a tenant to have renter’s insurance, while others do not. Even if your landlord does not require this insurance, it is wise to invest in some insurance for the property in your rented space. Landlords are not responsible for damage or theft of your property and possessions.

� Maintenance and repairs are another issue to educate yourself on before signing the lease. What repairs or maintenance are you, as the tenant, responsible for? What is the process for requesting maintenance or repairs from your landlord or rental agency? How long can you expect it to take for repairs to be made? Are you responsible for maintenance of any grass or lawn area associated with your apartment? Also make sure you know how often regular maintenance will take place, such as spraying for bugs, replacing filters, or mowing the lawn.

� Before signing the lease, make sure you have actually inspected the unit you will be moving into. Make sure there are no damaged areas or safety hazards. Inspect all window and door locks to make sure they are in working order. If anything needs to be fixed, make sure it is taken care of before you move in, or have it added to the lease (in writing).

When moving into a new place, it is important to make sure all your bases are covered. Do not sign the lease unless and until you are completely comfortable with the apartment and the provisions stated in the lease. Before signing, make sure you are going to be happy in your new home. Visit the area during the day and at night to make sure you feel safe. You may even want to ask other tenants or neighbors how they feel about the area. Make sure the landlord adequately answers all your questions before signing, and be sure all oral agreements, or alterations to the lease, are in writing and that you have a copy of them.

Moving into a new apartment is fun and exciting. Make sure the entire duration of your lease is as pleasant by reading and understanding all the provisions. And know that if you are uncomfortable with any part of the lease, discuss it with your landlord. Making sure that you understand each other before signing the lease will make things easier in the event concerns arise in the future. Also, remember to check out your states’ laws regarding tenants’ rights.

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