What to Look for in an Apartment Contract

Whether you are about to rent your first apartment or you have leased a home in the past, a good reminder of how a lease works and what you should be looking for when you review that contract is helpful for everyone.

While leases generally take the same shape and have many similarities, you want to make sure you understand everything that must be included and also any other specifics that might affect you.

The excitement of moving into a new home is wonderful and you should not let the legal part of signing a lease dim that joy. However, you also should not simply glance over the contract without thoroughly reading and understanding everything it contains. You certainly do not want to end up in a bad situation simply because you did not bother to read or you did not understand part of your rental contract.

Find out all the aspects of a rental contract that you should know about and how to spot any problems before you sign. Also learn what you might be able to negotiate and how to go about broaching that subject. Never forget that a lease is a legal, binding contract and you do not want to sign your name to something that puts you in a tough position. Make sure you protect yourself and your interests first and then go ahead and sign on the dotted line for your new home.

Components of an Apartment Contract

Most apartment contracts will have the same general layout and information included, but you must be diligent in your review to ensure there is nothing unique about your particular contract that could cause any issues. Generally speaking, your contract should have each of the following sections with the subsequent details included:

  • Introduction naming the parties involved so it is clear who the landlord is and who is the permitted renter.
  • Lease Term indicating the length of time during which the lease will be valid. This should also include information on how to renew or how to break a lease so you understand notice periods and other pertinent timeframes.
  • Rent Details explaining how and when rent will be paid each month.
  • Maintenance Details delineating who is responsible for upkeep and maintenance of both the interior and exterior of the premises.
  • Utilities Information if there are specific authorized companies or products permitted or not permitted at the unit.
  • Deposits and Fees if a security deposit or a pet deposit is required, plus information on fees, such as late payment fees.
  • Acceptable Use of the Property might include details on overnight guests, parking, renovations, smoking, long absences or other concerns that can impact your contract.

What to Look for in an Apartment Contract

As you review your apartment contract, it is important that you fully understand each section. Plain language should be used, but do not hesitate to ask for clarification on any point if you do not understand the terminology or the phrasing. You should not sign a lease if you still have questions or do not comprehend any of the information included, so be sure to do your research to learn the terminology for renting, but also be sure to carefully read your specific lease.

Once you understand each section and the terms used, thoroughly read the contract and take note of the particulars of your lease. There are a few specific points you should linger over that will be very relevant to your finances and lifestyle, including the following:

  • Length of the lease and how you can either renew or end it so that you understand what is required of you as the renter.
  • Costs and responsibilities so you know what you are required to pay and when, plus what the landlord will take care of and when. This could include utilities, maintenance, pet fees, parking fees and more.
  • Insurance. You should be absolutely clear whether you are required to obtain insurance or your landlord’s insurance will cover you as the renter. Do not sign a lease without fully understanding the terms of the insurance.
  • Other tenants should be discussed within the lease so it is clear whether or not you can bring in a roommate, sublet your apartment or otherwise make new living arrangements.
  • Furnishings and general property condition should all be explicitly covered within the lease and inventory documentation. Without a paper trail here, you might end up losing some of your security deposit for any damages that might have already existed.

How to Negotiate Your Lease

If, when reviewing your lease, you realize that there are components you do not agree with or do not feel comfortable with, then you should try to negotiate with the landlord prior to signing. Negotiating is perfectly legal and acceptable, so do not hesitate to discuss the issues that concern you. Common points to negotiate might include the duration of the lease, the option for pets and renovations or modifications of the apartment space.

If you do not want to sign a one-year contract, you could offer to sign a six-month lease instead, or even ask for a month-to-month agreement. If your landlord refuses a shorter-term contract, offer to provide a longer notice period if and when you want to move out. For example, provide two months’ notice on a six-month lease.

If you have or want to have pets but your contract explicitly says no animals or specifies the types of pets permitted, then you need to communicate that concern to the landlord before signing. Choosing to go against the lease and bring a pet into your apartment is a risk that can put you into a difficult financial and legal situation. Bring up your concerns before signing and see if there is any flexibility on the rules; try offering more frequent inspections of the unit if your landlord is hesitant. Often, a landlord is simply concerned about potential damages.

If you intend to make any modifications to the apartment, make sure you get approval in writing within the contract. Adding walls to subdivide the space or repainting or changing hardware might all be fine with a landlord, but you absolutely must have that approval in writing first.

Breaking Your Lease

Know that your rental contract is legally binding, so if you just choose to terminate your lease early, you could be legally liable for payments. If you are on a year-long lease and you still have time remaining on that contract, first speak to your landlord about your potential for moving out early. If there is a waiting list for apartments or if you have been paying less than the market value of the apartment, then your landlord might happily let you out of the contract early. If your landlord does not have someone else ready to move into your unit, then you could potentially offer to find a new tenant yourself. Finding a replacement might allow you to still leave early without having to pay any fees or for additional months of rent while you are no longer living there.

If you are on a month-to-month lease, then you have much more flexibility in your move-out date. Just be sure to give the legally required notice before you move out. You cannot simply leave at the end of your month. Some month-to-month contracts require a full month’s notice, some require two months and some might only be two weeks. It is your responsibility to confirm by reviewing your lease and by communicating with your landlord. Whatever you and your landlord decide upon, ensure you receive that detailed information in writing so you are covered if there are any issues during or after your departure.

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