Rental Leases: What to Double Check Before Signing

To protect yourself when renting a home, you must carefully review rental leases before signing any documents. Once you sign, you are locked into a monthly payment and must follow the owner’s various rules.

The time to find out the rules regarding fees, communication methods and maintenance requests is before finalizing the contract.

Be sure you are happy with every aspect of the home and know what the lease includes as well as the exclusions. Being locked in for a year or more at a place where you are unhappy can be very upsetting. If you have concerns about the lease or the property itself, it may be too late to change things once you have signed the lease.  If you have questions, do not be afraid to ask the property owner so he or she can address them immediately. Follow the guidelines listed below to increase your odds of finding and renting the right apartment based on your preferences and budget.

Review All Pages of the Lease

The rental agreement should provide answers to all your questions, such as who is responsible for repairs and the mandatory quiet hours, if applicable. It should include details on your rights as a tenant, the landlord’s responsibilities and the rules for the home. If you do not have the answers to these questiosn, be sure to thoroughly review your lease before signing anything. It could prevent you from signing a document that features some unpleasant surprises.

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Furthermore, do not neglect the fine print. This could be where the property owner includes additional clauses. This can pertain to the size of pet you can have, extra fees for having overnight guests, the length of the lease and other details. Once you sign the agreement, you are subject to penalties for violating any rules.

Get Everything in Writing

After reviewing your lease and discussing changes with the property owner, require him or her to include them in the lease. Although a handshake sounds friendlier, it does not protect you. For instance, if you ask permission to keep two dogs but the lease says that only one is allowed, your landlord can demand that you get rid of one of your pets at any time or charge you for the extra pet. A verbal agreement does not override a signed lease nor does it fall within your rights as a tenant. Get it in writing along with the date and signature of both parties, even if it is something seemingly minor. This serves as proof of the agreement between both parties and protects you during your rental term.

Ask About Maintenance and Repair Policies

It is important to know what services are available to you once you move into your new home. Your apartment complex may not have round-the-clock maintenance on staff. If you are renting a home or duplex, you may only have access to maintenance staff on a need basis. Waking up on a Saturday morning to discover the heat is off and the temperature in your apartment has dropped to 60 degrees is not the time to find out maintenance is only done on weekdays. With this in mind, be sure to ask if there are 24-hour emergency repairs and maintenance services available. From there, you may set the proper expectations.

Ask If You Can Personalize Your Apartment

Although you may have big design plans for your home, like painting your living room and hanging artwork in your new space, your lease may prevent you from doing so. Review your lease to check for restrictions on painting, drilling, and other decor decisions that can change the space.

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Some landlords require you to keep the apartment the same color as when you moved in. Others may allow you to hang things on the wall using only temporary, stick-on hooks instead of nails. If the lease does not mention this, ask the property manager about the rules and if it differs from the contract, get it in writing. If you fail to do this, you must return your apartment to its original condition before you move out at the end of your lease.

Guests, Visitors and Sublets

In most cases, landlords allow tenants to have another person living with them in the home, even if only one name is listed on the lease. Beyond that, things can get complicated. Having multiple visitors or guests who stay for long periods of time could be a violation of your lease. Be sure to ask the landlord for specifics on the guidelines regarding long-term guests.

Subletting your apartment may also be a violation of your rental agreement. If you will be away for a long time or moving out permanently, be sure to talk to your landlord before you sublet your apartment to someone else. In some cases, you may have to terminate your own lease and allow the landlord to create a new lease with the new tenant. If you plan to return after briefly subletting your home, the property owner has the right to refuse a sublet unless you have his or her permission.

Ask About Terminating the Lease

Although you may have plans to stay in your new home for years, things can change. Be sure to ask your landlord about the terms for breaking the lease. In addition, confirm that they are clearly outlined in the rental lease documents before you sign them. Look for these details:

  • How much notice you have to give if you want to break your lease
  • What happens to your security deposit
  • How long you will have to wait to get all or part of your deposit back
  • The cleaning requirements when leaving the apartment
  • The penalties for breaking the lease early

Research Your Landlord

Property owners typically conduct extensive research on tenants before narrowing it down to one. They often check references, credit scores and incomes. As a prospective tenant, you should also perform your own research on the property owner before signing the rental agreement. If it seems like the landlord is dodging questions or is not forthcoming about certain details, do a quick search online using his or her name. You can also check the Better Business Bureau site to see if there are complaints filed against him or her.

For a more extensive search, complete a search of public records to see if there are any liens against his or her properties and civil cases filed against him or her. If your landlord is in financial trouble or has more than one civil suit filed against him, you may reconsider renting his or her property.

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