8 Things to Check Before Signing an Apartment Lease

There are many steps renters must take before signing an apartment lease.

You might be ready to sign a rental contract immediately after you find your dream apartment, but a rental contract is not something that renters should take likely. A lease is a legal and binding contract between the landlord (someone who owns the apartment for rent) and the tenant (the person who is renting the apartment). The lease agreement ideally covers the conditions that you and your landlord agree to, such as the monthly rental price and the length of the rental agreement. However, it may not include specific conditions like who pays for utilities and maintenance upkeep. Failing to ask particular questions may result in fees or loss of a security deposit. So, before you put ink to paper and sign your name on a rental contract, read the below list of eight things to check before you sign an apartment lease.

Paying Rent

By the time you are ready to sign a lease agreement, you and your landlord should have agreed to a monthly rental price. But have you established how you plan on sending rent money each month, and when rent will be due? With the growing use of online banking, you may assume that you will be able to transfer rent each month electronically, either through your bank or through money sharing apps like Venmo or PayPal. It is essential that you assume nothing and ask for written confirmation, since property owners may not accept electronic payments. If you need to send rent payments by mail, you will need to know the specific address or P.O. Box. It is also essential that you know the day of the month rent is due and if you are given a grace period so that you factor in postal delivery time. Not doing so can cause your payment to show up late to your landlord, and you may also be hit with a late payment fee.

Am I required to purchase renter’s insurance?

Renters insurance, like homeowners insurance, protects your belongings and goods in the event of some threat or peril. It can even help you out if someone files a lawsuit against you or is injured on your rental property. It is common for rental management companies to require its tenants to purchase a renter’s insurance policy, while individual proprietors may not. So, check with yours before you sign a lease. While renters insurance does not cost a lot of money each month, it can save you from having to cover expensive repairs or replacements that your landlord says that you are responsible for covering.

Are utilities included in my rent?

If you have found your dream apartment that is in your budget, make sure you ask the property manager if utilities are in the rent price. Before you sign a lease, you must ask which utilities, if any, are included. Utilities commonly include electricity, internet and cable, but can also add water and gas. Not asking about utilities before you sign a lease can cause financial strain if you since you did not include these expenses in your apartment budget.

Can I make physical changes to the apartment?

You have finally moved into your new apartment, but it does not quite feel like home. You might be ready to run out and buy a new can of paint for an accent wall in the living room. But before you do so, you must stop and think back to your apartment lease. Did you and your landlord discuss if you are allowed to make changes to the apartment? Repainting walls, hanging photographs or mounting flat screen TVs may violate the terms of your lease or require approval. Some landlords give tenants free-range when it comes to decorating, while others subtract money from the tenant’s security deposit for nails and hooks that are left on walls after they have moved out. If your landlord says you can decorate the apartment, make sure that it gets written into your apartment lease.

Who is in charge of maintenance costs?

One of the joys of renting is that a tenant does not have to worry about when something in the apartment, such as the dishwasher or air condition, stops working. While necessary household maintenance, such as changing AC filters and snaking drains, may be left to the tenant, big fixes should be covered by a landlord, but that is not always the case. Some landlords may require tenants to pay for all maintenance and repairs to an apartment during their lease agreement, which can cause the tenant significant financial burden. Before you sign a lease agreement, make sure to get in writing which maintenance fixes the tenant is responsible for and which the landlord will cover. Not only that, you should make sure to ask the landlord for the contact information of the maintenance person that you should contact in case of an emergency. You should also find out if your apartment complex has a maintenance person on-site, or if you need to call a third-person maintenance person. Lastly, be sure to ask if the same person handles basic maintenance and big fixes. If not, make sure you get everyone’s contact information before you move in.

Pets

If you have a pet, or if there is a chance that you may adopt one during the span of your rental agreement, you should ask your new landlord if the apartment is pet friendly. If it is, you need to be sure to ask if there are any restrictions on the types of pets allowed, along with any restrictions on breed, size or the amount of pets in an apartment. Some apartments that are pet friendly require you to pay a “pet deposit” that you will get back once you have moved out, as long as there is no damage. Others may charge you a monthly or yearly “pet rent.” Be sure to check each pet deposit carefully. Some may be non-refundable, as these deposits may be used towards deep cleaning the apartment after you move out.

Breaking a Rental AgreementA lot can happen during a standard 12-month lease. Maybe you are offered a job in another city or state, or perhaps you suddenly plan to move in with a loved one. Regardless of the reason why you may need to break a rental agreement, you need to ask the terms before you sign a rental lease. Make sure to ask if getting out of a lease before the end date is an option, and if so, find out how much notice you must give your landlord and whether or not you are allowed to sublet the apartment. If you are not authorized to move out early, be sure to ask the fee for breaking your apartment lease.

ParkingIn large, metropolis cities, it is typical for residential parking spaces to be limited. If you have a two-bedroom apartment or a one-bedroom apartment with two renters, do not assume that you will get two parking spaces. Lack of parking is a typical dispute between landlords and renters in apartment settings. You can save yourself a headache by asking your landlord ahead of time about the parking situation. Be sure to question the number of parking spaces you are allocated and the situation for visitor parking. Check to see if street parking is available and if these kinds of spots require permits. Make sure to get the parking details written into a lease agreement so you have proof if any disputes arise. As with all terms of a lease, never rely on verbal confirmation alone.

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