Renting Terms Explained

If you are looking to rent a residential property, whether that is an apartment or a home, it is vital you understand the different terms that are used.

After all, you do not want to overlook an important aspect of your lease because you have not taken the time to comprehend the meaning of certain terms. Likewise, there are specific terms for property rules and features you need to understand. For instance, you do not want to rent an apartment for you and your dog, only to then find pets are not allowed. Nor do you want to think you have a fully-equipped kitchen when you have not because you did not know what was meant by the term “kitchenette.”

Finding a rental property can be both a challenging and enjoyable experience. The more you know what is meant by specific terms, the easier your search will be. The key is to understand what is meant when certain terms are used, so you have few surprises when you go to tour the residence, or sign a lease. Here is a guide to help you understand the meanings of different rental terms.

Utilities, Amenities and Features

Not all rental properties are the same and the various amenities offered can wildly vary. Therefore, you need to initially know what different property terms mean. This will allow you to rule out some properties you are thinking about viewing. The three main terms associated with properties are “utilities,” “amenities,” and “features.” Here are the meanings for each one:

  • Utilities can cover a variety of things like fees for electricity, gas, trash removal and internet. For apartments, it is often the case that communities will simplify the rental amount by including all amenities in the rental fee. This is what is meant by the term “all utilities included.” When you see that term associated with a property you are viewing, be sure to check exactly which utilities are included.
  • Amenities generally encompass the services and facilities in apartment blocks. Amenities can include things like: a common area, a play area for children, a swimming pool, a fitness center, covered parking spots. Some items, like wood flooring, may be considered amenities by the landlord, while others consider this a feature. Make sure you weight the amenities of a property before making your decision.
  • Features typically refers to special property components. This includes things like carpets, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and high-end fixtures.

Lease Terminology

You may have found the perfect rental property, with the utilities, amenities and features you require, but before you sign a contract, you should carefully study the lease to know what is covered. It is crucial you know what is meant by specific lease terms. Here are some common terms and their definitions to help you navigate your lease:

  • Lease: The lease is a written or oral contract between the tenant and the landlord that gives the tenant the right to exclusively live in the property for a designated amount of time. Oral lease contracts are typically for leases that do not exceed a year. You may be able to change certain terms of the lease, if your landlord is willing to compromise on certain things. For example, you may be able to try to negotiate your rent, deposit or restrictions on pets.
  • Lease Term: This is the time you are allowed to live in the property as agreed between the tenant and landlord. Lease terms are commonly for periods ranging between six months and 24 months. If you are moving into the apartment in the middle of a month, then you will want to have the landlord spell out how you will be charged. Will you be charged for the full month, or will you be charged only for the time you are there?
  • Deposit: This is the agreed upon amount that the landlord requires before you are able to move in. You may get this back when you move out if there are no outstanding damages to the apartment or home. This is also called a security deposit.
  • First and Last: This is a term that refers to the requirement for the first month’s rent as well as the last month’s rent, in advance. This may be in addition to the deposit, although this varies by landlord and/or state regulations.
  • Lease Renewal: This is the renewal of a lease after the first term has expired.
  • Lease Option: Applicable to certain properties, this is an agreement that allows the tenant to buy the property being rented after the term of the lease. This is most often offered to you if you are renting a house or a rent-to-own property.
  • Co-signer: A co-signer is an additional person who signs a lease to verify the identity and creditworthiness of the main person renting. This can sometimes be called a guarantor.
  • Broker: This is a real estate professional who buys and sells properties for other people and/or helps make rental deals. Brokers receive a commission for facilitating these rental transactions. If you are dealing with a broker, make sure he or she is licensed to practice in your state. The commission can be paid by the renter or the landlord, so make sure to ask about this fee before signing a lease.
  • Prorated rent: This refers to an adjusted rent payment that a tenant may have to pay, depending on when they move in or out of the rental unit. For example, a tenant may move in during the middle of the month but still need to pay for that month. In this event, the tenant can check to see if they can pay an amount that is proportional to the remaining days of that month.
  • Subsidy: This term describes assistance with rent that is granted by the government. This usually comes in the form of housing vouchers in the Section 8 program.
  • Tenant Damages: If the tenants cause any damage to the property during the rental term, other than the usual expected wear and tear, the tenants will have to pay for the damages.
  • Eviction: If the lease agreement is violated, such as the rent has not been paid on time or there have been noise disturbances, tenants can be legally removed from their properties. Make sure the eviction process is clearly spelled out.

Property Terminology

When looking at property listings, you may come across many unfamiliar terms. These could be terms like “partially-furnished” that describes which furniture and accessories come with the rental. The terms could also be associated with architectural features, such as cupolas and bay windows. If there is terminology on a rental property listing that you do not fully understand, be sure to ask your broker or agent what the terms mean. Here is a short list of property terms to set you off on the right footing:

  • Fully Furnished: This means the property typically includes most furniture pieces , lighting and appliances.
  • Partially Furnished: This typically means the property has basic furnishings, such as appliances, wardrobes, kitchen cabinets and curtains. It excludes things like beds, tables and chairs.
  • Unfurnished: Properties that are unfurnished will still usually come with refrigerators, stoves and other small appliances like microwaves, but not any furniture.
  • Kitchenette: Usually found in small apartments, a kitchenette is a kitchen area that is not fully equipped. It may lack some appliances. That could even mean it is missing large-sized items like ovens. Therefore, be sure to ascertain which appliances are included in the kitchenette of the property you are viewing.
  • Bay Window: A bay is a building section that is distinguished by vertical features like pillars or columns, which protrudes from the building’s wall, creating a nook on the interior. A bay window is a vertically sliding window set into that nook.
  • Casement Window: This type of window is hinged on one side, so it swings open. Houses and apartment typically offer casement windows in pairs.
  • Dormer Window: This is a window that is located in a sloping roof, usually found in attic bedrooms.
  • Balcony: This is a platform that projects outwards from a building’s wall and has some sort of railing around the outer edge.

Knowing the terms associated with leases, property features, amenities and utilities will help you to be ready for your property search. Remember, if there are any terms you do not fully understand, either on the property listings or in the lease, be sure to check what it means before you decide to sign a contract. The better informed you are, the better a decision you will be able to make in order to find the perfect home for you.

It might also interest you: