Signing a lease for an apartment seems like it should be straightforward with no problems. After the effort of narrowing your extensive search down to one favorite, touring the property, talking with the landlord, submitting an application, and waiting out the vetting process, you might be anxious to pick up the pen and get it done. But not so fast.
You’ll want to invest the time required to fully digest the contract and ensure you’re protecting yourself from any costly surprises. Read the lease carefully and don’t be afraid to seek necessary clarification from your future landlord. Some renters have a legal professional review their lease. Even if you don’t want to go that far, it can still be helpful to enlist a business-savvy friend, parent, or someone else you trust to serve as an extra pair of eyes on the contract. It’s pretty standard for a lease to favor the owner, but landlords often use generic, boilerplate leases that aren’t tailored to the property and its specific amenities and quirks. So make sure you’re keeping an eye out for any inconsistencies or holes in the agreement relating to the property or potential issues. To help you learn the ropes, we’ve compiled five of the most common problems you should know about when you’re reviewing a lease. Remember, this is just a starting point! Ultimately, you should understand anything you’re signing – so by all means, continue to research lease laws if you see unfamiliar terms or concepts in your lease.
Problem 1: Basic information is missing
Make sure the monthly rent is written into the lease with the dates and duration of your tenancy. The property address and unit number should also be included. Be careful you’re not being baited with a model unit only to be given the keys to a less desirable, outdated, or even problematic unit in an entirely different area of the property. Ensure monthly due dates, grace periods, and additional fees for late-payments are clearly stated. The security deposit amount and conditions for reclaiming it at the end of the tenancy should also be checked for accuracy. If your landlord intends to follow best practices around keeping your deposit in an escrow account, the details of this arrangement should be clear.
Additionally, be sure to review the terms around renewing or terminating the lease. Misunderstandings can result in unexpected renewal costs and rent increases. You can prevent yourself from being charged full months of additional rent by providing notice on time. The typical requirement for giving notice is 90 days prior to the scheduled end of your lease, but it can vary.
Problem 2: Amenities are unclear
Make sure there’s clear wording around what utilities, services, and amenities are included. Usually, water and trash collection are paid for by the property owner. If utilities are unmetered because it’s a big building, utilities may be included in the rent, but make sure you understand the breakdown and what portion of your rent will go towards those fees.
If you don’t have central air conditioning in your rental, make sure you know the landlord’s policies on installing window air conditioning units. There may be limitations on the number of units allowed or how and when they can be installed or removed season-to-season.
If you have central air conditioning, make sure you’ve inquired about the average spikes in the electric bill during hotter months before signing. If the unit’s windows and electrical wiring are outdated or it has tall ceilings, try to suss out how that might affect your bottom line. If your building includes cleaning services, parking, curbside pickup, use of outdoor space, snow removal, landscaping, laundering services/facilities, a doorperson, or any other such amenity, check for clauses on additional fees that could sneak up on you. If the apartment includes any appliances or furnishings, the lease should list them as well. What you understand to be all-inclusive could mean something totally different to the owner and left out of the conversation during the vetting process. The lease should outline policies around these perks and you should eliminate any confusion about them upfront.
Problem 3: The pet policy is vague
If you have a pet or plan on getting one, make sure the lease addresses pet policies and allows for pets in the building, units, and other areas of the property. The property may require an additional security deposit if you plan on living with a pet in the space. Look out for stipulations or restrictions with regards to pets using common areas, noise restrictions, or weight, breed, and noise limitations as well. You don’t want to be hit with new fees or fines you didn’t budget for because you overlooked or misunderstood the pet policy!
Problem 4: The move-out is messy
At some point, you’ll be moving out and your landlord will be in the market for someone new to occupy your rental. Make sure any wording about showings of the space, while you’re still there, is reasonable and agreeable. The landlord has a right to the space, but the terms should be looked at carefully to ensure you don’t sign off on something that leaves you open to being unreasonably inconvenienced on a regular basis.
Ask if specific days and hours can be outlined in the lease so there are some boundaries established at the outset of your landlord-renter relationship. You can request that you be given a certain amount of notice as well. At the very least, 24 hours notice is a fair suggestion and may be required by law depending on where you live. It’s also recommended that you request to be there whenever your rental is being shown, just in case there are any issues.
Problem 5: Subletting, roommate & visitor issues
Make sure you understand the policies and procedures about subletting your unit. Most property owners will require to be informed about any subletting – if they do in fact allow it. There may be fees, fines, and special rules around duration or property access limitations that you should be aware of, as well. If you plan on getting a roommate after the original signing of the lease, make sure to get clarity on the landlord’s policies. They may want to amend the lease to place them under the same contract. If the landlord prefers not to amend a lease for this purpose, you will be responsible for the roommate’s timeliness of paying the rent and their understanding and conduct as a resident of the property. If you entertain often or have frequent visitors, be sure there aren’t any special rules outlined in the lease about foot traffic or volume on the property as well.
The Bottom Line
Leases can seem troublesome or intimidating, but it’s essential that you read through yours carefully. To start your relationship with your new landlord on the right foot, you’ll want to understand the terms – and make sure they’re fair and agreeable.