When you sign a rental lease agreement, you’re entering into a legally binding contract, which means you could be on the hook if there’s a disagreement between you and the landlord.
While the language in your lease may look standard, it could spell out unexpected conditions. When you’re leasing, the multiple pages of tiny print are no excuse to glaze over and sign without reading.
When you first review the paperwork, be on the lookout for the basics. These include both your and the landlord’s legal names, accurate address and description of the rental property, terms of the lease (date it begins and ends) and money matters, such as deposits, the rental rate and any other fees you might incur.
After that, take a close look at all of the other paragraphs, as the details will vary depending on what type of apartment you’re renting and where it’s located. Here are a few items to pay attention to before signing on the dotted line:
If you are the only person on the lease, you’re responsible for making rent each month. If you and one or more roommates are listed, be very clear about who is ultimately responsible for paying rent and other fees.
For example, if your best-friend (you thought) roommate high-tails it one night, you very well could be responsible for paying all costs through the end of the lease in full and on time.
If you do need to replace a roommate, understand how to add a new resident. The lease might allow you to directly sublet, with the new person paying rent to you, and you paying the landlord the full amount.
Sometimes a landlord will simply add the new roommate to the existing lease. And in other circumstances, the landlord will terminate the existing agreement and start over with a new lease, requiring the approval of the new person, plus a credit check, etc.
Be clear about what parking is provided. If you live in a congested area and street parking is hard to come by, you will need to know how many and which spots come with the apartment. If you have one or more roommates with cars, you may need to negotiate who gets the designated parking spot(s).
Find out what, if any, monthly expenses are included in the rent. Generally speaking, these are costs such as gas and electricity, water, garbage, cable and internet. If you live in a community with additional amenities, you will, of course, want to know how much you’ll be paying for those bright and shiny adds-on. In most cases, they aren’t free.
This one is important because if you watch any of the popular home improvement shows, you might be inspired to do a little upgrading. But hold back until you know exactly what changes are allowed and what changes must be returned to their original state when you move out.
If the lease asks you to agree to the condition of the apartment when you take possession, be sure you’ve taken a good look around before you move in. If you find damage later, such as scraped walls or cabinets, broken fixtures or doors that don’t shut properly, you might be held responsible for the damage, which could affect receiving your full security deposit. And if you do see something before moving in, note it on the lease so you have a record at move out.
The lease agreement is obviously not the most exciting part of getting a new place, but knowing what you’re signing and asking about anything you don’t clearly understand can save you time and money down the road if things happen to go sideways.