Understand Your Lease Before Signing It
Signing a lease for a new apartment can be exciting — and intimidating. You'll be better equipped to understand your lease and catch anything that doesn't make sense if you know what to expect before looking through it.
Here are some tips on what can be found in a typical apartment lease.
Who signs it?
Every lease is a contract, and as such will name the people who have entered into the contract and are legally bound by it. That should be your landlord, yourself, and any roommates you might have. Anyone whose name doesn't appear on the document isn't legally liable for rent; if you take on a new roommate after the lease has been signed, you may want to ask the landlord to issue a new one. If not, you're the one who's liable when they don't pay their share of the rent.
The landlord should include information about who manages the rental property, including address and phone numbers. The contract should also identify which property is being rented, the monthly rent, and the amount of the security deposit. It should specify when a rent payment is considered late and what the penalties are for late payment. It should specify that it applies for a given length of time (say, 12 months) and spell out what happens when one party or the other decides to terminate the lease early.
Some contracts will specify how far in advance you need to notify the landlord regarding lease renewal. Some will default to a "month-to-month" agreement after the original term runs out, or the lease may include an "automatic renewal" clause in which the lease is renewed unless you give notice otherwise by a certain date. You'll want to know this information in advance to help you make your decision and act in a timely fashion. The lease should include information on penalties if you break the lease, as well as whether you would be able to sublet or find a new tenant if you have to leave.
Who fixes what?
Your lease should indicate who is responsible for repairs in the apartment. Frequently, these binding documents make tenants responsible for minor repairs and landlords responsible for major ones, though this may differ depending on your rental management company.
Your agreement may, or may not, include details on the following:
- Pet fees: Many apartment communities require an additional security deposit or rent to have a pet on the property.
- Utilities: You and your landlord should already have agreed on what utility payments you will be responsible for.
- Modifications: The document may specify that you cannot make significant changes to the property, including painting, replacing carpet or floors or knocking out walls. If you really want a change to the apartment, you might be able to negotiate this ahead of time. Make sure that any repairs or modifications you agree on verbally are written down in the lease.
Signing the lease
Take the time to read your lease thoroughly and carefully because, once you sign, the terms are legally binding. If you don't understand a clause, ask for clarification. If you want to make or request changes to the lease, both you and the landlord should initial them.
Save a copy of the final lease signed by you and the owner or manager. This is the most important document to help you if there's any disagreement about the apartment or anything related to your tenancy.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Ralf Kleemann