You found the perfect apartment and now the landlord is trying to rush you into signing a lease, telling you it’s standard. But you shouldn’t let anyone intimidate you into signing anything until you’ve read it.
Reading the lease – and all fine print – can mean the difference between getting kicked out unexpectedly or losing thousands of dollars you don’t have. In many cases, a standard lease is meant to protect the landlord, not the tenant, so it’s worth your time to review it in detail.
Here are nine reasons why it’s important to read the lease entirely and what the fine print means, even if it’s “standard.”
A lease should be signed by both you and the landlord, and you should receive a copy for your records. It should include everything from the address (and unit number) of the place you’re renting, the amount of rent and when it’s due, the length of the tenancy, how much you pay in security deposit (if any), the name and contact information of your landlord and any other persons responsible for maintaining the property.
If a security deposit is required, make sure the details of what it covers and when you’ll get it returned are outlined in the lease. Many states require landlords return security deposits within a reasonable amount of time.
Often, a security deposit is returned in full after a successful final inspection and the landlord doesn’t have to pay for repairs, damages or stolen items. Instead of leaving it to chance, consider inviting your landlord to walk through the apartment together before you move out, so anything can be addressed in advance and there won’t be any surprises.
Also, take photos before you move in to show the state of the unit and then again when you move out so you have a record of how everything looked.
Many leases include the option to renew your lease, but there may be an escalation clause, which allows the landlord to raise the rent. If you’re think you might be staying at your place for longer than the original lease terms, try to negotiate a percentage or fixed dollar amount in advance.
Some apartments have utilities included in the rent price and others don’t. Make sure you know exactly what you’re responsible for and if it’s included in your lease.
Some apartments also keep utilities on between tenants and simply switch over the name when a new tenant moves in. Find out what utilities you will need to set up and if you need to add your name to any existing utilities.
Even if you don’t have a pet right now, note whether pets are permitted on your lease (and whether there’s a weight limit). It may affect whether you can pet sit for your best friend or if you can adopt your own pet in the future.
It’s important to know what’s considered a common use area and what’s permitted in that space.
It’s all too common for tenants to assume they can use all the amenities only to find out you’re using a space that’s off limits.
There are also laws to consider. Some city ordinances prohibit the use of grills on outdoor decks due to fire hazards. And, if the space becomes unavailable for some reason (like a pool under construction), you may be entitled to rent abatement.
Life happens and sometimes that requires moving. Most standard leases allow sublets with a landlord’s consent. Even if you’re not planning to leave before your lease ends, it’s important to know your options.
If you have a roommate who needs to move out, and the lease is under your name, does your landlord still require consent? Having it spelled out in advance will help in the future.
If something breaks down or stops working in your unit, how long will it take for your landlord to get it fixed? Break it down in writing before things break down in real life. You don’t want to spend more time without heat in the dead of winter than you have to.
In some cases, the landlord may need to renovate part of the apartment, such as installing new plumbing or changing out a faucet. Or the landlord may need to show your apartment to potential tenants when your lease is almost over.
Know in advance when your landlord is permitted to enter your unit, so you can decide whether you want to be there.