How to Read a Lease: An Apartment Renter’s Checklist

When you get your hands on the contract for the home or apartment you’ve set your sights on, there a few key areas to pay attention to in order to help you understand the commitment you’re making before you put your name on it. If it turns out you want to change something in the lease, you and your landlord should initial the changes when they’re written in. And finally: if you don’t understand a clause, just ask!

Basics: Your lease should say who manages the rental property, and should include the address and phone number of those parties.

Money: You probably talked over the monthly rent amount, late fees, and security deposit your landlord requires. Still, make sure to verify that the amount written in the lease matches your verbal and/or online agreements. Also find out whether your security deposit can be used to pay the last month, or if an additional last month’s rent is required, too. Finally: does your lease spell out who will pay for what utilities?

Dates: Confirm you know what your lease defines as late, and what the penalties are if you do pay rent late. Check out what your security deposit is for, too: the lease should say what conditions you’ll need to meet to get it back. See what time frame the lease sets for rent increases to be allowed, and how much notice your landlord needs to give you before the increase sets in.

People: Does your lease restrict the number of roommates you can have? Who needs to sign the lease? Know that if your roommate doesn’t sign the lease, he or she will not be legally responsible for rent.

Upkeep and Repairs: Be sure the landlord, not you, is responsible for repairs. It’s common for the tenants to be in charge of minor stuff like changing burned-out lightbulbs, but make sure the language is clear that you’re not burdened with anything major.

Pets: Any restriction on how many, what type, or what size? If there’s a deposit required for having a pet, how do you get it back?

End of Lease: When your lease expires, what happens? You don’t want to be obligated to move out at the end of your term; many leases arrange for your rental agreement to turn into a month-to-month agreement after your first term is up. But when this happens you’re often required to give one or two months notice in order to keep your security deposit when you do move out. Know these details in advance to save yourself hassle and maybe money.

Ending the Lease Early: What happens?

Subletting: Is it allowed? Does your landlord need to approve your sublessor? Try to remove this clause if it exists, since it can be a headache to get everyone to approve on the right person.

Damage: Be sure you’re not expected to pay for “reasonable wear and tear” on the place. You probably won’t be living a museum, so you shouldn’t have to pay for normal aging to your place.

Modifications: What if you want to paint walls, replace carpet, or add a new wall? If you’ve envisioned making one of these big modifications, talk about it specifically with your landlord and spell it out in the lease. And if your landlord has agreed to make a modification for you before you move in, get that in writing, too.

When you’re done: Remember to save a copy of the final lease that’s signed by you and the owner.

Best of luck in your hunt! Have more questions? Ask us on our Facebook Page!

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