Congratulations! You’ve finally found a property that suits your needs, and you’re ready to make it official. Between the dense language of a legal contract and the pressure of an impatient landlord, it can be easy to feel as if you only have enough time and patience to quickly skim the lease before you sign, but remember – your lease is a binding contract. Once inked, you’ve committed yourself to its many rules and obligations. You need to be familiar with each responsibility that you and your landlord will be legally obligated to uphold for the duration of your lease. Here is a list of things you should know before you sign:
- What is a lease, exactly?
A lease is a legal contract which requires you (the lessee or tenant) to pay the owner (the lessor or landlord) for the use of a property over a defined period of time. The lease comprises several numbered sections which outline all of the terms and rules by which you and your landlord must abide for the duration of the lease.
- A lease is not the same thing as a rental application.
If you had to fill out a rental application prior to signing a lease, be aware that the application alone may not be a binding agreement to lease. The rental application is designed to give your landlord some personal information so he or she can screen you and ensure that you are someone they can trust to lease their property (and pay the rent).
- Read the terms and conditions of the lease.
A legal contract is not exactly what one might consider a beach read, but I can’t emphasize how important it is to actually read your lease before you sign it. If you are having trouble with it, sit with a friend or family member and go through each clause together. If anything is unclear, call your landlord. In order to prevent being taken advantage of in the future, you should be well acquainted with your rights and any obligations for which you may be held accountable.
- If you are a smoker or pet owner, make sure to be aware of any smoking or pet restrictions in your lease.
I’m serious – read your lease carefully! My roommates and I had a cat for eight months before we re-signed our lease and discovered a clause which prevented the ownership of pets in the apartment. Oops.
- Ensure the full name, phone number, and address of your landlord is on the lease.
In case of emergencies, or if you need to call someone for repairs or maintenance, it’s good to be able to get in touch with your landlord as quickly as possible.
- Visit the property and ask questions.
Investigate any prospective home before you sign yourself to it. Find out which utilities and services (heat, water, electricity, parking, garbage collection, maintenance and repairs) are included in the rent, and which ones must be arranged or paid for separately. If you plan on subletting your property, written approval of the landlord is often required. Ensure all of these details are written in the lease.
- Do not sign a lease with provisions you disagree with, and get any verbal agreements in writing.
If there is anything that you are uncomfortable with, bring it up with your landlord – legal provisions can be negotiable. If you get any concessions as a result of your negotiations, ensure that everything you agreed to is written in the lease.
- Know who is responsible for routine maintenance, pest control, and emergency repairs. Get that in writing, too.
It’s never fun when the toilet floods the apartment in the middle of the night, and it’s even worse when you have to call a plumber and pay an expensive fee out of your own pocket. If your landlord or management company takes maintenance requests, ask about availability and response times.
- Check the termination clause of the lease.
Your lease may specify the number of months prior to the end of the lease you must provide your landlord before giving notice of your intention to terminate the lease. Otherwise, your lease may be renewed automatically, leaving you with a plethora of undesirable options – being stuck with your lease for another year, having to pay a hefty fee to get out of it, or going through the hassle of finding a replacement lessee to whom you might be able to transfer your lease. Also, make sure your lease conforms with applicable laws regarding the minimum amount of notice you are entitled to before you can be evicted.
- Get a copy of your lease, and keep it in a safe place.
Remember, your lease exists so that you have verifiable proof of the terms to which you and your landlord agreed regarding your tenancy. In case of any problems, it is wise to keep a copy of the lease for future reference. If you have roommates, make copies for them as well.