UNDERSTANDING LEASE/RENTAL AGREEMENTS

This is PART TWO of the Moving Out series. Part one (which you can read here) was about the things you need to think about to make sure you are ready to move out on your own. This second part is going to teach you what you need to understand about your rental agreement before you sign.

When you finally found the apartment that you have been saving and searching for, your next step is to meet with the landlord and look over your lease or rental agreement. A Lease (rental agreement) is a contract between a landlord (the owner or manager) and a tenant (the person using the space) which allows the tenant to occupy the designated space in a designated way. Leases are legally binding contracts, which means once you enter into one, you are legally obligated to follow the terms you have agreed to by signing. If you do not follow the terms you have already agreed to, you could be evicted, or removed from the space. It could also look bad when you need references for another apartment later on. If the landlord does not follow through on their terms of the agreement, you may be able to take legal action and/or nullify (or end) the agreement.

I wasn’t gonna swear here, but this is too funny! (And accurate)

As you can see, this is serious stuff!

So, what does all this mean? Landlords typically use the same agreement all the time, so they already know what terms are going to be in the lease and not always negotiable. If there is a special situation that you are looking forward too, you should talk to your landlord BEFORE signing anything. For example, if you plan on living in a 12 month leased apartment for only 10 months, are you allowed to sublet (or let another person live there and pay the rent)? Some places might allow and some may not. Be forthright and honest from the get go so there won’t be any legal liabilities later.

WHAT DOES A LEASE SAY?

In order to be legally binding, leases need to state certain terms upfront. These include:

  1. Physical location, landlords address, name, and contact information.
  2. The amount of rent due, methods of payment accepted, the due date, what the grace period is if payment cannot be made on time, and the late fee charges.
  3. The date the lease was signed, along with the beginning and end dates of the rental period.
  4. All fees including security deposit, parking fees, maintenance fees, pet fees, late payment fees, etc. If they require you to carry Renter’s Insurance, that should also be stated, along with how much and what type.
  5. Use of the property. This states exactly what the space can be used for. A commercial space can only be used for commercial (or selling) purposes, for example. This also states the maximum occupancy, if there are any quiet hours or restrictions with overnight guests, smoking policy, if and when the landlord can enter the space, access for maintenance workers, and any property alterations that may or may not be allowed.
  6. Termination and Renewal Policies. Some landlords specify that you have to give them notice before you plan on leaving the property, even if your lease it going to be ending. This allows the landlord time to find a new tenant and not have the property sitting empty. The amount of time should be listed on your rental agreement and is typically 30-60 days prior. Some leases may include an auto renewal, which means if you don’t tell them you are leaving, you are automatically obligated for another lease period. Make sure you understand what your obligations are.
  7. What fixtures/furniture is included. When you look at an apartment that someone else is currently living in, you may not necessarily know what belongs to them and what belongs to the landlord. Make sure you have a list of what is included, not only so you can be prepared with your own appliances or furniture, but so that if the last tenant took an end table with them, your landlord doesn’t think you took it when you leave!
  8. Any condo or Homeowners Association rules: If you are renting in a certain area, you may have other rules you need to follow, as well. The landlord must make you aware of these responsibilities.
  9. Utilities and Maintenance – who pays for what? Some rental units may include some utilities, some may ask you to be responsible for all of them. Some properties have yards, sidewalks, trees, etc. that need maintained with mowers, shovels or rakes. Your lease should specifically lay out who is in charge of what areas.
  10. Rent increase policy. Landlords must also agree to the terms of the lease, so if you signed agreeing to a certain amount due per month, they cannot raise that during your agreement. If you are automatically renewing when the lease is ending, the landlord is required to let you know of any rent increases in a timely manner, in case you decide you want to look for somewhere new.

As you can see, leases are lengthy and complicated, but are necessary to protect you and the landlord. If you are having trouble understanding your lease, do not sign it until you fully understand. Have someone you trust read it over or ask a lawyer if you can afford one. If you feel something might be negotiable, ask the landlord before signing and make the proper changes (signed and dated) before signing.

MISCELLANEOUS TIPS

Before signing, you should also do a walk through of the apartment and note anything missing, damaged, or broken (take pictures). This will help you later on if the landlord tries to blame you for something that was already damaged. Do not assume the landlord already knows what the state of the apartment is in. It is your responsibility once you sign the lease, so make sure you have documentation.

Keep your lease in a safe place so that you can refer to it when needed, especially if there is a disagreement about something.

Rules and ordinances vary state to state, so something that might be necessary in one lease may not be necessary in another, and sometimes landlords cannot make adjustments because they are just following the rules.

Check back next week for Part Three of the Moving Out series, where you will learn how much it ACTUALLY costs to move out. Comment, like, and follow me on social media!

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