Leases are not just a piece of paper that says you have ownership of something temporarily. It is a legally-binding agreement between you and another party. You should never sign any document without reading it carefully.
Most standard leases are based on landlord-tenant laws which differ from state to state. They can be confusing if you don’t understand the terms or legal implications of entering into a lease agreement. This applies to cars, apartments, or any other leased items.
If you are looking to rent an apartment or house, the landlord will create a lease with the terms in his favor, so be sure to check the fine print for any “conditions” or addendums. House hunting can be very tedious and sometimes you just want to hurry up and find something. Don’t let frustration cause you to make a bad decision. Just take a deep breath, center yourself, and read through it until the end. You should have any agreement reviewed by your LegalShield lawyer before you sign.
Here are some areas to pay close attention to:
The standard amount for a security deposit is equal to one month’s rent, but it can vary based on your employment history, monthly income, and your credit score. The landlord may ask for two months’ rent in advance if your credit is not so good. Be sure to read the fine print carefully.
Look to see when, or if, you will be getting your deposit back. Some contracts have a refundable and a non-refundable deposit. A standard lease requires the landlord to return your deposit 30-60 days after you have left the property as long as you have met the conditions listed in the contract.
The Number of Occupants
The number of occupants allowed per apartment is determined by the size or square footage of the unit. Generally, 2 people are permitted in a studio, 3 people for a 1 bedroom, and 4 people for a 2 bedroom. The standard is 2 people per bedroom. Be sure to choose a unit with a little extra room so you’ll be able to add people to the lease later on (should you decide you need a roommate). These numbers are in compliance with the Fire codes which limit the number of people allowed to sleep in a room.
Rent Grace Period
Most often, rent payments are due on the 1 st – 3rd day of the month. Many contracts have a 5-day grace period to cover holidays, weekends, any other delays. How many days will you have after your rent is due to pay without incurring a late fee? If you are ever charged a late fee, is it a flat fee or a percentage of the total amount? It is important to know that upfront.
This is the accepted amount of time you can have overnight guests at the property that are not on the lease. Most leases allow 14 days for guests who come to visit. If they plan to stay longer, they just need to spend a night or two somewhere else and then the 14 day period starts over. This is how it works is most contracts, but be sure and ask about guests to have a clear understanding of their policy.
Landlords can also charge you extra rent for guests if you do not let them know in advance. Make sure to notify the landlord of any long term guests to avoid default or an increase in rent.
Some apartments allow pets, with or without restrictions. You may be required to pay a one-time deposit or pay a monthly amount in addition to your rent. Be aware of limitations such as the number of pets, type, or size of the animals. Some apartments allow little dogs, big dogs, or other types of animals. Service animals are exempt from these restrictions under the federally-mandated Fair Housing Act.
Access to the Premises
The landlord must have your permission to enter your apartment when you are not home. They need to give you 24 – 48 hours notice if they need access to the unit for repairs, remodeling, or painting. A landlord or manager can enter without advanced notice if there is an emergency such as a fire or broken water pipe.
Subletting is when you let another person move in and pay the rent to fulfill your contract when you need to move due to relocating for a job, military service, or other situation requiring you to go elsewhere. Is this a situation where you’d be allowed to do that, and what steps would you need to take? In some cases, you may be able to use a buy-out clause to pay for the remaining number of months.
What Happens When the Lease Expires
Most rental contracts have terms of 3, 6, and 12 months in length. You may also have the option of month-to-month after the 12 months is up or a renewal of your contract. Some landlords require you to give notice if you will not be renewing your lease. Once you sign your lease, the landlord cannot raise the rent until the next leasing period but this may vary by state. Check with your LegalShield lawyer for clarity.
Are you required to have renters insurance? Even if it’s not required under your lease, it is a good idea to take out an insurance policy. You’ll be covered for emergencies like a fire, flooding, or theft and if the damage makes it uninhabitable for the time being, additional living expenses will be covered. Liability coverage protects you from paying out of pocket for costs incurred by injuries to other people, or damage to their property.
Read your policy carefully and note what your deductible will be. The deductible is the amount you will have to pay before the insurance kicks in and covers the remainder. Do some research into your insurance options and decide if this is a good safety net for you in the long run.
Painting or Remodeling
You are generally not allowed to alter the apartment in any way without the permission of the landlord or management company. Any changes, even if they are an improvement, can result in you losing your damage deposit. Make sure you leave the unit in the same neat and pristine condition in which you rented it.
If the landlord shows you a demo model, be sure to ask if the features you saw such as a microwave, dishwasher, or other appliances will be included in your apartment. Some units are furnished and have amenities for people who travel light.
Take Pictures of the Apartment
You want to be sure and document everything. Take pictures of the unit you saw prior to moving in in case they try to say that you caused damage that was already there when you moved in. In this day and age, you need to protect yourself from all kinds of liability. Check all the appliances to see that they are in working condition and test all plugs.
Is it a Safe Neighborhood?
Look around and see what the nearby houses look like. Is it clean, well-kept, and landscaped? Are there trash cans for litter and recycling bins for cans? Do neighbors look friendly? Would you speak to them if they were walking past your place? If it is in a bad area or you don’t feel safe, then you are better off going somewhere else.
The landlord is responsible for repairs on the property and keeping everything in safe working order. Emergencies like with heating or cooling should be resolved within 24 hours.
The landlord is also responsible for pest control. They usually have a contract with a pest control company that comes out every 3 months. You will receive notice when they plan to show up to service your apartment. You may need to give the landlord permission to let them in if you’re not home.
Landlord-tenant issues are the most common type of dispute seen between parties. To avoid problems read your contract carefully before signing, document everything, and know your legal rights should a dispute arise. This is no guarantee that you’ll never have problems, but there is help available should you need it.
Discuss your situation with a LegalShield lawyer before you sign a lease and learn more about your rights. We offer unlimited consultations. Become a member now.